The lights are on
I don't expect anyone to either play or hate this game based on my score, afterall I'm no expert. I just know what I like after 25 years, and I only moderately liked a game that everyone else was pants-down for. I saw a lot of 10's posted for Arkham City, and am not one to argue. Its certainly the best looking game I've seen on a console, and the unique atmosphere is unparalleled. But, perhaps since I am not a Batman guy, or even a comic book guy, this game did not hit all the G spots for me that it did for so many others. Here's why.
I thoroughly played and 100%-ed Arkham Asylum, and I'll have to admit, it was one of my favorite games that year, and left me wanting more. I was totally psyched for Arkham City upon hearing it was going to be something to the tune of 5x the size of its previous installment. But for me, this proved to be one of its liabilities. It may not be nearly as repetetive as something like the first Assassin's Creed, or even Just Cause 2, but it does come dangerously close. Its saving grace is its unmatchable, and thoroughly varied ambiance. No street corner is the same as the next, and every inch of Arkham City was meticulously designed when the developers could have gotten away with a lot less. The game does patronizingly try to lure you into the illusion of variety by adding gadgets and side-missions, but it all boiled down to gliding around and punching the hell out of thugs in seemingly endless brawls, and using the gadgets in a seemingly endless litany of puzzles, some brilliant, some less so. I mean-- how many rolling doors do you have to shoot with a stun gun before it becomes a chore? There are plenty of one-off instances that keep it fresh however, and they are very well done. I was immediately drawn in by the opening sequence, which outshines any other game of 2011, paticularly Skyrim, which was lauded by many as game of the year.
But my biggest complaint were the ever-present Riddler Trophies. This might seem like a small thing, but you can't turn a corner without seeing one of these garish, green neon markers polluting Arkham City's beautifully crafted countenance. There's about 5 different varieties of them, but slightly tweaked from one to another, enough to spread out into a hundred or more individual mini games. (I could be grossly off in my estimation, but thats what it felt like) I know they're completely optional, but the sheer number of them strewn about the game world made a completionist like me get bored with the concept very quickly. That's not to say that the puzzles aren't innovative or challenging, but there's so many of them that it got really wearisome, especially since its never really clear if you have the gadget needed to solve it yet or not, forcing you to mark it on your map and flood it with question marks that you have to constantly backtrack to. Some of these puzzles range from clever 'just out of reach' exploration devices, which were actually pretty fun, to the frustrating aerocentric 'hit all the pressure plates without touching the ground' tricks. The Riddler challenges were prefectly balanced in the previous entry, but I suppose they decided to outshine themselves in the sophomore installment, and to their detrement.
In terms of raw action, little can compare to Arkham City. The hand-to-hand combat segments are as intense as anything I've ever played, and thankfully rewards players who don't button mash, with well-timed criticals, a trend which I applaud wholeheartedly. There are also a wide variety of options to unlock as you level up, to give you a further advantage when diving headfirst into a group of armed thugs with nothing but your batfists and a few batarangs. Nothing is more satisfying than disassembling an assault rifle in the heat of battle, or ironically enough, smashing a bat over your knee, rendering the thug's edge over you inert, before you bash their skulls in or break their arm in three places. Of course, I kicked so many fools in the spine and landed on top of them from five story buildings, I'm surpised I didn't kill anyone. I found myself picking fights in the streets just to watch what new moves Bats had in store for the witless thugs that roves the streets and rooftops, and it easily became my favorite part of the game, even though sometimes the brawls went on for just a little too long. Being a martial arts geek, I was impressed that Batman didn't pull out any over the top roundhouse kicks and backflips. I don't know which fighting styles they studied for this game per-se, (I'm sure its cited somewhere) but it looked like a little Krav-Maga mixed with Jeet Kune-Do, which is all you really need to beat the living hell out of anyone on this planet. Kudos, Rocksteady for doing your homework!
The story is engaging from the beginning. paced to perfection, and very true to the cartoon series I remember watching as a kid in the early to late 90's, with Mark Hamill stealing the show for the last time with his take on the iconic Joker character. Of course, the word 'b*tch' is used a little more liberally in Arkham City. My only substantial complaint here, is that Batman himself comes off more wooden than Arnold Wesker's Scarface doll. Batman seems to begrudgingly part with any kind personality whatsoever, save for a few clever albeit slightly trite quips when interrogating some of The Riddler's informants. But as I said before, I'm not a Batman fan, and I'm sure his stoic nature is some sort of clever nuance that helps hide his identity or some such. The ever-present chatter you pick up from the strolling thugs in the overworld is well-thought out and nice to keep you company in lieu of stock sirens and blowing wind, but it is quite pervasive and gets repetitive after a few rounds of play. But again, these are niggling complaints thats only take the edge off an otherwise stellar outing.
I turned the music off about ten minutes into the game; it sounds like every other Batman licensed score out there, and I prefer silence to add to the tension and realism.
Wrapping things up, I won't go into my whole criticism of Batman's philosophy on 'punishing' criminals other than the fact that he's really responsible for all the people who are victimized by the likes of the Joker and the Penguin by letting them live and escape repeatedly just to wreak havoc again. I know that as a civilian Batman is not entitled to be a death-dealer, but I wouldn't fault him for capping Harley-Quinn. No one would. So perhaps a 7 .5 might be a little harsh for what I do actually consider game of the year material; heck it was way more polished than Skyrim could ever hope to be for a game its size, which I gave a 9. But I just had a hard time justifying a solid 8 with all the tiny pinpricks that irked me so much. If you loved this game and gave it a 10, I'm in no place to argue.
A very well thought out and reasonable review.