Please Rate This Review: "Batman: Arkham City"
HIGH: Remotely blowing up an enemy mine in the faces of the same morons that placed it there.
LOW: I need to stop the Penguin! But there is a riddle right next to me! And I can hear a phone ringing in the next alley. And a political prisoner screams for help! BWHAAGLRAWWWWR!
WTF: You have an enemy SHARK in a Batman game and you don't have a Bat-shark-repellant? You fail at life, Rocksteady.
It's hard to dislike Batman, a very basic character almost impossible to screw up (unless you're Frank Miller past your prime), whose cool gadgets and brooding nature attribute to him much more depth than he really has. But what's basic works and a couple of years ago in a rare fit of brilliance Warner Brothers left it to publisher Eidos and developer Rocksteady to do their own, more comic-book-based Batman game. The result was "Batman: Arkham Asylum" and it was celebrated as the finest super-hero game in existence.
Now we have its sequel, ambitiously titled "Arkham City". I know the game's been out for a couple of months, but I only got to play it during the Holidays and the game still goes full-price, so I declare this review valid!
If the big question is whether or not you should spend your money on the title, then yes, I suppose you should. It's the one of two titles that came out in the last three months that I'd recommend (the other one being "Saints Row: The Third"). But is it better than "Arkham Asylum"?
It's hard to sell anyone on this, because most of what was good about "Asylum" made it over to "City" with minor defects. The mash-hit/counter combat system is still every bit as fun and now you can counter two enemies at once, while the infamous "stalker" sequences are still just as exciting and clearing a room of confused thugs, while they crap their pants never gets old.
The problem is that as solid as the mechanics are, the game lacks structure. "Asylum" offered a delicious linear narrative, which was adapted into a well-paced and meticulously designed game. "City" tacks on an unecessary sandbox mode that breaks flow, makes the narrative feel disjointed and only adds an extra obstacle to traverse between mission waypoints.
This was presumably done to make the game bigger, but I'm not sure it succeeded doing that either. You can still waste however many hours of your life trying to one-up the Riddler, but the story feels surprisingly short. Plot points just fly by and there is a lack of consistency, as you go through the Batman rogues-gallery-checklist to finish the game.
I understand the fascination behind throwing Batman in a city and have him jump from rooftop to rooftop, but it needs to be the principle design, instead of merely your new back-cover feature. Even the titular Arkham City just isn't very interesting. Despite the attention to detail, everything looks the same by default and there just isn't much to see, explore or do in this place. It's why proper sandbox games, like GTA or even the likes of "Infamous" and "Protoype" have random NPCs going about their lives and offer several different means of transportation and exploration.
All I'm saying is that the game would've been better off with a bigger campaign and a separate sandbox mode, unlocked after the story's completion.
Speaking of the story, leaving aside the aforementioned pacing issues, I hope you have picked up at least one Batman comic in your life, because characters have this tendency to show up right out of nowhere without being established and then go away just as fast. Ra's Al Ghoul and his daughter Talia (both awesome characters in their own right) are particularly guilty of this. They get shoe-horned into the plot and then they have the audacity to be big players in it as well.
As for Batman's big drama? Whether or not he is responsible for the freaks that terrorize Gotham and if deep down he is any different, which is for Batman subtext about as original as Superman feeling lonely or Spider-Man feeling horny.
But I reserve my last piece of ire for the day-one DLC the game offered, which amounted to some 25 bucks worth of material that five years ago would've been included in the game for the standard price. Once again companies forget the real purpose of DLC (i.e. extending a game's life-cycle with new material for low prices) and instead proceed to taunting their legit customers.
Of all the DLC, the one that annoys me the most is the extra costumes for Batman, costumes that simple modders had made for the demo to "Arkham Asylum". Not only does this move invalidate the idea of modding, but it bothers me especially, because vanila Batman in this game looks awful. He has one of the worst character designs in the history of comic book art (or fashion, for that matter). He looks like a guy on steroids and military gear that just slapped on a bat symbol on his grey armor and jumps from rooftop to rooftop like a passive-aggressive beat cop. I am sorry, but this is not the form that will strike fear in the hearts of criminals!
My recommendation still stands. However, considering that another sequel is already in the cards, it'd be good to remember what the job of a sequel really is. It doesn't exist to either capitalize on its predecessor, or to upstage it. Sequels and continuations need to improve on what came before and still be unique enough to stand on their own legs (which is why games like "Modern Warfare 3" and Skyrim aren't very good, since they only exist to outright replace the previous installment). Bigger won't do that by default. It's richer you want to go for and that's all I ask for from the next, heart-wrenching, self-aware and life-changing installment of "Eat, Pray, BATMAAAAN!"
Disclosures: The game was obtained via rental and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 10 hours of play were put into it, with the majority devoted to the campaign. About an hour of play was put into the separate Challenge modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, the game contains Alcohol Reference, Blood, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Tobacco, Violence and carries the Teen rating. It's a violent game, but the gore is almost non-existent and sexual references are restricted to innuendos. I'd advise against really young kids spending time with it.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: Story and in-game banter are subtitled and the game offers enough visual indicators to guide the gameplay. There shouldn't be any problem enjoying the game.
Re: Please Rate This Review: "Batman: Arkham City"
There's the guts of a good review in here, but I think it gets derailed a bit by your fairly subjective opinions!
The good: you explain the premise of the game, the things that make it fun to play,and the problems with the open world structure.
The bad: you constantly use very subjective phrases like "I suppose", "All I'm saying is" and "[the DLC] annoys me". Personally I think reviews should have more objective language, and more objective justifications, though you may disagree. For example, if a reviewer uses the word "awesome" I know he's being more of a fan than a reviewer. In particular your paragraphs on the DLC need to be toned down a little bit - not everyone will see it as 'taunting' the player.
In a similar vein, I'd cut this entirely:
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