Batman: Arkham City - Review



I am pretty sure that i am not the only one who thinks that it's surreal but totally awesome at the same time, that the DC superhero Batman almost simultaneously became immensely relevant, both in movies AND video games. Rocksteady Studio's "Batman: Arkham Asylum" from 2009, was a big surprise hit. Before its release it had a rough start as "yet another decent-at-max super hero game". There was clearly no to minimal hype. Little did we know that Rocksteady Studio's interpretation of Batman was a great mix out of the Dark Knight we know and love from the movies but also from the comics. Greatly balancing combat and stealth gameplay, it was an instant hit and nobody denied its huge influence on the gaming industry's view on superhero games.
Often praised as "the best comic superhero game", the expectations for the announced sequel "Batman: Arkham City" were sky-high.
Simply judging by the trailers, Rocksteady was well prepared, with more action, more villains, a bigger open world and an intense story.
Now, has Rocksteady been able to do Batman justice, or did the expectations crush this sequel?





Story

Since the events of "Batman: Arkham Asylum", the warden Quincy Sharp has taken credit for Batman's successful defeat over the Joker and used the situation to win Gotham City's mayoral election. The first of his radical plans is to declare Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Prison unsuitable to house criminals. He buys a large area of Gotham's slums, walls it off and arranges highly trained armed mercenaries from an corporation named "Tyger" to maintain control. All prisoners are transported to this new facility called "Arkham City", approximately a year after the events at the asylum. They are given only one rule under threat of death: do not try to escape. No other policing takes place inside, leaving a mix of several gangs of criminals and super villains who fight for existence in this lawless, ruthless "prison city". 
Quincy Sharp brings in a mysterious psychiatrist named Hugo Strange to be Arkham City's new head. Hidden from the eyes of the public, Strange is rumored to be up to terrible things, but nothing can be proven. Anyone who investigates his past or Arkham itself seems to disappear, most likely within the walls of the prison city.
Batman believes this is a ticking time bomb and has kept an eye on Arkham City for months, looking for any excuse to break into the well-guarded prison, and now it's time..

To be honest, when i first heard about the plot yet again focusing on Batman in a prison, i was pretty much disappointed. I thought "Are you kidding me? Arkham ASYLUM and now Arkham CITY?! How lazy is that? How about Arkham STATE next?", but now jokes aside:
Turns out, the idea of Batman in a prison city has been treated with incredible finesse. It instantly reminded me of the classic John Carpenter movie "Escape from New York".
You will immediately recognize that there has been put a huge amout of production values into the game. The intro sequences, the cutscenes and the story itself have been refined and put more effort into than the ones in "Arkham Asylum", leading to a far more cinematic approach. Through the course of the story you will encounter many plot twists and turns, which keep the story interesting till the end. The storytelling in "Arkham City" is significantly better than in "Asylum", due to the fact that the villains are given more character. During your time in Arkham City you will encounter several villains that you will have problems calling "a 100% evil". Different than in "Asylum", "Arkham City" has a story in which it's not "every villain against Batman". Most of the time, you are forced to work with certain villains, who again are against another specific villain. Of course you got your psycho-maniacs like Joker, whose motivations are as twisted as his looks but on the other hand you will meet villains like "Mr. Freeze" and "Rhaz' al Ghul", who BASICALLY have good intentions.
The villain's backstories get even more focus in the game's side missions.
With that said, the main missions in the game pretty much follow the saying "my enemy's enemy is my friend".
Overall, yes, the structure of the game (again taking place in a prison, only bigger) may scare of few potential gamers off, but only judging by the story, "Arkham City" is a huge step forward compared to "Asylum". It's no storytelling marvel but considering that's it's a superhero comic based action game, it has a big entertainment value.
Oh, and especially with the games heavy ending, Rocksteady Studios shows that it isn't scared of taking risks (aka. having balls).



Gameplay

Of course you play as Batman himself, but this time in a multi-layered "open" world. But don't make the mistake expecting a fully realized sandbox game. Think "Infamous" rather than "GTA".
The bigger world in "Arkham City" is a substantial part of the game's success: it offers you way more possibilites considering exploration, side missions, riddles, mini-games, etc.. making "Arkham Asylum" looking more like a "test-phase" for this more extended world, which is supposedly (and most probably) about 5 times bigger than the asylum (including the several buildings and underground areas).
The only downside is that the game's dark, gloomy style drags on the city's remarkable-ness, compared to others like "Liberty City". Arkham City felt extremely lifeless to me after beating most of the quests.
It's a very dark uncomfortable place, but then again the joke's on me, because, well, it's a fuckin prison full of maniacs...and it certaintly feels like one. But one thing's for sure: Arkham City really looks like it's a part of Gotham.
As already mentioned, the city is scattered with hidden explorable areas, secrets, etc.. that will easily distract you from your main story, but still, the game manages to give you always a specific path for the main missions, marked on your map. Considering the ridiculously huge amount of extra content, aside from the main story, Rocksteady did a great job exactly showcasing the different "stuff" you can do in the city without overwhelming you or making you lose the main track.

Batman's control scheme is more or less exactly the same introduced in "Arkham Asylum", that blends stealth with combat. Again, you have your well-known XP-based upgrade system with just a nice amount of more new toys and gadgets but also some old ones you already know from "Asylum".
Some very significant improvements (especially for me) were the difficulty of the fights. Batman's stealth and combat gameplay can be most suitably described as "easy to learn, difficult to master".
When playing "Asylum" i thought the game was great bla bla,..but i had one big problem with it: the game was waaaaaaay too easy  (*COUGH* killer-croc battle). Especially considering the combat and stealth, thugs were total fucking idiots, like stupid sheep waiting in line to get ripped to shreds.
Surprisingly for me, Rocksteady has adressed this issue by imporving the thugs' A.I., making them pick up different objects and weapons lying on the floor, harder to beat, mind their surroundings much more. It's a very welcome change that i didn't expect.
Additionally, the boss battles are thankfully more challenging and exciting (although often a little too short).




Regarding the main missions, i pretty much said everything story-related that had to be said in the story section. The main missions are the important track that will lead you through Arkham City, (and in its course) change the city's face. After one mission you will explore the museum for the first time, after another a building will explode, etc..
The main missions will take you to various villains in and will constantly test your abilities in all three big gameplay sections: stealth, combat and detective work.
Always raising the bars, but at the same time doing a fantastic work in introducing you to each gadget and ability Batman has to offer.
The main story alone is more or less as long as the one from "Arkham Asylum".

Side missions are extremely well developed in the game, giving you a lot to do even after you beat the main story. The side missions often feature villains who have been totally absent from the main story and of whose presence in the game you probably didn't even know about (did you know Calendar Man is in Arkham City!?). The side missions are put so much effort into that they could be well put together to a second separate mini campaign. The only (sadly very annoying) downside is that the game in almost every sidemission forces you to search for evidence before being able to encounter (or find) a specific killer/villain.
First this detective work seems like a lot of fun, but SEARCHING for evidence is a pain in the ass!
It's often like "somewhere in this region a man got shot....LOOK FOR THAT ONE DEAD MAN!".
So you are like "Oh great, i have to look for that ONE DEAD GUY in a city FULL OF DEAD GUYS!".
You will several times feel like you're looking for a needle in a haystack.

Outside from the content given in the main game, you can access arena based combat missions, stealth missions, time trials, etc.. to unlock a huge amount of goodies like concept art and others.
Not to forget, there's the "New Game +" mode, which let's you replay the game with your achieved arsenal but with amped up difficulties.


Graphics

While Arkham City itself looks pretty impressive, it doesn't break any new ground graphicwise.
"Arkham City" is running on the Unreal 3 Engine, which has been already used in countless games, for which reason the game's graphical goal lies more within the artdesign rather than the graphics themselves.
(Check out the game's various awesome artwork on the net!)
Rocksteady's interpretation of Batman, his villains and the world itself are a welcome mix between Nolan's realistic movie Batman and the comics, satisfying fans of both.


Sound

The voice acting is absolutely phenomenal (probably coming right after "Uncharted"). Of course the star of the show is Marc Hamill as the Joker. He fits just perfectly into this role. It's almost unimaginable for the Joker to have anybody else voice him. The rest of the cast does an awesome job as well. Bruce Wayne certaintly sounds like Bruce Wayne (deep manly voice), Mr. Freeze sounds cold, emotionless and very rational, Penguin sou...let's just say every actor has been perfectly cast, resulting in a top notch voice acting job (except Bane, he sounded weird) with partially outstanding dialogue.
Rocksteady also offers a soundtrack that sounds like a blend between Hans Zimmer's Batman theme and Danny Elfman's. The score seemlessly transcends from "zimmerish to elfmanish" without sounding forced or odd.
And while we are at it: forget about that stupid retail soundtrack! It features "Panic! at the Disco"....WHAT THE FU.!



The Verdict

Rarely a developer manages to live up to the high expectations set by its succesful predecessor, but that's exactly what Rocksteady Studios did. "Arkham City" makes "Arkham Asylum" feel like a test-phase.
In "Arkham City" all of the potential buried deep inside of its (still great) predecessor got unfolded.
Rather than doing new things, "Arkham City" takes an already succesfull formula and improves it.
Batman has all the old but also new gadgets, there are new and more villains with great characteristics, a bigger multi-layered open world, LOADS of stuff to find,do and explore, and the list goes on...
Unfortunately, some annoyances like the basically similar setting, searching troubles, an entertaining but still simple story, and let's not forget the content that you have to download to experience, like the catwoman quests (FUCKIN DLC!), hold it back from being even better.
But seriously, all those negative aspects are merely minor nippicks, if you look at all the thought and effort that has been put into this game. It all boils down to "Batman: Arkham City" being the probably best comicbook hero game yet (and of course best Batman game). Yes, even better than "Asylum".


Final Verdict: 9 out of 10

Status: Must-Play!

 

No comments:

Post a Comment