Open world games have always faced an uphill battle with me to win my affection. I would always prefer designers to direct me into their world than make me scour it to find fun. The perception of a bigger world is much more appealing to me than the physicality of it. I’ve been burnt too many times with open world games that cast a huge web of uninteresting and unfulfilling activities for me to do. Adding the word “City” to the title to one of my favorite games of 2009 was more than enough to make me concerned for Rocksteady’s latest Batman chronicle, Arkham City. Luckily for me, uninteresting and unfulfilling are adjectives that are graciously omitted in this fantastic follow-up.
To any Batman fan, Arkham City is as descriptive of a title as can be since “How Stella Got Her Groove Back.” To the non-cape and cowl fans, Arkham is the surname to the fictional insane asylum of Gotham city, where all of Batman’s’ worst frienemies are kept until their inevitable escape. Some pencil pusher decided to move the asylum so that it encompasses an entire city block that is isolated from the rest of Gotham’s citizens. This has led to a variety of big name villains creating factions within the city to rule as they see fit. Batman’s alter ego, Bruce Wayne, is unwillingly brought to Arkham city as one of its many prisoners by long time villain Hugo Strange. This sets up the main story as the player tries to unravel Strange’s overall intentions with Arkham city. The player is directed to different waypoints within the city to progress the story. As the plot thickens, the player interacts with several different big and small named villains. This interaction can be played out via the main story missions or any of the branching side missions that the player comes across as they traverse the city. The sheer amount of characters this game has is enough to make any Batman enthusiast salivate. Just the main story line alone has enough characters within it to tell a grand story, add to the fact that you have a bevy of side missions with more characters to interact with, and it becomes an amazing accomplishment. At the same time, the player never feels overwhelmed with the amount of story content there is for them to experience. You never feel like you are forced to deviate from your overall objective and even when you do, every side mission feels perfectly truncated to tell its story without taking away from the overall plot. The only exceptions to this are the Riddler trophies, which are back from the first game. For some reason Riddler thought it would be a great idea to hide over 400 trophies and riddles within the city for Batman to find. Because of the ridiculous amount of collectibles there are, you’re constantly running into them through your progression. They play out wonderfully as each one is a tiny little puzzle you have to solve in order to collect, and it feels rewarding once you figure them out. After a certain amount, you learn the location of a hostage Riddler has hidden somewhere in the city. The hostages are placed in a very unique and fun location that makes collecting the trophies worthwhile. The problem lies in the integration. There are so many items to collect that they end up eating away from your progress and this is especially bothersome when you don’t have the right tool/gadget unlocked in order to collect some of them. You’ll end up spending time on a futile attempt at something you can’t collect until later in the game. It’s a small blemish on a system, which, like the other side missions, is worth undertaking because of the end result.
Rocksteady has an amazing gift to make players feel like Batman at any given moment. Whether it’s in the traversal of the city, or the extraordinary combat, that sensation never staggers. The hand-to-hand combat is a large portion of the game and it plays out almost as succinctly as a rhythm game. You start with a basic punch and counter move, and as you level up and meet different enemies with different attributes; your abilities grow to counter them more efficiently. You’ll meet characters with knives, shields, body armor, etc. and each time you develop something that can counter them Every punch, kick and counter is like a ballet and it’s as fluid as your timing allows. You’ll jump from one enemy to the next and the dance just continues to get easier yet more complex as you go. Northing feels more satisfying then taking down a room full of guys and never losing a sliver of health. The other portion of the combat is played out in predator style. You often find yourself in a room of unsuspecting goons that can methodically be taken down one by one while their friends are none the wiser. I like to consider this type of gameplay as “Reverse Splinter Cell” where as in the infamous Tom Clancy game; when you hide in the shadows you are susceptible to your environment. In Arkham City, the enemies are afraid of you and the environment is your leverage. Batman would also not be anywhere without his gadgets, and the array of tools you have at your disposal help frame the predatory and hand to hand combat perfectly. You already start out with an arsenal and the amount only grows as your progress. Each item has its uses and can help give you a little elbow room when needed. However the amount at your availability, even in the beginning of the game, is a little overwhelming. That isn’t a knock on the design, as each item has its uses, I just have a feeling that players with gravitate towards specific tools that meet their play style rather then utilizing every item at their disposal. Again, it doesn’t detract from the combat; it can just feel a little distracting at times when you have so many items to choose from, especially some you’ll end up never using.
As a huge Batman fan myself, I really enjoyed the cameos and character interactions you have with the cast you meet during the game. The dialogue and voice acting is as good as any of the Batman franchises to date. The story is engaging and there are even moments that took me by surprise. My only real gripe with the story is the over used concept of out of body experiences. It’s weaved into the story in an interesting way, but there were too many moments that took Batman out of his reality and into what are best described as dream sequences. My issue isn’t how these experiences play out, it’s the over utilization of them. How many times does Batman have to have a psychedelic experience? The last thing I’ll say about the plot, without giving too much away, is how Rocksteady plays with the fiction. The game deviates from the status quo that’s been established for years and it makes the story much more interesting. If you think everything is going to revert back to “normal” once the credits roll, you are sorely mistaken. Actions and outcomes in this game will have a tremendous impact on future stories from this world.
Batman Arkham City is a perfect example of a finely tuned open world game in every respect. The city is just large enough to house all the incredible content that is available to the player and the content is perfectly constructed to be enjoyable and rewarding at the same time without being a huge burden. At the same time, the city is just the right size for players that only want to experience the main story. Even though you’ll be traversing back and forth, little time is wasted reaching your objectives. Outside of the main game you can view the artwork and character bios that you unlocked during the game, which should satisfy all you hardcore collectors out there. There are also some challenge rooms to test your wits and reflexes. While not new to the series, it’s a fantastic opportunity for players to experiment with the combat. With all that content, it’s hard to find faults with the game at all. All the negatives I have for this game are strictly isolated to minor gripes and don’t detract form the experience. Arkham City really stands on it’s own to being a game of the year contender.
Value : Purchase @ $60