Batman: Arkham City

January 3rd, 2012

I really liked Arkham Asylum, thought it was one of those games where every detail has been polished until it sparkles, that provided some clever and innovative gameplay, and that, above all, managed to make every aspect somehow quintessentially batman.  Certainly disarmed, knocked the absolute crap out of, snapped the wrists of and left handcuffed any direct-movie tie-in games I can think of (yeuch!).  It’s sequel, well, I dunno, still a great game in many ways, still has some great design, some interesting gameplay, good voice acting and good feel, some excellent set pieces, but it somehow didn’t seem as tight and effective as its predecessor.  I daresay some of that is just familiarity – the basic gameplay mechanics, the fighting, even a lot of the adversaries, are pretty much the same – and they’re never going to have quite the same punch second time round.  Some of it is maybe in the setting – a few city blocks converted into a massive prison worked well at times but didn’t have quite the atmosphere of the crumbling asylum, and there wasn’t the same level of head-fucky investigation of batman’s own psyche, there wasn’t that nasty little edge of madness the first game had.  Some of it was in the shape of the game – they’d gone for more of an open world approach than in the more linear and scripted Arkham Asylum, and I don’t think it worked as well.  It all looked nice, but I’m not sure there was much gained – most of the actual action occurred in more limited single locations anyway, and the city really only served as a set of high towers to swing between in getting from one set piece to another.  Some of it was in slightly muddy plotting – where Arkham Asylum felt tight as a drum, Arkham City had too many villains competing for attention, some of whom would drop in and out without much introduction or explanation.  In the end it all just seemed to peter out a little.

Still an enjoyable, atmospheric way to spend a few hours, but less so than Arkham Asylum for my money.

Posted in games by Joe Abercrombie on January 3rd, 2012.

16 comments so far

  • MonkeyBiscuit says:

    I totally agree. I just finished this (bar the last catwoman section and some side mission / riddler sweepting up if I feel inclined).

    My biggest issue was with the Riddler stuff. I loved the riddles in Asylum, knowing that a particular riddle was in a certain location and searching for it. In City I thought it was too unclear which general area the riddles were in. Most of the time I solved them by scanning something interesting, or by going to a location uncovered by interrogating one of the riddler henchmen… rarely by reading a riddle and looking for it.

  • dking says:

    Nice review.

    When is your next book out?

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    late this year, maybe early next?

  • JonathanL says:

    This is the game I’m currently playing when I have a free time and the TV, and I have to agree that the game, while fantastic, is missing a certain something. I know that Asylum was kind of claustrophobic at times, but it also had the island itself, and I generally felt like I knew where to go. In City, I get lost a lot (this happens to me in video games more than most, I think), I spend a lot of time trying to get to a single location or figure the “right” way out of a room, and while I understand the atmopshere, it’s kind of a constant downer. You’re Batman in Hell. Very good game, overall I really enjoy it, but sometimes it compares to an MMO like World of WarCraft when i play for 30-45 minutes and I realize I’ve accomplished almost nothing.

    Also, Batman’s kind of a jerk. I know he’s not your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, but he’s a pitiless skull-cracker in these games. He keeps on saying he doesn’t kill, but good gravy, he’s got the attitude for it.

  • Alazander says:

    Arkham City is possibly the most overrated title of the year going by Metacritic. (Uncharted 3 runs it close, though.)

    Honestly, the story seems like it was cobbled together in the space of a week and focuses on cramming in far too many villains. Structurally, the plot’s a goddamn mess. The gameplay is more refined, true, but familiarity with a game’s mechanics always takes a certain shine off.

    And the core story is far too short – I beat it in around 10 hours. I’m too old and preoccupied with thoughts of my own mortality to spend countless hours hunting around for trophies that, in the end, amount to bugger all.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Yeah, the ‘I don’t kill’ stuff is a bit thin. After all, I left four or five villains dangling from the big tower, immobilised. The tower then exploded. Was that a very different outcome from killing those villains with my own hands?

    Yeah, thin plot, and I totally agree with you about life being too short for 100% completion these days.

    Got to disagree about Uncharted 3, though, I think that’s a brilliant game.

  • Scooby says:

    I agree. The game said that I was only 30% done when I completed the main story. Also, I found the city to be irritating.

    I personally do not think it is fun to try and find my way in or out of a building. Keep searching you’ll find it. It’s like “searching for your lost car keys–the game.” Yuck.

    I thought Solomon Grundy and Clayface were really cool and Catwoman inspired some disturbing emotions in me (it’s not right to be attracted to a video game), but it seemed a little thin. Especially when the side missions basically involve beating up 10 guys (e.g., finding Nora Fries).

    Good review.

  • Alazander says:

    Uncharted 3’s a technical marvel, but the story and level design take a pretty dip from Uncharted 2, in my opinion. At least in the latter half of the game (I’m not sure if you’ve beaten it). Also, some of the new features (like the brawling) are a mixed bag.

    That said, I played through all three Uncharted games more or less back to back, with Undead Nightmare and its similar shooting mechanics thrown in for good measure. I think a certain amount of whack-a-mole ennui had set in by that point.

    I have to commend you on your excellent taste in gaming – your playlist always appears to mirror my own. I actually follow your blog as much for your game reviews as your book news…

  • James says:

    Sane as Batman Begins then really. Doesn’t kill Ra’s, but leaves him in a position where he can’t possibly live.

    Batman in the comics would have saved him. That’s sort of the key point of that version of the character, the reason the authorities give him free reign.

    Of course, because he never kills, hundreds of Gothamites die when the uber-villains escape from jail instead every week.

    But noone’s perfect.

  • Matt says:

    Meh I thought it was better than Batman: AA. It was far more ambitious, the controls were better and more diverse without crossing into overly complex, the side missions were more numerous and more entertaining. It was also longer than Asylum. Most boss fights in asylum, other than Ivy, were variations of titan battles, which got a little repetitive. Arkham City’s boss fights were so diverse, with Ra’s al Ghul, Clayface, Grundy, Freeze, and Penguin all having distinct boss battle mechanics.

    As for story, yes Arkham City is muddled, but honestly most video game stories are average at best, and for a batman game, I’ll sacrifice story for gameplay. The story is weaker because of the huge cast of villians it tries to tie together, but the gameplay is better for it. I definitely missed Scarecrow though I have to admit.

    Soundtrack was better in the sequel too.

    I think the one point you make that is really bang on though is that it didn’t feel as fresh and new, as we are already kind of used to the controls and style. Personally, I hope the studio goes on to attempt a Superman game or another DC hero, rather than rehashing Bats to death.

  • David says:

    Personally I felt the game added to the comic book world of Batman. I’m a comic geek so all the little details added up.

    I also felt moving around in the city added to Batman’s character which further defines who Batman is. The first game was so linear and condensed you could have been Robin and it wouldn’t matter. In Arkham City it’s clear this is who Batman is. He is a protector of the city and there is a responsibility he must uphold. Also with so many villains you get the impression this is Batman’s typical MO. Swing around constantly facing new foes and new challenges.

    I agree about the 100% completion. I saved 3 Riddler hostages but have no desire to run around capturing another 200 Riddler trophies.

    I also thought the story made a lot of bold decisions, killing villains off, playing with the universe without fear of annoyed fans. They aren’t just using Batman, they’re writing him a new story.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Moving around the city added to Batman’s character? Spiderman can swing between buildings and constantly face new foes, but he ain’t Batman. Surely the thing about Batman that distinguishes him most from a host of other superheroes is his darkness – he’s somewhere between hero and villain, between mad and sane, only a short step between him and the crazies he fights. That’s when he’s at his most interesting, and that was what Arkham Asylum seemed to tap into a lot more effectively than Arkham City. There he was wrestling with his demons. Here he seemed to tend towards a humourless body-builder.

  • David says:

    Yes that’s true the game wasn’t very dark. It felt more like a comic book than the movies. I did use the term “swinging” which might be why you bring up Spiderman, but I think it captures the fact that Batman is prowling the city and must face many foes at once. It sort of drops you in his life.

    It’s true a lot of his characterization is a humourless body-builder. A lunkhead. That’s on the writers for sure.

  • Liam says:

    Have you played Castlevania: Lords of Shadow? It’s got the same kind of climby-scaley-swingy platforming goodness, only in an absolutely stunning fantasy world full of masterful set-pieces, satisfying combat, and occasional Shadow of Colossus-style boss battles. Most fun I’ve had in a video game in a long while.

    It also came out last year, so if you have an xbox it should be on games on demand for cheap.

  • David says:

    I haven’t played that. Sounds good.

  • Richard says:

    I agree with your review, Joe. I found the ending a little abrupt and that the side missions could have been more integrated into the whole – I did most of them after the campaign, not because I wanted to, but because I responded to the urgency of various situations. I ended up completing all the side missions, riddles, and trophies. Some were good, others – meh. Overall, I loved the game. As far as the open cityscape, I particularly enjoyed the flying bit – something Spiderman can’t do. The Mad Hatter mission hinted a more more psychological and dark undercurrent, but didn’t really go anywhere. Helping Dr. Freeze was actually a neat element, but little distinguished Two-Face and Penguin. Playing Catwoman was fun and her take down moves were occasionally hilarious (the over-the-shoulder-kiss-throw-down anyone?). I just wish the Robin and Nightwing DLC allowed you to run around the city as them.
    I also wondered about the no-kill thing. From what I understand, leaving someone hanging upside down can result in stroke and death after a few hours. How many people did Zazz kill after he was caught the 1st time? 2nd time? 3rd time? But, Batman doesn’t compromise. That’s who he is. You may get to decide if Catwoman has a heart and you may get to decide if Adman Jensen is a killer or more like Batman in Dues Ex: HR, but you do not get to decide if Batman is a killer or not. In the end, that’s probably the way it should be.
    I hope there is a 3rd installment.

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