Monday, November 28, 2011

PC: Arkham City

You could blame me for being rather late with this review, but taken into consideration how long Rocksteady delayed the PC-version, I’ll actually say I’ve been pretty quick. And I’m not even going to touch upon the directx 11-issue. Just say that since I was anyway forced to play the DX9 version, I sure could’ve used it just a week earlier.
A blessing in disguise revealed itself to me, though, as I caught the flu this Friday and therefore had to lay really low for a while. Even as I write this, it’s pretty bad. But it’s something to pass time with and also explains why this will likely be rather short. That, and the fact that this game has been reviewed so many times already that I don’t know why I even bother. I suppose I owe it to myself, seeing how much I loved Arkham Asylum (AA).
Again, this is solely for the PC-version. I don’t own any consoles except a NES and a SNES.
Snappy remark about my background and how much I love Batman
Batman is my number one hero of them all. Basically because he’s tough as steel, brilliantly gifted on the intellectual side and compared to the majority of heroes he has an interesting psychological profile. And; he’s somewhat pretty mortal and ordinary. Especially after watching the eminently good Nolan-movies, you could hypothetically argue that someone like Batman COULD rise in these modern times.
Keeping this in mind it’s obvious why I loved AA. This was the first game I ever played that actually let me feel like Batman. And I’ve been at those games all the way back from the Commodore 64 version of the first Burton movie. The sounds, music, atmosphere, voices somehow all fell into the right slots in this game. Attention had been shown to the details in a thorough world of Gotham’s darkest side, presented as a flexible sandbox-environment you could easily explore at your own pace and leisure. If you were driven solely by the unfolding story you could easily strive in its tracks all the way through, and if, on the other hand, you wanted to turn over every rock on the island to find the Riddler’s trophies; no punishment there.
Truth to be told, I never cared much for the trophies. During my second playthrough I really tried to care for the riddles. I’d hang out in an area till I either got it or went to youtube to find the answer. It quickly became tedious and I gave up. After all, the rewards were kind of tame, since I didn’t care for the challenge-maps. The artwork and biographies were somewhat nice but not big enough for an incitement.
Still, the story of AA kept me glued to the screen for a long time. There were some minor flaws, such as not meeting all the villains I’d hoped for (but then again, my favorite bad guy Scarecrow had the best scenes beyond doubt) and a lot of confrontations were pushovers.
In a bitter battle you were better than the batters. But is it better?
In his review, Yahtzee Croshaw makes a valid point about bigger but not necessarily better (if you haven’t seen the Zero Punctuation review of this game, you should do so). The thing is; Arkham City (AC) is by all means bigger than its predecessor in sheer volume, which doesn’t really work that well in my eyes. But I’m getting ahead of myself, what is the deal with AC?
The story in AC is easily elaborated. Since confining the raving lunatics on an island didn’t work wonders, the next logical step is to isolate them in their own quarter of the city. In there, they are free to roam, murder, torture and pillage to the full desire of their little black hearts. This initiative isn’t embraced by everyone, however, including our alter ego; Bruce Wayne who sadly gets abducted during a political speech and then tossed into the cesspit with the lowlife scum.

(Mandatory cat-related pun)
Of course it’s only a matter of time before he once again dons the bat-suit and sets out to fight crime and discover the whole purpose of Arkham City. Needless to say, something is not quite as it seems.
You, the player, once again have to navigate our caped crusader through rooftops and narrow alleys as you lay down the law, brutally, upon any criminals in your way. This time around you even get some allies, provided you were daring enough to preorder or cough up the Microsoft points. Catwoman (the girl with a thousand representations) joins in on the fun, and besides her feline-related puns (seriously, stop it. It’s never going to work!) she’s not all that bad. They’ve even managed to differentiate the respective playstyles of her and Batman to a noticeable level. This counts for the general controls (in which you clearly feel more speed and agility with the cat) and progressions (for example; Batman can upgrade his armor double as much as Catwoman).
But if you don’t care about cats there is plenty more to say about AC.

What I’d like to point about to those of you (like me) who only care about this game for the story mode; it is indeed rather short. I’m not really sure whether it is or just feels shorter than AA, but I completed it in around 12 hours. Maybe less, as I did take in a good handful of sidequests. In addition, besides from the ending of the game, don’t really expect to see that many surprises plot-wise. The story isn’t what carries this game in my optic.
On the other hand, I’d imagine a positive correlation between your level of perfectionism and joy found in this game. As I said, there are in fact sidequests in this game. Lots and lots. Whereas straying from your task at hand was something you’d only undertake in order to hunt trophies in AA, here you are in fact encouraged to respond to various events and plots taking place all throughout the city. Some of the are timed and triggered upon your arrival, others seem more random. Their depths vary a lot, though. Some of them can barely be called tasks and involve a series of skydiving exercises to be completed in order to achieve certain upgrades for Batman. Others are quite more sophisticated and loads of fun, the most memorable being the telephone-chase in which you have to race across the rooftops in order to reach a ringing telephone, otherwise a psychotic murderer will finish off his hostages. Some of these quests also mean that you will end up meeting other notorious villains, such as Bane.

There is a great emphasis on this element of the game. Compared to AA, you are much more encouraged to detour and sidetrack to your heart’s pleasure. And leaving just said sidequests alone, there is plenty of riddler-trophies to hunt and puzzles to solve. Around 400, last time I was told. To make matters more interesting, some trophies are uniquely placed only for Catwoman whereas others are for Batman. Additionally, some of them can only be reached after you acquire certain upgrades to your gear.
So if scouring through a neighborhood with detective vision on is your thing, you’ll love AC. If not, well… things might be a bit different. Although to be fair, there is a better incitement for puzzle-hunts in AC as you can in fact stand face to face with the Riddler himself, should you solve all his challenges. It’s not a big and impressive bossfight in the slightest, but still, a nice detail.
The long ironfist of justice
Combat. Why change a working system? AC doesn’t really make any bad modifications to the simple and addictive system from Asylum. There are some nice new tweaks and ideas, such as the fact that you’re now able to take out two opponents standing close and drop smoke-bombs to avoid gunfire.  In addition, Batman has learned new maneuvers and is now able to summon bat swarms and utilize whole new gadgets.  Bombs of ice can provide paths across running water and sinister devices can jam opponents’ guns from a distance. It’s all very inventive and the game makes sure that none of these really become obsolete, although you will likely find your own personal toy and stick to that in most fights.

Bosses are likely one element of the game that has taken a massive leap. While AA certainly did have a few highlights, most of the AC-bosses had me go “…oookay, this is going to be nasty” at the start of almost every big fight. There are more of the big, fat, strong opponents that hit like trucks and less “dodge them and hit them when they smash into the wall”. A particularly joyful encounter is basically metaphysical and will keep you on your toes most of the time.
This is a dual edged sword, however. Or, what I prefer to call The Simpsons Movie-Effect. Once you start filling up the plot with personages you will eventually run out of space. Once you start stomping and pushing to fit them all in their, there is so little air and room for everyone that it doesn’t matter anymore. AC features a lot of villains. More than AA, for sure. Sadly, some of the otherwise great ideas have way too little time, such as the Mad Hatter, who appears in a nicely disturbing sequence that could otherwise make up for the absent Scarecrow (no, he’s not in it, sadly).
"So, does the poster in the back catch my evilness properly? What do you guys think?"
And then again, not so much to say;
It’s somehow hard to point out much more, I think. This game is AA, just bigger, with more exploration and more villains. It’s a working formula, that once again provided us with a great game, but on the other hand, what you make of it is up to you. I didn’t care much for the challenges, as mentioned. Neither for the riddles, except those I just picked up along the way. The story is great, though, as can also be said for the sidequests. There is so much to see and do around AC that you will likely spend several hours just looking at it, as you swing from rooftop to rooftop. The story; take it for what it is. The ending might surprise you (I know I was) and if you’re familiar with AA, you’ll feel right at home with AC.

Everything you know from Arkham Asylum and quite a bit more. Arkham City is big and contains countless of quirks and secrets. Bosses are significantly more interesting. Great graphics, music and voice acting establish the true feeling of being the Dark Knight once again. Gadgets are interesting, combat is fast and mostly smooth. Interesting ending. Great sidequests.
Main story is not especially original and feels short. Too many villains leave out precious little time to each of them. No Scarecrow aka. Not enough ‘messed up’ scenes.
Is it worth the money?
This really depends. If you’re into puzzle-hunting and combing every tiny inch of the map for clues, then this is definitely a yes. If you just want the story mode and see what happens next, I’d say you might as well wait for a sale. It’s definitely worth money, in the general sense, and such great games should be supported.
Will I play it again?
Likely. I still need a few of the extra missions done, but to be honest, I’d rather complete Asylum again.

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