Batman: Escape From Gotham City
Riddle me this, riddle me that, what can you say about the big black bat? I’ve tried for the past three days to come up with the words for my review of Arkham City and have been blanked at every turn. The sequel to 2009’s smash hit Arkham Asylum, Batman Arkham City takes the tried and true bat formula and expands upon it in every possible way. The environment is much larger, there are more villains, there are more side missions, and much more Riddler clues to find. To answer Mr. Nigmas query, all that needs to be said about this one is the game is amazing, and if you are a fan of Batman you owe it to yourself to play through this game.
I’m The God Damned Batman
As I mentioned, Batman Arkham City follows directly in the wake of Arkham Asylum. Hugo Strange has taken the outbreak at the asylum as an excuse to get sign off on creating his dream: Arkham City. This is very similar to the treatment of New York in Escape From New York, where a section of the city has been walled off and all of Gothams criminals and criminally insane have been dumped inside to fend for themselves. Unfortunately through a twist of events, Bruce Wayne who is on site to protest the new prison system finds himself locked inside with the inmates, and Strange has worked out his alter ego. Things go from bad to worse when the Joker turns up, looking much worse for wear after his Titan overdose, and basically tricks Batman into working for him by injecting his blood into him and many unsuspecting transfusion patients throughout Gotham. The game then becomes a quick race against time to find and dispense a cure as Batman grows weaker and weaker.
The plot works quite well, and since the project was greenlit so early in Arkham Asylums development cycle everything fits together perfectly, there really isn’t any shoehorning in of ideas here, Rocksteady was well aware they were heading towards sequel territory. As such the main drawing point of the original game, the combat, hasn’t changed much. It is still as fast and fluid as it ever was and may actually be a bit tighter this time around. Batman connects much more closely and smoothly during combat now, where as in Asylum some of the finishing animations were way off with Batman punching the air or enemies taking strange falls, that is mostly non-existent here. The gadgets that Batman employs on a regular basis all make a return from the previous game and thankfully Rocksteady doesn’t try to “Metroid” Batman at the beginning of the game. For the most part you start with all of the same gear you had at the end of Asylum, with the exception of the line gun for some reason. This did create one issue I had with the game, in that it’s upgrade system was extremely limited. Batman gains XP for fighting enemies, finding Riddler tokens, and completing tasks and can gain one new ability per level up. However, since you start with basically all of your equipment there really are no interesting perks to take. The main ones you would want are the combo upgrades again, and there is body armor you can buy (4 levels each for melee and firearm protection), how very exciting.
The Bat, The Cat and The Penguin
What would Batman be without his vast cast of villains to fight, and Arkham City has them in spades. Of course Joker and Harley are back, but they are pretty much the only carry overs from the previous incarnation (Barring a side quest involving Zsasz and another with Bane), you won’t be repeating your fight with Killer Croc again or anything like that. The main new villain for pretty much the first half of the game is The Penguin, who is here voiced by an unreckognizable Nolan North. This interpretation of Penguin as a cockney black market arms dealer is rather inspired and handled extremely well in the game. You will face off against the Penguin multiple times throughout the game and the brilliant part about it is he is a complete pushover. Penguin can only take about one punch from Batman and every time you pull it off it is completely rewarding, the trick is getting close enough to hit the man. I certainly loved every encounter with Penguin and his frozen museum was a really interesting level to traverse. The only issue I had with the Penguin was that they went so out of their way to have Nolan North actually do a different voice it was completely refreshing, but the developers JUST COULDN’T HELP THEMSELVES! As such approximately 90% of the thugs you run into on the streets are in some way distant cousins to Mr. Nathan Drake. You can’t win them all…
The other major addition to the game is, of course, Catwoman. Catwoman comes as free DLC for new purchases of the game or can be bought with a 10 dollar unlock code. Make no mistake, this is not a simple add on that lets you use Catwoman in the challenge rooms, she has a full on story arc that, if installed prior to starting a new game, is fully intertwined with Batmans story. Catwoman has free reign of the city, though her mobility is a little more limited than Batmans. She can swing from rooftops with her whip and can climb up walls and on ceilings with her claws. I actually enjoyed traveling around as Catwoman, as climbing on walls was one thing I wished Batman could do and she does without issue. Combat with Catwoman is naturally similar to Batman, as she is just as quick and agile at taking out foes, though the addition of her whip allows her to trip enemies and keep large groups at bay.
Other notable villain appearances include Two-Face and Mister Freeze, who each play smaller roles in the overall story but are interesting parts of it nonetheless. Two-Faces twisted courthouse lair was an inspired setting to see early in the game and the boss battle with Mister Freeze was very original and really forces you to use all of Batmans abilities. Unfortunately, having already filled the first game with villains and used the remaining low A to high B level villains, Arkham City does begin to scrape the bottom of the barrel when it comes to its ancillary villains. While it did make for a cool segment, was anyone really clamoring for a Mad Hatter level in these games? When you’re sporting Deadshot, Calendar Man, and Solomon Fucking Grundy it makes me wonder what they are going to wind up doing in the next Batman game. I will say that there is one villain in the game that I never expected to see in this game and was completely taken by surprise when they were revealed.
My Parents Are Dead!
As Arkham City is so similar to Arkham Asylum in gameplay style, I don’t think anyone will really be surprised by the package they are getting here. Combat is improved but largely the same, the gadgets and gizmos you use are mostly the same with a couple of new toys to try out, and the story elements work just as they did before. You will be given a task to go to a specific location, you arrive, beat up a main villain to move the plot along and then go to the next segment. Where Arkham City really shines is its new location. Arkham Asylum was nice, but it was held back by the smallness of its location. It’s really difficult to get that Batman feel when you are walking through corridors and fighting in small rooms. Here you get the full Gotham experience. You can be perched atop a gargoyle looking down upon some thugs and swoop in from stories above delivering a swift kick to the face, proceed to take out his 5 cronies, and grapple away into the night. That is so Batman!
The environments are all very interesting and tailored to the villain that inhabits them. As I mentioned already, Two-Face’s courthouse is ripped in half, one side of the building in pristine order, the other torched to oblivion. Penguins museum is a frozen monument to his greatness. Thankfully Rocksteady actually allows you to see these environments by reducing the need for Detective Vision. While in Arkham Asylum it seemed like there was no reason to play with this mode off, in Arkham City it’s not as necessary. The environments are much larger making route planning and attack strategies easier to devise without having to view the world in blue and orange tones.
Audio work in the game is of course top-notch. Mark Hamill once again returns as the Clown Prince of Crime, and really shows why to our generation he IS the Joker. Kevin Conroy turns in another stoic performance as Batman and I already applauded Nolan Norths inspired work as Penguin. The only voice that didn’t return was that of Harley Quinn, which got some major flack on the message boards, however the new voice actress does a perfect job capturing the carefree insanity that embodies Harley.
The only other major feature I feel I should mention is The Riddler. He is back once again, only this time his role has been GREATLY expanded. Some might even say a little too greatly… There are a total of 400 (440 if you include Catwoman) Riddler tokens/riddles/collectibles to take care of in this game and for an OCD gamer that can be a little much to swallow. Riddler has an entire side mission of rescuing medical officers from his riddle rooms, which are really interesting puzzle rooms that you must navigate. Unfortunately you are locked out of these rooms until you find a set number of Riddler tokens, and after saving the second doctor I pretty much lost interest. I enjoyed doing the riddles which are similar to the previous game where you must zoom in on specific items given in clues, but collecting the trophies that are locked away behind puzzles that simply involve hitting switches in order or quickly enough became rather boring for me.
What Do You Think I am? CRAZY?
While pretty much all of the reviews for Arkham City have been extremely positive, and I cannot argue with them really, there were those few issues I had with it. A little too much Nathan Drake in my henchmen, the Riddler tokens became a bit too much, and the villain roster was wearing quite thin in the side quest department. However, if those are really the only complaints you can have against this game, that’s not a whole lot to complain about. Rocksteady has done it once again, taken Batman and given him a game that in almost every respect is better than the amazing Arkham Asylum. The world is so much bigger and much more fun to traverse. The game just oozes that Batman look and feel. The story is interesting and surprising at every turn with something new to see or experience at every section. If you weren’t a fan of Arkham Asylum (both of you), then this one probably won’t change your mind, however all fans of the Bat owe it to themselves to play through this game. With the multitude of side quests and secondary objectives it’ll certainly keep you busy for weeks to come and apparently there has just been some news leaked of more story content DLC on the way.