Tuesday, February 14, 2012

But he might sashay

My enthusiasm for Arkham Asylum could be described as gushing. I like Batman. I like adventure games. I like Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill; their voices are what I hear in my head when I think about the characters they play. It was a perfect storm by a developer who never put out a game of note before. A sequel was both inevitable and anticipated.

And here it is.So why am I so underwhelmed?

Arkham City starts out by punishing people who are not the first purchaser by removing finished, single player content from the disk and forcing secondhand buyers (or renters) to lay down 800 MS funbucks for it. I could not care less about Catwoman, but it is part of the game that I will not get to play because I refuse to endorse such behavior. This was chosen because there is no multi-player to take away, so removing the character with the most cleavage was the next best thing they could think of.

There is also a bigger emphasis on collecting Riddler's green question mark, to the point where there are side missions locked behind finding enough of them. Doodad collecting was my least favorite part of Arkham Asylum; I thought it needlessly pulled the player out of a very carefully crafted world. Now it is nearly impossible to glide from room top to roof top without a glowing green question mark mucking up the view. Other side quests are much too vague about what triggers them. Finding Zzazz would be cool, if only I know why the telephones he calls stopped ringing. Deadshot is in town, but I have no idea where the rest of his missions are. Arkham City assumes that you are going to wander around the map, stumbling onto ambiguous triggers. Batman doesn't wander. He doesn't mosey, saunter, stroll, or mince either. He moves from place to place with purpose, kicking ass along the way.

Combat, especially against armed foes, is more difficult. As much as I would like to complain about getting killed for the tenth time on a stealth section, when it is because the enemies are acting the way people actually act there is no one to get upset with besides myself. When you disarm a bad guy, surprise, he runs for the weapon and picks it up again. When they figure out that Batman has been using ceiling perches to hide they start to blow them up. If one turns around just as Batman is about to hit them from behind they shoot, and those bastards can actually aim.

The story, so far at least, is a mess. Joker is there, but he is dying. He infected Batman with whatever is killing him to force Bats to help. Joker had commissioned Mr. Freeze to create an antidote, but Freeze was captured by Penguin, who is in a turf war with both Joker and Two Face. If that is not complicated enough, the League of Shadows just happens to have an underground base there, Ras is actually present along with Talia, and this is all happening under the watchful eye of Hugo Strange, who knows Batman's secret and has been smuggling weapons into Arkham City for reasons that haven't been explained yet.

And then Robin actually shows up and the game loses a million cool points.

Arkham Asylum may be an impossible act to follow. Take Arkham City out of the shadow of its predecessor and it is a damn fine game. Leave it there and it is the nothing more than a side kick with a silly name.

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