Donning the Cowl – Arkham City Impressions
Before I played this game, I felt that Rocksteady had managed to perfectly convey the concept of being the Dark Knight in Arkham Asylum. From beatdown badass to super sleuth genius, the player was able to be the goddamn Batman. With such a high level of respect, I was uncertain how they could improve upon that formula and was expecting simply more of the same with some different rogues. That changed in my first thirty minutes with Arkham City. In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I will avoid the very beginning parts but I will say that you should never consider Bats finished, even in plainclothes.
Did you enjoy gliding through the air as Batman in the first game? Do you think it would have been more enjoyable if you could divebomb through the air and pull up mere meters from the ground to continuously glide? How about if I were to sweeten the deal with a prototype grappling gun that allows you to latch onto a rooftop and propel yourself straight up into the sky to increase your momentum so that you can catch a psychotic murderer before he takes his next victim? Does that sound good to you?
The Rogues Gallery
As any Bat-fan knows, what makes the Dark Knight so entertaining are the villains he encounters. Becoming a Batman villain tends to be a painful but simple process: become horrifically scarred and turn to crime. The Joker is back but looking haggard from the events of the previous game. He and Harley Quinn still make their presence known and so far have a pivotal impact on the story. Mark Hamill does a phenomenal job of reprising his role from the Animated Series and the previous game. Everyone’s favorite disassociative DA, Two-Face makes his debut, twin pistols at the ready, while trying to give Catwoman an acid bath. The Penguin certainly makes up for his absence in the first game and Nolan North’s voiceover work manages to fit the character well.
Mister Freeze has also had some screen time, and the series is sticking with his Animated Series backstory of the betrayed scientist trying to keep his wife alive. Poison Ivy has had a small appearance, though this might be the result of only being in Catwoman’s goggles twice and so far Bats hasn’t seen Ivy. Bane and Zsasz have both been regulated to side-mission status this time around, Bane even more so. There are two major spoiler rogues that I am omitting but were hinted at if you found a certain riddle in the first game. Finally, we have Dr. Hugo Strange, painted as the main antagonist this time around and in charge of the Arkham City prison compound. As of being just under half-way through the game’s story, I haven’t seen Strange much; however, his influence is certainly felt throughout the city.
The Riddler is back with a vengeance and it shows. His trophies are clearly homemade with their wires and cogs protruding out, looking less like they came out of a production line and more from an insane man’s basement. Getting to these devices is no easy task anymore. There are all sorts of mechanisms to defeat and you will have to use your entire arsenal to disarm them. Here’s a friendly hint: if you don’t think you can make it out of a situation, you probably don’t have the gadgets for it. He’s also decided to start taking hostages and shove them into booby trapped rooms after forcing them to remember a radio frequency to tell Batman once they’ve been rescued. This frequency gives you a riddle to input into another devious device: The Riddler’s Enigma Box.
The combat feels better than ever. I’ve been playing through the game on “normal” difficulty for my first time around and as long as you remember to counter, the free-flowing choreographic beatdown that is Batman’s method of taking down thugs is still intact. If you were disappointed with the lack of Batgadgets when fighting in Arkham Asylum, you’ll be pleased to find that Rocksteady has now introduced a new “quick fire” mechanic to most gadgets. Bats can now electrocute, set and detonate explosive gel, pull a Scorpion “get over here” using the batclaw, and disorient enemies with smoke bombs during combat – in addition to whipping a good ol’ batarang around.
According to the game, I’ve experienced just under half of the storyline and have clocked countless hours so far (Riddler challenges are addictive). I had to pry the controller out of my hands and shove a keyboard under them to put this together. There’s certainly more to talk about, especially if I dive into the spoilers, but I’ll save that for later. Bottom line is, if you enjoyed the first game, then this is one purchase that is definitely worth making, especially if you’ve been itching to become the predator of the night again.