Batman Akrham City Review Xbox 360 PlayStation 3
Batman Arkham City is the sequel to 2009's Batman Arkham Asylum. Much of what was popular in Arkham Asylum has been expended upon, levels are bigger, there are more villains, new gadgets and some new additions to the combat system. There's also a lot more to do in Arkham City when compared to the original especially when you factor in side quests. Although the gameplay is better, the story is less engaging and the race to see it to its conclusion isn't as urgent as it was in the original. Fans of Batman, and action games in general shouldn't be disappointed in this worthy successor to the original.
The main story of Arkham City is pretty convoluted, and it only gets weirder, and makes less sense as the game progresses. I'll attempt to summarize the beginning of the game's plot without spoiling anything significant. Quincy Sharp the former warden of Arkham Asylum is elected as the Mayor of Gotham City In one of Sharps first acts as Mayor is promoting political crony Dr. Hugo Strange the chief psychologist of Arkham Asylum as the new head of the radical new prison system Akrham City. The plan for Akrham City calls for part of Gotham City to be walled off, and then all the inmates of Arkham Asylum and Black Gate Prison would be set loose within the confines of the area to do what they please, just as long they don't try to escape. Shockingly the public thinks this is a great idea, and the plan goes into effect with little protest. The happenings inside Arkham City are quite mysterious, so Batman decides to infiltrate the city, curiously as Bruce Wayne in order to get the bottom what's really going on. Bigger super villains have set up fiefdom and now wage war with rival gangs over control of food and land. Your goal in the game, is to stop the warring gang leaders; Joker, Penguin, and Two-Face, as well as reveal Hugo Strange's real motive for the establishment of the prison city.
The main story is somewhat long, and takes about 12 hours to beat, depending on what difficulty you play on, and if you know what to do. There are also about three hours worth of side quests to undertake, not counting the Riddler missions which require you to solve the majority the 400 riddles in the game in order to complete it, which is needless to say, very time consuming.
The game's main plot isn't as dynamic and riveting as the one found in the original Arkham Asylum. The story suffers with what sometimes seems like characters randomly showing up for no reason other than to have a cool cameo, or lead to a boss fight with no foreshadowing or usefulness the overall plot that often feels forced. Another problem is that frequently a goal will be given that seems straightforward enough, but the player is constantly diverted from achieving it by pointless fetch quests and busy work that feels like padding to make the game longer. I'll attempt to give a spoiler free example. At one point you're tasked with finding a character. When you reach the character's hide out, you must break in. After you break in fight some thugs you discover that the person's not there, and are really at the museum. So then you embark to the museum only to find the doors are locked by a signal jammer. Then you must destroy various single jammers throughout the city. But the last signal jammer is in the subway, so you must then venture into the underground and destroy that one, before you can finally open the door to the museum. It's maddening sometimes when you just want to go from point A to point B. without hassle. I suppose what I'm getting at is that the plot is very thin, and has many holes. It often seems like people act out of character and put unnecessary restrictions on themselves, making tasks more difficult than they have to be, just in an effort to make the game longer.
The Catwoman side quests are rather short and there isn't much story to them so giving a synopsis would probably spoil most of it. Catwoman ventures into Arkham City in order to rob it of its valuables which are kept in a safe below the city. One thing I don't understand, is if Arkham City is such a impenetrable fortress, then how come so many people coming and going as please, it's never explained. Catwoman missions are interesting sidelight from playing as Batman, and I do wish she had a bigger part in the overall story. Many of the side quests in the game have very interesting setups, with little or no pay off, mainly due to lackluster boss fights which leave the player feeling like they've wasted their time.
All that being said, I would say that Batman Arkham City has a very entertaining story, that should keep you interested during one or two play throughs, and even though sometimes things don't make sense, at least they play out in a cool way.
One of the things that surprised me most about Arkham City, is how similar they kept the gameplay to the original. I guess as the old saying goes "If it ain't broke don't fix it." The biggest difference is that because now the games somewhat free-roaming. Somewhat referring to the restrictions on what areas you can visit based off of how far progressed in the main story. Combat and stealth sections are now seamlessly blended together, which sounds like a good idea, but when playing the game on hard mode you'll realize the faults in the system. Basically if enemies have guns you'll want to use stealth, anyone else can be fought hand to hand. So you'll often enter an area, see an unarmed thug proceeded to whale on him, which alerts other nearby thugs, two blocks away who are armed and quickly opened fire on you. Your only options at this point are to run away, spam a gadget like batarangs or the incredibly useful disruptor, or continue fighting and quickly perish in the hail of bullets. Even when you know what areas requires stealth and which one's your expected to brawl in you could still have problems. For instance I'll be traveling rooftop to rooftop busting heads, and when I get to the seventh one. There will be one armed guard which I quickly take out, this however alerts three other guards on lower levels of the same building who come rushing toward me guns blazing so I jump glide away only to be shot out of the air five blocks away from the gunman.
The combat system stays almost exactly the same as before with a few improvements. There's still only one button to attack, one to counter, one to stun, and a dodge roll. It's now much easier to use gadgets during combat thanks to many new quick fire commands that avoid slowly selecting individual gadgets. I also like that batarangs can now finally be used to take enemies out instead of just stunning them. Although the battering was buffed the explosive gel was unfortunately nerfed, so although you can still use it to stun enemies it will no longer knock them out. Another big improvement is that you can now beat down enemies which entails Batman releasing a furry of quick blows on a single thug until they are knocked out. You can also disarm and break enemy weapons during combat, as well as quickly dispatch foes with the knife take down, which unfortunately only seems to work inconsistently. I do wish that they would overhaul the combat system, and at least give me the option to have more complex controls, such as four attack buttons. That way I'd feel more in charge of the Combos I'm performing, and not just mashing one button. Also maybe I'm crazy, I but think that the current combat system would be a lot better with an over head camera perspective. Sure it won't be very cinematic, but at least then thugs couldn't attack you from offscreen.
The difficulty of combat seems to have increased. In the first game enemies seemed to be more polite, and wait their turn when you knocked out a downed enemy. Here they quickly run up and bash you in the back of the head with a pipe when you go for a ground takedown. It's usually a better idea now to just keep attacking even if all of enemies are on the ground, just keep hitting the attack button to make sure they stay down. Also sometimes it seems like for some reason particularly with counters, inputs don't register, and you'll be hit anyway. Maybe it's all in my head, but it seems to occur a lot more often in the 360 version and I've hardly ever noticed it during my time with the PlayStation 3 version. There are also certain enemies you should be especially cautious of besides the obvious gun toting enemies, like the returning stun rod, shield welding thugs and new ones that wear body armor which makes them impervious to everything but the new beat down attack.
Stealth is certainly much harder in Arkham City, given how much more open the environment is, and how vigilant the enemies are. It seems like most of the takedown methods have been deemphasized with the exception of the classic sneak up behind someone. The addition of the very useful head knocking double takedown being a new variant of it. It seems like every other takedown Batman can do [Ledge, inverted, floor, magnetic and exploding wall.] will alert other nearby enemies, defeating the purpose of using the stealth approach. Catwoman does have a ceiling takedown that's silent but oddly forces you to drop to the floor, where you could be spotted.
In fact the main reason to use the stealth approach is because it nets you more experience points to upgrade then straight brawling. To make things more difficult some enemies in stealth areas are equipped with Detective Vision jammers, and thermal vision to spot Batman even in cover. Obviously you should try to take out enemies with jammers first. What I like to do is to use the new disruptor gadget to break two thugs guns and then Sneak up and take another two out. Then I'll throw batarangs at the rest and then mop up with brawling. One thing I find annoying is that sometimes I'll try to do a easy silent takedown but the game insists that I do a combat takedown which alerts everyone in the room to your location. So you'll have to approach stealth areas differently than in the first game.
Batman's arsenal of gadgets in this game is expanded beyond the batarangs explosive gel, and hacking device of the first game. Batman's electricity gun can be used to tazer enemies, open doors, and magnetize objects which is used to disarm enemies or acquire Riddler trophies. Freeze grenades can be used to make platforms on water, and somehow block hot steam from pipes, and more conventionally freeze thugs in their tracks. Batman can now finally drop smoke pellets to cloud enemies vision and make a hasty retreat in the event of gunfire. The line launcher has been upgraded so you can now change directions while using it as well as crawl on top of the line and walk on top of it like a tight rope and even use it as a platform. The bat grapple boost upgrade increases speed of grappling to roof tops, so much so that you'll rocket past your target and be launched into the air. Cape gliding has been refined and re-emphasized since the first game. It's now a lot more necessary to actually use Cape gliding, and it's much more versatile. For instance you can go into a dive while gliding, and then come out of it and continue to glide with greater speed and altitude. In fact Grapple boosting into a glide dive-bomb, then recovering is probably the fastest way to get around the city. That's probably why there's so many areas in the game teaching you how to do it, most notably the difficult AR training missions.
Arkham City itself is fairly large, but not as big as you'd expect. The map seems to be about twice the as large as that of the first game. Although the developers claim it to be five times as large, maybe it is. I guess I was expecting it to somewhere around 50 times as large, similar to the size cities in the Grand Theft Auto games. Navigation is not as open as you'd think either. The Batmobile doesn't appear in the game, many streets are blocked off, and some of the city is even underwater. The best way to get around the city is definitely by rooftop grappling and gliding. The art design in the game is very consistent, and nothing looks out of place in the city, but the problem this causes is that too many places look the same making it easy to get lost, at least if you're not checking the map constantly. It certainly would be nice if there were more landmarks in the city, and not all the rooftops were black with the same architecture. A mini map, so you know when the turn would be helpful as well, although there is any guide arrow, and the bat signal pointing you to your destination already. The main story will take you to most of the locations of the map, with the side quests steering you to explore the remainder, especially the eventually tedious Riddler trophy collecting. Load times are rather long, and about 30 seconds, but most the time you won't notice unless you play on hard mode and die frequently. One Problem though is when you traverse through the city by grappling too quickly, the game will sometimes freeze for a few seconds and wait for the area to finish loading.
The boss fights in the game are a bit of a mixed bag, but when compared to the first game they are far and away better, since there are at least four good ones. But there are still too many one hit kill lackluster anti-climactic fights present in the game. All I want is for it to take at least six successful combos to take out a boss, so that I feel like I actually fought them, and that I'm not just some sort of bat bully, picking on wimpy girlie men, with the bone density of sparrows.
Once you beat the game on normal or hard, you can replay the story in new game plus, and if you have one, select an alternate costume for Batman to play as. Your upgrades carryover from your first play through, and the spider-sense esque counter warning that appears over enemies heads before they attack is removed, making the game significantly harder. Also body armor, knife, shield, stun rod, and armed thugs appear earlier in the game and more frequently than during the first play through.
In addition to eventually confronting the Riddler, collecting Riddler trophies also unlocks challenge maps, the popular feature from the first game which are pretty much survival arenas in either combat or stealth. You'll unlock most of the challenge rooms once you've collected about 100 of the 400 Riddler trophies There are about 16 maps, though some repeat with extreme variants and more are added through DLC like the character packs. The goal the challenge rooms is to achieve the highest score in the shortest time possible, while also accomplishing the rooms individual goals to earn medals, and move up on the leaderboards. Challenge maps are also one of the few places where you can actually use the extra DLC costumes. There are much more challenge maps when compared to the first game, and there's a new feature called Campaign which has you play through three maps in succession before giving you an overall score. Some people get really into the challenge maps, and replay them all the time, maybe it's because I suck at the battle system, but I've never been too interested in them myself.
The DLC costumes are quite well done. My favorite being the 70's blue and gray, yellow oval bat symbol Batman costume which is clearly based off the art of Neal Adams. Everything in the game is more fun when wearing that costume. The Batman Beyond costume is also surprisingly cool. Although the faces is a bit messed up, it makes up for that with little touches like the shorter red cape that deploys only when gliding. Things like that make the costume a joy to use. Catwoman's animated series costume is based off the original gray 1992 one, and not the later 1997 black one. It looks pretty nice and is certainly on model, but all the animated series costumes appear to be cell shaded which looks a bit out of place within the game's setting. The Long Halloween Catwoman costume is my favorite, since despite obviously being based on the art of Tim Sale, it reminds me of the Jim Balent Catwoman costume which is my favorite of all time. My appreciation the costume is also certainly helped by the fact that her costume is so tight that it appears to be painted on, leaving just about nothing to imagination. As fun as it is to use these alternate costumes, they're all inaccessible for use in the campaign until after you've beaten the game, which is pretty annoying. Especially so if you've already beaten the game on normal , and wish to replay the game in a separate file on hard. Further you can't use different DLC costumes for each character , so you could be using a DLC Batman costume, but Catwoman and Robin will still be wearing their default outfits. Although supposedly using either animated series Batman or Catwoman will cause the other character wear their animated series costume as well, but I'd still like to be able to mix and match costumes as I please. There also appears to be a glitch where sometimes using certain costumes in particular areas, will cause the game to crash and say that the DLC has become corrupt, which is pretty bad and certainly should be patched. For example using the 70's Batman costume near the elevator in Wonder City, will almost always crash the game, at least in the 360 version.
There are several alternate costumes that I haven't been able to use yet, such as Dark Night Returns Batman, 1992 animated series Batman, Year One Batman, and Sinestro Corps Batman. There are also additional character packs, to let you play as Robin and Nightwing in the challenge maps, but not the single player game, with each character being sold separately for six dollars apiece. Personally I wouldn't mind paying ten dollars for Robin and Nightwing if that meant I could use them for the whole campaign, and the same goes for Catwoman, or any other character that they might add later like Joker, Azrael, or Batgirl.
Although most of the costumes were preorder incentives, all of them will be released in a package together for five dollars on December 6. There are also certainly some costumes that should be in the game but are not, such as Batman movie costumes, or notable exclusions such as, classic no pants Robin, Azrael Batman, Jim Balent Catwoman, Silver age green cape Catwoman, first appearance Tim Drake Robin, Green Lantern Batman, first appearance Nightwing, Knightfall saga Nightwing, orange costume Nightwing, Jim Lee costumes, George Perez costumes, Jim Aprao costumes, Dick Sprang costumes, 1966 TV show costumes and first appearance Batman. Also like the first game as you progress through the campaign Batman's as well as Catwoman's costume become increasingly damaged, and some people wish that once they beat the game they would have the option to return the costumes to their normal pristine look. I can't imagine that would be at all hard to implement, so I don't see a reason why they don't add it in a patch.
With the DLC code found within the games package during the campaign the narrative will occasionally switch to Catwoman. She adds about one hour of gameplay to the story, unless you get really stuck on her third or fourth mission, in which case you could be playing as her for four or five hours. Catwoman plays a little differently than Batman. The main thing is she obviously doesn't have a bat grapple so she must use her whip to swing to buildings, then depending on her altitude she must then also jump and climb up to reach the top. This makes Catwoman slower at navigating the city. Catwoman is significantly faster than Batman, which makes her easier to use during melee brawls, but she also has dramatically less health, and is particularly susceptible to gunfire. She has a few exclusive moves, her whip shun which is similar to Batman's cape sweep, but with better range and bow-lows aren't as powerful as batarang, but the caltrops are especially useful for tripping groups of thugs and thinning out their numbers. The whip disarm seems to work the same as the bat grapple disarm only with significantly less range. Otherwise Catwoman shares most of the same moves as Batman, including critical strikes and some takedowns.
Nightwing is the third DLC character to be released, and is pretty interesting play as. Nightwing welds metal escrima sticks that are electrified during combat, which seems to make his blows more devastating. He can also use the escrima sticks for special attacks; the escrima throw which acts like a batarang but with much worse range, and a the electrical blast attack sends out a shock wave that stuns groups of enemies at close range. Nightwing's batarangs are called wing dings, which I think is a ridiculous name. His tranquilizer dart gadget is pretty useful, but the cool down between each of the three shot capacity is annoying. You can also use the bat grapple and the disruptor. The pack comes with two costumes; Nightwing's normal black costume with the blue emblem, and the animated series version of the same one. I think that the default Nightwing character model's head is disproportionate to its body, and the likeness is really off. It looks like a Charlie Sheen Halloween mask. So I prefer to use the animated series costume with the long hair, even though it's cell shaded. The pack also comes with two new challenge maps, both set in stately Wayne Manor, which appear to be based off of the designs in 1989 Batman film. The combat map is set in the Armory of Wayne Manor, and because of this there are a lot of knives on the map. Though cool to look at, the map isn't particularly notable. The stealth map is set in the entrance to Wayne Manor and is very fun to play around in. The area is huge with two levels, seven rooms, staircases and even has secret passageways behind the walls. It's really awesome.
The graphics in the game are truly great. Character modeling is spectacular, especially facial textures. Colors are usually rich but the game's a dark lighting often hides this. The frame rate is usually good except for the occasional stuttering which I think has more to do with loading actually. The 360 version has some minor analyzing problems not found in PlayStation 3 version. Colors also seem brighter in the PlayStation 3 version as well, but the biggest edge is has is that the lighting is much better, especially the shadows. Picking up the 360 version certainly isn't a bad idea, but PlayStation 3 version is more graphically impressive, and if you have both systems and don't have a console preference, I would recommend the PlayStation 3 version.
Batman Arkham City is certainly a good game, that I would say is better than the original, due to the dramatic increase in content and replay value, although some might question that due to the inferior story. Voice acting and music is superb and the graphics are great, but the combat system is still rather shallow and not as complex or fun as it could be. It also feels like Gotham city was not fully realized since many buildings and structures seem smaller than they should be, and exists as game levels are not as places people could live in. The addition of random crimes and villain appearances would certainly liven up free-roaming in the game after beating it. Despite their many efforts to lengthen the game is still pretty shot and can be beaten in 8 to 10 hours, 20 if you go for all the Riddler trophies, double that time you decide to replay the game. So I recommend renting the game or wait until it goes down in price, $30 for instance seems fair. The game is great but you'll lose interest after about a week, so I give it a 8/10.