Thursday, January 02, 2014

Arkham City - A Tourist Destination For Absolutely No One!

A friend loaned me Batman: Arkham City, and so I'd been focusing on playing through that the last month. The gist of the story is that the guy who was in charge of Arkham Asylum in the previous game is now Mayor of Gotham, and he has approved Hugo Strange's request to turn an entire section of Gotham into a giant prison, under Strange's personal control. Bruce Wayne was holding a press conference to protest it, only to be grabbed by Strange's personal security and thrown in. Which means that pretty soon, Batman's running around inside Arkham City.

Strange has something called Protocol 10 set to go off, but Batman's a little busy with the Joker. The clown's dying of some disease, and he's gone and infected Batsy. Which leaves Batman running through all sorts of hoops to find the cure for himself, and the Joker, then stop the Joker, then stop Strange. Or reverse the order on those last two. Whichever.

There are other villains in the game, most of them as part of sidequests that you can work on as you care to. Sometimes the game will make certain you notice something relevant to one of the side missions, but you could still ignore it if you wanted. Or you can ignore the main story and do side missions as much as you want. Or run around beating up random prisoners. Or collecting the trophies the Riddler's scattered throughout Arkham City. Or just enjoy yourself gliding and grapnel swinging around. I'm not all that great at the gliding - the AR challenges are the only sidequest I haven't finished - but it can still be quite enjoyable to leap off some gargoyle and glide over the town.

The gameplay is a mix of stealth, combat, and puzzle-solving. Some of the puzzle solving is "collect keycards from these three goons", but most of it is trying to figure out how to get around some obstacle with your utility belt full of gadgets. That can be a little trying at first, as you aren't totally comfortable with all the uses a particular gadget might have, but as the game goes on, it gets a little easier to figure out what you need to do.

The stealth is pretty good. With the ability to grapnel to higher ground, or slip into ventilation ducts in the floors, there are a lot of options for sneaking around. And the enemy A.I. isn't completely stupid. If they find one of the guys you took out (and there are options for silent takedowns if you can get in position) they'll alert all the other guys and starting looking for you. They'll try and destroy any vantage points on the ceiling you might be able to use. They'll look in places you might actually hide in. They aren't geniuses; like Scooby and the gang, they can't help splitting up to search for clues, so you can still pick them off one at a time - which is a thing I highly enjoy in stealth games - but they're a step up from most antagonists in stealth games.

The game does cheat a little. At one point I was playing as Catwoman, trying to take out Two-Face (who stole all her loot). She and the Bat both have these special vision options which let you see where everyone in a given room was. I counted five goons with Two-Face. I had taken out three of them, but the moment one of those three was discovered, 5 more guys just materialized, which is bullcrap.

The combat is also pretty good. There's a lot of variety you can work into it, between standard attacks, counters, all the different weapons, the dodge button. The one issue I had was really committing to using counters. It isn't difficult; when a potential attacker gets three little lightning bolts over his head, he's about to attack, so hit Y. Then you counter. The problem was, that wasn't always necessary. Sometimes if I kept hit the basic attack button - that'd be X - Batman might punch that guy in the face anyway, before he could start to do anything. Other times, Bats would leap clear across the screen to punch some other goon, which takes himself out of range. But other times, instead of doing either of those things, he'd just punch at the air in front of him. Which left him wide open to being punched in the head.

My advice would be to either really focus on using counters, or don't let yourself get surrounded. What I wound up doing frequently was throwing a few punches, then leaping away from the mass of guys. That way, they'd have to chase. Then I could turn to face them, punch the first two or three guys, and leap away again before the rest could get there. Keep them from being able to bring the force of their numbers against you. Also, keep an eye out for any guys holding guns. They'll ruin your party in a hurry, so try to at least keep knocking them down. You probably can't concentrate solely on knocking them out; not if there are a lot of guys with pipes, knives, or bare fists, but if you keep hitting them, they might drop the gun, or at least will need a few seconds to pick themselves up and get ready to fire again. Detective Mode vision is helpful there. Most enemies are blue (their melee weapons will be yellow), guys with guns are bright orange.

I have mixed feelings about the look of the game. The graphics are fine, Arkham City looks appropriately run down and awful, but I don't really care for the redesign some of the characters got. They look right for this particular version of Batman's world, but not as I'd like them to. Bane and Deadshot in particular weren't done any favors. Bane has the big vials jammed right into his back, which seems a particularly vulnerable way to carry a supply of Venom. Mr. Freeze isn't too bad, though it shouldn't be too hard to get armored icicle man right. It doesn't help I was rewatching Batman: The Animated Series around the same time. I definitely prefer those versions, so it's nice that this was the Game of the Year edition, with the extra disc containing all the extra skins for the various playable characters. I can't make Penguin look as he did in the cartoon, but at least I can make Batman look more as I'd prefer. If not Animated Batman, they also have 1970s Batman, which is another fine option.

I'm a little disappointed they've went with Jerk Batman. It isn't a surprise, Jerk Batman has been default for 15 or so years now, but it wouldn't have killed them for Batman to be a little less short with Robin or Oracle. Those issues of characterization and aesthetics aside, I did really enjoy the game. Even if they did include Hush.

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