Batman: Arkham City Review — The Dark Knight Repeats
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There is one villain not burdened by monotony: Edward Nygma, the infamous Riddler. The Riddler occupies a special role in Batman: Arkham City, and provides some of the game’s most satisfying content.
First and foremost, in order to test Batman’s intellect, he’s scattered hundreds of Riddler Trophies around the game map. Some of these are easy to spot and retrieve, but some are not — they’re protected by small cages that can only be opened by triggering switches, either by standing on them or by winging them with a batarang. Sounds easy enough, until you’ve got to hit four different switches within four seconds, and you can’t even see them all at once. The Riddler Trophies allow the game’s designers to indulge all sorts of clever design conceits, and many of them act as mini-games, testing your puzzling and Batman-powered platforming skills. Often, after snagging a particularly thorny Trophy, you’ll wish that Rocksteady had applied some of that creativity to the main part of the game.
The Riddler is also instrumental to the game’s Challenge Mode, a self-contained showcase for the game’s two main mechanics. In Ranked Challenges, players will use Arkham City’s superlative close combat mechanic defend themselves against increasingly numerous waves of thugs, stringing together combos and deploying gadgets in order to achieve high scores. Surpass certain score benchmarks, and you’ll earn Riddler Trophies; do well enough, and you’ll end up on the leaderboards.
Campaign challenges, on the other hand, come in three parts — two brawling high score attempts divided by an intervening Predator time trial. Players can also apply positive and negative modifiers — if you manage to survive a challenge after starting with a shortened health bar, for example, you’ll get a much higher score.
Challenge Mode represents a lot of extra content, but the bonus is ramified further by the fact that you can attempt Challenges using the game’s extra characters. Not content with their masterful work on Batman himself, Rocksteady’s animators created elaborate, gorgeously rendered move sets for three franchise mainstays: Catwoman (unavailable to used purchasers), Robin (a Best Buy exclusive), and Nightwing (available in a forthcoming DLC pack).
Catwoman is an integral part of the game’s story — players spend a pre-credits sequence controlling her — and progressing through the plot unlocks bonus “Catwoman Episodes” that flesh out the events depicted in Arkham City. After your first playthrough is completed, you can switch seamlessly between Batman and Catwoman in New Game Plus mode at specially designated locations. There are special pink Riddler Trophies for Catwoman to collect, and special ceiling grates for her to crawl around on. In place of Batman’s stealthy crouch, pulling right trigger sends her slinking into a hilariously feline, belly-down creep.
It’s touches like that that show Rocksteady’s design ability in its best light. Some aspects of the game are inspired — miles ahead of the competition. Others, enumerated above, are simply pedestrian, or begin to feel repetitive. The central contradiction is striking, certainly, but it has a more insidious effect: Having seen how good Rocksteady can be when they’re firing on all cylinders, it is that much more disappointing when aspects of the game don’t measure up. It is a shame that a studio capable of such genius will occasionally settle for mediocrity in some aspects of their admittedly giant game. It’s too early to say where Batman and Rocksteady will head for their next adventure, but hopefully it results in a little more consistency.
- Incredible combat design.
- Detailed, evocative world.
- Top-notch production values.
- Lame story.
- Some aspects of the gameplay get repetitive.
- Chooses quantity over quality too often.
Final Score: 72/100