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The first game of the series... in more than one way
on November 7, 2013
I had to substract one star from the rating. I'm in my New Game+ playthtrough right now and I can't keep forgiving the technical problems this game has. It has stopped being fun and started being terribly frustrating. I think that in my first playthrough I was just too excited with the novelty to realize all the problems, but now they've become more evident and even game-breaking.
The graphical glitches are more regular now. Sometimes some textures don't load and Batman falls through the world, which can't be fixed without exiting the game and reloading. I used to think that I lost so many times in my first playthrough because I wasn't familiar with the game and enemies. I was wrong. The controls are just really unresponsive. Batman takes my button presses as mere suggestions rather than orders, and sometimes for no reason he gets grabbed by an enemy on the other side of the room, who has no way to reach him. I've also noticed that the little rotation circle and "Saving" sign are not to be trusted when they show up, because, as it turns out, the game MIGHT NOT BE SAVING AT ALL.
Yes, right about now you might be noticing what was the little fact that make me rage and prompted me to come back to this review to lower the score. I was already losing my patience at Batman constantly ignoring my commands in favor of jumping around smashing his face against everything and everyone without damaging anyone but himself. I guess he forgot Iron Man is supposed to be the drunk superhero. But then I lost in a fight because Batman refused to do what I told him to and when the game reloaded I was set back about half an hour of gameplay because even though the game claimed it was saving, it wasn't.
BTW, I also tried the multiplayer. I couldn't play, since no one seems to be playing it. So yeah, one star less.
END EDIT. Original review follows.
After absolutely loving the previous Arkham games, I was very excited for this one, which I preordered. After finally getting my hands on it and having played it, I will say: it's a great game, but definitely the weakest entry in the series.
I'll start with the pros. The game looks great, the voice acting is fantastic, the combat is just as fun as it was before, and the variety of villains you have to face is pretty good. There's also a good deal of side-missions, challenges and collectibles, and the story mode is pretty long, so this is a game that will keep you occupied for a while.
Now, onto the bad stuff. The game looks great, yeah, but it suffers from MAJOR slowdowns, both in gameplay and cutscenes. I've never felt such slowdowns in a PS3 game before. It actually reminded me of the time playing the original Hitman in a 386 PC with no 3dfx (if you don't know what I'm talking about, it's like trying to have a child pushing a cart carrying an elephant on an uneven road. It's slow but steady in the plain parts, but when it needs to go uphill, things get ugly). They're not constant, or game-breaking, but they're annoying.
The game also suffers from unresponsive controls. I have experienced serious trouble having Batman do what I tell him to in certain areas. For instance, doing a takedown on a stunned enemy was ridiculously easy in the previous games. Here Batman only does it about 50% of the time, despite the fact that the game controls the same way. Plus, he likes to target the wrong things/enemies. I push the control to the right, he targets the guy on front. I want him to grapple on to the rooftop to the side, he grapples onto a bridge on the other side of the screen, and so on. In the previous games, whenever I lost a fight I'd go "Daagh! I'm so stupid!" or "Ugh, I forgot I have to evade this guy!". In this one I'm more prone to say "BLEEPing BLEEP, why didn't you counter when I told you to?" or "You were supposed to jump to the OTHER side, you @#%$!".
It's like all the elements are here, but they've been beaten with a stick before sending them to do their job. You can see that in interviews with the developers, in which when asked why Batman had all these extra tools now and they weren't around later they couldn't come up with an answer (fans would say that after Batman becomes more experienced, he doesn't need that much stuff, and it's pretty obvious, which makes it more infuriating that the developers couldn't think of that). The design of the city is very similar to the previous game (perhaps TOO similar. Really, isn't Gotham supposed to house about 10 million citizens? Why did they pick almost the exact same places from City to Origins?), but some things don't make sense. In Asylum, there were some places you couldn't grapple, but there was an explanation whenever you tried it. Here, it's just arbitrary. You see dozens of places in which you could easily climb or grapple but the game won't let you do it. They're just invisible walls, and they're frustrating.
The story is very interesting, but it's too cumbersome. Again, the previous games had a very good excuse for all of those villains being in the same place. While at first it might seem that's the same here (the story involves Black Mask sending 8 bounty hunters after Batman, all of them competing for the prize), it gets too coincidental too soon. I mean, besides the assassins, Batman meets Jim Gordon, Barbara, the Penguin, the Riddler, the Mad Hatter and the Joker, plus, Joker meets Harley Quinn, ALL IN THE SAME NIGHT, which happens to be Christmas. Batman becomes public that very night too (as he's filmed for the first time), and a couple of important figures get killed. It's like the Phantom Menace all over again. You don't have to cram all the characters together when you make a prequel.
Speaking of the Joker. I know he's a great character, but I'm kinda tired of him being the main villain behind it all YET AGAIN. Come on! Give the spotlight to someone else for a change. The trailers for the game are very misleading, making it seem like the Joker is a side figure while Black Mask and Deathstroke run the show. Save that stuff for Hollywood, please. Don't do the misleading with trailers in videogames too.
I always cringe when a previously single-player franchise adds multiplayere in a new entry, because it's always unnecessary and only tacked on to make a few more bucks. I have no interest in multiplayer, so I don't know if it's any good or not. All I know is that it's a waste of resources that could have been spent polishing the single player experience. Then there's the DLC problem. This game has a lot of DLC and it's mostly skins. I have no problem with that, but I think they're severely overpriced.
All in all, this feels like the first game on the series. I don't mean story-wise, it just feels like the other games were made after ironing this one's kinks. If you encountered a time traveler from 2009 and gave him a copy of Arkham Origins and one of Arkham City, he'd have no problem believing City was the one made later. You're probably wondering why, after all this criticism, I give the game four starts. Two reasons. Number one is that Amazon won't allow me to put 3 and a half, which is the real rating I'd give the game (and three stars only would be too low). Number two is that this is still a very fun game and there's brilliance hidden behind all that mess. You just need to use your detective mode to find it.