Batman: Arkham City - Armored Edition review
The Definitive Dark Knight Experience
While it’s essentially me bashing in the brains of a deceased equine at this point, it’s hard not to lap praise upon Arkham Asylum for reinvigorating the Batman video game franchise. The 2009 title won numerous game of the year awards and when developer Rocksteady officially announced they were working on a sequel they were put in the difficult position of having to deliver a follow up to one of this console generation’s most beloved releases. For those who doubted that they would be able to capture lighting in a bottle twice you can put your fears aside: Arkham City is without a doubt the definitive Dark Knight experience.
Things pick up where Asylum left off. Joker is still poisoned and dying from the Titan formula and after his coup of the Asylum a new jail; Arkham City, has been created to store Gothams countless criminals and other dangerously disturbed individuals. While speaking out against Arkham City Bruce Wayne is kidnapped and incarcerated within it on the orders of its creator Hugo Strange and then once assuming the identity of Batman is forced to square off against some of his most iconic foes en route to finding out what Strange is up to, stopping the Joker, and finding the time to read to the elderly!... OK I might have added that last part, but the story can feel a bit too muddled at times. The narrative is bookended by two big bangs, but everything in between is just white noise. New bad guys pop in so frequently and are so one dimensional that playing through the story can feel like “Batman Villains: Greatest Hits”, with some obviously being included for no apparent reason besides for the fact that they’re fan favorites.
On the other hand the gameplay is superb, in fact it’s so good that it’s likely I’ll never be able to go back to AA after playing it and I mean that as high praise. Those who played through AA will have no problem picking up AC but a few new wrinkles have been added into the formula to keep it from being stale and subtly increase the difficulty. New moves such as the weapon break, multi-batarang takedown, and the ability to counter up to three foes at once make Batman more efficient than ever. The new animations also work wonders to immerse you into the world, as it’s the little things such as Batman slamming an enemy up against a wall or smashing his face directly into a ledge that stand out. Toss in more gadgets to play with and a greater variety of enemies; knife wielders, guys with riot shields, etc and you end up with a massive refinement to the strategic brawling gameplay introduced back in ’09. Button mashers need not apply.
The actual mechanics behind the stealth gameplay have gone relatively unchanged but if it aint broke don’t fix it. Silent takedowns mixed with controlled explosions and the occasional batarang to the face will still pave the way to victory, but it’s still satisfying so I can’t complain too much.
The most impressive change up though is the setting. I don’ know how Strange managed to get everyone else in Gotham to agree to wall off a part of the city and transform it into a prison but since it gives us gamers such a wonderful and detailed sandbox to play around in who am I to bitch? The Bat has finally been given room to spread his wings and Rocksteady has thankfully taken advantage of it. The grapple hook-cape combo is one of the most enjoyable methods of transportation in all of gaming and Arkham City as a whole is just such a breath of fresh air after the confines of Arkham Asylums endless corridors.
On the technical side of things Arkham City isn’t a huge step up from its predecessor but a greater variety in the number of environments and enemies helps keep things fresh. When it comes to voice acting the Joker and Harley Quinn still run circles around everyone else but that’s more of a testament to the strong work of Mark Hamill and Arleen Sorkin who once again reprise their roles from the ‘90s animated series. If this truly is Mark Hamills last project before his retirement then it’s a hell of a swan song.
Replay value simply trumps what we were given in Arkham Asylum. Riddler Trophies and challenge rooms return but it’s the addition of New Game + that’s the real star. Once you beat the campaign you’re allowed to bring you’re upgraded Caped Crusader into the campaign once again but this time with an increase in enemy numbers and difficulty and without any helpful prompts. You’ve either got to step up and fully become the Dark Knight or face endless ass kickings.
Arkham City isn’t perfect. The story never manages to escape the trappings of its comic book/ Saturday morning cartoon heritage (in the beginning Strange claims he’ll reveal Batmans secret identity if he offers any resistance but then never follows through on the threat simply to allow the narrative to continue), for some reason stairs are Batmans number one enemy when attempting to maintain a combo, and the countless cameos can become grating if like me you’re not a major Bat-fanatic. But I can’t deny that I was having a blast the whole time throughout and that it still keeps me coming back for more.
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