Batman: Arkham Asylum was one of my favorite games from recent memory (as you can see from this glowing review.) it had everything a video game should have. Balanced and timely progression through the character and level. A Story that you can get into and has a griping arc to it. Voice acting that draws you in and doesn’t distract you from the game, great graphics, controls, sound….and of course, the god damn Batman! Needless to say I was MORE than excited when the sequel was announced!
The game begins with Bruce Wayne (you) coming out of a daze being talked to by Dr. Hugo Strange. It’s mentioned from the start that he knows your identity as Batman. The game goes into a flashback to setup how you came to be in Stranges possession. Bruce Wayne is protesting the opening of “Arkham City” a new high security closed off section of Gotham that houses only the most dangerous of inmates. This all happens thanks to Quincy Sharp, the Warden of Arkham Asylum taking credit for Jokers capture from the first game, and using that fame to run for, and win the position as mayor of Gotham. Bruce, during this protest of the new “City” is arrested and thrown in himself. From this point it’s Batman time!
The game plays similarly to Arkham Asylum which is a very good thing. This time around you get more gadgets, a larger play area and way more side missions to do. The game actually seems to pull many elements from another great comic based game, Spider-Man 2:The Game, in which random missions involve saving a person in distress, a phone ringing, etc. It adds another nice bit of non-linearity to a well scripted game. Just in case you haven’t played the 1st game, (which…..like, what are you f**kin’ rahtarded for not?!.) it’s a 3rd person action/adventure style game with emphasis on combat and exploration. In the same vein as Metroid, past areas that you have cleaned out are left open for later traversing, allowing you to find new secrets that might have been missed or flat out locked until you were able to snag a new upgrade, weapon, or a new enhancement.
This type of game play for me can go both ways, if the area is vast and wide open, it can be a lot of fun trekking around and finding new areas, past areas you’ve forgotten about, or just goofing off. But if it’s a hassle to get back to a place you were just at, just to find a trinket, it can put a damper on game play. I’m happy that Arkham City dodges this bullet by making the vast city remain alive after you’ve beaten the main story. It feels natural and progressive. One thing that slightly bugged me about Arkham Asylum was that once the story was done, while it was still fun to go back and finish off the side quests, it felt dead. Sure, enemies re-spawned, but it wasn’t the same…it just felt hollow. This time around, it continues to feel as if you aren’t done, which is a plus and really helps pacify that feeling you get once you beat a games main story you know what I’m talking about. That feeling you got of never wanting to play it again.. like Duke Nukem Forever. This, on the other hand, entices you to go back and keep playing. I didn’t even know there was any side missions or quests involving certain enemies until after I finished the game… than things went a little weird, in a great way. I’m hoping to find more things like that.
Even after the main story there is still the matter of Challenge “rooms” like in the original game, where you are tasked with beating a map without being spotted,or reaching a certain combo, clearing all the thigs in a room as fast as possible, etc. Or, if you are someone who bought the game new, you get the Catwoman story and gameplay as well, unfortunately, I am borrowing my copy and was unable to review that content, so I can’t say if it lends a lot to the game or not, I did find it cleverly annoying that the purple Riddler pieces could not be picked up while Riddler informed me that they were for “Someone else!” This did tempt me, for the 1st time, to think about buying the code, even though the game isn’t mine, just to play her story though, which, I’m sure is exactly why they did it this way. it’s a double edged sword really, its annoying for completionists, and makes you want to get the code because it feels incomplete. But its not required to actually complete the game.
Controls continue to be tight, combat is slightly better than the first game, adding in the ability to counter multiple enemies this time around, adding a better feel of “I AM the God damn Batman!” than before, while the first game suffered from the feel that enemies seemed to kindof wait for their turn, or, on harder difficulties, required you to dodge rather than counter. This allows for much bigger combos and overall better combat flow.
One part of the game that didn’t get a lot of attention was the mobs. While they all look different from each other texturely, they all act the same, joker thugs and penguin thugs do things the same. I guess it makes sense, They are just disposable baddies who don’t have much skill. But, having multiple types of 1-armed “mini-boss” type enemies? come on now.. that’s a bit hard to swallow. I understand palette swapping mobs, but it gets a bit “Mortal Kombaty” obvious when you are just slapping on different tattoos and pants to the same enemy I just fought in Jokers turf…who also happens to have one arm!
Not a whole lot has changed in terms of graphical prowess, visually. That isn’t to say the game didn’t make strides in advancing itself graphically. While the overall style and texture quality looks similar, the animation looks as if it has gotten smoother, which is saying a lot. The first games animation was pretty fantastic. More frames were used to increase fluidity, and it looks as though the animations for chaining combos together and starting counters has been smoother out, allowing to sync with the next move a little better.
Another big jump was the size of Arkham City. While AA looked large enough. The island was sectioned off, having to pass through cliffs and caves to get to the next large area. This is one huge city to explore. No separation or loading screens, except when entering buildings.
Because it’s an urban environment now, it would have been easy to slip up and make the games landscape look too similar, causing a repetitive look and feel, or to get easily confused on where you are going and what direction. The art department did a great job of making each section of the map look unique. You can tell pretty easily just by looking at the lighting and buildings that you are in Joker territory vs. Two Face turf, or Penguin’s area, but it’s done in a slightly subtle fashion so the transition from different areas isn’t jarring.
Texture work is great, lots of fine details, like the snow that sticks to Batman’s cloak as it’s falling and slowly melts, to the character models are detailed as well, although, because of every ones large Gears of Warian stature, it’s easy to see they are all the same model with different textures applied (Palette Swapping, See “Mortal Kombat”) it doesn’t take away from the game, it’s just something that can be noticed if you are picking at it with a fine toothed comb. Honestly, it’s not as bad as it was in Asylum. There is more variety here.
But what the big winner here is, again, is the re-envisioning of many of the Villians of Batman, Penguin this time around has a British accent…which I think is fitting, all British are evil.. ’emIright? His short but husky frame and facial detail does make him appear more menacing then usual. Freeze looks great as well, monotone and expressionless face that portrays his cold and calculating personality. Rocksteady has a way of taking the source material, bringing just enough style and change, and a bit of their own flavor to the table that makes the game a shining example of how the Batman universe should look, while saying “This is what we live for” proudly. I can’t wait to see this developer do things in the future, whether it’s more Batman (here is hoping!) or something entirely new all together.
The city design as I mentioned looks great, and while after the main story is down it still feels like an active city, from the start. the 2 games have different atmospheres, Honestly, Arkham Asylum, before the game ends, had a more appealing feel to me. Not taking away from Arkham City, I personally have just preferred games with more well done nature type settings than urban/industrial settings. Again, nothing taken away from this game as it’s great, it’s just a personal preference from seeing way too many games in tight buildings or cities.
Just like the 1st game, Audio is pretty stellar, wind rushing by as you glide from roof tops, mobs unaware of your presence not just making quips or one liners, but holding long conversations about whats going on around them. It lends a lot of atmosphere to a game that is already dripping with it. Obviously the bright stars in this are Mark Hamill who plays the Joker once again with such character and gusto you constantly forget that this is Luke Skywalker. The nasally annoying brat from Star Wars: A New Hope. Mr. Hamill has been playing the Joker voice since Batman: The Animated Series and I frankly can’t imagine anyone else doing it when he retires.
Other notables are the Penguin, with his brash and harsh British accent is played by Nolan North… no shit. Drake from the Uncharted games is the voice of the Penguin. He’s one of those guys that I sometimes get tired of hearing, but I didn’t even notice until I read it was him. He did a great job, if he’s able to keep up with this quality while being able to “disguise” his voice, I’m all for hearing him in more work…. unless some voice actors you can instantly tell who it is. *cough Steve Blum cough* I loved ya as Spike from Cowboy Bebop, but after I’ve heard you in every single game ever, including games you should NOT BE IN (Dirt 3, seriously, no..I’m still bitter about that, I won’t shut up.. YOU shut up!) just… chill, I heard you in this game too, don’t lie!. I heard you! I heard you a dozen times!
What was I saying? Right aside from THOSE WHO steve SHALL NOT blum BE NAMED. The entire cast did a great job. some a little over the top, but forgivable given the comment of the game and it’s artistic style, it fits and sounded great. Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman for as long as Mark Hamill has done the Joker, stepped up his game this time around as well. I mentioned in my review of Arkham Asylum that, while he sounded good, he was outpaced by Mr. Hamill and his flamboyant Joker. While I didn’t want batman to sound as over the top as the Joker (See: Joel Schumachers horrible Batman crap.) I would have liked a less monotone style. While not breaking Batman’s character, he does sound a bit more natural about it which was good.
I loved the first Arkham Asylum, it had a piece of several types of games and was able to merge them all together in harmony. Exploration, Stealth, Balanced progression, interesting story and multiple modes and side quests to keep you playing well after the main campaign was finished. While it, and this one lacked multiplayer, it’s inclusion would likely have only hurt the overall game. The sequel takes the concrete foundation that Rocksteady has built and was able to not only build on top of it with a larger world, better graphics and sound, but expand it with additions to the games game play fundamentals.
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