Wednesday, November 2, 2011

First Impressions - Batman: Arkham City

So here's the thing... I had a bit of a dilemma this week when deciding what I should write about for the blog. I haven't been keeping up with any new music, I'm behind on all of the shows I watch. It's not like I've been busy or anything, I've just been spending every free moment deep inside the world of Arkham City. You see: the people of Gotham needed me, and Batman Must Save Gotham. 

Arkham City is the highly anticipated follow-up to huge surprise and GOTY contender Arkham Asylum. The thing that makes this whole series so special beyond anything else is that it exists. Good licensed games are the rarest thing in gaming, and had been a joke among gamers for years. Arkham Asylum succeeded because Rocksteady Studios had focus, they understood what Batman was and they used the character's strengths to build a world around. Where other developers had failed with the Batman license is that they made mediocre action or stealth title and put you in a batsuit. Rocksteady didn't create a game so much, they created a frickin' Batman SIMULATOR. 

Arkham City picks up with Arkham Asylum closed down and all of it's prisoners moved to a super-prison that amounts to a large fenced in area of Gotham City. It's kind of a weird set-up, it just sounds like an awful idea to put all of Gotham's super-villians into a small an enclosed area of city blocks... but that's just me. Despite the unbelievable plot, it doesn't take long to forget about it. Rocksteady has greatly improved Batman's mobility for the sequel's larger world: gliding, grappling, and dive bombing feel responsive and tight.

Despite the open world, the actual gameplay structure of Arkam City isn't all that different from it's predecessor, it's not really a free roaming game. There are plenty of side-missions, but they don't feel integral to the story and you can just skip them in favor of playing the main story. There are some worthwhile side-missions though, at one point on my map screen I was told by Alfred that they had found a cure for the ailment that affects Batman throughout the game. I went to the dropoff point and injected it into my neck to find out that I had been fooled by the mad-hatter. The next sequence was a hilarious romp where Batman looks like a bunny and fights bad guys that also look like bunnies on top of moving platform. Batman is clearly hallucinating, but man... that section was fun.  

Unfortunately though, the open world acts little more than a hub to travel to whatever building the next level is enclosed in. If I can be honest here, that is a little disappointing. Hopefully Rocksteady's next step is to finally take Batman into the entire city of Gotham and truly create something special. 

Inside the levels, Arkham City feels like the same game. You'll still be crawling through vents and stalking dudes. You'll still be fighting an alarming amount of baddies at a time and be forced to remember countless combos. You'll still be grappling to those weird statues that seem to be in every room and watching as they search frantically for you. It is a game that seems more difficult than it's predecessor, which is fine by me... I'm no creampuff.    

Batman's tool belt must be huge because Rocksteady has given you virtually every cool gadget imaginable. Batclaw - check, 3 different kinds of batarang - check, explosive gel - check, new additions to Batman's arsenal include the ability to freeze and electrify enemies. You're given a large amount of ways to takedown enemies in general, and a memorable boss-fight is the one with Mr. Freeze. In which you have to take him down in 5 different ways in order to defeat him. That boss is probably the highlight of the game for me so far, being forced to change your strategy on the fly was challenging and often frustrating. Ultimately though, I feel as that's the most rewarding section of the game so far. 

Arkham City feels like a safe sequel, but that doesn't mean it can't be one of the best games of the year. I can't really tell you where it falls on that list because I've yet to complete it and there's so much content here that I'm not even sure I ever (truly) will. Even so, despite it feeling like the same game... I feel the urge to play it even now. 

Buy it, you will not be disappointed. 

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