By Chris Perrey – Guest Reviewer
I realize video game reviews are not a normal feature on the RROY REPORT, but it’s worth making an exception for Batman. Because anything involving Batman should be awesome (I have to say ‘should’ because of a couple unfortunate ’90s Bat-movies).
The basic story premise for “Batman: Arkham City” is that the worst part of Gotham City has been walled off and turned into a prison for both regular criminals and super-villains, with Hugo Strange as warden. Batman/Bruce Wayne is apparently the only person who thinks this is a bad idea, so he attempts to shut it down. Apparently, Gotham City’s government is so corrupt/inept, they have no problem putting super-villains in town, with a working foundry and chemical plant.
This is done as a response to what happened in the first game (Joker takes over Arkham Asylum, an island off the coast of Gotham), but I don’t see how moving the criminals closer is a solution. Also, the game begins with Bruce Wayne being thrown in the prison during a televised conference for saying it should be shut down. Not sure about the legality of that…
The story is also a bit unfocused. The setup is that you’re trying to figure out what’s really going on in Arkham City and shut it down, but you spend most of your time dealing with something the Joker does to you early on. The ‘main’ plot is wrapped up without much effort, while this ‘secondary’ plot becomes the conclusion.
There are also a few too many villains included in the main story (in case you’re curious, they include Hugo Strange, Joker, Harley Quinn, Two Face, Catwoman, Penguin, Mr. Freeze, Talia al Ghul, R’as al Ghul). Video games can get away with more than movies, which run into problems with more than 2 villains, but that’s a bit much.
I suspect most of you non-gamers are not surprised that a video game doesn’t have a good story, but the previous game had a solid story. Also, it was written by Paul Dini, one of the major influences on the excellent “Batman: The Animated Series,” so the convolutedness is surprising.
Speaking of the Animated Series, they use the same voice actors for Batman and Joker (Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill), who are the definitive voices for those characters in my mind.
Batman: Arkham City (like its predecessor, Arkham Asylum) is a great game because it captures what is great about Batman, so that you really feel like you are the Dark Knight. In most previous Bat-games, you are limited to running around and punching thugs and villains in the face. Thug-punching is, of course, a key element of what Batman does but this is only one part.
So in Arkham City, sometimes you are the stealthy Batman who must pick off gun-toting baddies one-by-one by hiding in vents and on gargoyles (for some reason, Gotham’s architects like to build gargoyles indoors), using a variety of bat-gadgets.
At other points, you are the detective Batman, searching for clues to your next objective. At the press of a button, you can go into ‘detective mode,’ which reveals the location of hidden objects and enemies. It’s so useful, some people probably play the whole game with it on. Another way in which your detective skills are tested through the Riddler Challenges. The Riddler has hidden hundreds of little puzzles throughout the game which you must solve so that he will tell you where he has hidden hostages. It does seem odd that you spend so much time looking for little green trophies when there are more important things to do, but figuring them out is quite a nice mental boost.
The previously mentioned combat system is also well done. In true Batman fashion, you don’t fight by using brute strength, but by careful timing and countering different attacks appropriately. Just mashing the punch button repeatedly doesn’t work out well, but if you use all his gadgets and attacks you can take on 20 guys without being touched.
I may be a bit negative about the story, but it does have some surprising and exciting moments. In the end, this is a game, and as a game, it succeeds in making you feel like you really are Batman. And isn’t that what we all want?