Video game review: Batman smashes expectations in ‘Arkham City’

By Kyle Wise

The Nevada Sagebrush, U. Nevada via UWIRE

We all owe a great deal of gratitude to Rocksteady Studios.  The ambitious UK-based developer did something I thought was impossible: saved Batman — one of the greatest characters in fiction — from his awful track record of video games.  “Batman: Arkham Asylum” was the surprise hit of 2009, and now an entire generation of children can grow up without ever knowing about the hapless “Batman: Dark Tomorrow.”

“Batman: Arkham City” was riding a tidal wave of hype the second it was announced.  The weeks leading to its release were unspeakably excruciating, with new content being revealed at an almost daily rate.  After finally getting my hands on it, I can say with certainty that “Arkham City” is definitely worth the wait.

“Arkham City” scores big right out of the gate by the sheer fact that the gameplay and controls haven’t been radically altered from the original (see “Mass Effect 2”).  It handles almost exactly like its predecessor, to the point where the tutorials are almost unnecessary.  Batman moves fluidly and the controls are easy to grasp.

So what has changed between the two games?  First, “Arkham City” is massive.  It is set in a quarantined area of Gotham City that has been converted into a penal colony, as opposed to the insane asylum that was the first game’s setting.  Therein lays this game’s biggest challenge: navigating this huge world you have been dropped into.  Fortunately, getting around isn’t nearly as hard as it looks.  Rocksteady has revamped the gliding controls from the last game to help the player travel further, and you can even use Batman’s grappling gun to hitch rides underneath helicopters.

Since gameplay is less linear than it was with “Asylum,” there are now dozens of side missions players can undertake, in addition to the primary missions that advance the game’s storyline.  These involve anything from saving people from muggers to solving the Riddler’s riddles.  Combine the storyline with all the side quests and mini games, and you are easily looking at 50-plus hours of gameplay.

One of the biggest additions, however, is the presence of Catwoman as a playable character.  Though her missions take up only 10 percent of the game at most, it is very fun to play as her, mainly because her style of play and move set is drastically different from Batman’s, which adds more variety to the game.  Robin and Nightwing, two other supporting characters, will be available via downloadable content in November.

The biggest strength of “Arkham City,” its size, is also a minor flaw: the monstrous scale of this game can easily overwhelm a casual gamer.  A lot of missions and side quests will ceaselessly get thrown at the player.  The size of the world can also make finding certain objectives difficult.

While there is a trove of games coming out this fall, “Batman: Arkham City” definitely goes on the to-buy list.  This game is so entertaining that I have no idea how Rocksteady is going to top it when they release “Batman: Arkham Principality.”  It will be fun to see, though.

‘Batman: Arkham City’

Release Date: Oct. 18

Genre: Action-Adventure, Stealth

Rating: T

Grade: A-

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