A lot of games require you to punch people. A lot of games also have you playing as an oddly dressed man, and there are many, many games set at night, but very few games combine these elements quite as satisfyingly as Rocksteady’s Batman series does. In particular, I’ll be looking at Batman- Arkham City, the second installment in the infamous Rocksteady Batman series and a direct sequel to the original – Batman: Arkham Asylum.
One of the biggest changes between Arkham City and its predecessor Asylum was, rather obviously, the inclusion of ‘the city’. A major problem with being handed the mantle of the Dark Knight, the bat clad bad-ass of Gotham City, defender of justice and outrageous spender of money, was that in Arkham Asylum that game felt very linear and confined. Batman, although chock full of gadgets and a bag full of the ‘world’s greatest detective’ skills, felt like he had his wings clipped and the safety on his grapple stuck to ‘ON’. Quite often I felt restricted on where I could go, with the grapple especially often trivial and sometimes even outright superficial. This is something that was quickly addressed when the developer returned with Arkham City, something sorely needed but which did not come without its price.
The open city traversal gave you a real sense of gratification, especially when zipping insane distances between rooftops, swooping down past a sign for Ace Chemicals, Bat-cloak aflutter, gliding great distances, stopping only to plummet 50 feet directly downwards into an unsuspecting bad guys’ skull.
But, alas, like all great powers, it came with a great responsibility (Ben Parker: circa 1962) which I feel Rocksteady did not take too seriously. The gliding controls often were not as responsive as they needed to be, which would not have posed such a problem had the developers not filled the game’s streets and rooftops with numerous finicky gliding challenges. An unnecessary number of tests of Batman’s ability to be the best at a city-wide game of ‘the floor is lava’ (This could quite simply boil down to be a case of me being bad at the game, but I refuse to believe that I’m the only person who felt this way).
The open world is also a gateway in to the world of side missions, a double-edged blade itself. Many of the side missions, especially the larger ones exist to give you an insight into some of Batman’s more famous villains who are less wrapped up in the main story line of the game. These missions are widely varied and involving adding an extra layer of chaos to the manic happening of Batman’s already quite full schedule. I especially enjoyed the encounters with human chalkboard, Zsaz and (The not-voiced by Tom Hardy) Bane.
Zsas’ mad checkpoint dash between pay phones invoked a real sense of panic and immediacy and the sheer cinematic joy of fighting a group of armed guards with a Mexican wrestler/super soldier all felt completely ‘right’ in terms of being part of Batman’s world.
And here I am talking about side missions and I have yet to have mentioned the cherry on top of the cake of small distractions. Edward Nigma. The Riddler. For those people who do not follow Batman, the Riddler is one of Batman’s most colorful villains, who, as opposed to blowing things up and stealing commissioners, likes to set up elaborate (and life threatening) traps and puzzles to prove his intellectual superiority over Batman (Spoilers- he usually loses). This is not much different in Rocksteady’s Batman, except instead of one big trap his way of showing this is by hiding hundreds of tiny little trophies all over Gotham, which requires Batman to jump through a series of specific hoops and challenges to attain them. Most of these, maybe even as much as 75% can be obtained at the time by carefully working away at these puzzles with the gadgets equipped, but sometimes a puzzle will appear completely unsolvable unless you’re willing to log its location and traipse back later with a specific variation of a tool, say a batarang (in a very specific shade of gray) being needed to flick a switch. This can be frustrating, and there are some, not many, but enough to keep you from satisfactory completion that seem unattainable. Maybe I’m not clever or maybe…. Screw you Riddler, they’re unattainable.
This doesn’t pose too much of a problem, and it doesn’t necessarily affect game play itself, but I know there are certain gamers out there (me and my colleague at HorridCarrot included) that get very frustrated with not being able to achieve that coveted 100% completion. This can be an issue with all of Rocksteady’s Batman games. And this time, yes, the Riddler defeated me, as I gave up on his fiddly trophy hunt and just became invested in what I was really after with Batman, the story and the combat.
The story in Arkham City really consists of a lot of bad guys bickering: or as I like to think of it, vying for Batman’s love and attention. You follow many separate threads of story, with tenuous links to the overarching battle with big bad guy, The Joker, each leading you to uncover just a little bit about the main villain just before you punch him in the face…. Because BATMAN! It has all the necessary ingredients for a good story, love, violence, the looming threat of an untimely demise and a man dressed as a leathery marsupial punching more than few people with mental illnesses.
The story line of Arkham City does a good job of coming through fully as its own, while still doing both its predecessor in Arkham Asylum, and the original source of the Batman comics, justice. There are more than a few nods to fans of classic Batman stories and yet the story constantly remains accessible to any newcomers of the franchise. Arkham City manages to stay consistently interesting with more than its fair share of twists and turns.
Now we get to the real reason you still play this game all this time since its initial release. Batman games remain a constant on my shelf (which is more of an accomplishment as it sounds- with me being a poor gamer I often have to trade in a lot of games) it is because of the pure catharsis the combat system gives me. This is something Rocksteady has completely nailed, and I feel truly perfected. Batman was the first game I encountered a free flow combat system that felt completely rewarding. A simple mechanic requiring well timed punches and counters can easily end up with you flying about a room between enemies taking out bad guys with the swift ease of the bubonic plague but with more latex. I think this is where the true fun of ‘Being the Bat’ appears, with a little work and practice, you can take out ten people in a variety of methods, reaching a level of kick-ass only Batman himself could hope to compete with.
This system, despite being immediately accessible, can be hard to master thus eliminating any chance of it getting old too quickly. The need to master is also strong, making Batman Arkham City a game you’ll want to keep coming back to play, just to see if you can master that gadget combo (so well measured by the trick based scoring system) or hit the high score in one of Arkham City’s many challenge modes.
This combat system also paved the way for many future games in terms of free flow combo based combat, the most notable of these being the Shadow of Mordor series, and I personally hope it’s a system we can see a lot more of in the future.
Batman Arkham City has its flaws, but it somehow shines through despite these. Arkham City really does make you feel like the world’s greatest detective, swooping off rooftops, landing on bad guys’ skulls, solving unsolvable crimes only to then accidentally dive bomb into the river. The story is gripping and doesn’t take itself too seriously and there is something very satisfying by the sheer melodrama of the characters. All in all, I would say make a point of not forgetting about Batman- Arkham City, keep coming back to it, if for no other reason than to bash some heads in after a long day not being Batman.
Who Are We ?
How many people does it take to make a successful YouTube channel? We still don’t know, but we know it’s probably more than two. HorridCarrot, consisting of two outside ‘Xbox wannabes’ Ash and Harry, created HorridCarrot as a way to avoid the crushing responsibilities of adulthood. Ash is our main editor, writer, director and she also owns all the equipment. Harry is, well he shows up and he’s pretty.
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