5 November 2011 | SylvesterFox007
This is What It's Like to be Batman
Licensed games, as a general rule, aren't anything to write home about. But video games have been especially cruel to Batman in the past. "Batman: Vengeance" featured frustrating combat laden with clunky animations and vehicles that handled terribly. "Batman Begins" was an all-too linear stealth game that required Batman to take out enemies in the exact manner and order he was intended to,because his Kevlar armor wasn't enough to save him from being killed just by having a gun pointed at him. So, this was what it was like to be Batman?
Then, in 2009, against all odds,Rocksteady released "Arkham Asylum." Instead of being a tie-in to existing movies or comics, it took place in the developers' own unique version of Batman's universe. Turns out to make players feel more like they were in Batman's shoes, it just took a good combination of stealth game play and brute combat, with a healthy dollop of fan service thrown on for good measure. It was, without a doubt, the best Batman gaming experience there was. Until now.
"Batman: Arkham City", blows it completely out of the water. An improvement in every way imaginable, it picks up where the last game left off. A huge section of Gotham City has been walled off and is now patrolled by heavily armed security teams. The city's captured criminal element has been transferred in from the old asylum and Blackgate Prison. Batman, naturally suspicious, finds a way inside to investigate, and he finds a gang war being being waged by some of his most notable arch-enemies.
Those who have played "Arkham Asylum" will be familiar with the basic game play, divided between two main components: free-flow combat and stealth, or "predator", tactics, enabling Batman to take out throngs of thugs head-on and pick out armed enemies from the shadows with equal ease. Free-flow combat is mainly accomplished by alternating between an "attack" and "counter", combined with a direction, to move from on enemy to another, breaking necks and cashing checks (in for upgrades). Fighting also makes use of Batman's "wonderful toys", with different gadgets being mapped to simple button combos. New gadgets and upgrades are collected throughout, providing more variety and a heavier emphasis on Batman's weaponry than in the last game. There are also new types of enemies that must be "stunned" first using specific combos, which keeps fights from being identical button-mashers, but sadly also slows the pace a little.
Predator tactics come into play when Bats enters an area being guarded by armed foes. While Batman has ballistic armor that can be upgraded, for the most part running into the line of an armed baddie's fire leads to a quick death. But the game gives you enough freedom to feel like Batman, hiding in the shadows not out of fear, but in order to strike fear. There is an even larger variety of "takedowns" than in the last game, allowing Batman to take advantage of elements of his environment such as ventilation shafts, gargoyles, and plywood barriers to pick off stragglers and watch their allies grow progressively more terrified.
The biggest improvement between games is the massive open-world that provides the setting for the game. Although some building can only be accessed as the story and your inventory allows, for the most part, Arkham City is your oyster from the moment you get in. Using a combination of gliding, diving, and grappling, you can battle random clusters of thugs for XP, follow up on various side missions as you discover them, or just admire the scenery. Most of the key locations you'd expect in Gotham City can be found walled off in Arkham, and Batman fans will definitely be in awe. I spent the first few hours gliding around the city, listening in on inmate's conversations, and occasionally swooping down to put the fear of God into them. Now THIS is what it's like to be Batman.
While there were references to just about every character in Batman's universe in the previous game, here just about all of them appear. To provide a list is to spoil many of the surprises, but returning enemies include the Joker, voiced in a stand-out performance by Mark Hamill (yes, THAT Mark Hamill.) Since he's announced his retirement from the role, this will probably be your last chance to get goosebumps listening to his pitch-perfect interpretation. Harley Quinn also returns, with a new (and, in my opinion, improved) costume, and also a new voice, with the Batman: TAS "Batgirl" Tara Strong taking over the role. Kevin Conroy also fits nicely back into the role of the titular character, who he voiced in TAS and the previous game. Another great performance comes from Nolan North, who voices my all-time favorite Batman villain, the Penguin. Here reinvented as a racketeer with the hint of a London accent and a cigar and broken glass bottle to replace the old cigarette holder and monocle, respectively, is a character that's still Oswald Cobblepot but is not to be trifled with. Chances are, between the main story line, the Easter eggs scattered throughout the city, and side missions, if you've got favorite Batman characters, they're in this game, and they're done justice.
The storyline is from TAS writer Paul Dinni, and ranks alongside of some of my favorite Batman comics. Like in "Arkham Asylum", fantastic use is made of the characters in the "Game Over" screens, now with a larger cast of enemies to taunt you, your taunter usually being determined by whose henchman defeats you. Unlike "Arkham Asylum", a fantastic game up until its anti-climatic ending, "Arkham City" only ever gets better as you progress through it. The only way this game isn't for you is if you absolutely hate Batman, great game play, and stunning graphics.
Why are you still reading this when you should be playing right now?