When it launched way back in 2009, Rocksteady’s Arkham Asylum came as somewhat of a surprise. It wasn’t exactly Batman’s first outing in a video game, yet the developer’s combination of brawling and stealth – not to mention its dedication to DC canon – really shone through. Even after picking up the current issue of GamesMaster at the time and reading the exclusive review, there was an instinctive part of me that could not and would not accept that, at last, a studio had come up with the perfect superhero video game.
Needless to say, Arkham Asylum delivered and it wasn’t before long that developer Rocksteady confirmed a sequel. Bigger, better, and with a slew of new villains, Arkham City immediately attracted the attention of fans, teasing them with a new chapter in the Dark Knight’s crime-fighting career.
Put simply, Arkham’s rhythm-based combat is by far it’s greatest asset. If you’ve yet to experience a game in the series, the melee mechanics combines attacking, dodging, and countering, allowing players to rack up insane combos as they weave through entire legions of thugs, not taking a single hit.
Before Arkham, an overwhelming majority of action titles, especially under the super-hero umbrella, favoured lacklustre button-mashing combat gameplay. Hence why Arkham Asylum – and City – felt like such a revolution. In recent years other developers have tried to work the series’ mechanics into their own titles, either fully or in part, with varying levels of success. One of the best homages we’ve seen is Next Level Game’s Captain America adaptation, substituting thugs and gadgets with Nazis and the patriot’s iconic shield.
Between Arkham Asylum and City, there wasn’t much change truth be told. A spread of new animations and gadgets helped to flesh out the combat experience though, at it’s core, it was near enough identical.
For many – including myself – this was no bad thing. In the two year gap I had forgotten just about all of Asylum’s intricacies so, when City finally launched, it felt like just as innovative and refreshing. After all, if a developer has cracked a gameplay formula, what excuse do they have for changing it?
It’s only now, after exploring Arkham City in my second playthrough, that the cracks begin to show. Overall it’s a remarkable game and one I’d still happily recommend to just about anyone, however, there are still some niggling issues beneath the surface.
In creating a larger open world, the onus was on Rocksteady to populate Arkham City with a network of side-missions and other distractions. Without them, there would be a noticeable disconnect, though the way these optional challenges were implemented created certain issues.
Most of these objectives followed the format of Arkham Asylum in which The Riddler set up a number of puzzles and quizzes. In City, these range from using Batman’s flashy new gadgets to finding specific vantage points whilst in Detective Mode. Sure, they help flesh out the game, though a lot of these challenges require players to trek across the map and revisit a number of the game’s locales.
Does it add replay value? Yes. However, the Riddler portions of the game create a noticeable sense of disconnect, as if Rocksteady intended for players to come back after or during a second playthrough, instead of hammering through them naturally as the story unfolds.
Considering how having too much content was my only complaint, you can assume that Arkham City is a fantastic game, even two years after its release. The combat is challenging but fair and the stealthy “Predator” sequences are well-composed, making City the best Batman sim on the market, even with Arkham Origins hitting the shelves last week.