Oct 20, 2011

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Arkham City’s First 3 Hours: A Disappointing Start

Arkham City’s First 3 Hours: A Disappointing Start

After playing through the first three or so hours of Batman: Arkham City, which amounts to five chapters (plus two from the Catwoman DLC), I have to say that I’m impressed, but worried about the direction the game is going. A few things have me concerned at this point: the combat is far too similar to Arkham Asylum, the use of the detective mode is just as limited, enemies take too long to die, and the Catwoman portions of the game have yet to add any substance to the story.

I’ve played through Arkham Asylum a few times, so when I fired up Arkham City, I already knew what I was doing. The first thing that bothered me is the game opens with a Catwoman scene (if you download the DLC prior to starting up the game). If you don’t, the game simply starts with Bruce Wayne being tortured by Hugo Strange.  The opening scene with Bruce Wayne is great, but is sullied by the Catwoman opening, which is a completely useless two-minute scene. About ten minutes later, you are tasked with saving Catwoman (who gets captured in the opening scene). The level in which you save Catwoman works just fine without her opening scene. If Rocksteady really wanted that scene in the game, why not simply place it as a flashback once Batman finds her being held captive by Two Face? The portion of the game where you play as Catwoman adds nothing to the combat, either, and this fact is exacerbated later on in the game.

First 10 Minutes of Arkham City

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Aside form the annoying beginning, the game starts off great and very cinematically. You are immediately placed into this world of chaos, filled with Batman’s greatest enemies. Right off the bat (no pun intended), you meet the Penguin, Two Face, the Joker, and Bane (if you can find him). You don’t have to fight any of these characters yet, but that’s just right. Just like in the comics or animated series, you rarely engage in combat with these villains, and that’s because Batman is much more powerful than they are. So the way Rocksteady set up these first few levels is perfect. Instead, you spend most of your time fighting their “minions.” However, these guys seem to all have an iron jaw.

The combat is just the same as Arkham Asylum, at least how I remember it. There’s a button allocated for punching, countering, and using your gadgets. The combat is fluid, and the new animations make Batman look like even more of a badass, but for the most part the combat remains the same from the original. You bounce around from enemy to enemy, punching or kicking using one button to attack and counter. Once you get a multiplier up high enough, you get to use special take-down moves. The first move you get will allow you to instantly take someone down, but as you level up, the other special moves seem to all be about crowd control. In AC, the enemies seem to always get up, even after Batman hits them with something they shouldn’t be able to recover from. This makes every battle last a bit too long, especially since these guys are just random thugs.

Batman is supposed to be powerful, and the combat system emphasizes this. So my question is, if he is so powerful, why are these enemies constantly recovering from his attacks? So far the combat is easy; I haven’t died from enemy encounters, which makes these extended fights a little boring. Even after leveling up quite a bit, I have yet to get another good special combo to use. In Arkham Asylum, the fighting eventually became tedious, as you watched Batman do all this cool stuff from only two buttons. The enemies do seem more aggressive this time around, and less like Assassin’s Creed characters, where they sit and wait for their turn to strike, but this means ground takedowns aren’t that useful. The animation for this takes too long, which means you rarely get an opportunity to finish off a stunned enemy.  The combat feels too similar to have these enemies constantly getting back up, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to upgrade my combat moves even further as the game progresses; however, that doesn’t look to be the case.

The open environment is excellent, and very much welcomed; I found myself exploring the chaotic city quite a bit. The Riddler’s trophies and hidden riddles are back, but this time it’s a bit more annoying to collect them. You do eventually have to save hostages using some of the riddles, which is nice, but unless collecting these trophies and solving the riddles is required to save the hostages, than there’s no point (withing the context of the game itself) in collecting these items. With this open environment I would have liked there to be more going on in the world itself. Most of the story-specific levels take place inside buildings, while the side missions occasionally take place outside. I don’t mind this too much, but it does seem like a wasted opportunity.

The story itself is along the lines of Batman Begins, in which you are trying to save Gotham. It works well, but is brought down by the Catwoman portions. These scenes appear in the middle of the story, and thus far have yet to add anything to the story arc. My only potential concern with the story is in having too many villains show up just to make sure they make it into the game. So far that hasn’t been the case, although there have been some enemies who appear only as side missions.

The story is one of the only things keeping me interested in the game. The environment helps with that as well. That said, after hearing so much about Catwoman and the combat system, I’m disappointed by both. I’m concerned that the combat won’t change enough as I continue playing. The detective parts of the game haven’t changed from Arkham Asylum either, and are limited to specific scenes. If that remains the same, it will be another lost opportunity to improve from the original. That said, if the story ends better than the first one, than I’ll be happy. However, as of right now, everything seems to be too similar to Arkham Asylum, which overshadows all the sequel’s improvements.

Stay tuned for Vivid Gamer’s full review of Batman: Arkham City, and for your chance to win a copy of the game, along with a Batman figurine.