I’m starting to think that I was a bit ambitious with my winter gaming goal. Arkham City is a delicious second serving of Arkham Asylum – all of my favorite things have returned – and, as the word “city” suggests, it’s bigger. Much bigger. So big, in fact, that sometimes I have to ignore the twelve side quests that appear every ten feet and stop to organize my thoughts. I don’t think you can appreciate the intricacies of a game like Arkham City if you haven’t played a game like Baldur’s Gate immediately beforehand, but I still feel like there’s just a little too much. (RPS has a great analysis of this issue, so I won’t stay here long.)
I tend to ignore screaming cries for help, but I relish the moments when Zsasz calls me up on the pay phone, begging me to hunt down a ringing phone in Arkham. I merely glide from rooftop to rooftop torward the sound in under ninety second, but, at the end, I get more Zsasz story. As in Asylum, my current objective gets delayed when I find a green question mark and have to solve Riddler’s puzzle. Then I find another question mark, and it gets delayed even further. And so on. Other than the choppy cut scenes, this is my biggest complaint about the game: I am too tempted to do everything else, so, technically, nothing gets done.
I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a superhero video game – they all fall under that ominous “action-adventure” category. Action-adventure is an awful term thrown on nearly every game that doesn’t fall under RPG, FPS, simulation, or strategy. When you buy an action-adventure, you could get a short game that tries to justify its unsatisfying, repetitive mechanics with a shallow plot, or you could get a long game that infuses multiple mechanics feeding a solid story with interesting characters. In other words, it’s hit or miss. When I get an FPS, I know to expect a short game with lots of shooting. Other elements may join this baseline, but that’s what I’m getting. When you get an action-adventure, there isn’t a baseline, so you haven’t a clue what to expect.
Games like the Batman series create their own baseline. Players expect stealth as much as combat, and getting our gadgets and voice mails is an essential part of the adventure. They even present a coherent story with fun characters. The introduction of voice acting in video games has hurt the characters, in my opinion, but some of these actors really get into their role. (Mark Hamill as Joker is the obvious example, but did you know the “voice” of Batman in the DC universe is NOT Christian Bale but this guy. Me neither. He’s a ginger, so that’s a double win.)
I like Arkham Asylum and City because they mix open-world, stealth, and action well without taking themselves too seriously. Unlike some of their modern contemporaries (AssCreed, I’m looking at you), the first game in the series got the mechanics down; so the creators don’t have to waste each sequel messing with them. They can concentrate on expanding the world, giving me more stuff for my belt, and letting me uppercut Penguin.