Game Review: Batman: Arkham City

Mediocrity Part 2: Electric Boogaloo

Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment,
Platforms: Microsoft Windows (reviewed), OS X
Available on: Steam

I wanted to give this series another shot at impressing me. I thought that the heaps of praise this game got both from critics as well as gamers probably meant that I missed something here, something that appealed to all those people that eluded me during the first game. Having now finished the second one, I honestly have to say that if I missed something, It’s not something that I intend to find anymore, because I sure as hell won’t be playing the rest of the series, regardless of the fact that I already own Arkham Origins.

Arkham City is basically the same thing Arkham Asylum already was. Only that it’s now more of an open world title with faster movement between your objectives. All the rest remained the same. Most missions feature the same procedure they did the last time around. The majority of memorable encounters takes place inside large rooms with heavily armed and otherwise well-equipped enemies, where walking in and punching them in the dick is not an option for the frail Dark Knight, since he still can’t tank any damage whatsoever. So you use the same basic tactics (hanging from conveniently placed gargoyles, sneaking through vents and using a few gadgets) that were already played out by the end of the first game. And the final few really started to test my patience. Sure, there are a couple of tweaks here and there with enemies being able to finally spot you when you’re up in the rafters and they even start shooting down the gargoyles to level the playing field, but as a whole, there are no real substantial changes to the gameplay outside of the aforementioned faster movement through the city by using the grappling hook as a catapult.

Outside of the main missions that play out largely identically to the previous game, there are now a bunch of side missions, as it behooves itself to an open-world game. Unfortunately, I didn’t really find the ones I did all that engaging. Bane’s mission basically does itself just while you’re doing all the regular stuff you would’ve done already. Mr. Freeze’s quest isn’t really that difficult and doesn’t’ take long to do. And Zsasz’s are tired old racing missions. I also didn’t care about the Riddler’s trophies and riddles. Mostly because it just seemed like rocksteady went bukkake on the map with the collectibles and I just couldn’t be arsed. And I also missed the sarcastic and condescending quips from the Riddler whenever I picked up a trophy in the original game. Without all that side-content, the game proper is almost criminally short. I assumed that having this franchise go full open world would mean that it would also last a similar amount of time with around 20-30 hours, but it became evident fairly soon that this was going to be a shorter ride because it only took me marginally longer to finish this one than Arkham Asylum. And the kicker here is that even at its length it’s mercilessly padded out.

Arkham Asylum was at least competently paced, but Arkham City wants to throw in so many well-known villains from the Batman mythos, that it just drags on and on with layering all the different fetches you have to do in order to finally resolve the actual plot of the game. I hate this type of game narrative where you have a clear and simple goal but every time you reach a milestone on your way toward that goal, a character or event prompts you to leave the critical path and do something else in order to progress some more. It feels like annoying busywork, because the one thing standing in my way is some dipshit not wanting to give me the necessary thing I need to progress until I’ve done his mission.

One area where the game certainly improves upon the original is the boss fights. They’re far more varied than repeating the same basic tactics over and over again, even if most of them are still fairly easy to pull off and never really require you to utilize Batman’s arsenal of gadgetry. That is until the steel mill infiltration segment. This is the only part of the game where I felt like the level designers  truly managed to make the most of the gameplay elements that are available to the player. Basically every type of gadget is needed to get through that part of the game and as such makes you feel like you actually have to use your head for once, instead of just progressing through a series of rooms filled with a few easy combat encounters until you reach the aforementioned waiting game rooms filled with armed enemies that need to be taken out one by one.

The narrative is, as usual, on typical comic book level writing, filled with clichés (we’ve got two “It’s Over”, “No, it has only just begun” instances in this game over the one in the previous game) and tons of deus ex machina moments. The only part where I could say that the game got a little bit interesting is in the fact that it actually finally kills off the Joker (spoiler alert) but really, this is far from impressive. Because this isn’t cannon. Killing off the Joker in the books and not having him appear in any form of media anymore, that would take some balls. But a spin-off video game killing the Joker and not even showing the psychological aftermath of Batman is just weak.

Also, you get to play as Catwoman in this game for some utterly inexplicable reason. She’s far less interesting to play as and as such becomes a nuisance very fast. Traversing the city with her is a chore and she can barely take any damage in combat. Makes sense for her character, since she’s all about stealth and shit, but I couldn’t care less, honestly.

In the end, neither of these two games has won me over and as such, I will be ignoring all the other games in this series. I was on autopilot for way too long stretches of time that failed to engage me. I can forgive repetitive gameplay if the story or world are interesting and make me want to spend time with it in spite of its gameplay, but the Arkham games have neither. Another game where my personal opinion harshly clashes with the popular consensus that determined to give this game a bunch of 10/10 from various publications.

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