BATMAN: ARKHAM CITY marks the 36th videogame outing for the caped crusader in 25 years. And how many times have developers got it right? A mere handful. Arkham Asylum broke the trend but will Arkham City continue the legacy of Batman games that are worth a Bat-fanís time and money?
Superhero games have an unnerving habit of flying off the shelves regardless of quality, and for every blockbuster film there is generally a rushed tie-in game to help empty the fansí pockets into the bank accounts of the publishers who could not, it seems, care less about how disappointed you are with their colourful, shiny drinks-coaster-in-a-box.
Carefully positioned seasonal releases further ensure the success of these money-spinners as well-meaning aunts stuff them in stockings the world over. Batman, especially, has had a particularly rough ride in the quarter-century since Jon Ritman rewrote his Head Over Heels program to feature The Dark Knight on the Amstrad CPC
. Bloody good game it was, too. Superman may have only starred in four (frankly awful) games during that period, but Batman has been marched through almost ten times that amount Ė with results that, at times, made me embarrassed to be such a fan.
Rocksteady Studios broke that trend as defiantly as Bane snapped Bruce Wayneís spine with 2009ís smash hit Batman: Arkham Asylum
. And the London developers look set to carry on a legacy of quality so far unheard of in the crossover world of comics and videogames with Batman: Arkham City
. Due for release in October on PlayStation3, Xbox 360 and PC (with Wii U version to follow) Batman: Arkham City will take the winning formula that renewed Bat-fansí interest in a polygonal version of their favourite crime fighter and place the action in a fortified district of Gotham City. Cue fan-gasm.
In Batman: Arkham Asylum I finally found out what it was to be the Caped Crusader. Isnít that the job of the games developer? To put you in the shoes of the gamesí protagonist? To truly show you what itís like to be Batman? Where countless developers of the past have got it dead wrong Ė making Batman as sluggish as a deep sea diver, as capable as a Keystone cop and about as aspirational as your average jobseeker Ė Rocksteady got it spot on, from the brutal hand-to-hand combat, to the effortless way in which Batman would silently glide like a raven through the air only to land on his prey, devastating as an anvil on a cartoon coyote.
But this isnít an Arkham Asylum review. Here at BeefJack we already did that
, giving the slightly flawed masterpiece an 8.6. The original gameís shortcomings were few but obvious, and if Rocksteady have a habit of listening to the fans then hopefully those flaws will be addressed in Arkham City Ė flaws such as frequently being placed in situations that require prolonged and repetitive actions (swing to gargoyle, pick off henchman, swing to gargoyle, pick off henchman, ad nausea), similarly repetitive boss battles, and some very cruddy facial animation.
The bad guys
Letís talk villains. Arkham Asylum featured a few big names from the Caped Crusaderís gallery of rogues in starring roles (Joker, Harley, Killer Croc) and the more tenacious players among you would have also found signs of a whole lot more scattered within the walls of Gothamís institute for the criminally insane. So, who does that leave for Arkham City? If you canít break a few famous heads then thereís not much point putting the cape on in the morning.
Well, there is the obvious return of The Joker, featured heavily in the original Arkham City teaser trailer
; Catwoman will add some interesting conflict and tension of a personal nature which Ė other than Batman addressing his concerns for his kidnapped friend, Commissioner Gordon Ė was missing from Asylum; Hugo Strange
and Two-Face all look set to have a crack at clipping the Batís wings this Christmas.
The biggest difference between Arkham Asylum and Arkham City is clearly its setting. Asylum was bold from the word go, putting Batman at a clear and instant disadvantage: he was a rat in The Jokerís maze Ė every room Batman entered was a trial set up by The Joker, rigged with traps and a seemingly endless supply of henchmen. But Arkham City is different. The grimy streets of Gotham are where the Caped Crusader is most at home. Hugging chimney stacks and bouncing off fire escapes is what he does best, and Iíll be glad to leave behind the vents and ducts of Arkham Asylum to take the Dark Knight on a thug-breaking test-drive on his turf and on his terms.
Add into the mix a playable Catwoman and Robin (in hopefully separate campaigns as opposed to swapping about like in LEGO Batman) and there doesnít seem to be much that Rocksteady have left out this time around. Except perhaps a drive-able Batmobile, but information on this title is being drip fed to the press building up to the Winter release, so Iím not even writing that off yet.
To end on a quote
Harvey Dent, aka Two Face, once said: ďYou either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.Ē He was referring to himself, of course, but that sentence also strikes a familiar resonance when thinking about the last 25 years of Batman videogames.
I was, up until 2009, at a point where I didnít ever want there to be another Batman game produced. They had become the Ďvillainsí of Dentís prophecy. Thank goodness, then, for Rocksteady, who managed to turn a videogame laughing stock into a heroic franchise again. Roll on October. Roll on Batman: Arkham City. I can already hear my spare time crashing out of the window like a thug from three storeys up.