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Game Review | Batman: Arkham City

Batman (Kevin Conroy) surveys Arkham City

Movie summary: When part of Gotham is turned into a private reserve for criminals known as Arkham City, all here is sure to break loose, and the Dark Knight is the only one who can stop it. (IMDb)

I've now finished Batman: Arkham City three times - first on Xbox 360, now twice on PC - and this latest trip through the game was by far my least favourite, and it took me a while to figure out why: Catwoman. Or, to make it clearer, Catwoman makes Batman look bad (in a gameplay sense) which makes the story mode come across as worse than before.

You see, Catwoman is very nimble, agile, athletic and everything else you'd expect an experienced hand-to-hand fighter to be, plus it still looks like everything she does to her opponents still really bloody hurts. In comparison, Batman comes across almost like a lumbering brute; yes, his attacks feel stronger, but he feels very much like a blunt instrument compared to Catwoman's scalpel.

I hadn't played Arkham City for a while before this latest play-through, assuming that my fond memories of the game were due to how good it was as a package. It slowly dawned on me that I'd left it installed because I'd loved taking Selina Kyle (voiced by Grey Griffin) into the Riddler's combat challenges outside of the story mode and tearing through dozens of enemies with ease.

Another reason for my preference of controlling Catwoman is that she's got fewer gadgets and is therefore simpler to control and master. Batman, on the other hand, has way too many gadgets to think about, which really isn't helped by a few of them feeling like they were added solely to help with side-stories rather than being an integral part of controlling the Dark Knight.

And those side stories? A mixed bag. Some are pretty decent, but then there's the Riddler junk which passed from fun distractions in Arkham Asylum to omni-present irritations here. The number of trophies is just stupid and the vast majority aren't even close to being fun - if there was ever padding in a game to keep people playing, this is a shining example.

The padding creates a problem of its own, by getting in the way of what is a fairly decent story. Some of the directions the plot takes are a bit strange, with paper-thin reasoning behind certain events happening. This wouldn't be too bad if you were continually proceeding through the story, but those gaps in-between can be an issue.

Catwoman (Grey Griffin) and Batman (Kevin Conroy) take a beating in Batman: Arkham City

My advice would be to play through the central story as fast as possible or at least dividing time between the central story and the side missions into large chunks of each. In other words, don't give your brain time to think about the plot, because it falls apart pretty quickly and how this is dealt with in gameplay doesn't help either.

Minor spoilers, but the final showdown with those behind Arkham City itself involves Batman picking off henchmen one by one until a cut-scene triggers that takes care of everything else. That's right, the climax of the title story is non-interactive. And worse, the game keeps on going so Joker can be the final antagonist yet again.

I don't want to be too harsh on Arkham City as it is still a lot of fun to play through - and this was my third time through it after all. It's just that it all feels very much 'more is less' with so much packed in that it never feels as cohesive an experience as the first game. Just removing every last trace of the Riddler would've been a huge improvement for me.

And to finish on a high note, I love, love, love the sound of this game. The voice acting is just as excellent as in the first game, with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill continuing to be the best Batman and Joker outside of the comics, with the rest of the cast doing amazing work too. Plus, the score is absolutely incredible and the highlight of the game - it always at least enhances the action, at best it makes the game's problems completely disappear.

Batman: Arkham City is still enjoyable enough to play, but my opinion of it has definitely lessened over time, especially following on soon after playing Arkham Asylum, which is a much tighter and far more focused experience. Everything here feels a little too loose and disconnected, and some of the new gameplay mechanics not meshing brilliantly stop this from being as good as the original.



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