Oct 26 2011

Unreal Game Review: Arkham City

Published by at 12:00 pm under Reviews,Video Games

The original Arkham Asylum was better than any superhero game had any business being. Previous efforts had ranged from competent (Marvel Ultimate Alliance, Spider-Man) to traumatizing (Superman 64). We all love our classic superheroes, but no one ever went about making a game that really captured what it might feel like to be one.

But Arkham Asylum did just that. It had the very essence of being Batman, from the incredibly detailed world and art style, to the gameplay, which featured better combat and action scenes than any TV show or movie the caped crusader has starred in.

For the sequel, the creators wanted to capitalize on their smash hit and break outside the bonds of Arkham. It was a cool environment to be sure, but it still wasn’t the full Batman experience. He doesn’t normally spend his days lurking around prison, rather he’s patrolling the rooftops of Gotham, keeping its citizens safe.

And so Arkham City was born. The concept is a strange one, and I don’t fully understand it despite beating the game. An entire section of the city has been quarantined off and has been filled with every sane and insane prisoner from Blackgate and Arkham, where they’re allowed to run wild in the confines of the ruins, which apparently used to be a pretty nice part of town judging by the trashed landmarks.

The use of the bat signal as the objective indicator is brilliant.

The facility is run by Dr. Ugo Strange, and when Bruce Wayne is picked up and locked away it’s clear that it’s not only criminals being housed in Arkham City, but anyone who has pissed off the higher ups of the town.

After a brief stint as Bruce, Alfred sends the Batplane over to drop off the Batsuit. The first time you stand on a building and survey the city before you, you might actually let out an audible gasp.

On the surface, Arkham City looks huge, especially when compared to the asylum of last game. It’s not only a giant sandbox full of endless crumbling skyscrapers, but specific landmarks are self-contained levels in themselves, the way Arkham had its different sections in the last game.

As big as it is, Batman is a fast traveler, and through the use of a bat-grapple launch maneuver, he can traverse the entire distance of it in about two minutes if he’s hauling ass. There’s a giant inaccessible section of the map that’s a no fly zone, and though a few moments occur there late in the game, it might as well be marked “DLC Zone,” as I’m guessing it will be opened up later on.

“I decided eyeliner was pretty much a mask anyway.”

Speaking of DLC, as I bought a new copy, I received a code that allowed me to play as Catwoman who has a handful of missions sprinkled throughout the game where you can play as her. They have little connection to the central plot most times, but as they’re only ten or fifteen minutes long each, I wish they had actually made her a full-fledged part of the game and story, not just a gimmick to get people to buy the game new. She’s really fun to control, as she’s a more spritely version of Batman and has some pretty cool gadgets of her own, and I wish she was a more developed character playable in more than a handful of segments.

The main story revolves around Batman trying to figure out what the hell is going on in Arkham City, and what Strange’s ultimate plan is for the uber-prison, but a more pressing concern arises when he runs into the Joker. As it turns out, the Titan serum from the last game has done a number on him, and has poisoned his blood to the point of imminent death. How to solve his problem? Why, inject Batman with the same virus, and force him to find a cure for you.

The game then becomes a chase to track down this antidote. You have to fight through Penguin and his thugs to get to Mr. Freeze who then says he needs an additional component from R’as al Ghul and so forth, until you end up intersecting with a great number of Arkham’s A-list villains by the end of the game.

This time around, Batman starts with a great deal of technology, so you won’t have to hunt down or unlock the remote control batarang, batclaw or bat explosive gel as you’ll start with them all. But never fear, there are plenty of unlockables in this game, with a ton of new abilities and gadgets for Bruce, and even a few for Catwoman as well.





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18 responses so far

  • Chris

    I think you’re missing the point a little bit, you’ve identified the game’s shortcomings but haven’t really highlighted the good aspects of the game. The advent of Arkham City is the “leap of faith” of the storyline – of course there would never be in real life a section of a city quarantined off for prisoners to run a muck, you just have to let that go and focus on the MAIN storyline, that is the poisoning and chasing down a cure and who’s really behind everything. You’d be hard pressed to find a game that didn’t have a “leap of faith” portion in the storyline (or any movie or book for that matter). The game is a huge improvement over Arkham Asylum and although you gave it 4 stars which is a great score, I disagree with the structure of your review in discussing all the wrong points and not many of the right points.

    In the end, it’s amazing to play as batman, whether in the game or in the challenge maps, and that’s the #1 advantage. I plan on playing the campaign again with new game plus because of how fun it was in the first place and perhaps others will feel the same.

  • http://www.unrealitymag.com Paul Tassi

    @Chris

    If you’re going to do something as drastic as quarantine an area of a city as a prison, you at least have to give me a coherent reason WHY, even in a comic book plotline.

    (spoilers ahoy)

    From what I could tell, it was just a master plan by Ugo Strange and R’as so they could round up all criminals and “wipe the slate clean” by raining missiles down from the central tower, killing everyone in the city. If that’s the case, why the hell didn’t they just siege Blackburn and Arkham where the prisoners were actually locked up, and in a confined building they couldn’t escape from?

    Yes, being Batman is awesome, and that’s why these games are great, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out some of its flaws.

  • JB

    As a huge Batman fan I loved the game. And I thought the story was amazing. I agree that these DLC promotions are a little ridiculous with this one but unfortunatly it looks like the way gaming is heading. As for why Arkham City exsits…

    SPOILERS

    Arkham City exists so that they can group all of the major criminals together and then enact “Protocol 10″ and eliminate them. It was Ras plan to cleanse the city of evil and he was able to get it going by infultrating all the levels of goverment sort of like Batman Begins. Warden Sharp explains this when you interogate him but he doesnt mention Ras by name.

  • T.R.

    I completely agree with your take on the first game. I probably would agree with your review on this one, but you’ve convinced me to hold off for now.

    While I don’t have a lot to add, I’m pleased to see the game kept Kevin Conroy as the voice of Batman. He also voices Hush in Arkham City. Mark Hamill returns as Joker as well.

    No disrespect to Keaton, Kilmer, Clooney, and Bale, Nicholson & Ledger, but when I hear Conroy and Hamill, it feels right–like that’s what these characters are supposed to sound like.

  • Ian

    The blockbuster I rented this game from was kind enough to leave the Catwoman DLC in the boxes which rewarded the first people to rent it. So I got to have my cake and eat it too.

    I am really enjoying this game. I’ll pick up my own copy used at a later date so I can 100% it…and I’ll still have Catwoman!

  • RBourn

    Why has a whole section of Gotham been screened off and made into a city of criminals?

    Because the game programmers wanted a sandbox game because they are popular and they sell.

    Making a plot based on a game design decision is a bit of a stupid way to plan a story.

    Batman is cool, and this game looks cool, but from what I have read it seems to fall down on the why of it.

  • Bad Acid

    Quarantining an entire prison island was the setup for Escape from New York and Escape from L.A., just replace Snake Plissken with Batman and whammo!
    That was just because of fascist Presidents, though, and it was just expected sending prisoners there was a death sentence.

  • Bad Acid

    Also, I was psyched as hell for this game, but because of the DLC bullcrap I’m not going to buy it until a GOTY edition is released for $30 or less. I just refuse to put up with this new paradigm game companies are following at a $60 price tag.

  • steve p

    i thought the game was near perfect. i beat arkham asylum in abut 5 hours (the second time through, after knowing where to go and skipping all riddler shit). my fist play through was 11 hours.

    with this one, i bought the game and had the day off. i play 15 hours and only finished 53% of the story. it took me a good 25 hours or so to finally finish the story (i did do a lot of side missions and riddler quests)

    i finally finished last night (all story, all side, and all riddler) and i probably put in a good 40 hours.

    my only complaints are the main story is a bit short (i seemed to have jumped from 60% to 100% in 3 missions/2 hours) and the whole blocked off middle section. if it will be unlocked in DLC then thats fine with me. as long as the price isnt ridiculous (like with MW2s 5 shitty maps for $15)

    other than that the puzzles in the game were great, the graphics were beautiful, the story was intriguing (bonus – there is sooooooo many clues to the ending that you can catch on second play through), and it really caught the feeling of being batman. yeah, the combat was repetitive, but what game isnt really?

    best part…. jokers little rant about LOST.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lIJhlqXkGIk

    you can also hear random thugs say “did they ever explain what the island was?’ as your soar through arkham…

  • Flaccid Platypus

    actually surprised you reviewed this Paul since I never heard you talk about Arkham Asylum before and you barely mentioned the release of Arkham City either but I’m glad enjoyed both games.

    Both of the new Batman games have thoroughly impressed me to the point where they are 2 of my favorite games ever and that they are the only 2 games i’ve ever completed 100% of the achievements. These games really do make you feel like the Batman. Complaints are some of the usual about the shortness of the main story and repetitive combat (although there are so many different moves and ways of approaching a fight that it the combat can be as deep as you want it to be). I also think the A.C. definitely left the door open for a third installment which I would love to play. Also I can’t really understand complaining about the story with the ending that the game gave you.

    Overall I hope that the developers also release a boat load of DLC that includes more missions, challenge rooms and hopefully a lot more catwoman missions.

  • Orange

    Guys! HUGO Strange! HUGO! C’mon!

  • Orange

    P.S. Batwing*

  • ltp15

    A bit more of a bashing than it probably deserved. The plot isn’t the most important part of it that belongs to feeling like the god dam Batman. Will be interesting to see what they do for the third instalment as hinted at with the boat and what was on the floor next to an old costume.

  • http://twitter.com/#!/Ant2206 ant2206

    It’s funny, whenever I read a review of Arkham City that makes the points you have, I nod along… but then as soon as I get back into the game I forget about it all.

    It gets 11 really important things so knocked-out-of-the-park right that the 3 things it’s lacking aren’t only forgiven, they’re completely forgotten.

    Like The Last Crusade. It’s actually quite a by-the-numbers adventure story with a cliche MacGuffin when you stop and think about it. But because the writing and the characters and set pieces are so compelling, you forget about all that when you’re watching it.

  • Lima Zulu

    You and Tom Chick both failed to note the blatant sexism as a bad part of the game. This bothers me.

  • Shiki

    I love that you guys put SPOILERS warning before u put spoilers in your comments. THX!!
    I can’t wait to play this!!

  • Cactus

    Spoiler

    The reason Arkham City exists is because Strange had his chemical induced control over men like Quincy Sharp and was then able to do what they did. The idea was not simply to wipe out the inmates of Arkham…the idea was to create an army and be able to arm them and train them in their own private city, with the intent to kill all the inmates and THEN move onto the bigger picture. That’s why Strange talks about protocol ten part 1, 2 etc

  • Steve

    At first I was like “they explain all of it in the game… Quincy Sharp wins the mayoral elections on the “I’m the hero of the Arkham breakout” platform, recommends taking a large part of the city where Crime Alley (hell hole where Batman’s parents were killed) and a bunch of organized crime front businesses are located (Penguin’s Iceberg Lounge, Mad Hatter’s Haberdashery, for instance), declare imminent domain and set up shop where a controversial shrink was going to “fix it all”… But that’s why Arkham City exists, physically, in the game world.

    (SPOILERS)

    As to why it exists in the plot, or why Ra’s and Strange manipulated everyone into its creation… it really is a wonky freakin’ plot. When the “project” is coming to its conclusion toward the end, and HUGO Strange is on the intercom talking about how new facilities have been approved for Metropolis and Coast City, I was like “how is going all scorched Earth on this one beneficial to that plot? Why not finish those, then whack everybody?”

    My wife put it best, though: “With these guys escaping Arkham and Blackgate on the regular, and having ridiculously high body counts… why was building this huge facility an easier sell than ‘all those in favor of this state (is Gotham in New York state, or is the state called Gotham, too?) having the Death Penalty? Joker may get away with a Manson defense, but Penguin is pretty much just a gangster, and Zasz has too big a body count not to fry him…”

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