|Batman: Arkham City|
|Platforms||PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Windows, Wii U|
|Genre||So much Batman|
|MtAMinutes to Action||3|
|Keep Playing?||Yes, but...|
|Buy from Amazon|
Everybody wants to be Batman. He was born with more money than most third world countries. His car sips gasoline and pisses fire. He could win the World's Strongest Man competition and the Jeopardy Tournament of Champions simultaneously. He knocks boots with Catwoman at night and brags to Superman in the morning. Whatever you aspire to be, Batman is it.
So it's surprising that no developer ever attempted the complete Batman experience until 2009's Batman: Arkham Asylum. Okay, maybe Batman isn't quite "complete" without Batmobile or Bruce Wayne, but the game offered a taste of the hunter/fighter/thinker dynamic that makes Batman so Batmanly. Two years later, Rocksteady Games is back on the prowl with Batman: Arkham City, because when was the last time a hit video game didn't get a sequel? The new game promises an increase in scope parallel with its subtitle: the play area has expanded from the asylum to a full borough within greater Gotham City where evildoers and thugs (and maybe also the mentally ill that legitimately need help?) have been corralled and quarantined.
But enough prep, it's time to bust faces. Watch some snippets of footage from early in the story and pretend you're Batman. It's okay, we all still do it from time to time.
- We at the First Hour like it when games start in a more interesting manner than ready-set-go. Arkham City actually has two beginnings, if you downloaded the Catwoman content before playing (a free download key is included in new copies of the game but others must pay, used game buyer beware). The extra one is a Catwoman ready-set-go that sets up a plot point later in the hour, embedded above. Actually, you don't play as Batman in the regular intro, either. I'd rather not spoil the player's unorthodox insertion into Arkham City (you can watch it here and here if you're curious), but it's certainly not something I expected going in.
- If there's one impression I got from this game's first hour, it's information overload. Waypoints and sidequests and training challenges and tutorials and Riddler trophies and weapon upgrades and detective data are constantly filtering over the HUD while thugs chitchat, villains make P.A. announcements, and Batman updates Alfred on his progress. It's a tangled mess of distractions and conversations that constantly cut in and out and compete for your attention. It's a good sign for the game's wealth of content and lasting value, but it's all dumped inelegantly into your lap as soon as you pick up the controller.
- Part of that overload comes from Batman's collection of gadgets and upgrades. You start out with most of the gear Batman gradually gathered in Arkham Asylum, and the four pages of upgrades in the pause menu are already halfway completed. I had a tough time sorting it all out and remembering button combinations for gear, so I can't imagine how imposing it all would look to someone who never played Arkham Asylum. Again, it's cool that Batman doesn't have his batarangs and grappling hooks Metroided away, but it's going to take me a while before I can comfortably juggle all that stuff again, not to mention the new gear I'm sure to acquire later.
- Stealth and fisticuffs are almost exactly as they were in Arkham Asylum. There's one button for strikes, another for counters, another for dodges, and a belt full of gadgets to sprinkle in now and then. Stay in rhythm and watch for signals to succeed in a melee. As for stealth, lurk in the shadows, sneak up to guards for silent takedowns, and escape into the rafters when armed enemies catch a glimpse of you. I had almost forgotten how complex the controls can be when sneaking around and preparing traps, but thankfully Arkham City sends you on a few warmup hunts that reiterate the best practices of prowling.
- The open world, about which much ado was made, is so far a humble cityscape of high-rises and a flooded harbor, and Batman uses his trusty grappling hook to zip around the skyline and glide above the vision of the endless thugs in the streets. The caped crusader doesn't quite experience same exhilaration and freedom of a Spider-Man or Captain Infamous, but there's a sly pleasure in eavesdropping on an argument about whether Batman is real or a myth and then gliding down from a gargoyle to settle the debate with a boot to the face. (PRO TIP: Finish the four "Augmented Reality" training missions early on to unlock a grappling hook upgrade that makes traversal much more fun and fluid.)
- Arkham Asylum was gauntlet run of Batman's rogues gallery, as the dark knight dispatched one after another on the way to meeting the Joker. Arkham City is more of a class reunion, where old friends and enemies alike get together to renew old grudges and put others to bed. Every NPC in the game seems to be some shadow from Batman's past, and I've already met like ten of them already, some in surprising roles. Hell, the guy who famously broke Batman's spine is now sending him on sidequests.
Minutes to Action: 3
Would I Keep Playing? Yes, but I don't know if I would be saying that if I'd never played Arkham Asylum. The plethora of everything that Arkham City bombards you with right away is likely to overwhelm those who haven't played the previous game. I'm sure all the content is digestible piecemeal at your leisure (and worth digesting, too), but to be hit with it all right away makes it tough to concentrate on the tutorials, which are crucial to learning how to play a game with so many options and abilities. That said, the game shows a lot of promise early on, and I'm eager to see what befalls Batman in this den of colorful psychopaths.