October 20, 2011

Batman: Arkham City Review

In 2009, devel­op­er Rock­steady released some­thing that was unimag­in­able, a Bat­man game of our dreams. Arkham Asy­lum was not only the best Bat­man game ever made, it was also the best licensed game to date; depend­ing on who you talk to. AA would have been a feat for any devel­op­er let alone a rel­a­tive­ly unknown dev with only one game under their belt. Despite being the Bat­man game we deserved, it wasn’t the one we need­ed right now. AA had its share of flaws but the deep sto­ry, unmatched melee mechan­ics, and superb voice act­ing and artis­tic design took the game to new heights. Could the Dark Knight rise again and top­ple the vil­lainy in Gotham? Could Rock­steady fol­low up what could have been the shin­ing star in the devel­op­ers cat­a­log? YES, YES and more YES!
I will get this out of the way now, I love Arkham City in every way a gamer can love a game. To me, this is not just a Bat­man game, but an expe­ri­ence like no oth­er. AC is now the clos­est thing we have to being the Dark Knight prowl­ing the streets of Gotham and beat­ing jus­tice into the thugs of the crim­i­nal under­world. Arkham City takes place 18 months after the con­clu­sion of AA. With Arkham Island in despair; the city, along with War­den Sharp and Hugo Strange cre­ate what is known as Arkham City. Arkham City is a small por­tion of old Gotham that has been trans­formed into high secu­ri­ty cen­ter with an under­ly­ing turf war between Gotham’s top vil­lains. The sto­ry starts as Bruce Wayne is peti­tion­ing to shut down Arkham City as it was the place of his parent’s death, and in his mind, not the answer to Gotham’s prob­lems. That is as far as I am going with the sto­ry to avoid spoil­ers, but do note the sto­ry is once again penned by Paul Dini, and push­es the caped cru­sad­er to his phys­i­cal and moral lim­its.
With the set­ting being moved more towards the city of Gotham, the visu­als have been kicked up to 11. Arkham City is visu­al­ly strik­ing. The unique art style AA was known for is back and look­ing bet­ter than ever. Hit­ting the mid­dle between Tim Burton’s dark style and Christo­pher Nolan’s real­is­tic approach is where AC hits. With icon­ic places such as Ace Chem­i­cals and the Ice­berg Lounge spruce up the imag­i­na­tive cityscape. All of the char­ac­ter designs are han­dled with the up most respect; you won’t find any bat nip­ples here or tight white span­dex with ques­tion marks sewn into the crotch. The new­ly intro­duced char­ac­ters like Two-Face, the Pen­guin, and Mr. Freeze are brought to life like nev­er before. AC tops the charts as one of the best look­ing games avail­able on the con­soles.
Any­one that has played Arkham Asy­lum will feel at home with how Arkham City plays. The com­bat and move­ment have been retained but hold new sur­pris­es that make you feel even more like the Dark Knight him­self. Get­ting around the much larg­er world is a breeze thanks to improved glid­ing and the abil­i­ty to use a stronger grap­ple to launch Bat­man into the night sky with­out ever touch­ing the ground. The dive mechan­ic brings new moves to flight and com­bat as well. Div­ing at an oppo­nent from the rooftops enables you to grab and drag ene­mies into oth­ers with great force. The” free flow” com­bat has received a tune up allow­ing you to take down and counter up to two ene­mies for max­i­mum skull crack­ing effi­cien­cy. Cat­woman does have a few playable sec­tions this time around and she does han­dle a bit dif­fer­ent­ly than the often delu­sion­al Dark Knight. She is quick­er in com­bat and her whip and climb­ing abil­i­ties make tra­vers­ing the ter­rain a breeze.
Any­one that knows me knows I love sound­tracks and feel they are an intri­cate part of any media expe­ri­ence. Arkham City is a triple caramel sun­dae for the ears. The music is fine­ly craft­ed to make your bat­man expe­ri­ence have epic movie qual­i­ty. In all seri­ous­ness I plan on pur­chas­ing the sound­track. The voice act­ing is in realm of its own; so few games have voice act­ing of this cal­iber. Kevin Con­roy and Mark Hamill reprise their roles as Bat­man and the Jok­er. As Mark Hamill’s swan song to relin­quish­ing the role of the Jok­er, there is no fin­er dis­play of his tal­ents than in this game. Some only rec­og­nize his as Luke Sky­walk­er, but any­one a fan of the ear­ly 90’s Bat­man the Ani­mat­ed Series will see him as one of the best Jok­ers of all-time. Video game voice guru Nolan North (aka Nathan Drake, among many oth­er video game char­ac­ters) makes his impres­sive DC debut as the Pen­guin, among sev­er­al thugs. The inclu­sion of using radio fre­quen­cies to over­hear the thugs ban­ter was inge­nious and if you ignore the ban­ter you are miss­ing some of the game’s best lines.
Arkham City is not a per­fect game, tech­ni­cal­ly. There are a few glitch­es here and there but the QA is near flaw­less. Arkham City not only defines what a Bat­man game can be but also how you take a great license and makes the most out it. Just as Unchart­ed 2 has shown us sequels can grow out of the shad­ow of their pre­de­ces­sors, Arkham City has done the same.  I have nev­er felt so wrapped up in Gotham, the grit of the under­world, the frailty of the sym­bol, and the mor­tal­i­ty of the man. This is the game fans deserve, the game that will save them from the blight of mass pro­duced sequels, this game is Bat­man.
 
+ Amaz­ing visu­als and ani­ma­tion
+ Dark, adult sto­ry with plen­ty of sur­pris­es
+ The best voice act­ing in video games
+ Superb sound­track
+ Refined con­trols make com­bat and glid­ing a great enjoy­ment
+ Hours of game to under­take with the sto­ry & Rid­dler chal­lenges
+ 4X the size of its pre­de­ces­sor
+ ooz­ing atmos­phere out of every ori­fice.
—   Stu­pid things like work and sleep get­ting in the way of play­ing this amaz­ing game
? Oth­er games have a lot to prove to con­tend with Arkham City for GOTY.
 
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