Batman: Arkham City Review [GO]
Oct 27th, 2011 by Dan

Batman Arkham City

The Joker looks pretty gnarly in this game. (Picture used courtesy gamesweasel)

There may be spoilers ahead. Tread carefully.

Growing up in Florida confers all kinds of benefits to the aquatic athlete that you almost take for granted. Outdoor swimming, for one. I never swam indoors once during my years as a high school swimmer. Sure, things got cold in the winter, but we just heated our pools up a little and tried not to hang out on the pool deck.

We also had the ability to have practice on the beach once a month. Our beach swims were tiring slogs and I really loathed them. We’d start at one point of the beach, Coach would yell (she always yelled) out a stopping point about a mile up the shore, and we’d get swimming and run back. The change of pace was always lost on me. I only dug it for the volleyball game afterward, really. It all just seemed muddled and unfocused and like a waste of a Saturday morning. In the pool we had lanes, regimented practice sets, and direction. I may not have had as much fun watching the same landmark go by for two hours, but I always felt like I was getting something out of it.

I’m sure you can see where I’m going here…

Why does the myth of the open world game persist? Diluting your narrative does not make it sharper or more impactful. Arkham City was swinging for the fences with its story. I don’t see how you can refute that, given how it ends, but the path to get there is just…not as fun.

Rocksteady Studios had a certifiably great game on their hands with Arkham Asylum. Reviewers familiar with the comics loved the game because it allowed players to feel like they were Batman. Does futzing around the city completing side quests unrelated to the main story make you feel more or less than Batman? I like the sidequests, but they were so disconnected and brief feeling that I actually didn’t like doing them. Does that make sense? The way they’re not integrated detracts from their execution.

I’m gonna tie in the beginning: It’s like swimming in the ocean versus swimming in a pool. I may have more freedom, but the bucking waves and the looseness of the experience means I derive less use from it. The very fact that I preferred the volleyball game, our sidequest, so to speak, to the practice itself further strengthens the metaphor. The main story is not as satisfying as it could be.

Batman is focused and doesn’t fuck around. He gets things done. He wrecks fools who get in his way. Batman doesn’t futz around looking for Riddler trophies when helicopters are destroying the city. It’s that annoying ludonarrative dissonance thing rearing its ugly head again. In fact, I was just talking about this in the comments section of a blog post on Ambient Challenge about Red Dead Redemption. What it came down to was that I think the only modern game to be intelligent about this while reveling in its stupidity is Dead Rising.

How reviled was the clock of Dead Rising? I’ll tell you what, I loved it. I never bucked against it. You know what a time limit creates? Tension. It also limits freedom. I bet that’s what people were griping about. In Dead Rising things happen at certain times. If you’re not there, you miss it and the story is over. In Arkham City you have X hours until Protocol 10 is enacted. I’m 99% sure that you can just bullshit around until those X hours are done and nothing happens. Hours don’t “pass” until you hit certain story markers. By trying to be everything to every player, Arkham City loses out on the immediacy of Arkham Asylum. You could just hang out in AA and look for Riddler trophies, but the sense of momentum remained. In between story missions in AC momentum dies.

Rocksteady should be justifiably happy with their gliding mechanics. They’re truly brilliant and lots of fun. If you told me that the developers weren’t thinking about Super Mario World when they created the “dive bomb into gliding” mechanic, I would call you a liar. There’s no way that’s not true. It just works and I can see why they’d want to show off just flying around the city looking for stuff. I just wish (for Arkham Asylum too) that they left the side mission stuff off until after the game.

“Batman, you’ve saved the day!”

“Thanks, I’m gonna go home and take a –”

“Oh no! Batman, there are side quests and Riddler trophies to find! Go back into the city!”


Much better. What it doesn’t do is keep you playing the “main mission” long enough to prevent selling the game used the same week. If you’re distracted, it takes longer, I guess, but with the new DLC paradigm, do developers really have to keep trying to shoehorn in sidequests when there are pressing matters to attend to! They might claim that gamers resent being corralled down a narrow path and told what to do. I made this point in my FF XIII review, but choice is an illusion in 99% of the games out there. Many of them are far more linear than you care to believe. Instead of trying to have everything and executing to a passable degree on all fronts, why not segregate a game like I’m advocating? I think it makes more sense if you want a cohesive experience.

Arkham City remains much better executed when it comes to their combat mechanics. Just like the last game, fighting as Batman feels like controlling a superhero. He bounces between targets, has an almost psychic notion of who’s attacking him from where, and, when executed well, he never gets touched. Completing a fight like that makes you feel like a real man. It’s all crunch contact and smooth transition. Batman is a dream to control.

Well, almost. I can’t say I understand why they still feel the need to have a button dedicated to running. We have analog sticks, for Christ’s sake! When we want to run, we will hold said stick in the furthest possible position. Devoting a button to running is a 16-bit contrivance. I hate having Batman move like he’s on a determined, if not leisurely stroll if I’m not holding a button down. It’s downright ridiculous.

If it sounds like I don’t love Arkham City it’s because, well, I don’t love Arkham City. The game itself should be an absolute joy to play. Instead it’s just fun. Now, fun is fine, mind you, but fun is not greatness. I like playing Arkham City, I just wish it stuck to its lanes a little more.

Arkham City First Impressions [GO]
Oct 19th, 2011 by Dan

Batman: Arkham City Box

Nifty White Aesthetic For The Box

Arkham City is out! I played it for a few hours last night. Here are some initial thoughts:

– Have a backup game on another console ready. Play that until the free (with non-used purchase) Catwoman DLC finishes downloading (mine was Gears of War 3). I guess Rocksteady Studios was thinking, “If the Catwoman DLC is on-disc DLC people will get mad at us. Let’s split it out and force a 200 MB download so they know we’re not ripping off used game buyers (PS: We’re so ripping them off)”

I have tremendous doubts that the Catwoman stuff wasn’t done simultaneously or that it couldn’t have fit on the disc. Seriously, I’m 98% sure the 200 MB download is largely symbolic.

– Arkham City (the environment) is pretty big. Getting around it is fun! Finish the AR missions ASAP to get a (free) neat traversal upgrade. After you get the upgrade either be like me and be so obsessed with completing the Advanced AR Missions that you repeat them ad nauseum until you get them right (you can fail them within 5 seconds and it takes maybe 10 to get back to the start) or you can be a healthy individual, pace yourself, and just let it be if you fail a few times. Come back later and all that.

– I always forget “payaso” is spelled with an ‘ll’ instead of a ‘y’. Subtitles will help you learn to spell in Spanish!

– Arkham City does not Metroid you. Batman has all his gadgets from the last game. It also does not do a great job of reminding you how to do anything again right off the bat. This could be because I started on Hard, but maybe not. I don’t know.

– Beating on henchmen is still super fun! I think that they regenerate in the overworld, which is a nice departure. If they don’t…well that’s a bummer. Speaking of the overworld: some sections have guys with guns. Don’t hang out in the Penguin section if you’re not prepared to run into like five guys with guns by accident. You can also do what I did and just get shot so much you die. I did that a lot trying to complete the last Advanced AR Training mission.

– Man, crooks be hating on Bruce Wayne. Even the crooks who don’t know he’s Batman! It’s true what they say, “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.”

– Ever wanted to apply Super Mario World cape mechanics to a game where you can dive bomb crooks so hard you knock them unconscious? This is the game for you. Seriously, within a second of learning I could dive bomb into a glide and back again I flashed back to SMW and I instantly knew what I was doing. If only they had licensed the bouncy noise from SMW. If only.

– Batman is not afraid to straight up hit a girl. Damn, son. That’s not cool.

– Catwoman is the worst maintainer of a secret identity ever. People call her Selina and Ms. Kyle all game long. Hey Catwoman, you’re terrible at this super villain thing.

– Some reviewers have lamented that Catwoman controls too much like Batman. Remember how awesome it is to control Batman? That’s not a problem, guys.

– Counter indicators even on Hard mode? Not fun, guys. No achievements for beating it on Hard? Lame. Word to the wise: play the game on Normal, at the very least. Can’t unlock New Game+ without doing so.

– If you get this game before Halloween, be sure to explore the basement of the courthouse on Halloween for 1/12 of an achievement. I’m worried about how I’m gonna get the one on Christmas without cheesing the system.

– Everybody should go and apologize to Kotaku. Go ahead, I’ll wait. I love the meta-joke at play there. Cool stuff.

EDIT: This Kotaku story reminded me that Arkham City leans a little too hard on “b***h.” Like, uncomfortably so. I wish that word had a more negative stigma to it to the general public because it is not okay the way we’ve been using it nowadays. It should have way more force and be deployed way less flippantly than Arkham City has been doing it. Makes me super uncomfortable to play the game.

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