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PlayStation 3 Review: Batman – Arkham City

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Batman: Arkham City is an action-adventure game released in 2011. Taking control of the Batman, you advance through a carefully knitted plot unfolding throughout the newly founded Arkham City. Inhabited by the near entirety of Batman’s rogue gallery, you can expect The Dark Knight encounters what could be considered a fair amount of hassle as he attempts to uncover the mischievous intentions of Hugo Strange: long-term Batman villain and the man in control of Arkham City.

Arkham City begins differently, depending on whether or not you have redeemed the code for the Catwoman content. If you have, the game commences with the player taking control of Catwoman in a creepy room beating down henchman working for Two-Face and attempting to steal from his safe — only for Two-Face to stumble across the scene and put a gun to Catwoman’s head. The next scene is where you’d begin if you didn’t install Catwoman as a playable character. Bruce Wayne is arrested and taken to Arkham City in a glorious interactive cinematic that introduces you efficaciously to the controls. You walk past many of the inmates completely cuffed as they all let you in on how they’re going to make you their bitch. In true Batman form, you eventually beat on many of the thugs (while cuffed) and conclude with a small confrontation with the Penguin.

The game plays like the skin of an apple: smooth. Different aspects appear to merge seamlessly into each other. The use of a glide kick makes it so simple to go immediately from exploration into combat. Gadgets used in the game’s problem solving areas can be used in combat. It’s a sign of a successful game, or indeed the sign of any great medium when one device can be utilised for a variety of purposes. Dialogue is always relevant, even if it does at times hint at how to progress with pain-staking transparency. It wouldn’t have surprised me if at any point the player’s Batman had bust out with “The Joker? I should probably stop him from enacting evil deeds” — it certainly was the route they were heading.

Combat was deeply satisfying. The actions Batman took to knock out endless supplies of henchman were diverse enough to keep a long session of mook-bashing appealing. Even if it did radiate a sense of “Thank you kindly, guys, for only taking me on a maximum of two at a time — despite twenty of you surrounding me. It’s like you realise I only have two hands to fight with! You may be criminals, but that doesn’t stop you being swell gentlemen.”

If I have any complaints about the gameplay, I’d take them up with the boss battles. They grip the player, and no two were similar, but they fell under the category of repetitive. Once you gained the information of a villain’s weakness and a technique to exploit that, it was a mere matter of carrying out that deed several times until a cutscene begins — a clichéd strategy used by games that I think needs to be dropped; if a boss isn’t repetitive, they are unpredictable, more challenging and more like a boss should be. Exceptions in this game would be The Penguin and Mr. Freeze.

As you may gather, The Penguin isn’t much of a fighter, but how you deal with him equipped with Mr. Freeze’s gun is delightful, and how easily Penguin can be taken out when he’s without any weapons is an idea frequented throughout the game. It adds realism and quite frankly makes the experience more enjoyable. The battle with Mr. Freeze was enjoyable, thought-provoking, and I’d say one of the better boss battles of the decade. It followed usual convention of depleting the opponent’s health, and carried out by using a plethora of techniques. What makes this battle unique is that each technique could only be used once, keeping you on your toes and involved in deducing a new method of attack — until after a set time, Oracle sends you a list of all the techniques that can be used to take out Fries.

What really set the game aside from others like it are the minute details, purely placed for the aesthetics. The city itself is beautiful and typical Gotham, and it is worthwhile to see the kind of areas built up by the super genius masterminds Batman usually plays off against. The characters are designed in a very unique fashion, and attention is drawn to Penguin’s monocle, which happens to actually be the bottom from a glass bottle wedged in his eye. The Dark Knight himself changes throughout the game as he gets scratched up. The entire plot happens within a time frame of ten hours and seeing the Bat costume getting torn in all over makes it personal to the player. It’s good to know that the character you’re controlling didn’t ditch his responsibilities to head back the Batcave to change suits between the numerous player deaths.

Also worth mentioning are the Supervillains gloating over Batman’s death. A terrific feature first seen in Arkham Asylum, if the player-character was to die on a mission which involved taking out a certain foe, said foe would then appear in front of a black backdrop to either insult or condescend the player/Batman before starting up again. And from the sheer number of this boasts included in the game, you can tell the designers expected the players to have an ineptness in keeping their character alive.

Downloadable content for Arkham City include Catwoman, Robin and Nightwing, all as playable characters. Only Catwoman is a worthwhile purchase out of those, and here’s why: Catwoman is different in her mannerisms, her combat styles and her techniques. Nightwing and Robin both play like a downgraded Batman, and let’s face it: Bruce Wayne is the main reason anybody buys the game. He’s the force that moves it, and while the other characters do have their defining features, they are feeble in comparison to The Dark Knight.

Narrative in Arkham City is thoroughly engaging. It includes many more villains that Arkham Asylum did, which I find increases the value of the game. Batman is not the most substantial of superheroes. It is the unbound array of psychotic sociopaths he seems to square off against that give him his depth. Schizophrenics, OCD sufferers, delusional minds, The Joker — the lunatics make the franchise. You see these mad men at their best as they try to outwit the player, double cross each other, and take everything they can to quench their own desires.

I played the game through in one sitting. Whereas I usually abstain from games without very many hours of gameplay, Arkham City is a rare exception that I’d argue is worth the money. Flawless voice-acting, superbly constructed cinematics, ingenious plot-twists, vibrant atmosphere and immersive gameplay will keep you enthralled right until the game’s beautiful denouement. Then, as a personal treat, the player has the voice-actor for The Joker — Mark Hamill — serenade them by singing “Only You” by The Platters.

Batman: Arkham City is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Alcohol Reference, Blood, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Tobacco, Violence. This game can also be found on: PC, Xbox 360.

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About Kane J. Harrison