Rocksteady, you’re doin’ Batman wrong!
A few years back Rocksteady shat on the rule book of all film/book franchised games being utterly balls by releasing the absolutely outstanding Batman: Arkham Asylum; a title that is arguably one of the best, if not the best superhero tie-in games of all time. Complete with intuitive combat, keen puzzle elements and a cracking storyline Arkham Asylum quite happily sits high up in the clouds as one of the worlds of great stealth/3rd person action adventure games. From the titles inspiring introduction to the Asylum and faux restart at the hands of the maniacal Scarecrow to its unashamedly empowering levelling system and tricky Riddler puzzles, Batman: Arkham Asylum gives me no qualms in climbing on top of a roof top and shouting about how this is one of my favourite games ever made…bar perhaps some of the over used Titan enemies and shockingly poor final boss.
Fast forward a bit and Rocksteady release the anxiously anticipated follow up – Batman: Arkham City, in which the cunningly evil Hugo Strange has somehow convinced the Mayor of Gotham to allow him full control over a huge chunk of land, which has been turned into a locked-down ultra prison. Arkham City is now home to some of Gotham’s most notorious and familiar villains, ranging from Twoface and The Penguin all the way to some of the more amicable anti-heroes such as Catwoman or Bane (sort of). In essence what Rocksteady aimed to do was enlarge their already successful franchise by increasing the world size and the number of people in it. While this unmistakably makes a certain amount of sense for a sequel, Rocksteady forgot to improve anything else.
Yes sure, City had a few more gadgets and new multi-enemy attacks but is that really what a successor calls for? No, what a follow-up should base its target on is ascertained by taking everything that was good about its predecessor, and then injecting it with a huge dose of whatever inspired them to create such an amazing experience in the first place – this includes the storyline and pacing.
Sadly, whoever is was behind the gameplan for Arkham City left their big syringe of inspiration at home; despite its bizarrely favourable reviews I found the game completely and utterly stale. Gone was Asylum’s feeling of direction, instead it was gobbled up by a ticking clock of storyline death which constantly hung over Batman’s head but actually had little or no bearing on the game’s progression. I understand why some games may choose to have timed sections within them as it promotes a certain amount of suspense but the one thing I’ve never really understood is why developers build an entire game around that sole mechanic? Why make an open world game where the over-arcing storyline’s sole propose is to stop you from feeling like you can explore a game’s surrounding?
Was I supposed to be worried that ol’ Bruce will pop his clogs at any moment if I don’t get to the next plot point in time? Or was I supposed to revel in the idea of finding some of the game’s poorly attempted Catch the Pigeon inspired side quests? I’m not sure, and I don’t know if some of the developers knew either.
In honesty I’m also unsure why I am moaning about side quests, as I stopped bothering with them as soon as I noticed they were basically un-rewarding checkpoint challenge with different cult Batman figures leading you along. What’s the point of having Azrael or Zsasz in your game if you’re not going to have an epic fight to conclude your story arc? My biggest gripes comes in the guise of the game’s slap-dash method of creating story twists via poor lead ups. I mean why push Clayface as the game’s last boss if there is no prior build? Why give Batman a sword for two minutes of the game with no real reverence? And why of fucking why spend a whole game building Hugo Strange as a manipulative criminal mastermind only to fleetingly brush him off to one side as yet another sheep?
I mean are Rocksteady seriously expecting me to believe that a man smart enough to ascertain Batman’s true identity, brainwash a prison chief/Mayor and talk a whole city into letting him turn half of their land into a fully functioning military control super asylum full of the world’s most dangerous villains is little more than a brainless husk? Don’t get me wrong, I am fully aware of Batman’s linage and the manic way some comic book storylines are told but to go from the slow paced, almost terrifying introduction of a character like Scarecrow and his narrative in Asylum to a throw away three minute drug induced ‘crazy’ brawl with the MadHatter just screams bullshit laziness to me.
The problem with City’s story telling and poor reproduction is compacted and clarified with the example of Scarecrow vs. Madhatter, as you can pretty much slap the cheap comparisons on Arkham City like a Wetherspoons burger compared to actual real food. Sure it might look appealing and delicious on the menu but once you take a bite out of the game you realise just how bland and tasteless the whole thing actually is.
The once highly additive and actually pretty enjoyable Riddler trophies had become nothing short of an onslaught of un-engaging remedial tasks and endless back tracking, The once proud and dynamic storylines have became a machine gun of panicked diarrhoea strewn with empty dialogue un-realised of actual plot, and perhaps worst, of all I started to hate the shit out of Alfred and his smug barstard one-liners.
The final nail in the coffin for this game is the recently release – Batman: Arkham City – Armoured Edition, wherein you play the exact game that was released over a year ago but now with electrically charged power armour, designed to increase damage and make the whole game a lot easier. The new edition also incorporates some WiiU inspired tablet functionality in the guise of a motion controlled Batarang (I have used it, it is terrible), individually explodable gel bombs and other such paraphernalia. I understand that Nintendo need to get the big publishers on board rather rapidly in order for the WiiU to succeed and if that means throwing a few rather ill advised or redundant features onto a game than so be it, but what I want to see in an ‘improved’ edition of a game; quality for quality’s sake on the side of the developer, not just some jumped up excuse of innovation.
I want to make it clear and state that in no way do I hate Batman or the Rocksteady franchise, in fact I am actually looking forward to the next instalment (although it will most likely be missing the genius that is Mark Hamill) and am disappointed that the production of Gotham by Gaslight was cancelled. I also have no problem stating that Arkham City was far from being considered a completely bad game, it is merely a victim of the original title’s success. Perhaps to me after the amazing triumph of Asylum I was expecting a bit too much from the sequel and sadly, with self inflicted expectation I’ve lead myself to focus on the negative reproductions of the game rather than viewing it as something ‘new’. Regardless, my personal opinion on City is that it is a huge let down compared the original title and although nothing can take away what the developers managed to accomplish in terms of creating a indisputably good franchise, I can’t help but call bullshit on a sequel that held some great ground work and expansive ideas that for some reason never fully realised its true potential. Whether it was time, money or direction that caused a shift in the game’s development from a huge open world Gotham, filled with all the grim charm of the comic books to little more than a poor copy and paste job of it’s predecessor, I am not sure. However, one thing is for sure, I will not be bothering with the Calender Man achievement.