Friday, July 13, 2012

Batman: Arkham City

At some point when you're reviewing so much Batman material, you slowly realize what Batman is.  Batman is a child fantasy where you can be A) hot millionaire playboy, B) superhero, C) badass grizzled action star, and D) the world's greatest detective.  So you're sexy, rich, a genius, and walking death on two fists - all that plus a sweet ass ride.  Chicks dig the car, man.  Also, if you're into that sort of thing, a lithe and limber couple of teenage sidesicks who will serve your every whim.  Being Batman is awesome, every bit of social awkwardness of sexual frustration can be blasted right on the Joker's face.  All superheroes are fantasy lives, but I think Batman's takes the cake.  His outfit even is one of the few superhero costumes that holds up to modern fashions, until say, poor Billy Zane here.  This is everything an adolescent fantasy could need, it comes complete with the free check to be as brooding as you want.  So at this point I'm tired of writing about Batman, I've decided that I need to be Batman.

"Batman: Arkham City" is currently the best Batman simulator on the market.  I figure that as long as I'm obsessing to an unhealthy degree over Batman, I should actually play a video game about the Dark Knight.  Luckily right now Batman isn't just at the peak of his popularity thanks to the good work of Master Nolan, but also because Rocksteady Games has been kicking some serious ass with their Arkham Series.  "Arkham Asylum" was a very successful game from a few years ago, and "Arkham City" is its even bigger sequel from last year.  Basically this is the second-biggest game of last year, right behind "Skyrim".  While "Arkham Asylum" was tightly focused on a single adventure in Gotham's infamous madhouse, "Arkham City" is a far larger and more impressive beast for me.  Basically you're Batman, and you're locked off in an "Escape From New York"-style crime quarantine zone.  And you have to punch a lot of people to get out.  So you're now given the full run of Batman powers, batarangs, gliding, detective powers, lots of weird gagets, and of course, street brawling.  If you're looking for a way to be Batman, "Arkham City" is your best bet.  Even better, the Batman you're pretending to be is the REAL Batman, the Kevin Conroy Batman, not one of those fake Batmen voice actors that appear in the DC animated movies every few months.

Of course, that means that "Arkham City" is a great game.  It gets pretty close to being a "Grand Theft Batmobile: Gotham City" since you're given an open sandbox John Carpenter-esque super prison to explore.  This means that you're free to continue your mission, or rescue victims, or complete sidemissions, just like Batman would do while flying over his city.  And you can ninja your way through groups of armed enemies, taking them down one by one.  Its that perfectly delicious feeling of BEING Batman, of living that fantasy out.  Basically this game equals, in game-form, the badassary that Master Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy offers in movie-form.  Its just incredible, and I really loved this game.

The plot is a huge mix-up of Batman villains all fighting a massive turf war within Arkham City, while Batman takes them down villain by villain.  Bruce Wayne begins the game trying to begin a political campaign to shut Arkham City down, since the entire facility is completely deranged and makes little practical sense.  Which is why, of course, it was set up by Hugo Strange, Batman's oldest nemesis.  Hugo Strange is a mad psychologist that knows Batman's true identity as Bruce Wayne, and now has basically unlimited power to imprison anybody in his City, including you.  So after Bruce beats up some dudes and suits up, the real adventure can begin.  Then things get even worse.  The Joker is dying of blood poisoning brought on by his ill-advised experiments with VENOM last game, which ended with him becoming a giant monster Joker, and getting his ass kicked.  Being a giant monster Joker has long-term consequences, since the Joker is rotting apart slowly.  Just to make sure that he won't go alone, he decides to give Batman a taste of his blood, so now you're dying too.  Now not only do you have to deal with Hugo Strange's plot, but you have to find a cure, and beat up the Joker, again.

Plus you have to deal with much of Batman's other rogues gallery favorites.  The Penguin has a gang, Two-Face has a gang, Mr. Freeze is running loose, somebody is in control of sewers, and there are about half a dozen other villains all waiting for you in the sidequests.  So whenever you get tired of playing the main storyline, you can cut across, complete a quest, and beat up another Batman villain.  If you're the type who typically blows through sandbox games without completing 100%, you'll be much more compelled to do so when there's the satisfaction of smashing Bane's skull in at the end of the quest.  This may be one of the few - oh who am I kidding? - the only sandbox game that I actually completely finish.

Combat, of course, is mostly classic Batman.  With groups of unarmed thugs, Batman can just use kung-fu to counter their attacks and clean clocks.  This is fine, but you need to stay on your toes, because the thugs keep adapting their tactics to counter you as the game goes on.  It starts easy, but it gets more and more difficult as they pick up knives, shields, body army, and other weapons.  The combat is more complicated when you're dealing with a room full of machine gun-wielding psychos.  Batman just can't walk up and brute force his way through, he's not Superman, bullets will kill you.  What you have to do then is use your ninja skills to silently take down the enemies.  Isolate one bad guy, snap his spine, then work your magic on the others until the room is clear.  The enemy won't even know what hit them.  There are lots of ninjar tactics, either swoop down from the ceiling and knock them down, hide in the ducts and take them down from below, or just sneak up from behind and say hello... with your fist.  These are my favorite parts, watching the criminal wet themselves as they slowly notice "wasn't there five guys with me instead of four?"  Then just when his fear is at its worst, you take him down too.

As for the streetbrawling, I'm largely fine with this battle system.  The enemies don't have a health bar, you need to keep punching until they stop moving.  But you also need to deal with the crowds, you can't drop any dramatic coup de grace while there are six guys behind you ready to punch you.  Countering is your best friend here.  My only real complaint with the street combat is that Batman for some reason does not have a real dodge roll, so you can't dodge un-counterable attacks.  One positive though is that "Arkham City" gives Batman a superpower:  he can magically completely heal himself every time he beats up a group of thugs completely.  No health pick-ups in this universe.

"Arkham City" even comes complete with a detective mode, along with Bat-vision.  Bat-vision lets you hostiles from behind walls and stuff, and also detect objects you can use your gadgets on.  Detective mode is mostly used only for story stuff, and its never all that impressive, honestly.  You don't really get to think much like a detective in this game, since all you do is go on a short pixel hunt for things you can scan.

What does require a bit more thought though, are the Riddler Trophies.  The Riddler, in a gambit to prove who is the better genius, has kidnapped a bunch of doctors in Arkham City and to save them, you need to collect all 400 of his Trophies, often hidden in completely impossible locations.  Its hard to feel like the superior force when you're completing a frustrating puzzle for the Riddler's amusement.  I mean, he's sitting in a comfy chair, while you're dicking around with switches.  I think he's won this battle, personally.

And then if you get tired of the game, you can just use your batarang and Batglide your way through the city.  I don't remember Batman being able to fly, but he's basically got this power in "Arkham City", or well, falling with style.  The game sadly has no Batmobile, so Bat-flight is the only option for efficient movement.

I guess this review isn't actually the most complete of works because I'm only playing the Batman storyline.  There's also a ton of DLC for playing as Catwoman, Robin*, and emo Robin, Nightwing.  I could understand wanting to be the sexy thief, Catwoman, but why would you want to play as the Robins?  I want to be BATMAN, not Batman's little bitch.  Why would you rather be the Boy-Wonder than the Caped Crusader?  (For some reason Batgirl only appears as Mission Control, basically just a voice in your head.)  It seems pointless to me.  Also, Catwoman's appearance in this game is mostly sleezey blatant fanservice, because as it turns out, video games are actually less mature than comics these days.  For no reason at all Catwoman only zips her jumpsuit halfway, so her tits are hanging out the entire game.  Then she mostly spouts "alluring" one-liners and cat-based puns with so little shame that I was sure I was watching Uma Thermun as Poison Ivy again for a second.  In fact, all the females in this game are poorly presented, Rocksteady went a bit overboard with the adolescent fantasies here.  No big loss.

DLC is vile crap anyway that should be banned.  Everybody who makes DLC deserves to get kicked in the face by Batman.

So to conclude this rambling adventure, "Batman: Arkham City" is the best Batman video game ever made.  Well, that's sort of damning with faint praise since the best previous Batman games were beat-em-ups on the Super Nintendo.  To be more fair, "Batman: Arkham City" is one of the best games I personally have ever played.  It just seems to get very near everything right, perfectly capturing what beating up criminals as the Dark Knight would be like.  It flits with awesome repeatedly, like when Batman punches a shark right in the goddamn face.  I love this game, and you need to love it too.  Do you have any problems with that?  I sure hope not.  "Arkham City" doesn't like problems.  This game will rape you until you love it.  And by the end, you'll be glad it molested you.  You'll marry "Arkham City", have its kid, and cook it dinner for fifty years.  Its that good.

And yeah, sometimes I do play games that aren't Japanese.  But it doesn't quite feel right to me either.

* If you were hoping to enjoy some flexible teenage help in your Batman adventure, forget it.  Robin does pop in for a moment in the main game, but Batman basically tells him "fuck you, get out of here, this is my story, DICK."  That's kinda  rude, isn't it?  Well, Robin looks like a totally generic buzz-cut video game protagonist in this thing, so I have my misgivings about playing around with him to begin with.  Plus he looks like goddamn Eminem, what the hell?


  1. In preperation of the dark knight rises i will also Watch the animated series, never thought you would review a stealth game good for you. Im also playing lego batman 2 and its pretty good it cant compare to this though and it has the batmobile of course, then superman comes and ruined some parts by being superman.
    i might as well get that new dlc about harley.

  2. DLC isn't inherently bad, just frequently mishandled. True, most of the time it's just used to add a single bell and/or whistle to the game because some executive decided that he wanted a second swimming pool filled with money, but sometimes the developer thinks of a way to make the game more awesome after it's been released. Case in point: Skyrim's recent Dawnguard expansion, which adds a crapload of new stuff to the game and is worth every penny.