BATMAN: ARKHAM CITY
God, this was a hard one. I knew I needed a “Sandbox” game in here somewhere, something big and expansive, ripe for exploring. I knew I needed something that would give the player a sense of total freedom, and a bunch of titles went through my mind before I could even blink.
The first one was Dark Souls, but I crushed that urge before it could grow legs and make its escape. I love that game more than my own family, but even I know that it’s an acquired taste, mainly because it’s about as friendly to newcomers as a land mine. No, Dark Souls appeals to a niche market, and that’s not what this is about. Other sandbox games occurred to me, GTA V, Red Dead Redemption, Skyrim, Elite Dangerous, The Fallout Series, Spider-Man 2, even the baffling chaos of Just Cause 2 and Saint’s Row 4 were tempting me, with their open worlds and strange movement systems, the cheeky little harlots.
I knew that the game I picked needed to have one of two things. Either a method of travel that was fun and engaging (hence Just Cause 2) or a game world in which you couldn’t walk for five minutes without getting caught up in something interesting (hence Skyrim).
But then, why not both?
The Batman: Arkham series is one of those things that nobody expected to do as phenomenally well as it did, a bit like Portal. The first game, Arkham Asylum, introduced a fantastical, yet dark and twisted tone that fit the core theme perfectly, a reflection of the madness that so dominated the plot. It had one of the most revolutionary systems for melee combat devised in the last decade, it had stealth mechanics that worked wonderfully and made you feel like the monster in somebody else’s horror game, and it was topped off nicely by a strong plot with an excellent rendition of the Joker by Mark Hamill. It was sixes across the board.
And the second game, Arkham City? Well, it took all of those things, and put them in a section of city filled with a bunch of angry men who were all very hungry, and the only thing that would satisfy them was a knuckle sandwich. Go get ’em, bats.
In all seriousness, the first game is probably slightly stronger (though only just), but the second game really took the “sandbox” idea to heart and flourished because of it. Ziplining out of an alley in a heartbeat, launching yourself above the skyline and opening your cape to glide ominously above the city, like some badly-dressed bird of prey – that was an awesome thing. You could go from street level to a hundred feet in the air and back down again in seconds, all flowing naturally together and without seeming disconnected or confusing. In fact, everything in this game flows like water. The movement, the combat, the stealth. The only flaw I can think of is that the plot stumbles a little in the mid to late periods, but you’ll be so enamoured with their Joker that you won’t really care that much. I know I didn’t.
Oh, and the game actually came close to presenting Robin as cool. When you can do that, you can do anything.
Infinitely huge worlds are always a laff. Drop in to any of the above, they’re all worth your time, but my preferred contenders are Dark Souls, Red Dead Redemption, and Fallout: New Vegas.
TOMORROW: IT COMES AS NO SURPRISE…