Batman: Arkham City Review — The Dark Knight Repeats
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Objectives in the game generally require Batman to head to some monolithic building and beat down whichever supervillain is holing up inside. Despite the Dark Knight’s obvious intellect, agility, and stealth, such tasks always start with a big old donnybrook at the building’s front door. Despite the tactical advantages it might provide, you’re never allowed to sneak in through a skylight.
Once you’re inside the building, the game introduces its second main mechanic: Predator mode, which requires Batman to hide in the shadows and pick off armed thugs one by one. In keeping with the game’s contradictory nature, this is at once varied and repetitive. Minions can be dispatched in myriad ways: by creeping up behind them, dropping down from above, springing up from grates in the floor, or bursting through destructible walls at the right moment.
These choices would be more appealing if Predator sequences didn’t all take place in slightly different iterations of the exact same room. There are always the same gargoyles on the walls (regardless of the room’s architecture) which are handy for perching on, swinging from, and using as temporary gibbets. The room always has two levels, a main floor and mezzanine with a bridge connecting the two sides.
To make matters worse, Predation is usually accomplished by turning on “Detective Mode,” a visual filter which applies a cool-looking dark blue gloss to the gameworld. It enables you to see enemies through walls, and quickly identify escape routes and hiding spots, but it also has the unintended side-effect of making every single room look exactly the same. Once Detective Mode is on, all the design effort expended to make an environment look unique is instantly wasted. As you swing from one glowing gargoyle to another, you’ll feel like you’ve done it all before. In a sense, you have.
Having rendered all the armed guards unconscious, players will contend with the game’s occasional boss fights. These are odd bits of game design — visually splendid, to be sure, but lacking in any particular challenge. Most of them have an initial phase during which your adversary can barely damage Batman at all. Once this phase ends, the boss will return, enraged, with a new health bar and increasingly deadly attacks. This structure is repeated to the point that it becomes predictable. The game’s more imaginative encounters underscore this problem. A tense sequence stalking Mr. Freeze through an ice-encrusted crime lab is a good example of what Rocksteady can do if they put their mind to it.
With the latest boss incapacitated on the floor, you’ll venture out into the game’s massive open world. First, however, you’ll have to backtrack all the way out of whatever building you just brawled your way into — a minor oversight, but an obnoxious one.