Monday, November 28, 2011

Gaming Review: Batman Arkham City

At the heart of every great game is one of two things:
1. A feeling of tangible success at reaching one of the goals.
2. A powerful and well-executed storyline capable of doing through action, what movies do through vision.

At the heart of every amazing game, is both.

The Premise
The story of Batman is not one we don’t know.  It isn’t some strange new imagining of the Dark Knight our parents used to watch or read.  No fanatical director has skewed the characters of our childhood into some fake replica that we can’t identify...(think the He-Man movie, or the “new” Smurfs).  Rocksteady Games stuck to the script, for the most part, and I’m extremely grateful that they did.
When last we saw the caped crusader of Gotham, he had undermined a plot by the hilarious and evil Joker, stopping the villain from completely overtaking Arkham Asylum.  Joker’s manipulation of the super chemical Titan, the very same that gives Bane his pleasant plump, had resulted in grave results for the green-haired goon.  Results that gave players the impression that our dear sweet arch-nemesis would be much less than himself in the following game.

I hate that we were right.

Arkham City begins with our favorite Gotham reporter Vicki Vale, standing in front of the huge gates of Arkham, telling how Millionaire Bruce Wayne seeks to publicly stand out against Dr. Hugo Strange’s new prison city.  The camera sways to the right and we see the debonair playboy breeze past through other camera flashes on his way into the spotlight, but not before correcting Ms. Vale; “Billionaire,” he says. “Millionaires are so last year.”

He begins his speech and is suddenly apprehended by armed guards.  The next thing you know, you wake up in a cell staring at yourself in a dirty two-way mirror.  A graze of the controller causes Bruce to rock in his chair and this subtle motion is all the indication you receive that the game has started.   This immediate immersion into the world is what made me love Arkham Asylum, and I was glad to see that the city would be no different.

A brief altercation with a few guards and prisoners, while also meeting two familiar characters, Dr. Hugo Strange and The Penguin, get us out of the intake wing and into what used to be north Gotham and is now Arkham City. A quick call to Alfred has the Batwing airdropping a Wayne-sized canister onto a roof across town. After reaching it and activating the thermal lock, we witness a transformation only rivaled by that moment Will Smith puts on "the last black suit he'll ever wear". Bruce Wayne is gone, and we're ready to get down to business as Batman.

My Thoughts

The game follows so many dips and curves that it would take a much longer blog post than I feel up to writing, just to give you a real glimpse at the things you'll see and experience. Game Informer Magazine (one of my favorites) gave the game it's coveted 10 out of 10 score, and critics have already hailed it one of the best superhero franchise games ever done. That's saying quite a lot.

I'm a stickler for story, and the writers of this game outdid themselves. Great tie-ins and continuity with the original Batman story, but also great new backstory is revealed about each of the characters and their relationships with this Arkham/Gotham. Some stories are revealed through gameplay, while others are found artifacts that speak for themselves.

The controls of Arkham City are easy to pick up, with players feeling as though they're just as powerful as the Bat. Unlike in Arkham Asylum, many of the best gadgets are sent in immediately with the suit, so aside from a few upgrades, players can get right down to business. The enemies are broken into different factions, representing some of Gotham's most renowned super-criminals, and those who just enjoy the battles can run around the city freely, fighting to their hearts content.

I finished the Story Mode in a little under two weeks, with more than half of the side-missions complete and was still only at about 78% game completion! There was a lot to see and do in this game, but more importantly there was a lot to experience. Riddler's puzzles were addictive, Penguin's taunts frustrating, and Catwoman's second-guessing intriguing. Characters that we've grown to love from the movies and also the books popped up at unexpected times and added to the breadth of the storyline. This city breathed.

While Mark Hamil has said this will be his final time voicing The Joker, and he did an amazing job as always, the writers of this game have provided us with such a thirst to learn more about the other villains of Gotham that perhaps we will be distracted enough not to be too sad. The options of playing as Catwoman, Nightwing or Robin are also great additions to the game.

We previewed Arkham City in my teen Gaming Alliance this past week and they are now just as hooked as I am. I also provided them with a glimpse of what other Batman materials we house in the library.  

If you're going to have a little free time this holiday season, or if your town is expecting to get snowed in, I recommend you have this game on the shelf to cozy up to. Just don't blame me if you find yourself gobbling up every Batman book and comic you can get your hands on afterwards.


3 people wrote some stuff:

Katie said...

Bryan was playing this a lot (until Call of Duty and Skyrim came out, of course). I haven't played it yet, but it is definitely a very fun game to watch! The story is very good. Loved reading your review! :)

Stephsco said...

Awesome. I've been playing Elder Scrolls: Skyrim so I haven't played this. I like how you tied the game into books for the library.

I just read an interesting article about the gender roles in Arkham City if you're interested:

Mrs.Tiye said...

Katie & Steph, I'm trying to get a hold of Skyrim myself! LOL!!! I'm a bit afraid, though, because I have a habit of getting fully immersed and I hear that you can do just about ANYTHING in Elder Scrolls.

I read the gender rolls article, and I have to say I agree. While we all know Catwoman is known for her sultry attitude, the cleavage is a bit much. While navigating the game, you can even hear some of the Arkham inmates saying things like, "Catwoman better be careful, some of these men haven't seen a woman in years", or "She can whip me anytime", etc.

I don't want to give away a spoiler, but like I said, Harley leaves a VERY revealing clue lying around as well. This is the same problem I encountered when we played Mortal Kombat a few months ago. The costumes are very revealing and the gestures all seem to scream "I'm a woman so I have to be hips and curves."

All the more reason to make me anticipate the new Tomb Raider...though it doesn't come out until New Years Day 2013. :(

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