Arkham City: A Non-Gamer’s Review

Batman in "Arkham City"WARNING: SPOILERS WITHIN!!!!!!

My history as a video game player is fairly long and totally unremarkable. While I enjoy the experience of playing video games, any type of game requiring an acute amount of dexterity is usually enough to make me chuck my controller across the room and give up. As a result, I will openly admit to accessing every Internet walk-through and cheat code available to me in the course of completing a game. Remember that code for “Contra” on the old NES that gave you infinite lives? Yeah, I was all over that.

For the most part, I’ve limited myself to sports games in recent years, but I have always had a special place in my heart for role-playing games (better known as an “RPG” amongst all the kids these days). The reason I don’t play many of them, though, is because if they’re any good they will totally consume my life. As an English major kind of guy, I’m a sucker for a good story, and I’m even more of a sucker for a good story I can interact with in some way. Just ask my wife how many hours of my life went into finishing “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” after a friend let me borrow his N64. Actually, on second thought, don’t ask her. The memory of this can conjure some rather unpleasant reactions on her part.

Nevertheless, I’ve never been able to put down video games completely, even when I didn’t have a real console to play them on. Two years ago, after having owned a Playstation 2 for a while, I found a sweet Black Friday deal at Walmart on a PS3. You not only got the console, you also got the games “Infamous” and “Batman: Arkham Asylum” and the Blu-ray of “The Dark Knight” for a pretty reasonable price. This was enough to send me on the first Black Friday shopping trip of my life, during which I managed to avoid being trampled and was complimented by at 10-year-old boy in the checkout line on my purchase.

As a professed comic book geek for life, I went straight for the Batman game as soon as I got everything hooked up. In fact, had it not been for another comic book game – Marvel’s first “Ultimate Alliance” title – a few months earlier, I probably wouldn’t have been interested in bumping up my gaming system. The thought of not only getting to be my childhood heroes, but also getting to see them in high-definition glory was enough to entice me. Batman is actually stuck inside the asylum where he regularly places his enemies? Where do I sign up for this?!?

“Arkham Asylum” not only totally engrossed me, it was also the first video game my wife actually sat and watched me play for longer than five minutes (She later did the same thing with “Uncharted 2.” She’s now pressuring me to buy “Uncharted 3.” Oh, well, twist my arm…). The game itself was a claustrophobic, gritty, nasty masterpiece. By the end of the game, Batman’s costume is all ripped up, his face is battered and bruised, and you can almost feel how late the hour is in the game. When the game’s developer, Rocksteady Studios, announced a sequel was in the works, I began squirreling my pennies away in anticipation for the second chapter of this gripping story involving the Dark Knight.

I actually pre-ordered “Arkham City” from Best Buy, and I picked it up the day of its release (I didn’t go to the store at midnight. I may be a geek, but I’m an old geek who needs to sleep.). I knew from reading different articles on the Internet that “Arkham City” promised to be more of an open-world environment than “Arkham Asylum,” meaning you would have more options as a player to get into adventures outside of the main storyline. I wasn’t all that interested in more side missions, though; I wanted to get back to chasing down the Joker and saving the day from, well, whoever it was the day needed saving from this time.

Amazingly, I’ve already completed the main story portion of the game (I did it on the “Easy” level, though, and even that came with much death and frustration. Remember, just because I’m playing the game doesn’t mean I’m necessarily any good at it.), and I’m sort of sad to report it left me feeling rather underwhelmed. For one thing, it’s very short, and that’s coming from a guy who probably took a lot longer to finish it than most real “gamers.” I was also surprised to find that the main story only constitutes about 40 percent of the total gameplay, meaning I have a boatload of side missions still out there awaiting me.

The characterization of Batman in recent times is something that’s troubled me for a while now. Being 37 years old, I’ve lived long enough to see Batman go from upholding an ideal of justice in the wake of his parents death to becoming a weird camp character to a darker, more obsessed avenger to someone who is rude, domineering, and borderline psychotic most of the time. If you spend any time at all reading Batman comics these days, you’ll see how Bruce Wayne has become a character who has become increasingly difficult to root for, and Gotham City has become such a cesspool it’s become a mystery why anyone would still want to live there, much less devote their lives to protecting it. And all that doesn’t even take into consideration the ridiculous revolving door joke that Arkham Asylum has become. Has anyone ever been “cured” in this facility in the history of its existence?

“Arkham Asylum” was the perfect environment to show the stress and obsession the modern-day Batman lives under. In comparison, “Arkham City” mainly serves to show how the Dark Knight has become an insufferable, headstrong, ungrateful loner. He shrugs off Robin’s help after the Boy Wonder saves him having his throat slit on a rooftop. He routinely tells potential allies throughout the game “I’ll handle this myself” when, in reality, some extra firepower would probably come in handy. And, most infamously, he nearly sacrifices hundreds of lives in order to track down Talia al Ghul before being verbally browbeaten enough by his loyal butler, Alfred, and the near-omniscient Oracle to change his mind.

In fact, the whole sequence where Alfred and Oracle are talking Bruce out of favoring the judgmental abilities of his hormones rather than plain, decent, human common sense and compassion is fairly symbolic of just what an unlikeable Batman we’re presented with here. Add to that the fact that numerous characters who are not dead in the comic books die during the course of the game (Well, I guess “death” is a relatively term in comics. I mean, even Batman himself was “dead” not that long ago…), many of the Riddler Challenges now require some type of Ph.D. in physics to solve, and the way all the run-of-the-mill thugs you take out on the street just keep respawning over and over and over again, “Arkham City” was not exactly the thrill I had hoped it would be.

Still, I’d probably give the game an 8 or so out of 10. I’m playing “Uncharted 3” right now, and I’m thinking 10 out of 10 on that one. I’ll save the review until I’m actually finished playing it. Nathan Drake maybe a scoundrel at times, but he’s Mr. Sunshine compared to what the Dark Knight has become these days.

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