October 20, 2011

Batman: Arkham City Review

In 2009, developer Rocksteady released something that was unimaginable, a Batman game of our dreams. Arkham Asylum was not only the best Batman game ever made, it was also the best licensed game to date; depending on who you talk to. AA would have been a feat for any developer let alone a relatively unknown dev with only one game under their belt. Despite being the Batman game we deserved, it wasn’t the one we needed right now. AA had its share of flaws but the deep story, unmatched melee mechanics, and superb voice acting and artistic design took the game to new heights. Could the Dark Knight rise again and topple the villainy in Gotham? Could Rocksteady follow up what could have been the shining star in the developers catalog? YES, YES and more YES!

I will get this out of the way now, I love Arkham City in every way a gamer can love a game. To me, this is not just a Batman game, but an experience like no other. AC is now the closest thing we have to being the Dark Knight prowling the streets of Gotham and beating justice into the thugs of the criminal underworld. Arkham City takes place 18 months after the conclusion of AA. With Arkham Island in despair; the city, along with Warden Sharp and Hugo Strange create what is known as Arkham City. Arkham City is a small portion of old Gotham that has been transformed into high security center with an underlying turf war between Gotham’s top villains. The story starts as Bruce Wayne is petitioning to shut down Arkham City as it was the place of his parent’s death, and in his mind, not the answer to Gotham’s problems. That is as far as I am going with the story to avoid spoilers, but do note the story is once again penned by Paul Dini, and pushes the caped crusader to his physical and moral limits.

With the setting being moved more towards the city of Gotham, the visuals have been kicked up to 11. Arkham City is visually striking. The unique art style AA was known for is back and looking better than ever. Hitting the middle between Tim Burton’s dark style and Christopher Nolan’s realistic approach is where AC hits. With iconic places such as Ace Chemicals and the Iceberg Lounge spruce up the imaginative cityscape. All of the character designs are handled with the up most respect; you won’t find any bat nipples here or tight white spandex with question marks sewn into the crotch. The newly introduced characters like Two-Face, the Penguin, and Mr. Freeze are brought to life like never before. AC tops the charts as one of the best looking games available on the consoles.

Anyone that has played Arkham Asylum will feel at home with how Arkham City plays. The combat and movement have been retained but hold new surprises that make you feel even more like the Dark Knight himself. Getting around the much larger world is a breeze thanks to improved gliding and the ability to use a stronger grapple to launch Batman into the night sky without ever touching the ground. The dive mechanic brings new moves to flight and combat as well. Diving at an opponent from the rooftops enables you to grab and drag enemies into others with great force. The” free flow” combat has received a tune up allowing you to take down and counter up to two enemies for maximum skull cracking efficiency. Catwoman does have a few playable sections this time around and she does handle a bit differently than the often delusional Dark Knight. She is quicker in combat and her whip and climbing abilities make traversing the terrain a breeze.

Anyone that knows me knows I love soundtracks and feel they are an intricate part of any media experience. Arkham City is a triple caramel sundae for the ears. The music is finely crafted to make your batman experience have epic movie quality. In all seriousness I plan on purchasing the soundtrack. The voice acting is in realm of its own; so few games have voice acting of this caliber. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprise their roles as Batman and the Joker. As Mark Hamill’s swan song to relinquishing the role of the Joker, there is no finer display of his talents than in this game. Some only recognize his as Luke Skywalker, but anyone a fan of the early 90’s Batman the Animated Series will see him as one of the best Jokers of all-time. Video game voice guru Nolan North (aka Nathan Drake, among many other video game characters) makes his impressive DC debut as the Penguin, among several thugs. The inclusion of using radio frequencies to overhear the thugs banter was ingenious and if you ignore the banter you are missing some of the game’s best lines.

Arkham City is not a perfect game, technically. There are a few glitches here and there but the QA is near flawless. Arkham City not only defines what a Batman game can be but also how you take a great license and makes the most out it. Just as Uncharted 2 has shown us sequels can grow out of the shadow of their predecessors, Arkham City has done the same.  I have never felt so wrapped up in Gotham, the grit of the underworld, the frailty of the symbol, and the mortality of the man. This is the game fans deserve, the game that will save them from the blight of mass produced sequels, this game is Batman.

 

+ Amazing visuals and animation

+ Dark, adult story with plenty of surprises

+ The best voice acting in video games

+ Superb soundtrack

+ Refined controls make combat and gliding a great enjoyment

+ Hours of game to undertake with the story & Riddler challenges

+ 4X the size of its predecessor

+ oozing atmosphere out of every orifice.

–   Stupid things like work and sleep getting in the way of playing this amazing game

? Other games have a lot to prove to contend with Arkham City for GOTY.

 

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