Why so serious?
I can think of many reasons why the Dark Knight is serious. The cost of dry cleaning his suit is one thing that will likely remove all mirth from his life. Another thing that probably stops him from cracking a joke is his lack of super powers. Spending his downtime pretending to be a billionaire playboy with super models on each arm is sure to keep him frowning.
But whatever the reason for his seriousness, we should all be thankful. It is this seriousness that not only makes him one of the most interesting comic book characters, but also what manages to translate into a game that is so near perfect. Let’s face it, video games featuring licensed characters do have a tendency to rather bad. But, much like the more recent Batman movies, the re-invention of Batman in video games by Rocksteady has resulted in something rather good. 2009’s Arkham Asylum surprised everyone with it’s impressive open environment, simple combat and deep gameplay.
After so much praise, no-one would have been surprised if Rocksteady had just rested on their laurels and re-hashed the same formula into a sequel. Instead though, they have improved upon just about every aspect of the previous game and have presented us with an open-world playground in the form of Arkham City, a massive section of Gotham that has been partitioned off from the rest of the city and used to house the most dangerous criminals. I can’t help but feel that this was not a good idea.
Hugo Strange has been put in charge of this super-prison and rules over it with an iron fist. On the streets, the gangs and villains rule, being left to their own devices. Some of Batman’s most well-known foes have set up their own little kingdoms within Arkham City and compete with each other for territory and power. Not trusting Hugo Strange, the man who knows Batman’s secret identity, the Dark Knight has managed to sneak into the City to try and find out what is going on. What follows is an incredible story that will feature a huge collection of characters from the Batman comics, such as Penguin, Two-Face, Catwoman, Riddler and of course his arch-nemesis, the Joker.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the game is the size and freedom of the city. Batman’s grapple hook makes a welcome return, allowing him to zip from building to building across the city with ease. Whilst not the largest open world I have ever seen, it is easily the most impressive, with an incredible attention to detail. There is so much to interact with, all of the streets and rooftops are filled with enemies to fight and secrets to be found. There are also a mass of side quests to play with, but likely not until the main story is finished.
Whoever is responsible for penning and pacing the main story should be given an award. It is not especially astounding, but the way it is put together and combines what is a very large supporting cast makes the story very compelling. This is evident in the game by the almost complete inability the player has to actually leave the main story and embark on side quests. The game pushes the player through the main story, forcing them to ignore distant Riddler trophies, ringing phones or cries for help. However, the game does know that it is doing this and saves these delights for once the story is finished, allowing the player to return to the city and get to work on their unfinished business.
The simple combat mechanics have been refined and are now even more fluid than before. Attack, counter, stun and dodge are all that is provided. But by combining them the resulting combat scenes are nothing short of cinematic. Special combo moves add more depth and the use of Batman’s different gadgetry expands it even further.
Because where would the big bad bat be without his collection of cool gadgets. Batarang, both standard and remote controlled, explosive gel, hacking device, electronic stungun and more are available for Bats to use not only to solve various puzzles, but also many can be used in combat. Once again the emphasis is very much on the player choosing how they deal with given situations. Some of these situations only have one solution, but many leave it up to the player to deal with them as they choose. Run in fists blazing, ambush a group of enemies with stun tactics, or slowly pick them off one at a time and watch their terror levels rise, the choice belongs to the player.
The detective mode seems to have been toned down slightly for this outing of Batman. Whereas in Arkham Asylum the player would benefit from leaving the mode, which highlights enemies and interactive objects, turned on for a large part of the game, Arkham City ensures that whilst it is helpful, it can also hinder. But it is still a valuable tool and certain missions will make extensive use of it’s ability to locate and analyse evidence. It is very handy for spotting enemy locations and whether they are armed or not, but for following blood trails it is essential.
Completing the story will give the player access to a more difficult playthrough of the game, designed to test the players skills to the limit. There is also the challenge mode which offers the player a chance to compare scores with other players around the world through an online leaderboard. Finally, there is Catwoman.
Catwoman is a playable character that has her own missions that intertwine with the main story of the Dark Knight. These missions will see the two characters cross paths as they each go about their own objectives. Catwoman controls very similar to the Bat, but is more athletic and acrobatic, offering a change of pace within the game that gives the player a chance to recharge.
Content-wise, the game is massive. After spending more hours sat in front of the PS3 in one session than is healthy, I was surprised to find that only 10% of the game had been completed, totally ruling out any chance of completing the game in one sitting. With so much to do and see, I wouldn’t be surprised if most players were still playing the game once the first batch of DLC arrived, which would extend the game even further. To summarise, you certainly get your money’s worth.
Everything within Batman: Arkham City comes together to create an incredible package. The open-world that just begs to be explored, the cast of famous and not-so famous characters, the simple yet deep combat system which doesn’t overwhelm the game, the compelling story, the excellently designed lairs of the main villains. It all comes together in such a way that I am finding it difficult to pinpoint any faults. If someone were to put a gun to my head, I would perhaps say that there is not enough Alfred in the game. That’s it – the best I can come up with.
Batman: Arkham City is a true accomplishment that raises the bar set by the first game for superhero titles, and it is a bar that very few will reach. It wouldn’t take the world’s greatest detective to conclude that this is one of the best games of the year. No joke.