A few years ago when Arkham Asylum was first coming out I was skeptical, I mean here is a genre that doesn’t do well. The super hero game. Batman has a bad track record in the video game industry, see his Batman Begins game and other outings. The fact was people were scared of what Asylum could end up being and not busy thinking about what it could really be.
I remember years ago when Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas first came out I had the idea of an open world Batman game, one that would feature a vast majority of the villains from his history and have you do a certain amount of levels that were oriented towards the villain, sort of like all those missions you do in the GTA series for your new found friends. The game was going to be called something like Batman: The Streets of Gotham or something lame like that. I was 16 at the time.
Now I am 24 and my idea is essentially one of the most hyped up games of 2011. This would be awesome if I had anything to do with it. Batman’s latest foray is not only highly anticipated but also one that may or may not deliver the hype. With a list of star powered villains including Two-Face, The Riddler, Mister Freeze, The Joker, Poison Ivy and then even some B-List-esque baddies like Bane, Zsasz, Deadshot, Black Mask all make appearances including a ton of others. People often were wondering if this game would be intense and long as hell. But what is the true verdict on Arkham? Is it a fun open world similar to Assassin’s Creed with a darker thematic element? Or is it just Asylum on a grander scale that flops at times?
I had loved Arkham Asylum. I pirated it at first on the PC just to play it. Later I bought it on Steam for a few bucks and forgot about it then got the Game of the Year edition on teh PS3 and finished about 89% of the actual game. It was fun again. Then came the trailers for Arkham City. It looked amazing. But why was Hugo Strange the main villain. The Joker was nothing but a side villain. The Riddler was physically in the game? Wow. Freeze. Cool. Penquin. Not bad. Two-Face. Impressive. The idea was just phenomenal. I threw down a hundred bucks and sprung for the collector’s edition. Got the guide to solve the Riddler’s 400 plus riddles around Gotham, see that’s a lot to do on your own, I only use the guide when I get stuck, I know people hate the idea of using a guide, so let’s leave it at that.
The game requires you to download the Catwoman episodes which make up a small chunk of the game but you can’t get it if you buy it used, teh game, but you can buy it online. I know dumb. The game opens up with Bruce Wayne making an appearance at the front gates of Arkham City, a portion of Gotham that has been cut off for the criminal scum of Gotham. This is now one year after Arkham Asylum essentially fell apart. Wayne is thusly arrested by Hugo Strange and placed inside Arkham City, it doesn’t hurt that Strange knows Wayne is Batman and is using this plan, Protocol 10, to display the Dark Knight’s failure.
Once within the giant prison compound we take control of the Dark Knight as he goes around the warring gangs, rescuing Catwoman from Two-Face. Encountering a dying Joker, who poisons you and thus you begin to die. To hunting down Mister Freeze to develop a cure, then having to free him from the Penquin, all going full circle to the Joker and Strange. The main story is enough of a comic book type feel to keep you hooked for the duration of it. While it seems short, I think on the main story I have logged 20-30 hours in the brief week it’s been out, it’s a fun ride. And the combat doesn’t feel redundant like in God of War games, but I attribute that to it being Batman, you are Batman, not Kratos. You can do the same exact things in GOW but in Batman you feel a true flow.
Now before I jump into the gameplay, I want to point out that this game is not only 20 hours. There are over 440 riddles to solve, riddler trophies to collect to earn rewards, that unlock in game trophies, bonus maps in the challenge modes and other things like concept art and what not. Much like in the previous game the riddles require you to use your detective skills or a guide to solve them all. Unlike the last game I haven’t encountered many riddles like what you had where you are presented with a sentence and you have to figure out what he means and take a photo of sorts. Instead you have to use your gadgets to get to each trophy and use your cunning, it’s quite challenging. Plus you have a few sidequests to do, sadly there isn’t as many as there are in a GTA game.There is a side quest with Bane that requires you to destroy the rest of the TITAN formula scattered around Gotham. Then you have to rescue Nora from the Joker’s clutches for Freeze. You get the gist. There is still a lot to do in order to reach 100% completion in this game much like with an open world game.
Arkham City is large but it isn’t as large as Liberty City or Italy. Unlike with GTAIV or any GTA game or the Aassassin’s Creed games, Arkham City is only half of Gotham. It’s big but at times it feels like you are moving in circles. While there are buildings that stand out there are buildings that all look the same, I am not dissing the imagery of the game but it does look nice a majority of the times on my big ass TV. A majority of the graphics look great, crisp and smooth. The darkness looks great when you play at night in the dark, it’s sexy. Much like the last game Batman’s suit deteriorates, and thats awesome. The character models look great and the only visual is the lip movement of the characters from time to time, but there isn’t much you can do about that.
When it comes to playing the Dark Knight, it’s just as fun as last time, no doubt about that. I love every second of it. The combat is the same as last time. Making landing combos just as important as Batman flows much better when you land a succession of blows as compared to dancing around brutally like a savage trying to just land a punch on the wrong enemy. It doesn’t hurt when you can mix in gadgets throughout the entire fight, something I tend to do, I’ve become quite fond of the freeze gadget you get. It’s also a testament to the AC franchise if they take some elements from the game like running from roof to roof and gliding is shockingly fun. And don’t forget you can grapnel around from building to building. God it really is so much fun.
I already touched on the presentation factor, with the visuals but let’s go into the sound. The soundtrack feels like it might be a Christopher Nolan film to kind of put a word on it. At times the music gets real epic at the right points during intense scenes and what not making it feel like an actual Bat-film. The game also delivers great voice acting from people who did the voices from the hit show from the 90’s, Batman: The Animated Series. That’s right, Batman, Harley and Freeze all are voiced by their cartoon voice actors but what about Penquin? Nope, he’s voiced by the same guy who voices Nathan Drake in the awesome Uncharted series. But who really steals the show is Mister Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamil. This is his last time doing the Joker after 20 years. He said it was tough to even do it after all that time but he shows how hard voice acting is by putting his all into voicing the Clown Prince. As we’ve seen over the past few years as Hamil withdrew from the Joker’s voice that replacing him will be tough and it means you (and me) are going to struggle to get used to a new voice actor.
Arkham City has very few flaws. It is a near flawless game but there is never a such thing as a flawless game. While game reviewing magazine Game Informer made the game it’s first perfect 10 game of the year you have to take into account some of the flaws. The mouth syncing aspect is something you can overlook but what about the amount of villains not getting development? The developers tried to mimic the Scarecrow levels from the previous game that were amazing with Ras al Ghul level but it doesn’t feel the same. The pros though include you are the god damn Batman, but the combat feels like what the game was going to be originally, a rhythm game, you can feel it. It looks terrific and handles like a well oiled machine. I wish to give the game a flawless ten but I know it isn’t. The game suffers from a length problem but I can get over that with Uncharted 3 just around the corner and a new AC game, but what happens when I finish them? Arkham City might get another play through but with other games waiting to get finished including Darksiders, Metal Gear Solid 4, Dead Island it might be tough to get a second play through in. But the Dark Knight’s second big game in 2 years leaves me wanting more and that’s always good, Batman: Arkham City gets a nice impressive 9.99 from me and is an early Game of the Year candidate.