Arkham Asylum was a fantastic game. Playing as Batman actually felt like I was playing as the caped crusader; his punches had impact, the game introduced gadgets if and when you needed them but implemented real time uses for all of them and the threat from the Joker felt genuine. He was literally running the prison, but he had a bigger plan going on; to use the titan to create an army of super henchmen that could be capable of defeating Batman. The Storyline was focused, with a sustained threat. The combat controls were seamless but without sacrificing a feeling of power. Intellect was expected as well. So how does Arkham City hold up as a sequel to a fantastic game?
The good news is that the combat is pretty much the same. New gadgets have been introduced to the game to create even more variety within battles. If the fighting heats up, and it gets a little hot to handle, Batman can now drop a smoke pellet and vanish out of sight. Fighting itself has changed little, aside from the introduction of new gadgets. You can still punch, stun and counter attacking enemies, but now you can engage small groups across the streets of Arkham City. It feels a little unlike Batman however to swoop down, beat up some bad guys just because they were standing around with baseball bats and talking. I guess Batman doesn’t believe in the freedom of assembly. Nevertheless, if you played Arkham Asylum, you’ll transition into the City mechanics with little difficulty.
Graphics are fairly similar too. Dark and grey are the main colours but if you found any bold primary colours in Gotham City, I’d wager you weren’t in a Batman game. Dull, dark and depressing is exactly what Batman games are all about, and there’s little more depressing than being trapped in a slum turned prison. You’ll find plenty boarded up windows and trash laying scattered across the streets, but a lot of it really just feels like it’s trying to force you to do things a certain way. You can never break a window or use the plastic explosives to blow open a door. You must find the right way in, which is usually the last place any sane person would think to look. At least it looks nice though. You could stand around looking at marvellous brick walls, or sit on a gargoyle while watching over the City for hours.
Innovation has certainly been applied by the developers in modification of detective mode. It’s still very much as helpful as it ever was for searching an area, identifying armed targets and objects of interest. However, now detective mode limits onscreen visuals which show temperature levels or proximity to communication devices, both of which are used in the main mission to find certain people, so the player must regularly turn detective mode off in order to use these functions. It was pretty smart to restrict the player’s ability to keep detective mode on constantly, as it did simplify Arkham Asylum somewhat. The idea that detective mode wouldn’t help you detect temperature levels or communication signals is somewhat illogical, but I appreciate the creativity in trying to diversify the Batman experience.
For every positive note in Arkham City, there are also a number of serious flaws. As the game starts, Bruce Wayne is kidnapped and thrown in the Gotham slums, which have been transformed into a ghetto prison for supervillians by Dr. Hugo Strange. Why this is so isn’t really explained immediately. Not to mention, why exactly isn’t there some sort of operation to regulate the prison? Commissioner Gordon sends in a team, but I find it odd that there isn’t more being done to make sure the place is actually a prison, and not just a territory controlled by super villains. Very few of the villains even seems bothered about leaving, or the fact that Strange is running the place. At which point in Batman continuity is this meant to be at? Is Hugo Strange a new villain, or has he done targeted Batman before? If it’s the latter, I’m surprised Batman wasn’t more prepared, and even more surprised that Hugo Strange was even allowed to do what he wanted with the prison inmates. Arkham Asylum made sense because it was an actual prison. Using City as a prison seems like a lazy way to implement the same ideas from Asylum but in a more open world, which as a storyline doesn’t exactly work. While the open world is fun to explore; the reasons for being there seem pretty flimsy.
Another problem with City is that it feels rather repetitive. You spend your time searching City for super villains, either by tracking heat levels or something similar. There will generally be a gauge that you must follow, which will discern your direction by whether the numbers on the gauge increase or decrease. To find Mr. Freeze, you have to follow a gauge that drops, while finding Joker means following a gauge that increases the closer you are. When you get there, you’re sure to beat up a group of inmates, followed by perhaps a beefed up inmate (sometimes with a sledgehammer, sometimes with Titan) or another little task designed to keep you away from the main focus for a little while longer. Of course, you can always do side missions in the mean time, but the main mission always feels like I’m going the same thing: being forced to help one super villain against another. After a while it begins to feel like I’m just some poor lackey.
Overall, while the game is fun, I’m not sure the story is as strong as it was in Asylum, and it feels a lot more repetitive than it ever did in the previous game. I think it’s a solid sequel, and if it had no connection to Asylum, then it would be heralded as a fantastic game too. Unfortunately it has a connection to Asylum, and it’s actually the worse for it. Yet there’s so much more I could say about the game, such as Catwoman and the massive range of villains represented in the game. And I think I will. Next week.