BATMAN: ARKHAM CITY / Eidos / PC
 
 
Arkham City's ludicrously implausible setup shows that Rocksteady was married to the concept of having "Batman in a free-roam hostile city" as the #1 priority of development right from the first moment. After the debacle at Arkham Asylum, former warden Quincy Sharp manages to get himself elected Mayor of Gotham. He then manages to push through a plan for the city to annex "the slums" - conveniently where nearly every Batman landmark is located, from Crime Alley behind the Monarch Theater to Ace Chemicals - and turn it into a walled prison into which the city's amazing amount of supervillians and violent criminals are tossed haphazardly. He appoints psychologist Hugo Strange as its dictator, kits him out with a private army and seemingly limitless funds for security, and gives no fucks about the reams of civil and property rights violation lawsuits that are bound to ensue after all this. Sharp and Strange's power is also apparently so absolute, they can just toss in political prisoners at will, including Bruce Wayne, who gets "black bagged" right in broad daylight whilst giving an anti-Arkham City speech at a rally. Alfred soon mails you your full kit via magical rocket express, however, and soon enough Batman is back in business as he attempts to find out what Strange - who somehow knows his secret identity - is really up to.
 


Just repeat to yourself, "It's just a video game based on a comic book, I should really just relax", because aside from the patchy writing (which I believe grew out of the "Batman in Slum City 1st and then make the writing fit that no matter how awkward it has to be" design philosophy), Arkham City is in all other ways a lovely and well-executed AAA gaming experience. Arkham Asylum was more like Metroid Prime in structure; backtracking for upgrades and hidden goodies was part of the structure, but you were trapped in a series of corridors and chambers the whole time. City takes the roof off the concept, and is more like a GTA game; you can fuck off the story missions at any time and just swing around Doing What You Want 'Cause A Batman Is Free. An hour or two into the experience and you'll have completely forgotten that the story is kind of stupid.
 


Since everything is generally done so well - and there's 100 reviews out there already talking about it - it's probably better to just emphasize the few things that didn't go so well. Like most modern games it's a bit "handholdy". Given the complexity of all the different moves and gadgets you have, the constant button press reminders are actually welcome here, but if you're still in the midst of the story mission Batman will whinge the same lines at you non-stop if you deviate from the script at certain points and start doing side-quests or whatever else instead. You're never actually PREVENTED from doing them outright, but you have to listen to Batman take a cunty tone with you endlessy. As mentioned the writing is generally kind of weak, and one thing that stands out is how tacked-in some of the characters feel. Though Catwoman comes with the PC version, she was a DLC ploy with the original release and it shows. A few of the villains, like Mad Hatter and Clayface, literally feel like they're airdropped in for a one-battle cameo then competely disappear from relevancy. The worst offender is Robin/Nightwing/whoever, who literally only drops in to deliver a gadget for about 30 seconds ... unless of course you shell out 15 bucks for his DLC too.
 


Arkham Asylum got a 4/5 from me due to a few notable flaws. Possibly the biggest one was its boss battles, which seemed so glaringly lazy and unpolished (Scarecrow aside) compared to the rest of the game. If you haven't played that one, in brief summary, there were 3 types of bosses basically - one where the villain hides out in some perch you can't get to and sends waves of mooks after you, one where some big guy charges at you over and over and you have to keep dodging out of their way to get them to run into a wall, and the occasional "puzzle boss" that actually required you to use a sequence of gadgets cleverly to overcome them. Unfortunately the lattermost was greatly outweighed by the other two types. Here, it's mostly "puzzle bosses" ... but as the game tells you exactly what to do, even auto-equipping the proper gadgets for you at the right time, it's more like "follow the command prompts bosses." It's a bit better than the endless TITAN meatheads of the first game, but still not the most inspiring design.
 


Another thing was that I wasn't as taken with the "Freeflow" combat system as seemingly everyone else in the world was. Under certain circumstances I thought it was fun, but under other circumstances I just found it spazzy, inadequately responsive, and generally annoying. Here it's mostly the same situation, maybe a small step backwards. The game has too many different varieties of mooks that require very specific, finicky button presses to disarm; when they throw like six different types into combat all at once, it's just a little much to be expected to deal with without hours of practice. The camera can be problematic as it sometimes likes to swing around wildly when you counter an enemy attacking from behind, sometimes reversing your button inputs mid-combo when you really can't do anything to correct it, which comes off as cheap and unfair. And two of your dodge moves don't seem to work consistently - the knife dodge, and the combo needed to get past the guys that are using car doors as shields both seem to be rather flaky about registering correctly or not, even if you're certain you're doing the inputs correctly, leading to taking a bunch of cheap hits. The game only has a handful of forced combat segments that have 4 to 6 different enemy types ... but the ones that do are absolutely infuriating, feeling like a spazzy button-mash fest that you just hope works out for you somehow in one of your many tries at it.
 


My final carry-over gripe is that the SecuROM and Windows Live stupid and pointless "offline login" that were mandatory to play Asylum are once again mandatory here. Last time I had a Saitek gamepad, and the game refused to play nice with anything but an Xbox 360 pad, leading to me having to use Joy2Key to play; for this outing I actually have a 360 pad, so I didn't have to go through all that again, but I imagine other poor suckers who are trying to use off-brand and older pads will.
 


It all wraps up with something of a weak ending, but is really redeemed by post-game exploration content. In Asylum I couldn't be stuffed to hunt up all the Riddler shiz, but in this one I felt compelled to stick with it, clocking an extra 20 hours or so just tracking down the squirrely bastard on top of the 20 I put in with the main story. The Riddler trophies in this one also directly unlock all sorts of goodies - new "challenge maps", character models, concept art, and audio diaries of Hugo Strange interviewing various supervilians that do flesh out some of the more hastily-written plot elements in the story proper. The game still isn't perfect, but it's damn good, good enough to take the mantle of "best overall superhero game" from predecessor Asylum.
 
 
                                           Batman can never kill ... horrible mangling is OK though
 
 
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