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Batman: Arkham City (BatAC hereafter) is a videogame. It is a sequel to 2009's critically well-received Batman: Arkham Asylum. Developed by Rocksteady Studios, it was published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. It's available for the Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and for PCs running Windows.

It is an over-the-shoulder open-world action/stealth game, which if you're a video game fan should make sense. For those of you who aren't, it means that the gameplay is displayed from a camera position just behind the player character's shoulder; that the environment is a single large area which the player is free to move about at will, and that while there is combat, a large part of playing the game properly involves sneaking around. Don't you love industry argot?

Anyway. In Arkham Asylum, the Batman is escorting a recently captured Joker into custody at the titular facility when he breaks free with the help of inside accomplices, takes over the Asylum, and forces our heroic flying rodent asskicker to essentially beat up everybody in the entire place in order to get free. This one is...similar! In this one, apparently, powerful interests have convinced the Mayor of Gotham City that the crime problem is so bad that just Arkham Asylum isn't good enough. Instead (shades of Escape from New York) the city government cuts off the island in the middle of Gotham on which the Asylum was placed, and turns the entire island into a prison facility named Arkham City.

Of course, this can't go well.

Indeed, at the outset of this game, Bruce Wayne is giving a speech inside the facility when he is abducted and committed to the facility by the thug guard force who, it turns out, are working for the facility administrator - familiar Batman villain Huge Strange. Strange lets on that he knows the secret of Batman's identity, and that Wayne has only a few hours before something called 'Protocol 10' occurs which will divulge that secret to the world.

Wayne promptly escapes into the general area of Arkham City and has Alfred his trusty butler remote-control airdrop his gear onto a nearby rooftop. Retrieving it in what is practically the first playable moments of the game, Wayne vanishes behind the familiar cowl to become the Batman - and we're off.

Arkham Asylum was a big environment, but it consisted mostly of small areas; either rooms inside, or small courtyards. Furthermore, which areas the player could visit were sharply restricted by the game plot. As a result, the first game wasn't really open-world, and felt more like the on-rails navigation of an FPS (this isn't to detract from it, that game was awesome). This one is essentially the same game mechanics, but with a bit of open-world added. I say 'a bit' because...well, I'll get to that.

Once you as the player have grabbed the Bat-suit, you're free to start running around the various areas of Arkham City. See, a bunch of supervillains have been incarcerated in here, and of course they've all set up territories and recruited henchmen. So Joker has a steel mill, The Penguin has the museum, Two-Face has taken over the courthouse and so forth. As you learn more about what's going on, the clock ticks down via hourly announcements by Hugo Strange of the impending Protocol 10. You run around Arkham, rescuing not only undercover cops and colleagues, but non-violent 'political' prisoners being harrassed by the hardened criminal population. There are lots of side missions which you find out about either via finding things or (more usually) by just wandering by a trigger event. In sum, you're encouraged to explore Arkham City to the limit.

This leads to one of the biggest problems I had with the game. It is open world. However, you're discouraged from exploring the myriad side quests because of Hugo Strange's countdown to doom, which urges you forward on the main storyline. However (I'M GONNA SPOIL THIS BECAUSE IT'S STUPID) the countdown isn't a countdown. It's event-based. It's more like the Atomic Doomsday Clock - only events push the hands forward. So, despite the fact that you're rushed for time (and sometimes are literally dying- hey, it's a Batman game) you can wander off happily into the dark alleys and find new and fun ways to beat the crap out of bad guys for as long as you like.

Oh yeah. About that.

This is the best reason to play this game. Seriously. Why? Because it makes you feel like Batman. Just like its predecessor, BatAC's main goal - which it achieves splendidly - is to put you in the Dark Knight's place and make you feel his exhilaration as he sneakily kicks the crap out of an army of bad guys. Don't believe me? Okay, try this.

In the course of the game, you come into a room. A big room. Let's say it's a railroad terminal. There is a mezzanine around it, with alcoves off that, and there are bridges or catwalks across the middle of the space. Maybe there are a few floor-to-90-foot-ceiling pillars supporting the dome up top. Around the rim of the room, near the ceiling, is a ring of gargoyles (look, it's not called Gotham City for nothing, see?) Those gargoyles are your friends. Because you, as Batman, have a line gun; and you can swing up to crouch atop them and watch via super-tech bat-goggle radar as your enemies patrol the room. Your 'Detective Vision' will tell you what equipment each enemy has, and (more fun) will tell you their heartbeat and current state of mind, whether calm, nervous, scared, or terrified.

As you might imagine, you want 'em terrified.

For one thing, a bunch of them will have guns, and this game plays mostly fair. You're wearing armor, of course, but it's not designed or able to protect you against assault rifles or shotguns at close range, and certainly not from multiple shooters. Sure, if somebody lets go a burst at you while you're fighting, you'll probably make it out the other side having just lost (a bunch of) health, but if they see you and get a bead on you at any distance, forget it.

So you sit on a gargoyle. One of the bad guys walks slowly beneath you. You drop from the bottom of the gargoyle, upside down, grab him by the neck and reel yourself back up to the gargoyle before looping the cable around his neck and dropping him back down to struggle, helpless, at the end of the line until he fades into unconsciousness. Meanwhile, you silently swing off to a gargoyle across the room. And then, a few seconds or minutes later, one of his friends will find the hanging body.

And he'll scream for help. The others will come running. Their heartbeats will go up as the fear sets in, making their aim worse.

From above, you'll smile beneath your mask, waiting for one of them to turn a corner away from the others. When he does, you'll lunge out from a floor grating and silently take him down, dragging his body into the grating. The others will notice he's missing, and the fear will ratchet.

This is the biggest and best gameplay type in the whole experience. You'll find yourself using all kinds of Bat-gadgets (batclaw, batarangs, remote control batarangs, sonic batarangs, line launcher gun, disruptors, and my fave the remotely-detonated bat-explosive gel which I call 'batgoo') to confuse, frighten, disorient and take down your opponents - because if they catch you in the open, three or more of them with guns, you're toast.

So you won't let them.

The satisfaction you'll feel when the last one goes down is just visceral.

There is straight melee combat as well. So long as there aren't too many weapons in a crowd, you can (once you know what you're doing) wade into groups of opponents and beat the snot out of them. Generally, unless you spend the time to do a specific knockout, when you knock 'em down they'll stay down a few seconds and then get back up, which time you've used to go beat a few others to the floor. Eventually, play whack-a-mole long enough, and they'll start staying down. But until they do, you're going to be frantically button-mashing trying to not only effectively and elegantly attack, counter and evade the crowds, but making sure you don't get shot or beat down by guys in armor or with shields, tasers, knives...and so on. You *can* handle a small group with pretty much random button-pounding, but that tactic will stop working pretty quickly, forcing you to actually learn what all those buttons do and when.

It's loads of fun.

Oh yeah, back to the problem. See, it's open world, right? But the countdown is a lie, and there's something else - once you hit something like 60% of the main storyline, it *does* in fact take you onto rails to make sure you finish the main story in the right order. So trust me, take the time to explore around in the beginning - because the more you have, the more XP you'll have accrued, and the more upgrades (attacks, gadgets, powers) you'll have to take into the harder and harder boss fights that the endgame brings.

That's not the only problem, either. The main storyline of the game just isn't that long compared to, say, the previous game. They do seem to have relied quite a bit on you entertaining yourself in 'open-world mode' apart from the main story. If you aren't an obsessive completist, and don't like grinding lots and lots of similar quest obejctives, you're not going to be as enthralled with it.

But seriously, if you've ever wished you could be The Dark Knight for a day - with all the infinite ass-kicking power, steel knuckles, hang-gliding suit, super gadget awesomeness that entails, coupled with the satisfaction of elegantly beating down nine guys by yourself-

-buy this game.


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