Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Review: Batman Arkham City: Armored Edition

Platform: Wii U 

Developer: WB Games Montreal

Publisher: WB Games 

# of Players: 1 

ESRB Rating: T (Teen) 

Official Site 

Score: A- (95%) 

Nintendo-only console owners have most likely been hearing about how stellar Batman: Arkham City was on the PS3 and Xbox 360 for long enough that I've heard of some of the more hardcore fans of the Dark Knight plunking down the money for a competing console and a copy of the game. For the rest of you who waited it out, you're getting the definitive version of Arkham City that not only features every bit of DLC (on the retail disc (not as some download you need to buy or add before you play), but great new GamePad exclusive functions and some nice new costumes that make the experience even better than before. I'm console agnostic myself, so as soon as I heard this was coming out, it made it to the top of the list of "ports" that had to be played. While perfection comes thanks to the wealth of content old and new, some minor technical issues break the illusion from time to time. Nevertheless, WB Games Montreal has done some amazing work in bringing Rocksteady Studios' smash onto a new console in such fine order.

Without spoiling too much of the story for those new to the experience, Arkham City is the darker and more action-packed sequel to Batman: Arkham Asylum, one of the seminal gaming experiences of this soon to be past console cycle. In this sequel, Gotham City goes to hell as the escaped criminals from Arkham Asylum force a huge chunk of the area to be sectioned off from the rest of the city. During a press conference, Bruce Wayne is captured and thrown into Gotham City's jail by Hugo Strange, who happens to know Wayne is indeed the Darknight Detective. You'd just think Strange would be smart and reveal Batman to the general public as the aloof millionaire playboy and be over with it, but he's got other plans. Naturally, Bruce makes a dramatic escape from prison and thanks to an airdrop from his trusty butler Alfred, Batman appears on the scene to clean things up considerably, but he needs to deal with a great deal of opposition from some familiar foes before his long night ends.

Diverging from the original Rocksteady Studios game in some key moments, it's quite clear that Ubisoft Montreal made this game for the Wii U, most specifically in how you access Batman's new armor when you obtain it early on. That Wii U GamePad turns into a fingerprint scanner (awesome!) and you see a Bat-variation of the Gamepad on the suit's wrist. The pad is a combination database, mapping device, scanner and a few other cool Bat-things, all of which are intuitive and make that new controller a total joy to utilize. The gameplay changes up slightly if you play using the GamePad alone, but it's definitely worth playing on a TV just to see how great everything looks on a larger screen. One other excellent touch is how audio files and transmissions Batman acquires play through the GamePad's speakers, making you feel as if you're in that new armored suit.

The game excels so well at creating the atmosphere of a criminal packed Gotham City that new players will probably find themselves overwhelmed at the range of things to do. This isn't some button-mashing 'til your fingers fall off experience at all. Combat requires a mixture of timing, patience and not making mistakes when you're surrounded. Fortunately, the controls are fluid and the game offers up a handy visual assist in combat to let you know when to counter attacks and dish out some pain of your own. Another great thing about the game is you're not just playing as Batman here. Catwoman is here in the prologue (she's got an armored suit of her own) and a set of optional side missions that reveal her place in the story (and gives you a chance to use her slick fighting moves in some really entertaining battles).

As a concession of sorts to new players, that armored suit allows Bats and Cats to charge up strikes and unleash powerful attacks when the going gets rough. If you've played the game previously, you'll probably use this skill a handful of times before going back to the more tactical combat the game offers. It's not a bad addition at all - it just makes some fights easier than they should be. Not easy at all are the entirely optional Riddler Challenges scattered around Gotham. Yes, the first one is a gimme and some of the others can be done on the first attempt, but it's easy to become obsessed with some of the more baffling puzzles that involve activating switches in a certain and nabbing items before the clock runs out. I never finished them all on the PS3 and I stopped doing them here because I needed to get to the end of the main story.

There's other content on the disc as well, including a post-story series of missions with Harley Quinn that are unlocked on the main menu and will absolutely spoil the heck out of Batman's story if you play it first. Of course, that's all up to you, but even if you do, it really won't wreck the overall experience one bit. Presentation in every area is top-notch. Visuals are stellar (minus some shadows and that bit of pop-in), audio is perfect all around and as noted above, I'd call this the definitive console version of the game any Wii U owner would be proud to own. There's plenty of replay value thanks to a few "surprise" characters (no spoilers here), but if I had one "major" complaint, it would be that Nintendo-only households are missing out on Arkham Asylum (which would actually benefit from the improvements made in this sequel). Then again, I can only imagine the confusion in the games media if there was an enhanced port of that game made instead of this one.

Nintendo fans may be getting this one late, but like the other games ported to the Wii U with new features, it looks like they're getting the better end of the deal yet again. If you're buying a Wii U for yourself or as a gift, absolutely buy this game.

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