[Game Review] Batman: Arkham City [2011] by Bea Harper

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Platforms: Wii-U, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC, OS X

When it comes to video games, making a sequel for a best-seller can have just as much pressure and multiple ramifications as a film sequel does. Gamers want more of everything- they want to explore more worlds, undertake new missions, be exposed to numerous possibilities. “Arkham Asylum” set the bar for how to make an excellent superhero game, and Rocksteady would have to ensure with their blood that they delivered an equal follow-up on pain of critical and financial death. So how does “Arkham City” hold up? Let’s have a looksee.

Really, talk about ‘bigger can be better’ because “Arkham City” is three times bigger than “Asylum” in all respects- for one thing, the game is set in the dilapidated, ruthless and imposing city-spanning megaprison in the heart of Gotham in the dead of a cold, vicious winter. As a side note, the way the game has been rendered is beautifully, you can feel the jaws of this almost eerily apocalyptic winter as it rushes around Batman, you can practically smell the destitute environs where Batman roams as he continues on his quest. The ugliness of this game is also its beauty. Depraved, starving criminals of all persuasions roam the streets raw with contempt at the fact they have been thrown in this facility by the enigmatic Doctor Hugo Strange and the entire complex is a melting pot of violence, mutiny and desperation. The story is huge in itself, which is for all accounts quite epic for a Batman title because so much happens, not just in the city itself, but for The Bat. The clock is ticking and the hourglass is growing low every minute for everybody-how will this passion play conclude? It will only be revealed if you play it… or if you read spoilers on the internet.

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Bruce Wayne (a returning Conroy) is thrown into this filthy and dangerous penitentiary by Strange who knows his greatest secret. This is bad enough, but what really makes Bruce/Batman wonder is this mysterious order known as ‘Protocol 10′ and how it pertains to Arkham City. Determined to find out what it is, he investigates and finds a lot more than he bargained for. Almost all of Batman’s foes are confined in this terrible place, and all of them are out to make this the Dark Knight’s darkest day. That is all I will say because this is not even ten percent of what happens! However, Batman is not alone, with the comforting and level advice by Alfred (Martin Jarvis) and Oracle (a returning Kimberly Brooks) plus, a reluctantly altruistic helping claw from Catwoman (Grey DeLisle), who, depending whether or not you have the DLC are able to play as.

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This is what brings me to what makes “Arkham City” a much grander event than it’s predecessor… SIDE MISSIONS! The game isn’t content with just giving you an engaging main story to play and Riddler trophies to pick up for rewards, no, Batman can now wander off the beaten path to investigate a series of gruesome murders, play a lethal game of phone-tag with Mr. Zsasz (voiced with psychotically tittering delight by Danny Jacobs), stopping assaults against political prisoners who have found themselves at the mercy of the City and it’s occupants while contending with the masterful assassin known as Deadshot and keeping an eye out for a mysterious stalker who seems to know an awful lot about the Dark Knight. By the way, I really should mention that The Riddler has abducted several hostages and trussed them up into a vast array of violent death-traps that demand cerebral fitness and cunning from Batman if he wants to save them.

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And wait, poppets, there’s more! Outside of the story mode, players are encouraged to test their skills and prowess in a multitude of kiss-with-ye-fists, stealth and campaign challenges, all of which have varying difficulties. You are able to play as Batman, Catwoman as well as Robin and Nightwing (provided you got the downloadable content, which don’t cost a lot by the way) and let me tell you, to play all of these other characters isn’t just a nice break from playing at the Bat, but each character is unique in their techniques- Catwoman scratches with her claws, Robin breaks face with his bo staff and Nightwing uses his eschrima sticks to give goons a jolt. This particular mode is beneficial for those of you who are competitive because every score you rack up is displayed online for other plays to look at and try to match. Trust me, this mode will keep you coming back for more on virtue of flexing your online gamer’s muscles. For those of you who want a little more, you can also download “Harley Quinn’s Revenge”, but it’s not exactly what can be considered a full game, more like an additional episode. Oh, and you also have unlockable outfits, so yeah, that ain’t nothing shabby.

In addition to all of this smashing new content, the game also has included Plus Mode, which is the most difficult setting in the game (though you must finish the game on Normal or higher to unlock it). Now, we have four difficulty settings- Easy, Normal, Hard and Plus, which enables novices and veterans alike to play at their own speed. I’ve found myself playing on Plus because I love the enhanced challenges I face while I stalk the mean streets.

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To slog through the vocal performances in this game would be redundant because of the fact all of the actors treated their roles with the respect and intelligence of actors in a live action movie would. Of particular standout this time around was Corey Burton as Hugo Strange- that mans’ voice and cadence is the second coming of Boris Karloff, I tell you! Maurice LeMarche delivers an astounding interpretation of Mr. Freeze (whose character design looks remarkable by the way), Nolan North offering up a delightfully twisted and cruel rendition of The Penguin. A special note must be given to Tara Strong who replaces Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn (at first I wasn’t so sure due to the fact I find Harley irritating in general, but her performance grew on me because of high the stakes are in the game, awesome work, Ms. Strong). The only character that somewhat stuck out to me was Dee Baker as Ra’s Al Ghul. Baker’s acting wasn’t bad at whatsoever and it had a dignified yet dangerous quality to it, but it wasn’t how I expected the character to sound, in my mind, Ghul sounded a little more continental. But that’s just my own inconsequential thought, who am I to judge the professionals? Mad ink of that BAMF by the way.

However, this game is not perfect. Please note that the opinions I have are my own. If you agree with them, that’s cool, if not, even better- you probably had that much more of a better time.

In “Asylum” the character biographies and the sounds of pages flipping were very much like comic books, it was something that kept you in that universe, but in “City” they are a little more like actual computer dossiers and it doesn’t quite possess the same “oomph” to the rest of the game. It’s not inferior, it’s just different. Several characters were not done as much justice- the return of Bane, our favourite Santa Priscan is hardly what you would consider grand. His design and voice has not changed from that of what he had in “Asylum”, he is still little more than a raging juggernaut with a volatile temper and little brain power- it’s a bit of a disservice to such a character, he could have been given a little more intellect rather than mere cunning. I also felt that Two-Face, who makes his debut in this game was not done the justice he richly deserved (hehe, see what I did there?). Here he was less a foe and more of a mere annoyance for Batman and Catwoman (the latter whom he shares a little more of a story with). Perhaps the most disappointing thing for me was that Catwoman herself was not given much in terms of story- all she wants to do is steal something and it takes less than seven percent of the storyline to play. Considering how much the trailers hyped up the character, to be regaled as the subject of a small, basic side story doesn’t really do much for our favourite feline. I revelled in playing as her and her sections of the story simply weren’t long or satisfying enough. I also have a bit of a quibble with the voices of your token thugs, they were literally the same three voice actors over and over- a little more variety would have been welcome (as nice as it is to hear Steve Blum and Nolan North, the latter who I SWEAR has been in every single game you have probably played, the man is a hooker I tell you!)

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All of that aside, “Arkham City” is the perfect companion piece of “Arkham Asylum” in all aspects because it takes what worked with the first game and builds on top of those foundations to make a stupendously larger scale product. This game is an achievement in many respects of the phrase because of the responsibility Rocksteady and co. took to deliver on the promise they displayed in “Asylum”. You will lose hours to this game and it is well worth the investment of your time and your money.

Fun Factor: 10 – Just because there is no 11. You’re gonna come back to this like a kid in a candy story.

Graphics: 9 – Highly memorable and well-conceived. Whatever complaints I have about them are very minor and not worth mentioning here.

Sound: 10 – 9 The ambiance of this malicious cesspit of an urban jungle and it’s inhabitants are sure to make your ears sing and the music will make you feel every moment of Batman’s journey.

Control: 10- Fluid, varied and easy to remember. Rocksteady knows there are only so many fingers on the human hand.

Lasting Appeal: 9. Those challenge modes have a siren’s call you cannot deny.

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