Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Batman: Arkham City (PC)

Batman Arkham City PC title screen
Today on Super Adventures I'm taking a quick look at Batman: Arkham City, the second game in the universally beloved Arkham trilogy. Can't promise it'll be a quick read though.

Okay maybe the series isn't universally beloved, as a few people seem less than enamoured with the latest game, Arkham Origins. But this one's by the original team at Rocksteady, so I fully expect it'll turn out to be basically the same thing as 2009's Arkham Asylum, which I already played just a few months ago. In fact with any luck I'll be able to copy/paste most of the text over from that post and save myself some work.

I actually bought this a while back, way before the pay what you want Humble Bundle deal going on this fortnight, but I'm only just getting around to it now. Because I'm an idiot. The moral of the story: always always always wait for a sale. Or, you know, play your games when you buy the things.

(Click the screenshots to expand them to immense proportions. Well, they'll be twice the size anyway. Plus I'm running it in DirectX 9 mode with no tessellation or PhysX enhancements so it's not really going to be looking its best I'm afraid.)

Batman Arkham City Select Character Animated Batman
The version I'm playing is the Game of the Year edition (as I believe every PC version is now since they stripped Games for Windows Live out of the game and replaced it with Steamworks DRM), which means I get to play around with all the DLC outfits, missions and challenge maps!

Though annoyingly those DLC outfits are limited to the challenge maps until I've earned the right to use them during in the story... by finishing the entire story. Seems a bit backwards to me somehow, but at least they'll be waiting for me in New Game+ mode.

Also it's cool that I can (someday) play as chunky Dark Knight Returns Batman or Animated Batman etc. in the story mode, but I kinda wish they'd put in a full character creation screen this time around.

Batman character creator screen
I'm not even going to joke that this is an actual Arkham City screenshot. Its edited from a screenshot of The Movies' Starmaker tool.
Yeah I know how dumb a character creator screen sounds. "Surely Batman always has to look like Batman", you're no doubt thinking. But the guy's had a fair few faces now. Imagine if there was a way to play as your favourite live-action Bruce Wayne from throughout the entire history of the franchise, or even a combination of them!

Plus everyone wants to try seeing what famous actors would look like under the cowl. Like Clint Eastwood, Michael Ironside or Ryan Reynolds!

But nope, I'm stuck playing as standard Arkham Asylum Batman yet again.

Or not...

I know Catwoman was designed from the start to be a sexy character, but I can't help but imagine that the poor woman must be freezing with her top unzipped like that during this icy Gotham winter. Fortunately body armour always works backwards for female characters in games: the more skin they show, the more impenetrable their armour, so her upper torso should be well protected from stray bullets.

We're currently in the home of ex-district attorney (and current deranged criminal mastermind) Harvey "Two-Face" Dent and it appears that our thief with a heart of anti-freeze has arrived with intent to steal all his shit.

You'd think that a cat burgler with a skin-tight black outfit would try the stealthy approach first, but Selina just walks right up to six of Dent's gang members and taunts them into punching her.

To be fair this isn't a terrible scheme, as Selina has the same supernatural awareness of her surroundings that Batman had in the first game, that lets her dart over and counter any attack from any direction just by hitting 'Y' when the (optional) blue lightning bolts appear over an enemy's head.

I'm also backflipping all over the place and smacking them from behind, but I get the feeling I could win this particular fight without even moving.

Catwoman with a gun to her head held by Harvey Dent
Oh. Didn't see him sneak in.

Well I'm sure Batman's going to smash through the window and rescue her. Any time now.


MEANWHILE.


Unfortunately for Selina, Bruce Wayne is currently preoccupied, as he's busy explaining to the press how the Arkham City Facility behind him is a terrible idea and should be shut down.

It turns out that the mayor of Gotham has walled off a section of the city and transformed it into a giant prison, Escape from New York style, and as usual the billionaire who dresses up in a bat suit every night to personally punch out all crime in the city is the one with the sane and reasonable reaction to this.

So the warden of Arkham sends over a special forces team to capture Wayne and hold him prisoner indefinitely without trial on the crime of... having an opinion he didn't like I guess.

I realise that the system in Gotham was maybe a little broken, seeing as the prisons were basically a place for super criminals to chill out for a week or two between carrying out murder sprees, but I'm not 100% convinced that turning the city into a fascist state was the ideal solution.

Though Arkham Asylum started with the Joker being captured and thrown into an asylum, so Bruce Wayne's arrest at the beginning of this has a nice symmetry to it.

So now I'm chained to a chair in a foreboding interrogation room (giant hooks on the ceiling are never a good omen). A man called Hugo Strange is the one running the show here and he explains that now that I've been captured, Protocol 10 is ready to begin. He's not keen on going into details about what that entails, but he assures me that it'll be a monument to my failure, which sounds pretty awesome actually. I've never had a monument before. Oh, plus he knows I'm Batman, which kinda puts a wrench into my long term plans of leading a double life as a vigilante..

I should probably be more concerned about the short term problems right now though, like the fact I'm chained to a chair in a foreboding interrogation room. I'm currently trying the classic 'Another World' approach of rocking back and forth until it breaks, so I'll see how that works out for me.


SOON.


I'm starting to miss the chair now. At least when I was strapped down in front of a mirror I didn't have to worry about people with giant metal pipes sneaking up and knocking me out from behind. I don't know what these poor desperate starving criminals have against arrogant billionaire playboys, but they certainly don't seem very welcoming.

Sadly I can't do a thing to defend myself here as if I suddenly started pulling off backflips and countering every punch they throw my way, they may start to notice that I look, sound and fight a whole lot like that Batman guy.

Whoa, the game is actually letting me fight dressed like this! Sorry guys, you didn't capture Bruce Wayne, you captured his stunt double! I didn't realise how much I wanted to play as Batman in a suit and tie until this moment.

Fortunately a crime boss called the Penguin had his goons drag me off to this relatively secluded area before the fight started so there's only a handful of witnesses and the short-term memory centres of their brains are about to receive a little fist-related trauma. Let's see if we can't shake a few of those brain cells loose.

Annoyingly the Penguin himself is currently cowering in the corner so there's not much I can do about him right now, unless the game's going to let me punch a defenceless NPC.

Shoryuken! Wow, I guess I can knock the Penguin out cold after all. Enjoy your concussion mate.

Incidentally that's not a monocle he's wearing. That's actually the bottom of a glass bottle embedded in his skin. I know this is supposed to be a dark gritty take on the Batman universe, but c'mon.

Professor Strange may be a genius psychologist who was able to deduce my secret identity, but it doesn't seem to have occurred to him to search me, so I can get in touch with Alfred back at Batcave HQ using my radio watch. So retro.

I was curious if this Ace Chemical plant was related to the Axis Chemical plant from those other Batman games I played, so I looked it up and it turns out that's it is basically the same building with a different name. This is the very place where the Joker fell into acid and permanently lost his tan (assuming that still happened in this game's backstory).

Anyway, I need to leap across to that ACE tower and do a whole lot of Tomb Raider inspired shimming around ledges make my way to the top and grab the supply drop I've ordered from Alfred. Well, the game doesn't actually technically have a jump button, but if I run up to a gap he tends to automatically leap over it, Ocarina of Time style. 


SO I DID THAT, AND THEN...


It's a Batsuit in a box! Maybe not as convenient as keeping your outfit under your street clothes like Superman, but when money is your super-power I guess you might as well make use of it.

I just hope no one's around to watch me change.

Batman Arkham City putting on suit cowl mask.
I'm Batman.

Oh damn, and I thought the first view of the Asylum grounds in the last game looked impressive.

Right, now I've got my gear I can hack into that helicopter's radio channel and hear what they're chatting about. It seems that Harvey Dent is about to execute Catwoman at the courthouse down there and Professsor Strange has absolutely no interest in sending in the troops to prevent it. I should probably get over there and intervene then.

Hey, there's the Monarch Theater down on the right, where Bruce Wayne's parents were gunned down. Funny how so many important locations are practically next door to each other; it's like a Batman theme park.

Arkham Origins (PC)
Meanwhile here's the same view in the next game, Arkham Origins, showing this part of the city as it looked before it become a prison.

It's interesting how the games have an almost identical map (at least in this part of the city), but a pretty different aesthetic. Despite being a sequel, Origins is set five years before Arkham City, back when Batman was fighting mob bosses and assassins rather than magic plant women and scientists wearing powered armour with ice rays, so the visuals are little more subdued to match. In City it feels like I've been dropped into one of the Tim Burton movies.

Also the snow actually stuck back in those days, so you can leave bat-prints all over the rooftops in Origins as you stomp around.

Batman Arkham City game map
I'm glad to see that Batman's still got his map screen, but damn Arkham City really is absolutely tiny compared to your average open world video game city. Okay it's pretty massive compared to the five or so buildings scattered around on Arkham Asylum's island, but it's still only a fraction of the size of even Grand Theft Auto 3.

Somehow I doubt I'll be seeing much of the Batmobile then.

Though with all these buildings so close together grappling and gliding from rooftop to rooftop is turning out to be faster than the car would've been anyway. I'm halfway to playing as Spider-Man here. Plus I can still run people over this way, I just have to glide down to them and use my boots instead of my tires.

Oh by the way, see that blue quest marker arrow leading me towards Catwoman? At the top of it is the Batsignal shining across the clouds. It's a clever touch.

Batman Arkham City Waynetech Batsuit equipment menu
Before I burst into the courthouse and rescue the love of Batman's life one of his most devious enemies, I should probably spend some points on new combat techniques and suit upgrades. Oh, it seems I haven't levelled up yet. Well, uh, never mind then.

It seems that instead of doing a Metroid sequel style power-up reset, I've actually kept most of the equipment that Batman collected over the course of the first game, so I've got a decent amount of moves available to me right from the start. Though I probably would've just ignored them for now and put the points into combat armour anyway (because I know me and I know that I'll need it.)


AFTER A FEW STEPS INTO THE COURTHOUSE.


My third person camera's abandoned me to fly off and show what Dent is up to in a pre-rendered cutscene! It seems that the punishment for breaking and entering in Arkham City is being dunked into acid and Catwoman's trial isn't going so well for her.

Though there's still one thing about this situation I'm not 100% clear on: where the hell did he find a vat of acid inside of a prison anyway? Not just any acid either, it's the green type, the real top level stuff.

Wait... this is still Gotham, you can probably pick up barrels of the stuff on the black market.

Wait... this is a video game, you can probably pick up barrels of the stuff off the street outside.

Oh shit Harvey, they let you out of the hospital looking like that? You must be in terrible pain, hang on I'll be over there in a second to apply some general anaesthetic. With my fists.

First though I have to take out the sniper and the 50 or so henchmen below. My detective mode x-ray vision is a life saver for sure, but sometimes seeing the cold hard truth of the situation is a bit of a downer.

Still, knocking out the goon with gun won't be an issue, as sneaking up behind him and pressing 'Y' will take him out of the fight permanently without alerting the others. This is the kind of stealth gameplay I can appreciate.

Nothing I can do to sneak up on the rest of them though, not with Harvey facing out into the crowd. I'll just have to leap down there and Batman the shit out of them all.


SOON.


Oh c'mon game, you can't make me feel like the most badass crimefighter alive and then snipe the damsel after I've heroically saved her from distress. Well to be honest she kinda saved herself at the end...

What's important here is that somebody out there armed with a smiley-face themed sniper rifle is taking shots at the one person in this city mostly likely to know what the hell this 'Protocol 10' scheme is, and that does not make me a happy Batman.

At least I can use my keen intellect, well honed detective skills and a direct link to the Batcave super-computer to determine the bullet's trajectory and find the shooter. This mostly involves looking at the bullethole in the floor, looking at the hole in the window and... well that's it actually. It's a shame really that this crime scene analysis minigame hasn't evolved one bit since the last game. This is one area that Arkham Origins definitely manages to build on with its event reconstructions.

In fact you'd think that Batman could've probably come to similar conclusions by just crouching down and looking through the bullet hole in the glass, but at least this pinpoints the exact window the shooter fired from. It seems our cat-hating killjoy is hanging out up at the top of Arkham City's church tower.

To the batmobile! Oh right, there no cars in this. Well, guess I'll just walk then


LATER, AT THE CHURCH.


You know, if any other hero was bragging about how saving hostages was going to be easy, I'd take it as foreshadowing that their arrogance was about to set them up for a fall. Coming from Batman though, it's just an honest assessment of the situation. Though does the Dark Knight really say words like 'gonna' in his internal monologue?

Anyway I put this screenshot in to show that the predator rooms from Arkham Asylum are back, complete with gargoyles. Batman can survive a few gunshots, even heal back to full health again after the fight is over, but I start swinging my fists around down there I'll get him killed in seconds.

If I keep grappling across the ceiling and apply a little stealth on the other hand, I can string them up in the air, quietly smack them from behind, or if I feel like a change...

... I can Robocop these clowns from behind a wall. Oh damn, they really are clowns.

Hmm, smiley face laser sight, goons with clown masks, and Harley Quinn herself making an appearance... I think I'm gonna need more clues to figure out who the mastermind is here.

Oh, it's the Joker, obviously. Because when isn't it? The guy's almost as overused as Lex Luthor is in Superman stories.

Okay I can kinda get how Harvey Dent was able to create a vat of green acid, but how the hell did the Joker smuggle spare outfits and a remote controlled sniper rifle inside the prison? Plus all of these bombs stacked up around the walls for that matter!

Aw shit...

Blowing up a church, wow that's pretty low even for a clown.

That road down there isn't in great shape either. Plus is it just me or is does that building over on the left have a bit of a lean to it? There's a definitely a bit of post-apocalyptic feel to this place. I guess the plan here was to turn a piece of the city over to the madmen and let them destroy themselves in gang wars.

(By the way the reason the button prompts are switching from controller to keyboard between images is because my screenshot key is on the keyboard, so the poor game doesn't know what it should be showing me. It gets +100 points though for giving me the option to switch between the two seamlessly. Plus it plays just fine with mouse and keyboard in case you're wondering.)

Well Riddler's puzzles are back. If I step on the question mark it opens up a gate in the fence tunnel, but it closes right back up again when I go to crawl through to collect the trophy. I guess I need a new piece of gear before I can solve this.

I'm supposed to be using my radio to home in on the Joker (moving towards where the signal is strongest), but as I swing across the rooftops I've been picking up private conversations, often people chatting about Catwoman's capture, the church explosion, or how they need warmer clothes and can never get to the food drops in time. There's no way these people are expected to survive like this in here.

GET OVER HERE! Well it turns out that I can quickfire my gadgets in combat now and they don't even break my combo, which is nice.

You'd think there'd be no reason to swoop down and do any traditional Batman heroics in a prison, seeing as they don't typically have innocents pedestrians walking their streets, but Strange has been throwing in the folks who worked on constructing the place, people who know things they can use against him, and just anyone he doesn't like in general. This place is a real dystopian shithole... though funnily enough there are still more regular citizens on the streets here than there are in Arkham Origins.

On the way to Joker's secret hideout I found an AR training icon which brought up this test. If I manage to fly through all the rings in all the tests I get a super grappling gun as a reward! Well that's one way to include a tutorial I guess.

I'll just have to try not to think about the fact that this has basically turned into Superman 64 right now.

You know, next time I'm trying to find the Joker's secret base I should probably go straight to the building decorated in giant clown faces. It's wouldn't exactly be much trouble to find as the game's map is absolutely tiny. The developers went with quality over quantity with the architecture, so every inch of the prison is packed with character.

Of course the doors are all locked, but the place used to be a steel mill so I should be able to glide right in through one of the disused chimneys. Fortunately I managed to unlock that grapnel boost from AR training in the end, so I can catapult my way up there with great speed. Then I just climb up and over and...

Aw crap.

What kind of lunatic keeps a steel mill running in a prison anyway? What am I even saying, this entire game is all lunatics from the depths of the sewers right up to the mayor's office. Which is why it's my job to sort all this out I guess: in the kingdom of the madmen, the guy in the bat-themed tactical armour is king.

Okay, I think I can get out of this, I just need to shimmy across to somewhere I can climb up before my cape catches fire.

Fuck.

C'mon Bruce, I realise you're in agony, but you could at least do a thumbs up as you go down. Don't tell me you haven't seen Terminator 2.

And the last thing that flashes before our hero's eyes is Harley Quinn in an empty black void being really mean.

Yeah, well, you look kinda stupid in your new outfit and dyed pig-tails! How do you like that?

AGH! NO! I WAS WRONG, I WAS SO WRONG, PLEASE BRING BACK THE NEW OUTFIT!

What the fuck is that thing anyway? Some kind of coin-operated Harley Quinn... nah, I've got nothing.

Anyway, I survived my descent into the steel mill second time around and found myself fighting through a few rooms full of thugs, with another stealthy predator level just before I rescued this doctor. Nothing all that different to what I've shown before.  

I did get this new gadget for my trouble though. It's an electricity gun I can fire at certain devices to charge them up, like this electromagnet here. Batman could've probably just found an on switch if he looked hard enough, it's not like the city's power has been cut off, but I guess that wouldn't suit his image.

Hey, I bet I could use this thing to magnetically drag over that Riddler trophy I saw a few screenshots ago! Kinda wish I'd marked it on my map now.

Oh shit, this looks like something new. A boss fight against some guy I've never heard of carrying a sledge hammer.

A boss fight against a giant one-armed tattooed clown carrying a sledge hammer.

How do you even get muscles like that without having an arm to lift weights with? This clown makes no sense according to the laws of nature and that terrifies me. Something tells me I'm not gonna like what happens next.


ONE GRUESOME BEATDOWN LATER.


Unfortunately for him I soon found that I could quickfire my new electric charge gun during combat and it turns out that clowns aren't so tough after they've got a good few volts running through them. Plus a fair few punches afterwards to follow that up.

This is probably the slickest and most fluid combat system I've ever seen in a video game. I've heard people complain that it's too simple and easy, and I know Arkham Origins has tweaked it to make it tougher to counter an incoming punch while you're busy hitting someone else, but as far as I'm concerned they got it right this time.

I can stand where I am and counter any basic attack with the minimum of skill and effort, but to build up a combo and access more powerful skills I have to take risks and chain together one successful hit after another without pausing or making a mistake. Special enemies each take their own special technique to put down, eg. blokes holding riot shields need to be stunned first with my cape and then jumped onto, so I need to clear away lesser enemies and get myself space to dial in this combination code before I can safely engage them. It's not just about reflexes.

You've got nowhere left to run to Joker. Now you're going to tell me everything you know about Protocol 10 or else... oh, he's dead. Bugger.

Hey Harley, I don't suppose you've heard of Protocol 10 at all? No?

Sadly I can't actually choose my own dialogue in conversation; Batman says whatever it is he wants to say and I have no say in the matter. Still, I suppose that isn't so bad when the lines are written by legendary Batman: The Animated Series writer Paul Dini and read out by legendary Batman: The Animated Series actor Kevin Conroy. Mark Hamill came back one last time to play the Joker as well, but the character's dead now so that didn't last long.

Actually it was all just a clever ruse and the real Joker pops up from behind to gas Batman into unconsciousness! The world's greatest detective, ladies and gentlemen.

Well he's screwed then. Though I suppose there might be someone else somewhere in this city who can solve the mystery of Protocol 10.

Actually there is, as Catwoman actually escaped Joker's crosshairs earlier and is still at large! Though she's more interested in robbing shit than saving Batman right now and for that she'll need an ally. She ran through her options and decided that a psychotic eco-warrior plant woman was her best choice, so we're going to visit Poison Ivy.

It's nice to see Catwoman can actually make use of the goggles she wears on her forehead and that they provide her with a variation on Batman's Detective Vision. She can still see through walls, but instead of showing people's skeletons it shows their wallets. Probably.

Catwoman's not a total Batman clone though, as she can't glide and has to hop up the side of buildings she's grappled to. Though she makes up for it by being able to climb on the underside of certain ceilings, opening up different paths in the levels. Man everyone wants to be Spider-Man in this game.

She also has different gadgets she can use in combat, like a whip, caltrops and bolas, so that's something I have keep in mind. I could quit out to the menu and practice with them in the challenge mode arenas, but the thing about challenge mode is... well, I find it really challenging. Any illusions I have about being any good at the game are immediately shattered when the guys with knives come out.

It may have a slick and accessible combat system, but it's very capable of bringing the hurt if it wants to.

A SERIES OF BRIEF (BUT VIOLENT) ENCOUNTERS WITH A FEW FLOORS OF POISON IVY'S MIND CONTROLLED GOONS LATER.


Well it seems that Catwoman didn't take into account the fact that Poison Ivy hates her and now she's been captured too. Fortunately she's gotten good at coming up with schemes when hanging upside down from her feet, so I'm sure she'll find a way out of this that doesn't involve Batman saving her. Maybe.

By the way if I had all the advanced DirectX 11 tessellation features running right now, that giant plant stem in the background would look a little bit rougher right now. Maybe in a few years I'll replay the game on a more powerful rig and get to experience all the extra bumpinesss and, uh, physics. But right now I think I've found a good place to turn this off.


Enough with the screenshots, what do I actually think about Arkham City after the first 10% or so and how could it have been improved? Well I think that the developers could have definitely enhanced the gameplay by adding a feature that dispenses cash out of the disc drive whenever a player does well in a fight, but other than that I'm struggling to think of anything at the moment. I suppose I did manage to get stuck a few times indoors trying to find the right exit and it's still been making me tap 'A' to open vent covers, but they're hardly game ruining flaws.

It seems like a bloody well made game to me, with an interesting story, great voice acting, tons of atmosphere and the right level of faithfulness to the source material to feel legit. The game isn't just good... if you're a Batman fan, or good... for a licensed game, this seems like a top tier video game in general, for all the same reasons that Arkham Asylum was. Well okay to be honest I think I preferred the focused Metroid-style progression of the first game to this game's open world city, but it's no less polished (or linear) because of it.

In fact, I'm going to stop writing about it now and put it back on again.

    


Hi there, if you're still reading this why not share your own opinions on the game, my writing, or the website in the comment box below! All comments will be evaluated by a trained monkey who will then indicate to me which ones I should read using a complicated series of hand signals and dance moves. Actually screw it I'll just read through them all like usual.

2 comments:

  1. It makes me sad that no one commented on this, such a great game.

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    Replies
    1. I like to think that people have been rendered speechless by its mechanical and visual beauty.

      Though I imagine it's more likely that people just skipped the article entirely because the game came out just 3 years ago and there's a million recent reviews out there by actual reviewers on professional websites who actually finish their games and put scores at the bottom.

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