Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Batman Arkham City: 5 Hour Checkpoint

5/10/20 Review, Batman Arkham City:
I came late to the game with the previous entry in this series, Batman Arkham Asylum, only picking it up this year. With the memories of that game reasonably fresh in mind, I've been looking forward to this newest iteration of the Batman video game franchise.

On Pre-Order Incentives:
Before I go into the primary review, I feel I should touch on the rather massive pre-order campaign that this game launched. With both a Premium and Regular edition of the game available there were several special features added to help differentiate the games.
One of the major features that was added was special costume skins available for play, and apparently it was very popular with the marketing team for this game. Long story short, there ended up being almost a dozen different unique costumes for the game depending on which edition you bought and where.

Opening With a Bang:
I attempt to avoid major spoilers in my posts, favoring to explain my overall feel for the game, its mechanics, and the story at the different checkpoints. Arkham City opens full throttle and gets you invested in the happenings of Arkham City almost immediately. A few brief tutorial sections later you are introduced to the basic mechanics of the game, though familiarity with the previous game is a distinct advantage. Also the basic storyline of the game has been introduced, and you're motive for Arkham City is clearly established.

I Know What I'm Doing:
While playing Arkham Asylum isn't strictly required for Arkham City, it definitely helps. In an interesting deviation from the norm of most games, the game doesn't ignore or use plot to remove the abilities you had in the previous game, the batsuit comes with the full compliment of interesting toys from the previous game, with the Batgrapple, RC Batarang, and Explosive Gel all making return appearances.
Several new abilities have been added as well, so it feels like Arkham City is a true sequel to Arkham Asylum, and you don't have arbitrary explaining away of your old abilities. Batman feels like he has grown and progressed since the events of the first game, and as sequels go this earns it extremely high marks in my book.

The Gameplay:
If you have played Arkham Asylum you will already be familiar with the basics of Arkham City. The combat maintains its action packed punch and counter style, and stealth and surprise are still important elements, particularly when dealing with armed enemies. However, the new open cityscape style of Arkham City changes the feel of things considerably, with stealth, mobility, and exploration having a much more epic feel than the previous game.

The Setting, The City the Villains Built:
The feel of Arkham City itself is fantastic, with many interesting building scattered across the different sections of Arkham. Another nice touch is the new ability to overhear the conversations of nearby thugs, which gives the baddies more personality. This personality is even further magnified by their reacting to different story events, and different parts of the the City being controlled by different gangs.
Batman also feels much more like a detective in this iteration. In Arkham Asylum there were interesting moments where Batman did some investigation or followed certain clue trails to the next story point, a detail I most certainly appreciated. Arkham City seems to take the detective angle to the next step, with investigations happening as he discovers things around the city. The addition of numerous side-stories and optional investigations really adds to the flavor of the City, and takes the game from a great action game, to a truly delightful sandbox.
It feels like the game was designed to give you a very flexible experience, adapting to however you choose to play the game. This creates a wonderful sense of immersion as you go about the City and create your own Batman. Do you save a random mugging victim, or are you busy unraveling the latest series of clues left by the Riddler? Maybe you're to busy dealing with the main storyline to deal with the other Villains, but will stop to clear out a den of Two-Face's thugs. Does your Batman try to sneak around enemies and minimize his presence, or does he brawl his way through waves of armed thugs?
Arkham Asylum was a wonderful game, and i admit to have been a bit leery of a sequel, however Arkham City not only lived up to the original but has surpassed it. If the game continues to maintain this momentum throughout I may very well laud it as an example of everything i sequel should be, both a continuation of those that have gone before, and both gameplay and setting that strive to exceed the standards set by the games that have come before it. 

While I tend enjoy a wide variety of games, I try to take a fairly objective stance and embrace both the good and bad parts of a game. This is a rare instance where I can level few complaints against the game, and it approaches a near perfect status where there is little I would change. The only complaint I could level against it is that it might be a bit brief on the tutorials, so knowledge of the previous game helps.
If you have any love for action games this is an absolute must for your collection. I'm often rather skeptical of games that get extremely high ratings, however Arkham City is most certainly worthy of the praise it receives.