A Tour Of Arkham City
Nov 2011 09

A Tour Of Arkham City

Posted In Blog,Entertainment,Gaming,Geek,Internuts

by Mentalrage

Arkham Asylum pretty much set the standard for how good a game based on a comic book character and the world they inhabit could be. Previously, game’s based on comics were generally speaking either ill thought out, poorly executed, hurriedly produced tie-in’s with film properties or otherwise underwhelming and insulting to fans of both good games and the comics they were based on with very few exceptions.

Developer Rocksteady at that point had only produced the distinctly average Urban Chaos. Which made both their treatment of the Batman universe and it’s polished presentation and execution in Arkham Asylum all the more surprising.

Now the much-anticipated follow up Arkham City is upon us.

Simply put, Rocksteady has defined how to produce a follow up to a successful game. It builds on everything featured in the previous game, tweaking things here and there as well as adding plenty of new elements. Arkham City is an almost perfect example of digital alchemy, balancing deep lore that Bat fans will appreciate, but not to the extent that it will drive away gamers unfamiliar with the intricacies of Gotham City.

Arkham City finds a section of Gotham City partitioned off and transformed into a vast penal colony overseen by mysterious psychiatrist Hugo Strange. Bruce Wayne soon finds himself incarcerated in Arkham City for speaking out against Strange and it’s down to the Dark Knight to figure out what Strange is really up to and what “Protocol 10” is.

Chances are, unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last few decades, you’ll be familiar with at least some of the numerous villains that make up the Dark Knight’s rogues gallery (which is arguably the best in comics). Rocksteady has once again produced some great character designs with the Penguin re-imagined as a sadistic, eccentric Cockney wide-boy being just one of them. You can also look forward to seeing Mr. Freeze, Harley Quinn, The Joker, and Solomon Grundy, to name but a few, and that’s just the main story, there are side missions involving Bane, Mr. Zsasz, and The Riddler, plus additional Catwoman story missions which intertwine with the main story (her design is heavily influenced by Adam Hughes iconic take on the character).

The presentation all round is slick and highly polished. The Arkham facility which you find yourself in, with its array of buildings and alleyways, really feels like part of a city. It’s a gothic delight that’s equal parts urban decay and neon excess. These aren’t just random buildings either, Bat fans will pick up on numerous things like the building you first suit up as Batman in being Ace Chemicals. The voice acting is universally excellent with Kevin Conroy once again being a solid Dark Knight and Mark Hamil putting in another sublime performance as The Joker.

Unlike its predecessor you have a vast area that you’re free to explore open world style after the opening scenes. Gliding and grappling your way across the myriad of rooftops and perching upon a gargoyle before listening to a bunch of thugs debate whether crossing Two-Face or The Joker is worse before dropping out of the night sky and taking them all out is a thing of beauty it has to be said. If you’re so inclined you can actually spend a considerable amount of time just exploring before even starting any missions.

The downside of this new open world approach is Arkham City doesn’t have the claustrophobic story driven narrative of its predecessor, the varied selection of villains are battling each other for both territory and screen time it seems. Though I don’t think –– as impressive as Batman’s rogues gallery is –– there are many characters that would support a full story like The Joker, so in this regard Rocksteady has made a wise move.

To aid your navigation around Arkham City, Batman now has a divebomb move which can be used either as an offensive maneuver (once you’ve got the necessary upgrade) or can be used to gain height and speed by pulling up at the last minute before soaring into the night sky. Another addition is the line launcher, an adaptation to the Batclaw which enables you to travel horizontally between buildings and can even be fired mid flight to travel around corners.

Combat in Arkham City is built around the same mechanics as the previous game, but things have been tightened up with new options thrown into the mix too. Now you can use the numerous gadgets at your disposal in the midst of a fight easier. Watching a hammer wielding goon take out half his own men after being hit by the Remote Electronic Charge (a new addition) never gets old. Counter moves are a big factor in combat and learning the timing will literally save your life. Arkham City thugs aren’t completely brain dead either, they will team up on you and not just form an orderly queue while you take them out. Also if another gang of thugs is witness to your brawling, they’ll come steaming down the street and join the fray. This can result in facing a literal horde of bad guys where you can really show off your combat prowess.

One of the best things about combat in Arkham City is it doesn’t fall into the all too familiar problem of tedious repetition. Performing the same few moves over and over can quickly go from exhilarating fun to boring chore in a combat oriented game. Thankfully the combat here is influenced by your surroundings, find yourself up against a wall facing a mob of goons, and your counters will take this into account with Batman slamming faces into said wall until you move away from it.

Stealth quite rightly is also an important part of surviving in Arkham City. Even the Dark Knight isn’t invincible, so taking on tooled up goons head on will just lead to a quick demise. Vantage points are key and so is patience. Learning patrol patterns and picking your moment to strike before disappearing into the shadows will lead to goons freaking out and firing at shadows, which will lead to an intimidation experience bonus when you clear the area. If things do go a bit awry you can employ a new smoke bomb to cover your escape.

It’s not quite as easy this time around though, with goons later in the game sporting some hi-tech gear. For example they’re equipped with thermal imaging headsets which make you visible even if you’re hiding in the shadows, and have signal jammers which screw with your Detective Mode, meaning you have no access to the usual readouts on enemies in the vicinity.

Experience will allow you to level up where you can upgrade your Batsuit and gadgets, and learn new special combat techniques, amongst other things.

As for the Catwoman missions I mentioned earlier, they’re just as well executed. In fact they’re so good you’ll find yourself wishing there were more of them. Navigating Arkham City as Catwoman is a completely different experience as you utilize her whip and pounce from rooftop to rooftop or scale larger buildings in stages. Combat is different too. Catwoman is faster, but takes more of a beating if a goon connects. Her combat style is similar to Batman’s but the counters and stealth takedowns (dropping down off the ceiling for one) are more graceful and acrobatic in their approach and there’s a different set of gadgets to have fun with. I think Rocksteady may have gone a little overboard on sexing up Catwoman, I don’t think her catsuit needs to be zipped down quite that far to be sexy.

There’s plenty of other little details like Batman’s Batsuit taking damage as you progress, radio communications with both Alfred (with his trademark subtle dry humor) and Oracle. And listening to Penguin or Joker berate their goons as you take them out is highly amusing in a twisted way. “Batman’s never killed anyone but that doesn’t mean he won’t start with you,” quips The Joker.

Added to all that, there’s Riddler trophies to find, challenges to complete, and did I mention you get to punch a shark and can hitch a ride on a helicopter?

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