That Pri*ck, the Greek Geek!
A madman's ramblings about pop-culture. Also, some reviews.
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TGG: "Batman: Arkham City" Review
It's hard to dislike Batman. A character that's universally considered by any half-way decent writer as impossible to screw up (unless you're Frank Miller past your prime), his cool gadgets and brooding nature make him appealing and attribute to him much more depth than he really has, while more complex characters (like Superman or Iron Man) get thrown aside, because they never did any crime-fighting while listening to Linkin Park or whatever.
But what's basic works and a couple of years ago, in a rare fit of brilliance, instead of licensing the standard game tie-in for "The Dark Knight", Warner Brothers instead chose publisher Eidos and developer Rocksteady to do their own, more comic-book-based Batman game. The result was "Batman: Arkham Asylum" and it was celebrated as the finest super-hero game in existence.
Now we have its sequel, "Arkham City" and once again the Internet has lost its shit over it. I know the game's been out for a couple of months, but I only got to play it during the Holidays and the game still goes full-price, so I declare this review valid!
Subtle, Harley. Really, really subtle.
If the big question is whether or not you should spend your money on the title, then yes, I suppose you should. It's the one of two titles that came out in the last three months that I'd recommend (the other one being "Saints Row: The Third"). But is it better than "Arkham Asylum"?
It's hard to sell anyone on this, because most of what was good about "Asylum" made it over to "City" with minor defects. The mash-hit/counter combat system is still every bit as fun and now you can counter two enemies at once, even if sometimes the game screws up its math and expects you to counter three or more enemies, which apparently Batman won't be trained for until the next installment. The infamous "stalker" sequences are still just as exciting and clearing a room of confused thugs, while they crap their pants never gets old, even if the areas are a little too large and sometimes it's easier to pull a "Metal Gear Solid 2", die and retry to exploit the AI than look for one of the three million different ways each level allows you to take them down.
The problem is that as solid as the mechanics are, the game lacks structure (which becomes a very common theme lately; also see: "Saints Row: The Third", "Skyrim"). "Asylum" offered a delicious linear narrative, which was adapted into a well-paced and meticulously designed game. "City" tacks on an unecessary sandbox mode that breaks flow, makes the narrative feel disjointed and only adds an extra obstacle to traverse between mission waypoints.
This was presumably done to make the game bigger, but I'm not sure it succeeded doing that either. You can still waste however many hours of your pathetic life doing cramed-in side-quests and try to one-up the Riddler, but the story feels surprisingly short. Plot points just fly by and there is a lack of consistency, as you go through the Batman rogues-gallery-checklist to finish the game.
What's with comics and bondage?
I understand the fascination behind throwing Batman in a city and have him jump from rooftop to rooftop and it's something fans have wanted for a very long time, but it needs to be the principle design, instead of merely your new back-cover feature. Even if the flow of the story-mode wasn't a problem, the titular Arkham City just isn't very interesting. Despite the attention to detail, everything looks the same by default and there just isn't much to see, explore or do in this place. It's why proper sandbox games, like GTA or even the likes of "Infamous" and "Protoype" have random NPCs going about their lives and offer several different means of transportation and exploration.
All I'm saying is that the game would've been better off with a bigger campaign and a separate sandbox mode, unlocked after the story's completion.
Speaking of the story, I'm surprised to see so many people and especially comic book readers revere it as "great". Even leaving aside the aforementioned pacing issues, I hope you have picked up at least one Batman comic in your life, because characters have this tendency to show up right out of nowhere without being established and then go away just as fast. Ra's Al Ghoul and his daughter Talia (both awesome characters in their own right) are particularly guilty of this. They get shoe-horned into the plot and then they have the audacity to be big players in it as well.
As for Batman's big drama? The thing that fanboys and super-hero virgins drop their jaws over when they see Mr. Pointy Ears? Whether or not Batman is responsible for the freaks that terrorize Gotham and if deep down he is any different. Which is for Batman subtext about as original as Superman feeling lonely or Spider-Man feeling horny.
I love writer Paul Dini as much as the next nerd, but the "Arkham" games are not his finest hour.
But I reserve my last piece of ire for one thing in particular: DLC. The game had day-one DLC that amounted to some 25 bucks, content that five or six years ago would've been included in the game for the standard price (which is already too high). I shall remind you that DLC was supposed to be a means to extend a game's life-span by releasing small content for low prices. Now it has become a way to bleed your customers. Your legit customers, the ones you supposedly side with when you wage war against the evil pirates. Moral superiority you have NOT.
The one that annoys me the most must be the extra costumes. These look roughly the same as the extra costumes that modders made for the demo of "Arkham Asylum" two years ago. Now Rocksteady's stole the idea (which seemed like a no-brainer to begin with) and charges five bucks for them. I can give you the benefit of the doubt and assume these are more detailed, but if you seriously tell me that you need five dollars a piece to pay your modellers, I get to round up every modder in existence and we get to punch you in your stupid face!
The costumes bother me especially for another, less objective reason; they are a tease, urging me to buy them, so that I can avoid gouging my eyes out with my limited edition Batarang every time I play the game. As good as the title looks overall, vanila Batman looks like ass. I raised the issue during "Arkham Asylum" as well, but apparently nobody cared but me. Batman in this game has one of the worst character designs in the history of comic book art (or fashion, for that matter). IMAGE in the '90s would've been more restrained. He looks like a guy on steroids and military gear that just slapped on a bat symbol on his grey armor and jumps from rooftop to rooftop like a passive-aggressive beat cop. This was done to keep in line with the more grounded approach of the Nolan Batman films, but this is a game with villains in freeze suits and immortal dumbasses. I am sorry, but this is not the form that will strike fear in the hearts of criminals!
In the end of the day, I gave it a recommendation early on. However, considering that another sequel is already in the cards, it'd be good to remember what the job of a sequel really is. It doesn't exist to either capitalize on its predecessor, or to upstage it. Sequels and continuations need to improve on what came before and still be unique enough to stand on their own legs (which is why games like "Modern Warfare 3" and Skyrim suck, since they only exist to outright replace the previous installment). Bigger won't do that by default. It's richer you want to go for and that's all I ask for from the next, heart-wrenching, self-aware and life-changing installment of "Eat, Pray, BATMAAAAN!"
Bats lift us up where we belooooong!