Batman: Arkham Asylum was one of my favorite games in 09 and rose to the top of my favorites that year along with Demon's Souls. Now, two years later, we have both sequels out with changes in each. Earlier this year I wrote about Dark Souls and how it felt that the designers moved away from what made Demon's Souls great due to the design changes. Arkham City doesn't share the same fate and you can just feel how the game is bursting from the seams with new content, for better and worse.
Continuing the story of B: AA, B: AC kicks off shortly after the first game. With the island no longer usable, the inmates of Arkham have been moved into the slums of the city and kept locked away from the citizens, which Batman isn't too fond of. After some important plot points that I'm not going to spoil, Batman finds himself knee deep in Arkham City and forced to find out what is going on.
Now, I could once again talk about the excellent voice acting and how great it is to hear Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, but the stand out for me was Nolan North as the Penguin. If I didn't read that he was doing the voice, I would have never known it was him and he did a great job of making him sound menacing.
The motto behind B: AC’s development seems to be "go big" as every aspect of B: AA has been built on for the sequel. Side quests are more prominent thanks to the game space being opened from the start. As Batman explores the city he'll find cases that involve more of his rogue's gallery for him to solve. The cases do a lot to bring the city to life and finally give us a good Batman game that lets us patrol Gotham. Perhaps the biggest enhancement is the Riddler challenges which play out as their own full side story this time around. The Riddler has set up all kinds of puzzles and death traps around AC for Batman to solve and his challenges play into unlocking more content and puzzle rooms for the Dark Knight to solve.
Stealth has become more challenging this time around as the enemies have picked up new tricks including being able to disable detective vision. The AI reacts more random this time and it never gets old frightening harden criminals by taking out their friends without being seen. Like the first game, Batman is not bullet proof and a few hits from a gun will take him out. This time Batman is armed with his trademark smoke pellets which can be used to disorient and act as a safety net for stealth areas.
The one main fault of B: AA which was the boss battles, have been touched up for B: AC. They are more varied this time around and less focused on Batman just wailing on someone. One of my favorite battles is an actual "stealth fight" which I'm not going to spoil who it is with.
Overall B: AC is an excellent game, but it's not without problems. Looking at the design the problems seem to stem from how the designers built their new game-play on top of B: AA. The beauty of B: AA was in how everything was designed to work with each other and was balanced that way. By building on top of the design, B: AC doesn't feel as refined compared to B: AA in a few areas.
The combat system in B: AA was one of my favorites due to how accessible it was and at the same time complex with the quick gadget use. In B: AC, the # of moves available to Batman has been increased dramatically: more quick gadgets, special moves, aerial attacks, beat-downs, special combos and ultra stuns. The problem is that all of these moves have been added to a primarily one button combat system and it feels convoluted compared to the first game. There is no in game logic for the player to follow why square-triangle is the weapon break move or X-Circle is the multiple take down move. Enemies armed with special gear now require specific attack combos to hurt them. It feels like the simple combat system from the first game is being stretched in multiple directions.
Not helping the combat is the camera system. I lost count of the # of times where an enemy would begin his attack animation off screen to then move into focus as he's attacking, leaving me with no way to avoid it. The camera during combat is stuck in this awkward position, because of the increase of enemies per fight. The camera is too close to get all the enemies on screen, yet too far away to make it easy to see enemy attack tells.
During movement in the city the camera has a habit of getting stuck on objects in the environment. In the first game, the design of the levels was very wide to keep the camera from getting stuck in places. With the increase agility of Batman and narrow areas, the camera has trouble keeping up sometimes.
In regards to the Catwoman DLC, she plays like a quicker version of Batman. I do like how her movement across the city is more horizontal with her whip compared to Batman. In terms of content, Catwoman has her own 4 mission story arc along with Riddler challenges set up just for her. During stealth sections she can climb around on certain ceilings which lend a different feel to Batman. The only problem I have is that her "thief vision" doesn't show enemy vitals like Batman's and it can be hard to see from a distance what equipment enemies have.
Even with my complaints, B: AC is still an amazing game; Rocksteady have shown that they are not a one hit wonder with B: AA. I'm very curious to see how they will try to top themselves with whatever their next project is. B: AC is a clear definition of a successful sequel by keeping what made the first game special and improving upon it.