Game: Batman: Arkham City Armoured Edition
Developer: WB Games Montreal
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Available on: Nintendo Wii U only
Despite being released well over a year ago, no doubt that, like me, you might have been looking for an excuse to play Arkham City again. With a writer like Paul Dini involved, and fantastic casting like Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill (the Batman and Joker in my opinion) you know that there’s a substantial pouring of love involved in the game, and Rocksteady had already proven themselves with Arkham Asylum, but this Wii U version, Armoured Edition, is developed by WB Games Montreal, so the big question is whether Wii U owners will be getting the version they need, or the version they deserve. The follow up question will involve deciphering what the original question actually means, so pay attention.
STORY: At the start of Arkham City, Bruce Wayne is protesting on stage about Arkham City, a prison that is designed to keep all of the dregs of society inside, with huge walls keeping the good from the bad. But Bruce Wayne is kidnapped in the middle of his speech and taken inside the City, to meet Hugo Strange (the man in charge of Arkham City), who reveals that he knows his secret identity and that if Bruce doesn’t keep his mouth shut and play nice, he’ll tell that secret to the world. Strange mentions something about Protocol 10 and disappears, allowing his goons to keep Bruce entertained.
Shortly afterwards – and we’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum here – Bruce escapes to the rooftops and dons the suit, before uncovering Joker’s involvement in the plot. Unfortunately for Batman, Joker managed to get one over on the caped crusader, and as the player awakens, Joker is giving him a blood transfusion. You see, Joker is dying, and now, so is Batman. Of course, being the noble idiot, Batman is happy to die if it means Joker dies too, but Joker has once again gone too far, informing Batman (and thus, the player) that his blood will also be appearing in Gotham’s water supply too. We have our setup. The story continues apace from here, with plenty of twists and turns and an over abundance of villains, which slightly harms the overall story.
GRAPHICS: If you’ve never played either of Rocksteady’s Batman games before, boy, are you in for a treat. More akin to the gritty, Frank Miller Batman, your suit will carry damage from general wear and tear as you glide around the city, beating up goons and saving citizens. The Gotham Skyline has never looked so good in a game, Arkham City is a Batman fan’s wet dream, absolutely gorgeous. A particular highlight is when the camera closes in on our protagonist or his enemies, especially Joker. While some games that target realistic visuals end up with an uncanny valley effect, or perhaps a far too shiny feel to things, Arkham City excels through its gritty, yet strangely vibrant appearance. Joker looks mad, Batman looks serious, it’s fantastic.
Armoured Edition however, does sadly have faults. It’s a boon that you can play the entire game on the Gamepad, and it even looks great on there with no performance reduction. But overall, there is some unfortunate slowdown during scenes with a lot of enemies. It’s not game breaking, but it is noticeably poor and is worrisome, especially when the frame rate appears to be so inconsistent. From silky smooth to obvious juddering, and that’s just with Batman zipping across the city. There’s also occasional texture popping, but nowhere near as bad as some of the offenders out there. A mixed bag overall, but the frame rate issues are extremely disappointing.
SOUND: Possibly the best voice cast ever assembled (for a fan, anyway), Mark Hamill’s work as Joker has, for my mind anyway, eclipsed his work as Luke Skywalker. Joker is menacing, hilarious and quintessentially insane, whereas Conroy’s Batman is memorable and just superb, overall. So stellar are the performances of the headlining acts, that you’d almost never notice Nolan North as Penguin, though that’s as much due to his excellent performance as his shadowing by Joker and Batman. The multi-talented Tara Strong continues as Harley Quinn, and is as fantastic as ever, and new to the games, Catwoman is the only real out-of-place feeling character. It’s almost as if Batman universes were mixed up, as the grizzly Dark Knight world of Arkham City is invaded by the more cheesy Catwoman, with one liners like “Looks like this cat got the cream”.
But aside from the wonder-cast, Arkham City is teeming with life. You can’t turn a corner without hearing someone chatting about Batman’s arrival, or some sort of criminal scheme. Immersive as it is beautiful, you won’t find much to complain about in Batman: Arkham City when it comes to the audio.
GAMEPLAY: Much of the Arkham City gameplay returned from Arkham Asylum, but it’s nice to see that you don’t have to re-learn all the upgrades from a previous game. Batman starts out very much a powered-up Dark Knight, with the ability to zip around the city pretty well. As you progress, you’ll unlock yet more abilities that allow for faster traversal and the chance to find areas that were previously hidden. Detective mode allows for our hero to scan crime scenes for clues, and assess dangerous situations; he can see who is armed and who isn’t, he can plan his attack.
Arkham City is an enclosed open world, which sounds a bit like a double negative, but means that you can go pretty much anywhere within the city, but only the city. This makes the main story a fairly linear one, but there are so many side-quests that it’s hardly a complaint. Armoured Edition brings a few changes to the gameplay, most of all the B.A.T. suit upgrade. Explained through an early interaction with Alfred, once enough kinetic energy is built up through combat, you can click both sticks to unleash that energy. This theoretically means you can defeat enemies quicker, but it doesn’t really amount to a “win” button, it just seems to mildly upgrade your damage, temporarily. Given that you usually have the advantage in a 1 versus 10 encounter anyway (you’re Batman!), it’s an odd inclusion, and while Batman’s upgraded suit is explained clearly in the narrative, Catwoman’s never is. She just has a new suit with the same kinectic powers; it’s a bit odd, in truth.
Which brings us onto that combat. Oh good lord, the combat. When you get into the swing of things, it almost feels like a rhythm game. Counter, followed by attack, then flowing into a cape sweep, then multiple gut punches. It’s been imitated since in games like Sleeping Dogs, but it has never been bettered. This is the best combat in an action adventure title for many, it doesn’t get better than this, even when playing as Catwoman. It’s a slightly odd choice even now, but when you level up and want to unlock a new skill, those skill points are persistent throughout the game, not the character. So if you use all of your points on Batman, expect an under-powered Catwoman, which will make her sections of the game a little harder than they perhaps could be.
The Wii U Gamepad allows for Batman’s tools to be displayed on the second screen, which is a nice, if inessential addition. If you’re the kind of player to find it immersion breaking to have to go into the menu to upgrade or change tools, then you’ll love this. You can use the Gamepad to control the camera with motion controls in the first person viewpoint to find clues, but most people will do this once and switch back to using the sticks to move the camera around. The implementation overall is nice, including a new way to solve the cryptographic sequences. You have to hold your finger on the screen to reveal a password by finding nodes avoiding an aggressive defensive system. Radio chatter will play out through the Gamepad’s stereo speakers, which is great for immersion, even if the audio delay in conversation seems a little long. You can ping the area with your new sonar, but it’s not more useful than using detective vision, and means you have to look away from the action.
Having the map on the second screen is useful, but only for when you are standing still, which means it’s no better or worse than hitting the back button to bring it up. When it works, it feels immersive – you can tell that the idea is to make the player feel more like Batman than ever before – and useful, but when it doesn’t, it feels a little “take it or leave it”. It seems it was a case of throwing everything at the wall to see what stuck, and they left everything in.
LONGEVITY: Including all of the previously released DLC (even the alternative costumes) means that you’ve got a game full of collectibles, side-quests, and a (roughly) 8-10 hour story. The Riddler trophies alone will take an age to collect! Sadly, the Harley Quinn’s Revenge DLC (where you play as Robin, and takes place after the main story) is decidedly average, despite the new toys that Robin has to play with (the bullet shield, for example) and feels like filler content. Plenty of challenge rooms add yet more value for money, which means that in pure bang for your buck terms, Armoured Edition is easily the best version of Arkham City.
VERDICT: Arkham City is still an absolutely fantastic game, it’s just a crying shame that whatever optimisation that was required to make it as smooth as the previously released versions couldn’t, or wasn’t, done. Regardless, there’s a wealth of content on offer here, with all the previously released DLC and the new additions that the Wii U enables. If you’ve never played Arkham City and have picked up a Wii U, it’s an absolute no brainer as to whether you should buy this. If you’ve played it and are looking for a reason to re-play? Well, only you and your wallet know the answer to that one, but be warned, Armoured Edition has a lot of content, but isn’t without problems. If you can ignore the technical issues, however, this is the definitive Arkham City experience.