Thursday, December 22, 2011

Batman: Arkham City aka Batssassin's Creed meets Metroidvania

Batman: Arkham City had quite an act to follow. Rocksteady's Arkham Asylum took everyone by surprise, offering a solid action-platforming-brawler with tons of well-implemented fanservice that paid tribute to an age old franchise. And all of this from a developer with only one other little known title under its belt. Arkham Asylum was the ultimate sleeper hit.

In many regards a true sequel to its predecessor, Arkham City's progression is most notable in Batman's arsenal of toys. Getting around much easier with all the gadgets (line launcher, grappling hook) and cape gliding is superb. At times when an objective was clear across the city, my gut reaction was anger at another fetch quest. Then I launched up to and over a rooftop and seriously flew across the city. It perfectly straddles the line between being a just an average schmo with gadgets and feeling like a true superhero.

There's tons of fanservice for both casual and hardcore fans. Serious recommendation: if you're a comics fan, don't watch preview trailers. Chances are they will spoil some of the better cameos, which never feel too forced.
Riddler puzzles are back. There's more of them and some are much harder. Most are in plain sight or hidden behind breakable walls; others require one of the numerous upgradeable gadgets that often unlock whole sections of the map. In the middle of a great action game, you have some serious exploration. It doesn't seem to detract from the experience, but rather adds to the depth of the city as you uncover all the hidden secrets.

The game has some shortcomings. Catwoman missions (DLC integrated into the campaign) have weird placement that don't fit well with the rest of the presentation. This is especially evident in the case of the first mission, which really doesn't add anything significant but offsets the incredible opening.

And half the time you're tied up, upside-down anyway

Conversely the ending was a little weak/anticlimatic with too much going on. I can tell the developers addressed the concerns about the last boss fight in Arkham Asylum by adding more depth to the final moments. Unfortunately while the big secret reveal is pretty great, the fight sticks to safe formulas of earlier battles. Don't get me wrong; there are some noteable scenes as the game comes to its "close" (even if you unlocked all the Riddler challenges there is still some Catwoman stuff to do). Overall they just feel a little less significant when Batman brushes the dust from his cape and says "Well, that s**ts done. Back to Batmaning the hell out this dump".

Pictured: "Batmaning"©

By no means do these concerns deter from rest of the gameplay. I can't even count how many people I've told to play Arkham City, but only after beating Arkham Asylum. Both are phenominal separately and require appropriate attention. Arkham Asylum was great for defining a new format for future Batman games, and Arkham City expanded on everything that was already perfect while adding anything that was missing. The hardest thing to imagine is what can possibly be added to the inevitable sequel.


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