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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Review: Batman Arkham City

Arkham Asylum was the first game I ever finished on the PS3, and Arkham City came with extremely high reviews, with many critics saying that it was even better. Unfortunately, by the time I got around to starting Arkham City, Bowen was born and I was too busy to play. A recent upgrade of a video card and a Humble Bundle sale meant that I could continue on my PC with its 1440p screen and all the glory thereof, albeit several years later.

First of all, to properly play this game on the PC pretty much requires an XBox 360 Controller. For a while, I used my PS3 controller using DSTool, but then one day DSTool went and took over my Logitech Wireless receiver, which was not cool. And yes, I did try a cheap Logitech knock-off controller, but it was unsatisfying and imprecise, so I can't recommend any of the alternatives to giving Microsoft money. At least the Microsoft wired controller provides vibration control, so you do get something.

Once you've got everything set up, the game plays well, and it's a beautiful game, provided you like night-time or indoor spaces. If I'd never played Uncharted before, I would say that this was a great game, but having compared to the best of the story-based games, I have to say that Arkham City has several flaws, even when compared to Arkham Asylum.

First of all, the game is a bit too open, and tries to bombard you with information overload the entire time. This is par for the course if you're Batman, of course, but seriously, we already get plenty of information overload during our daily lives, I'd think that an escapist video game wouldn't need it. You could barrel along at full speed through the main story and ignore all the side missions, but that's not how the game was designed, so you'll find yourself ignoring the ticking clock the story points you at and do a few, just to get enough experience points to upgrade Batman a few times.

I played the game on easy, but even then, in some places there were just a few frustrating places where you felt that the controls just didn't work. The remote-controlled batarang, for instance, were an exercise in frustration with keyboard and mouse (I bought the controller to get over this section). Even with the controller, it's not perfect, and just barely workable. The fight with Joker and his underlings was a major difficulty spike: none of the rest of the game is nearly as difficult or challenging. It took me about 6 tries to get past that.

The story, of course, is incredibly well written. The writers pulled out all stops and didn't balk at eliminating the possibility of a sequel (though, as we find out a few years later, the franchise tries to get around the problem by providing a prequel). I think this is easily one of the best Batman stories ever told, in any medium, and the fact that it ties in with the Arkham Asylum very well as a direct sequel is a strength. The penalty, however, is that it's overly long, and uses way more of Batman's portfolio of villains than you can keep track of. I clocked about 17 hours finishing this game, and that's without trying to do all the side missions or the additional DLC.

The game also enables you to play as Catwoman several times during the story, and she plays differently enough from Batman that it's a fun adventure in its own right, though relatively short and fairly easy. It's a good relief from all the craziness that Batman usually gets.

Having said all that, the game does a great job of making you feel like Batman. The controls are fast and responsive, and whenever you work around the room or environment picking off one goon and intimidating the rest, you get a thrill of what it means to be Gotham's greatest detective.

Overall, I recommend this game, but I think it's a bit too hard core for a general audience. If you're not a hard core gamer, you might discover halfway through that you've bit off quite a bit more than you expected. Arkham Asylum's quite a bit better in that regard, so if you haven't played that, do that game first. Both games are relatively old now, so are cheap to get.

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