Batman: Arkham City Review – The Dented Crown For A Better King

This night of Gotham has never seemed so blighted, congested with the echoes of Joker’s maniacal laugh as the world turns upside down with a semblance of ordered chaos. Rocksteady Studios’ Batman: Arkham City takes elements of Batman: Arkham Asylum and pushes it to a level which unfathomably creates one of the most heroic and daring licenses to make a name for itself in the video games industry through a sequel. The realm of licensed video game content has always seen its shares of abhorrent titles (Batman Begins in particular) or disastrous game to film transition rights. Batman faces the greatest challenge of his time, coupled with a level of combat that is smoother with its share of button mashing melee repetition. Through a rampageous contrast of the night’s wonders, Batman: Arkham City takes The Dark Knight’s veil of black justice with fervor, expanding it to a new definition through extraordinary free-roam and a storyline that is as memorable as the definition of a plot itself. Arkham City may just be the end for Batman, or at least the psychotic personalities within hope for this outcome to spill the blood of The Dark Knight.

Batman: Arkham Asylum left off with the Seven National Bank being robbed by mayor turned convict Harvey Dent, as Batman sped away in his jet towards Gotham City. Six months of night pass by, and there is a massive breakout from Arkham Asylum and a fire at Blackgate Prison. All of this adds a astriction to Gotham City that is quenched by mayoral administrator candidate Quincy Sharp, who dedicated himself to lead a series of campaign promotions implying that he kept the inmates at Akrham under control. On the eve of election decision night, Sharp is voted the mayor and proposes a resolute new step for the fate of Gotham City: He moves all the former inmates into nightmarish realm in which majestic buildings and landmarks have been defiled, consequently creating the walled-off district of Akrham City. TYGER, a private military gun-for-hire organization, are put in charge of the perimeter with a madman Hugo Strange as warden of the grounds. There is only one rule the city elects for these dangerous jail-loving fugitives: Do what you want, just do not try extrication. TYGER forces enforce this rule with use of firearms on anyone that attempts to escape the villain-filled denizens of Arkham City to try and create havoc on Gotham City itself. Sharp has an ulterior motive for not just the security of the city, but also the demise of the native Arkham City population itself through internal strife.  Deep in the chasm of the bleeding Arkham City, villains have started wars about property and niches for the environment, doing whatever pleases them and without remorse for the prison-city itself. Batman, aware of all of his surroundings and current world events, monitors Arkham City for months before swooping down from the dark and crushing anything that is ready to come oozing out recrudescent red onto Gotham City’s black. Having been caught by Hugo Strange who is well aware of his identity as Bruce Wayne, Batman must escape and seek justice in not only destroying what Arkham City is, but what it possibly means to those who seek an ulterior motive.

The concept of a free prison state is an interesting one, filled with opportunities and encounters with death at every edge of the city’s buildings. Zachary C. Ross clearly utilizes the city in terms of the dialogue direction and the Arkham City environmental ambiance is certainly there from what the masked villains say to even the story-arch of the bosses. This level of detail takes a brilliant turn with the gameplay movement mechanics themselves, using a cinematic blend with gameplay and actual cutscenes.   As already apparent with the game’s marketing, the major change in Batman: Arkham City is the world itself, being five times more expansive than the backtracking version of Akrham Asylum.  Movement/animation details are far from few, as Batman glides with more grace and can glide indefinitely, which is a tad bit annoying and impracticable but hardly hinders the true gameplay. Animations displace themselves into the combat with gadgetry and combat button attacks. Gadgets make an invigoration in Batman: Arkham City, creating a street-level justice Batman is known for. Sadly, the level of gadgetry is hardly as significant in comparison with anything Batman is seen to have in the comics or even the films at points, but there are a decent handful of gadgets with a newer Detective Vision. Detective Vision highlights enemies and objects, but more so at greater ranges. Explosive Gel makes a return along with a newly improved Line Launcher mechanic for stealth strategy, allowing Batman to cling onto helicopters for a view of the city below. Batarangs make a return in sonic, remote, and normal form. As for newer additions, there is the Cryptographic Sequencer paramount to hacking GCPD comms and crime alerts along with Riddler communications, smoke bombs, remote electric charge, and lastly a disruptor as a defensive weapon to disable enemies.

The central lack of balance with Batman: Arkham City comes into the composition of the elements. Aside from Batman, Catwoman is a playable character, fitting into the gameplay storyline between segments of Batman as a sort of interlude night-time justice spree. While she has a whip and move set with claws for more purpose, there seems to be a degraded level of fun when playing Catwoman in the natural unimportance of the character to the storyline symmetry. In terms of gadgets, there is a disconnect between gameplay and FreeFlow combat. While Rocksteady Studios focused on these gadgets, it did not create gadgets which are used significantly throughout combat or interconnected properly or even powerfully. Part of this major problem comes through gameplay design. While stealth or hardcore over-the-top action busting into Arkham City are gameplay strategies, neither are effective in truth. Enemy A.I. is the ultimate problem that downgrades literally the entire quality of the game, being crazily stupid – like Batman:Arkham Asylum – or too stupidly cautious when someone is taken down through stealth. Lead game designer Paul Crocker did focus on taking the environment of Arkham City and the various villains such as Two-Face, The Joker, Ra’s al Ghul, and many more in a unique direction from the best of the comic book past, and truly lead the team at Rocksteady Studios to create a storyline work of art that is blemished by combat. While art and dialogue are heavily portrayed as dominating factors, the lack of a unique combat structure without any repetition of button-mashing, a hideously defective A.I., and the limited usage of gadgets in creative ways become rather dull aside from the effervescent boss battles when Batman least expects them.

Creating one of the most comprehensive reviews of Batman: Arkham City is a daunting task. Playing the game for more than 65 hours undoubtedly speaks volumes about the exploration depth of Batman: Arkham City and the true volume of the title as a whole. It is enthralling and unrestrainedly ecstasizing. There are glaring problems with the game’s combat structure and balance despite no Batman: Arkham Asylum backtracking that definitely still prevents Batman: Arkham City from being the best title that it can possibly be, which is a shame that is truly realized when it comes to nonsensically punching the same stupid A.I. over and over with button mashers and some A.I. that pick up on stealth effects too frequently without any real indication to this. One thing is ultimately certain: Batman: Arkham City takes the crown from Batman: Arkham Asylum in terms of the best licensed Batman video game ever created, but the crown is in dire need of an amount of polish and fitting adjustments.

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