Batman Arkham City is good, great even, but it does not live up to Arkham Asylum, not by a long shot. Every review I’ve seen of Arkham City has been praising it to high heaven. Some even suggest that it is an improvement on Asylum and this makes me question if these people played the same game I did. It makes me wonder if they aren’t getting caught up in the hype.
When Arkham Asylum came out, something I kept hearing was a desire for free roaming in the sequel. I was against this from the start. What made Arkham Asylum brilliant were its pacing, coherency, and the fact that it made you FEEL like you were the goddamn Batman. The player inhabited his persona and became the Dark Knight. This is the primary strength of a videogame. It was the primary strength of Asylum, and anything that undermines this element undermines the game as a whole.
Put simply: You must feel like Batman within a Batman story while playing a Batman game.
When you add a free roaming element to Batman you invariably add a sand box element. In doing so, you remove that element of pacing and coherency and as a result; this ruins the feeling of being the Dark Knight.
The game feels so disjointed. When you’re moving from one mission to another in this sandbox, you are often distracted by side missions which seem just as urgent as the main mission. These side missions are good, in that they feel imperative, but they’re bad for the same reason. It doesn’t make me feel like Batman when I ignore the main mission and it doesn’t make me feel like Batman when I ignore Zasz, or Deadshot, or any other criminal.
Additionally, a free roaming game requires a competent system for navigation, as well as a way to get around quickly. In putting these elements in, Rocksteady effectively did what all free roaming games do, put too much opportunity for navigation failure. How many times in Assassin’s Creed did Altair or Ezio go the wrong way, fall flat on their face, or otherwise look like a loon because of automation? Now Batman is doing the same thing. Precise navigation is a chore. Sure, zipping through the City is easy, but that’s the only part of navigation that is. Numerous times, I found myself dropping from ledges or jumping on to railing when I never meant to.
Now, all of this isn’t to say that the game is bad. Baring the sandbox element and the horrid navigational controls, everything that made the first game great is back, and better than ever in many instances. The brilliant combat is back, and much improved thanks to greater variety. The predator sections still feel gratifying, more so in some instances thanks to some added elements. The boss battles are more prevalent and MUCH better than the first game. There are more gadgets as well.
Well, more gadgets may be a bad thing since it makes the controls ludicrously complex in certain instances, but it wouldn’t feel like Batman without the gadgets, so I give it a pass.
Oh, and the Catwoman sections weren’t all that bad either. I have to admit, I wasn’t looking forward to her at all. I don’t much care for Catwoman. Many female comic readers seem to identify with her because of the sexual power struggle that goes on between her and Batman. Supposedly, this makes her Batman’s equal. This notion has always bugged me. Not that a woman could be Batman’s equal, but that in order to be Batman’s equal, she has to use sex appeal and supposedly "toy" with him. Not only is this trait not admirable, but I don’t think that this makes her Batman’s equal. Instead, her mercurial nature seems to make her character alternate between fucktoy and annoying bitch in my eyes. Why women find this praiseworthy is beyond me. It's like saying "Yes, we love to be sex objects as long as we get to maintain an illusion of control!" However, she plays well within the game. Annoying character traits aside, she's just as fun to play with as Batman, but she has a presence all her own. (Not to mention, she has a mighty fine backside that you get to stare at. Sorry, I had to say it.)
This may, or may not be a bad thing. In my eyes, it adds to the aesthetic disjointedness of the whole thing. However, if you want hours upon hours of content, it’s here for you. Though, you can blaze through the main quest in about 8 hours that probably won’t be the end of the experience for you. Between the aforementioned plethora of content and the welcome addition of a new game plus, this is a game that you will get more than your money’s worth for.
Ultimately, the decision to make Arkham City a free roaming sand box undermines what should’ve been an otherwise universally fantastic experience. I despise numerical rating systems, but this is the best way I can relate it; the free roaming would change my score from a 10/10 to a 8/10. However, despite this error in judgment on the part of Rocksteady, this is a fantastic game. Buy it. Even with my gripes it’s too good for me to suggest that it’s merely a rental. Moreover, saying that it's not worth purchasing is even worse. Just—don’t expect an experience on par with Asylum.