Game review: Arkham City, curing madness through body bags

The predecessor to the recently released “Arkham City,” “Arkham Asylum” gave the newer game quite a reputation to live up to. Touted as one of the only good Batman games, “Arkham Asylum” had an average review score of 91.67 and was revered by fanboys, die-hards, and casual players alike as an excellent and fun game.

Therefore, the hype for “Arkham City” was immense and worries that Rocksteady Studios, the team behind the creation of the fantastic first game, would never be able to hit such heights again ran rampant. When the game released on October 18, 2011, swarms of fans rushed to see if Rocksteady had managed to strike gold twice with the sequel to one of the most popular games in recent history.

Before discussing the actual content of the game, it is best to mention the somewhat controversial moves made by the people behind “Arkham City.” The most obvious controversy is the fact that the game does not actually come with an instruction manual. The manual and credits usually found in the inside cover of the game case can only be accessed online for this game. This is an interesting move, as many in the game industry have been debating about doing away with instruction manuals for years. Often, manuals are rendered redundant by tutorials at the beginning of games, and credits at the end, and their manufacture costs money and wastes paper. Many think that such a major game releasing without a paper manual marks the beginning of the end for physical instruction booklets, though not everyone is happy about this. Longtime gamers consider it a tradition to bring a new game home and spend the first few minutes before playing reading the manual. They feel that in getting rid of the manual, companies are saving money at the cost of a sacred ritual of gaming
No one had too much time to focus on this controversy before a second major one became apparent. In the space where a manual normally goes, new “Arkham City” games have a code that unlocks the Catwoman character. Anyone buying a used copy of the game will have to pay $10.00 to unlock her, preventing the company from losing money through re-sold games. While Catwoman is not essential to the storyline or any core gameplay elements, there are side missions that she is better suited to complete, and even trophies that only she can access. Losing profits from used game sales has been an issue in the game industry for a while, but many gamers are still crying foul that a major character who fills in what would otherwise be gaps in the storyline is not actually included in the game.

“Arkham City,” in a nutshell, is an expansion on “Arhkam Asylum,” taking everything that that game did and expanding it to city-wide proportions. This includes gameplay, combat, mobility, characters, and storyline. The game does have the interesting perk of not taking away all the equipment players had at the end of the last game. The player starts the game with about three-fourths of the gadgets available at the end of the first game. The introduction to “Arkham City” allows the player to get a feel for the controls by providing an interactive cutscene starring the protagonist, and allowing the player to both adjust to the basic controls and catch up on the story.

From there on, most of the city is open to the player and becomes their playground. Mission objectives and sidequests are clearly marked on the map, but the player is free to go wherever they wish; the only missions with time limits are the sidequests. The method of mobility is left completely open, as one can run around on the ground of the city, or clamber about and swing through buildings. It is completely possible for a skilled player to navigate from one end of the enormous city to the other without touching the ground.

As the player navigates the city as Batman, and Catwoman, to a limited extent, conversations from those on the ground and roofs float up to the character’s ears, giving away the location of bad guys and occasionally giving the player information about newly available sidequests and their objectives. If the player deems the conversations of sufficient interest, he or she can switch seamlessly from traveling to combat, with multiple different ways of sneaking up on and scaring enemies. Combat is, as before, very dependent on timing. Well-timed attacks and counters result in long combos, which in turn deal greater damage. Poor timing allows enemies to land attacks and break combos.

Of course, Batman is only successful because of the number of people he has supporting him, and only as busy as he is because of all the villains that give him trouble. The game throws in just about every Batman character created, to the point of oscillating between a Bat-fan’s dream and a bit of overkill. Most characters are fairly fleshed-out, with nearly every sidequest villain giving the player a little time to interact with them, however, a few characters, such as Robin, are thrown in to say a few lines and leave, which disappointed more than a few fans. Throughout the course of the game, over thirty characters from the Batman universe, mostly villains, show up to interact with Batman in some way.

Even by themselves, the story, the atmosphere, the settings, and other similar parts of the game are superb. The game is engaging, entertaining, and varied. The main storyline missions build on skills the player earns as the game progresses, allowing for varied gameplay, while the sidequests use a combination of new and old skills to keep gameplay from becoming stale. The game is advertised as having at least forty hours of content, though the main story can be done in just under a quarter of that time.

“Arkham City” is a good game, though not as innovative as its predecessor. It does feel that the developers of “Arkham City” looked at what was popular in “Arkham Asylum” and built from there, creating multiple scenarios that are different from yet noticeably similar to “Asylum.” The storyline builds off of the ending to “Asylum,” although to the game’s credit, events of the first game are only referenced in the plot, rather than making them a staple of the storyline. The story of this game is meant to be more personally significant to the player and the Batman mythos in general, and the final boss fight is not nearly as anticlimactic as “Asylum’s.” However, with the multitude of side villains, the ending loses some of its intended impact and weight.

Overall, “Arkham City” is a fun and engaging game. There is enough to do that if the player gets stuck, they have the option of doing something else before coming back to try the original objective. There is an abundance of references and characters put in for the benefit of fans, the fights are challenging and entertaining, the sidequests don’t feel out of place, and the storyline is interesting and occasionally productive. This is a great game that can definitely stand on its own for fans of the series and casual, first-time players alike. However, in the context of “Arkham Asylum,” “Arkham City” feels stuck in the shadow of its predecessor.

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