Reader Review: Batman: Arkham City

By now you've probably had a chance to check out Batman: Arkham City. Did you love it? Hate it? Feel a bit lukewarm about it? Kotaku reader (who is also fast becoming a regular reviewer!), Tristan Damen, donned his bat suit and took a dive straight into Arkham City. Here's what he thought. ——- Batman: Arkham Asylum was the genuine surprise of 2009. Street Fighter IV may have reinvigorated a genre, and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves may have taken most of the gongs, but Arkham Asylum held a special place in my heart as the first game that genuinely allowed for players to walk in the boots of the Dark Knight. Two years on, and again I’m in the cape and cowl. Will Rocksteady’s effort prove to be as successful and impressive as the first?

The Good

Self-contained lore -- There’s no way you can honour continuity with an intellectual property that has been rebooted so many times. Rocksteady have built on their unique narrative and art direction in Arkham City. The important “facts” are all there in each character’s bio, but with both instalments of the Arkham franchise, the developers have forged their own, compelling version of Batman’s universe.

Bright lights, big city -- Arkham City is truly a sight to behold, with imposing architecture, blaring neon signs, and almost nothing in the way of technical hitches. I can only think of one time where the frame rate stuttered, and that just happened to be during one of the more elaborate set pieces.

Sounds like a movie -- The quality of the score in Arkham City is unmatched. I could listen to the menu theme for hours and not grow tired of the cinema-quality orchestral arrangement. The piece that plays after dispatching a whole detachment with stealth takedowns was simply hair-raising. An aural triumph!

Signposting -- With the sole exception of the epilogue, Catwoman’s part in the adventure is well worth experiencing. If you choose to buy the game used, you really should lay down the extra cash to get the full experience. Without those brief sequences, the transition between acts would be jarring to say the least.

The Bad

That was awkward -- The player-controlled Batman is infinitely more-awkward than that of the Batman in print. The jerky camera made climbing some structures a lot harder than it ought to be. The camera, at times, switches clumsily between the tighter angle used to great effect in the predominately-indoor environments of Arkham Asylum, and a zoomed-out perspective for open world travel; the transition between the two can be jarring at times.

The bigger they are -- Arkham Asylum’s boss fights were tough and fraught with tension. Arkham City’s offerings by comparison rarely register above manageable. The stealth battle against Mr Freeze is the exception, but the majority of these encounters are easier than a fight against a group of some of the better-equipped thugs.

The Ugly

How do I do that? -- There are a ridiculous amount of gadgets in Arkham City and - in all honesty - not all of them are needed. I used the Line Launcher a grand total of five times; I used other tools even less than that. Then there are all the extra combos and button combinations to remember for complex combat situations as well. Next time, we need a better means of gadget selection, and maybe – gasp – fewer abilities to remember.

Not everyone’s a winner -- While Rocksteady’s team have hit the right notes with most of the Rogues Gallery, I can’t help but feel as though Two-Face and Penguin felt a bit too much like generic gangster types. One of my favourite Bat books is The Long Halloween, where Harvey Dent is this tragic, mysterious character. Arkham City’s Two-Face, however, is a Cagney-esque caricature.

Fizzer – I don’t intend to spoil anything, but the final chapters of both Batman and Catwoman’s adventures are so terribly disappointing, and end so abruptly, as to almost derail the entire experience.

The Verdict

Despite all of the twists and thrills, I walked away from Arkham Asylum feeling deeply disappointed. The sights and sounds of the prison city were often breathtaking, but the little things did their best to detract from the experience as a whole. Sure, my graceless movement and inability to adapt to the needlessly-complex controls may not be an issue for others, but I wasn’t as taken with this second effort as I thought I would be. Bottom line: Arkham City is bigger, bolder, but not necessarily better than Arkham Asylum. Still, the game comes highly recommended.

What are your thoughts on Batman: Arkham City? Did Tristan hit the nail on the head, or miss the mark completely? Let us know what you think!

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Comments

    "By now you’ve probably had a chance to check out Batman: Arkham City." and under the PC heading?

    That's a bit mean, Tracey.

      Yes, not reading while such bold faced insult remains.

    I think this is a really well rounded and fair review. Arkham City is by no means a bad game but I think by and large it was spread a bit thin and this is maybe because it was a bit too ambitious.

    Arkham City wasn't exactly a short game, but I think it felt unfinished because we had so many options and gadgets and the city felt a bit sparse.

    If we're gonig to have this many options, we're gonig to need more content to make it's usage feel deep as well as broad.

    P.S.: Tracey/Mark, any idea when you'll announce the winners from July onwards?

      My feelings exactly: Overstretched, but not a bad game by any means.

    WRONG! I love this game, therefore you should too, and your article is wrong....

    That's how these comments work, right?

    On a more serious note, I agree in that the gadgets and combos were often unnecessary, and that the reliance on the combo system at times failed me, in that for no apparent reason, if an enemy was a short distance away, batman would do a short range punch and end my combo, instead of the long range kick that would be obvious. This became even more annoying in the challenge mode.

      If your combo meter isn't high enough, Batman doesn't go into free flow mode where he can dart across the room to deliver kicks and whatnot. You also need to aim him.

      Doesn't stop it from being annoying when it happens, but you can learn to stop it from happening if you use gadgets and whatnot to boost the combo meter until you get into free flow combat.

    I have to disagree with a few points.

    I didn't encounter any hitches with the camera controls while I was playing and the gadgets, while numerous, were all used in the Riddler challenges (something that might not come up for the majority of players without OCPD). So the gadgets all served a purpose.

    As for the boss fights, in Arkham Asylum they were one of the weak points of the game. They just didn't fit with the rest of what was going on. In Arkham City, they almost all felt like they were a natural continuation of what Batman was doing. Sure they weren't as big as the fights from Asylum but I felt like they worked better.

    There definitely were a few too many combat options, but I'm willing to accept that as you didn't need all of them. You could get through the whole game just counter attacking, cape stunning and beating down mooks with your normal attacks, or you could do ridiculous 50+ hit combos using four different gadgets and every special combat move, just for funzies.

    Just my thoughts.

      The gadgets add a lot more if you try to get the Riddler trophies. For instance, in trying to get the Riddler thing for using 4 quickfire gadgets in a combo, I learnt an awesome new playstyle that I didn't know existed.

      Again, gonna have to disagree on Boss fights. And I didn't have camera problems, but I guess camera is a subjective matter, and it did feel a bit jerky a few times.

      Also, I agree that Two-Face was bad and that the endings to the Protocol 10 storyline and the Riddler storyline were anticlimactic, but I loved the end to the Joker storyline and the Identity Thief storyline.

    I generally agree with your summation, with the exception of the boss fights. AA's boss battles were boring and repetitive. The only worse ones I can think of were in DX: HR. I thought the fights in this were much better, maybe even partly because they were easier.

    The worst part of this game was the bloat. Everytime the narrative attempted to build up some tension, the million voices or Arkham city would cry up and scream "Save us!" and I'd whisper, "Jesus guys, I'm a little busy. Alright, alright! stop crying, Be there in a second."

    I mean, sure, you never went hungry for something to do, but damn! Every square inch of the city was covered in flourescent green question marks.

    As for the controls being awkward. For me, one second I'd be an Italian guy who just saw a Rocky movie and decided to pick a bar fight, and the next I was the god of punch and my fist was the bible. And boy, when it all came together and your combo meter was in the double digits it felt, and looked, great.

    All in all, there's a lot of game here. For better or worse, but if you're a batman fan or a fan of the first Arkham, give it a try.

      "I was the god of punch and my fist was the bible" best comment I have seen in a while!

      I also agree with this, Batman is supposedly with seconds to live and yet he's supposed to drop everything and do some nice augmented reality training and just glide around for a bit?

      i ended up doing nearly all sidequests after the critical path.

    I had an issue with the gadget selection.

    For the ones in the corners of a d-pad, they were difficult to get to.
    I know that's a very minor thing to gripe about, but over the course of the came it becomes very grating.

      Agreed. The fidgety d-pad radial was killing me by the end of it as well.

    Excellent review..completely true.

    Loved it! Controls work fine for me:D

    Nice review, but i think City blows Asylum out of the water in all aspects.
    World is larger, controls are tighter, story is epic and I feel like I AM THE GODDAMN BATMAN!!! :)
    Before starting City i completed Asylum on hard. So jumping right into City is where im getting my comparison from.

    I really , really agree with the "Fizzer" complaint. The final boss was a real let down rather than the amazing reveal it was supposed to be. The last chapter was just badly written and structured, with too many villains and plot points going on and not enough focus.

    Not only that, but the "trump card" reveal in the Tower left Hugo Strange, who was a great, menacing villain for most of the game, seeming like a useless idiot.

    Otherwise it was a great game, but the ending really left the whole game on a sour note.

      I think Strange was an entirely underused character. As much as I loved the chilling 'Protocol Ten will commence in X hours' announcements that was really all we heard of him in the majority of the game.

      And I agree that the ending was a bit of a letdown, but I'm more forgiving of Batman's story than I am of the Catwoman epilogue. That fight on new game plus? Horrifying.

        Agree completely. He had such potential to be an awesome head villain then they trumped him and just made him an idiot pawn, and an then entirely unrelated story thread/boss fight.

        Why build a character up over the course of x amount of hours as a really bad, scheming genius and then just suck all the mojo out of him and make him a lackey without even a proper boss battle?

    I felt the game was missing something Asylum had:

    Soul.

    Arkham City just felt like it was throwing villains into the mix for the hell of it, for no purpose. Asylum, every villain had a reason to be there. This one, they were a mindless mishmash of mediocrity. Arkham City, had no soul.

      It wasn't completely lacking soul, but my word, there was no focus!

    I'm not entirely sure what abilities would be worth cutting - sure, there are a lot of abilities, but they're all useful in different situations. There's really only a few ones I feel are total duds - the freeze cluster bomb never really becomes useful - but I think the game does a poor job of encouraging you to branch out and really get to grips with the combat system. Like when you've got a guy a little far away and you want Batman to do some damage. What you're supposed to do is use the batclaw to grab him close to you, and if you hit him while he stumbles forward Batman will trip him and slam him to the ground. Each move has a specific use like that, and there's usually a call for it; that's how you get the flowing combos going instead of waiting for enemies to approach you.

      I'd say get rid of the Line Launcher at the very least. I understand it was required for a handful of scenarios, but I would be just happy to use the Grapnel Gun.... WHY DIDN'T HE JUST USE THE GRAPNEL GUN!?!?!

    Tracey I definitely agree with the Two Face inclusion. He wasn't in the game long enough or his presence explained clearly enough to warrant an inclusion.

    However Penguin (voiced by Nolan North of Uncharted fame) was one of the best inclusions so far as villans go for me, I felt the museum set pieces and puzzles were well executed so far as gameplay mechanics went. And I think Mr Freeze deserves a mention too, despite being in the game for so short a time you really got to see the real Victor Freis and his motivations for being in the story.

    The bad for me was Ra's' inclusion in the story, while I can understand the reasons for it I dont think it was beyond any reasonable stretch to imagine Strange doing what he did in the story just for his own personal gain and to mess with bats. And the ending, gods the ending needed work, how is that Rocksteady writes a pretty good Batman story and blows the ending twice?

    Next game, whever the next Arkham is set (Hopefully IN GOTHAM) they manage to throw up a decent ending.

      ****SPOILERS******

      I'd argue that Two face, while limited to two scenes or so, felt less shoe-horned then Ra's whole thing.

      And you know why Ra was there, right. With his pool. And the ending. Right. You see where I am going.

      Had they kept Ra's arrival to the later sections of the game I reckon it would have made more sense, or at least been a little more "Wow, cool" and less "Uh, alright. Sure."

        Bryce definitely agree. But they needed the plot device attached to his character to try and make the story work.

        I still think Two-Face/Catwoman storyline needed another couple of sections to it to expand upon the story for it. At least they got his character pretty much down pat in the story.

          ****Spoilers******

          The whole ending was just a complete mess.

          Oh, Strange is trying to kill everyone
          Oh, Strange claims he has a master. It's probably Ras
          Yup it was Ras.
          Oh, now they're both dead without so much as a punch thrown. That was anticlimactic. But at least the day is saved.
          Oh the day is not saved because Joker has Talia
          Oh but it's not Joker it's clayface.
          Oh Joker's dead.

          No thought to plot momentum and tension, character arcs, or focus. Just shoehorning in as many villains as possible.

          Besides which, with a rouges gallery like Batman's, who thought clayface, of all villains, would be an awesome final boss?

          It was still a very good game.

    I'm about to fight Clayface, and a friend told me this is pretty close to the end. If that's true I'm massively underwhelmed.

    I've found that I've had very little interest in the side missions, and haven't really had time for them between main objectives. I always seemed to be dashing from one place to the next, with no pauses to wonder around. I much prefer the pacing of Assassin's Creed when it comes to side missions.

      Yep, you are basically at the end... but I didn't feel pressured to rush to the next objective, even if there is a marker to go there, you don't have to engage with it until you want to.

      So even "on mission" you can search for Riddler trophies or side missions.ould

    I love the Line Launcher- the 'Line Walk' is a great way to get around.

    All these comments come as a great surprise but are incredibly insightful. Great review Tristan for generating this kind of reflection!

    I had never played AA but heard excellent things, and AC has been (from my point of view) very well received. From the many reviews I read for it, I did not get any of the constructive criticisms that many who are posting comments are mentioning.

    I'd still love to play it, but I'm glad I've be given an honest, and mature critique by everyone, because I was heading into it thinking that it was going to be the best game ever made! Cheers!

      Thanks for the kind words, Lawrence.

      I'm glad to see that it wasn't just me. I'm a huge Batman fan (evidenced by my Bruce Wayne gravatar), and Arkham City just didn't click with me.

      Play Arkham Asylum at the very least. It's an amazing hero game. Arkham City has a lot of little things wrong with it, but you should get a lot out of it if you give Arkham Asylum the time it deserves.

    Im glad to feel I wasnt the only one dissapointed with both Two Face's and Pengiuns' portrayls - the Penguin felt like this horrible Dickensian stereotype, when he's a much more complicated character than that.

    I hope in the next Batman, there's less stuff to do, and less characters to be involved with.

      I agree completely. A toast, then: To less freedom in open world action games!!!

    I love this game. I'm not having any trouble with the controls and I like the massive selection of gadgets. I think the graphics are fantastic and the fluidity of Batman's flight and fight is flawless. I love the free-roam aspect and the world is large enough for me to fly around for hours picking dozens of missions, solving Riddlers riddles, looking for collectables or just stalking some group of thugs in the shadows from the rooftops only to dive down and kick one in the face to initiate a liquid chain of ass-kicking combo's. The fighting has a learning curve - but with a little time and patience I managed to make myself relatively untouchable. I loved the little touches of ravens/birds on the rooftops, the neons and the ease with which you can soar upward from the ground to dozens of convenient escape points.
    I enjoy[ed] the different take on the personalities of villains imbued by the creative team - the dialogue was great fun, especially the set-up by thugs boasting about their apparent lack of fear of the Batman and their desire to take him on right before I arrived on the scene set up lots of one-liners for me to chuckle about - I really lost myself in the world created, and am now looking for all the collectables, riddles, etc I missed as well as mastering the range of gadgets better so I can really stalk the streets of Gotham. THe music is wonderful - I love the movie, I often put in on just to listen to the score while I'm doing something else - and I wish they'd been able to use the music from the Movie; but I agree with that other guy, the music is great - very atmospheric. Learning curve isn't that step - not if you like fighting games and have a knack for absorbing large arrays of techniques and buttons - though I can pretty much beat up any group of thugs with X and Y -throwing in some of the other moves really makes it personal.
    I like that you don't die if you fall in water, I like that can have Batman memorize the location of certain things to come back to later, I like that I can fly almost as well and liquidly as Spiderman on his web to get from one place to another. Do I have anything bad to say about this game? No. No I do not.
    9.5 [cause you gotta be able to go somewhere.]

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