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One Night in Arkham City

No High Scores

I’ve spent one night and one morning in Arkham City and already Batman’s costume is starting to look like something you’d see the charlatans at Mann’s Chinese Theater wearing. My inability to keep Bruce’s duds clean and fresh looking was one of my biggest regrets about Arkham Asylum, but no one said taking down criminal scum would be clean work. Getting repeatedly smacked in the head doesn’t help either.

These are my initial impressions of the game as I keep myself focused on completing the main story in a timely fashion so as to not have Bill pull a Bane and snap me over his gimp knee. If I’m lucky he’ll be devoured by roving bands of exotic animals, thereby extending my deadline but I probably can’t rely on a rogue animal attack wipe away my responsibilities. I must press on, so press on I shall, into the dark, crumbling heart of Gotham. Into Arkham City…

From the outset, Arkham City gets to its story much more quickly than Arkham Asylum did. Arkham Asylum’s slow walk with the Joker did a fantastic job in setting up the characters and the environment but it was just a bit too long, a bit too lingering. It’s a hard line to toe, between building tension and overstaying your welcome and I think Arkham Asylum definitely strayed into the latter territory. Not so with Arkham City. I have the Catwoman DLC, so the game starts with her, oddly enough. I imagine that those without the content would start right with Bats, but as I was lucky enough to get a code in the box, Selina and started this adventure together. Catwoman plays just like Batman, although without as many gadgets and right from the start you’re forced into a fight against multiple opponents. I’m not sure how this qualifies as an episode as the whole thing is basically one giant brawl, but that’s how the game classifies it, as witnessed from the Catwoman episode listings in the main menu. In a genius move, Rocksteady allows you to access all of the extra bits from the main menu, independent from the main story. If you decide to wait on the DLC, or have to due to publishing screw-ups, all of your extra content will be waiting for you from the main menu once you get your bits and bytes in order. It’s a welcome move, but if the Catwoman parts are all as brief and interwoven as the first one was, playing them separately will be a relatively jarring affair.

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Without getting into spoiler territory, it isn’t long before you’re prowling the rooftops of Arkham City, with Alfred’s voice in your ear. Speaking of voices, I have seen every film and TV version of Batman ever made, from Adam West to Christian Bale but Kevin Conroy will always be the voice of Batman. I don’t know why as Batman has been voiced by some incredible voice talent over the years, but Conroy’s portrayal stands out. I was in college when Batman: The Animated Series came out, so it’s not like I have a childhood connection to the show, but just as Peter Cullen will always be Optimus Prime and Frank Welker will always be Megatron, Kevin Conroy will always be Batman. That being said, if you ever get a chance, check out James Woods’ creepy as hell performance as Owlman from Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. Dude is super, mega-creepy.

Despite being billed as an action game, make no mistake, this is an open world game. Your world is just much smaller than San Andreas or Liberty City or Mars. From the beginning you can go wherever you want, save for the central tower, which I’m sure will come into play during the end game. You can glide or use your grapnel to get from rooftop to rooftop, dispensing beatdowns to the criminals you find milling about, or ignoring them completely to listen in on radio chatter instead. The chatter is interesting as it helps flesh out the various conflicts within Arkham City while at the same time painting the inmates as a somewhat sympathetic lot. “When are they going to feed us” laments one, reminding us that the measure of a civilization is in how well we treat our prisoners. In that light, Gotham City is as depraved as ever, and the carving up of Arkham City into different, themed sections only serves to push home just how depraved things have gotten.

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Combat is as fluid as ever however the addition of quick use gadgets does complicate matters and will likely result in some injuries as you learn how to incorporate them into your fighting style. Tap the left trigger to throw a batarang, then strike, counter, flip, maybe put some explosive gel down, flip over again, strike, counter, detonate, flip, counter, strike, electric charge, catch a hurled chair and throw it back, dive, cape stun, batclaw, finishing move, ground takedown, slow motion fist to a thug’s head to end the bout. As with Arkham Asylum, when it works, no game makes you feel as powerful, as superheroic as this one does. When it doesn’t though, oy, it hurts. A quick perusal of the menus shows that I still have a number of gadgets to unlock, presumably all with some sort of combat use, which makes me worry that most of the special moves and gadgets will go unused as I try and manage with what meager skills I have, but that’s what the challenge maps are for. It certainly helps that smoke pellets are a tap of the Y button away, allowing you to make a hasty exit if you find yourself outnumbered, or facing armed foes, but I still feel a small twinge of shame when I use them. Batman doesn’t back down. Batman doesn’t fail. If he does, people die. It is that simple.

I’ve been trying to focus on the main story but there’s so much to do that it makes focusing difficult. Side missions abound, signified by rescue flares, beckoning me to find out who needs my help. This time it’s Bane. He needs help destroying Titan canisters before they make it out of the city. Seeing Batman look up to a man three feet taller than him and tell Bane that tonight is not a good night to lie to him is both amusing and terrifyingly real at the same time. Amusing because, when is it a good night to lie to Batman? Terrifying because this man has no fear against this hulking brute of a monster. How do you live up to that?

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You live up to it by putting distractions out of your mind and focusing on the task at hand. Joker. It’s always Joker. The side missions can wait, conveniently placed on your map until you’re ready to tackle them, same as any Riddler trophies you find and scan into your database. The waiting game extends to after the story, a good thing as some side quests require you to enter that walled off tower. The augmented reality missions that reward you extra gadgets don’t get the same brush off though, something I hope Batman can forgive me for. I simply can’t resist a new toy and the ability to effortlessly zip around my surroundings is well worth failing a few ring gliding exercises.

Entering the smelting plant and I see that the Joker’s goons have a doctor kidnapped. They’re armed, six of them, and they have control of the room. I almost feel sorry for them. Almost. One falls to an inverted takedown. One choked from behind. One is too paralyzed with fear at my gliding approach to react and he gets a face full of concrete for his cowardice. Another inverted takedown, another glide kick and finally a corner cover takedown and the room is mine, the doctor is safe. How did they ever think they stood a chance?

My time in Arkham City has been brief but not uneventful. I am convinced that this pace will continue as I hurtle towards the end game, but now is not the time to lament the lack of freedom a deadline imposes. This city, my city, needs me and I will not stop until I have purged the evil that put me on this path. Arkham City, your savior is at hand, gliding within you on ebony wings.

Brandon

Brandon loves games, which shouldn't be a surprise given where you're reading this. He has written for GameShark, The Escapist and G4, and made them all less relevant as a result.

13 thoughts to “One Night in Arkham City”

  1. Hot damn, I want to go home right now and play this shit! I picked it up yesterday, but I was out with friends last night so I didn’t get to play it yet. It’s sitting on my dresser. Taunting me…

  2. I’m only about two hours in (had to stop to play Payday for the review), but in a word this game is incredible. The level of design, programming,and artistry on display is absolutely best in class. The writing is superb, the voice acting uniformly great (Conroy and Hamill, duh). I also really love how it’s very influenced by Escape from New York, which gives me warm fuzzies.

    Also, although Conroy is the definitive voice of the Bat, let’s not forget Bale’s best gravel-voiced line-

    “I’m not wearin’ hockey pads.”

    But yeah, this game seems to have its sights set dead on GOTY 2011. I don’t think I’ve played another game this year where I was just immediately head-over-heels in love with it like this. Being a huge Batman fan helps, but even non-fans will appreciate the quality.

  3. Kevin Conroy is fantastic. I think part of it is that he not only has a very distinct Bruce Wayne voice, but he can emote as Batman. He gets that deep voice, but has the vocal ability to do something besides growl. I love the newer Batman movies but Christian Bale just does this ‘grrrr’ as Batman. Conroy still conveys his feelings as Batman, iconically so.

    Liking the game so far, but still getting my bearings. The side missions are neat enough, the Szasz one is certainly a unique take on a serial killer confrontation.

    The intro impressed me most. By far the best game intro I can remember this year, It establishes so much and does it really well. I was anxious as hell until I got to the top of the building.

  4. This is why video games were invented. It’s a Batman simulator. I grew up watching the Animated Series, and daydreaming of swing through Gotham, wailing on thugs. It’s all here and it all feels just like I imagined. I could never get this feeling with a book or comic or a movie.

    Love it!

  5. Man, I’m going to be in the very small minority on this one, but I’ve been totally underwhelmed by the first couple hours I put into the game. Part of it was that I had no idea about the whole Catwoman DLC thing so I’ve since downloaded it but haven’t played it.

    Otherwise, I enjoyed the fighting in the first one, but nowhere on my list of improvements would I have put “how about tripling the number of guys I fight at the same time?”. So, every time I’m on the ground I get to fight 20 guys? It’s already starting to grate on me.

    It seems like almost everything could use more guidance, as well (or maybe I should turn the hints on). It took tons of tries to get some of those AR challenges (not to mention climbing back up to the starting point each time) just because I didn’t know most of the controls for gliding, which they only showed on the screen once (and which weren’t in the manual).

    Then most of the Riddler stuff seems all locked out, which is incredibly frustrating because apparently I have to find more Riddler stuff before it’ll unlock the ones I can actually do. Maybe if I could mark on my map “Future Viewpoint for Riddler Question Marks”, then it wouldn’t bother me, but when I solve one of those and it tells me that I need to first find more Riddler trophies, that’s just silly.

    Also, the whole random Riddler button challenges to access the trophies is a pain in the ass because most of these seem to require some EMP gadget I don’t have yet (or Catwoman) so it’s really hard to tell which ones I should be trying to solve and which ones I can fly by, resulting in lots of stopping by, failing for a while and then moving on, annoyed.

    I don’t know. Maybe I was just in a bad mood last night and it’ll all come together when I sit down with it some more tonight. But, I can honestly say that I was having more fun messing around in a new game in Arkham Asylum over the weekend than I’ve had in Arkham City so far.

  6. I turned on the combat tips and tutorial stuff so that it always shows. Helped a bunch in the AR challenges. Granted, doing the moves was still a problem. I’ve found that the battles are pretty evenly split between a dozen guys and just four or five. I honestly don’t remember Arkham Asylum well enough to know how many people you faced at a time.

    As for the Riddler stuff, I decided early on to not even bother until after the story, even without the review deadline. When I played Asylum, the frustration of messing about to get a trophy only to find I didn’t have the right gadget got old quickly. I figured with more Riddler activities this time around, it would only get worse so I figured I’d save myself the frustration. I only have one trophy and that’s because I opened a vent thinking I had to in order to move on and saw the trophy sitting there.

  7. I was having similar issues, but everything finally clicked for me last night and now I am in love with the game.

    First, I finished all the AR challenges so I never have to see, think, or care about them ever again. OCD is a bitch but I wanted them done and gone. Forever.

    The Riddler thing is a pain in the ass. They really should say not to bother doing anything with the Riddler until he makes himself known in the game. After that point everything unlocks and you’re able to do the riddles again (and there are some fun ones) and the viewpoints and the trophies if you have the gear.

    I actually really enjoyed some of the new trophy devices, there are some BRILLIANT mini-puzzles in there.

    I don’t mind the fighting, so no help there, sorry :). I just upgraded my punchy-punchy and smashy-smashy moves and go to town.

  8. Should I wait a month until it comes out on my platform of choice, wait 3 months for it to be _on sale_ on my platform of choice, or should I buy it for my GF’s PS3 so that we can play together?

  9. Yeah, night two went quite a bit better. My favorite part of the first game was the Riddler stuff, so I was pretty annoyed that it was taking him so long to reveal himself, but now I’m having a fair bit of fun with it. I really like that they switched out the Riddler Maps for informants, which makes for a fun/different challenge during a fight.

    I have to say, though, a lot of those trophy device puzzles are ridiculous. Way too many of them seem to be getting their challenge from the fact that the game’s controls make it really hard to quickly climb up and down. I’m hoping I’ll get a gadget or improvement in the future that’ll make those button stay down longer.

    As far as fighting, I don’t have any strong opinions about it, but now that I’m entering more dangerous parts of the city, I like the addition of dudes armed with guns. That’s a may more interesting change than just increasing the number of bad guys at a time (and adding more quick gadget options than I can possibly keep straight in my head).

    So yeah, I think a lot of my disappointment came from my own inflated expectations. This is fun, but I maintain that my mind has not been blown.

    Oh, wait, I do really love that they switched the interview tapes from the first game to conversations in this one. That’s a great way to show off the voice actors and develop the villains’ relationship with Batman.

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