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Critical Reception: Rocksteady Studios'  Batman: Arkham City

Critical Reception: Rocksteady Studios' Batman: Arkham City

October 19, 2011 | By Danny Cowan




This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Rocksteady Studios' Arkham Asylum follow-up Batman: Arkham City, which reviewers describe as "a must-own, and a definite contender for the title of year's best." Arkham City currently earns a score of 95 out of 100 at Metacritic.com.

GamePro's Will Herring gives Arkham City 5 out of 5 stars. "Batman: Arkham Asylum wasn't just the best comic book game of this console generation; it was one of the most pleasing pieces of wish-fulfillment entertainment on the market," he begins. "It was both a veritable celebration and an essential re-imagining of the Batman mythos, and it somehow made us feel like we were Gotham's Caped Crusader, in all his baddie-brawling, grapple-gunning glory."

"And thus, a new high-water mark was set for cape and cowl-clad comic book games," Herring notes. "Batman: Arkham City, Rocksteady's first open world effort, swoops in to set that mark even higher with its creation of one of the richest, most dread-inducing video game environments I've explored in some time. The Dark Knight's much-anticipated follow-up is not only the finest game to be branded with the Batman license to date -- it's the best comic book game that I've played."

Herring praises Arkham City's ambitious narrative. "Arkham City's yarn is an astonishingly ominous affair that makes a number of bold choices with its handling of the Dark Knight and those that inhabit his Gotham, but what may be most astonishing of all is how effective those interpretations are in action," he writes. "Arkham City, as a game world, often feels hellish and hopeless in its abandoned city structures, crumbling streets, and bloodthirsty residents. But you're Batman, and you're not going down without a fight."

The gameplay is also a step up from Arkham Asylum's. "The game's signature FreeFlow combat has seen several noteworthy expansions and improvements, including an increase in enemy count that can make standard throw-downs feel like all-out gang warfare," Herring says. "Handy new gizmos, like the Remote Electrical Charge and the Freeze Blast, create inspired opportunities to interact with the environment at large, and they often prove even more useful in the middle of a bloody brawl."

"If Arkham Asylum was a fun-house chock-full of Batman's most famous foes with a decent dose of fanservice for Dark Knight die-hards, this is a sprawling theme park that plumbs the depths of his case files," Herring praises. "It's a must-own, and a definite contender for the title of year's best.

Thierry Nguyen at 1UP.com gives Arkham City an A grade, calling it "one of those sequels that renders its predecessor wholly obsolete."

"Batman: Arkham City confirms a train of thought that originated when I saw Batman Begins: It's not just a superhero action game, it's also an inverse-horror game," Nguyen explains. "Consider this situation: Four buddies hanging out in what can be considered a haunted steel mill. [...] In the tradition of horror movies, they stupidly split up. One of them hears a strange whooshing noise and runs off to investigate. One glimpses the quick movement of shadow around the corner. Then things get weirder."

The game's storyline mostly lives up to Nguyen's expectations. "Leave it to Batman: The Animated Series guru Paul Dini to provide a script that smoothly integrates the likes of Joker, Two-Face, and Hugo Strange into the main script, along with some crazy twists and turns that eclipse those of the previous game," he says. "The only real fault in the story comes from a really random digression into a mysterious underground city that feels a bit too BioShock-y for my tastes."

Nguyen adds: "The most noteworthy addition to Arkham City is the wealth of side missions. While the game still offers Riddler-themed collectibles, there are now multi-stage side missions focused on specific characters that each utilize different gameplay mechanics. [...] While not all of these side missions are winners [...], the majority of them are great enough for me to tell other developers, 'this is how you do side activities in a game.'"

"Arkham City has some slight imperfections," Nguyen admits. "I have other minor complaints like the way Detective Vision remains necessary for stealth sequences because the enemies tend to blend into the dark color palette, as well as the questionable character design (poor Harley Quinn), and the somewhat drab visual design of Arkham City itself."

However: "Controlling Batman as he completely terrorizes his victims, whether via the invisible predator gameplay or the brutal combat, is an experience rivaled by few others."

Wired's Chris Kohler scores Arkham City at 9 out of 10. "Batman: Arkham City [...] rewards you for playing it well," he writes. "Not amazingly well, just regular well. If you mash on the attack button, Batman will just stand there punching criminals. But if you follow the rhythm of battle, timing your strikes and using counterattacks at the right moment, it'll look like a graceful ballet of destruction as the legendary comic-book avenger seamlessly strings together a series of animated attacks."

"With anticipation for Arkham City at a fever pitch, the thing that the sequel was most in danger of doing wrong was sticking too close to the formula, casting a been-there-done-that pall over the whole thing," Kohler notes. "In fact, it avoids the curse of sequelitis by making a major change to the formula -- instead of a Metroid-esque series of interconnected rooms, it's an open-world city that you can fly across, going from point to point in a matter of seconds."

Kohler adds: "You can play only the missions that are required to advance the storyline, but you're also constantly tempted with a wide variety of side missions, collectibles and challenges scattered everywhere. It doesn't feel anything like Metroid anymore, but it sure feels a lot like Crackdown."

"What drags Arkham City down a bit is feature bloat," Kohler warns. "Batman starts off the game with most of the gadgets that he spent the entirety of Asylum adding piecemeal to his arsenal, then adds even more at breakneck speed. The game requires you to use each of these gadgets and gewgaws at certain key moments, including during several boss fights. But it's difficult to remember how to use them under pressure, since it seems like every button on the Xbox controller has about 11 different functions depending on the situation. Heck, it's difficult to remember what you even have in your arsenal."

"Weighed down by bloat though it may be," Kohler concludes, "Batman: Arkham City is still one of the year's finest games, filled with the capacity to surprise even players who've skulked through every inch of its predecessor."


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