Superhero games don’t have the most illustrious history. Sure, there have been exceptions to the rule, but prior to Rocksteady Studio’s groundbreaking “Batman: Arkham Asylum,” the majority of comic book adaptations were absolute garbage. That sounds like a cruel comment, but have you looked at older Batman games, for instance? I would rather stab myself in the eye with a pencil.
So, it was no small task when the developer decided to follow up “Asylum” with a sequel. Though the team had managed to create a Batman title that treated the property with respect, could they make a game that was actually better than its predecessor? Thankfully, “Arkham City” did precisely that, and in doing so, is arguably the best superhero game ever created.
Here’s just five ways “Arkham City” changed the comic-book videogame landscape forever.
5. A Rogues Gallery, Filled With Great Rogues
Too often, superhero games focus on just one antagonist. While there are obvious exceptions, most comic book heroes have an assortment of villains they’ll need to fend off in order to protect the unwitting citizenry. Why make a Batman game where the only villain is The Joker? Rocksteady managed to work in as many of the Dark Knight’s revolving cast of loonies – even creating a story that lets that happen – in order to broaden the experience. The result is a game that offers different challenges, and in turn, stays fresh.
4. Sequels Don’t Exist In A Void
A persistent problem, not just with superhero games, developers will often push a sort of “reset” button when a sequel is released. You sunk 20 or more hours into that last game, unlocking every single doodad, leveling up your character to make him über, and acquiring every weapon upgrade – but a year later you’re back to square one. “Arkham City” threw all of that out the window, letting you start the game with the gadgets of “Asylum.” Couple that with a persistent, original storyline, and you’ll feel rewarded for playing the first game.
3. Combat, Combat, Combat
How many times have you played a superhero game and found yourself loathing the combat? So many titles prior to the “Arkham” series were “punch this five times” or “use [insert power] to blow this up” or “fly through these dumb floating rings.” There’s something very raw – I acknowledge the hand-to-hand doesn’t work for every hero – about brawling 20 or 30 thugs by yourself. Getting into a flow, building the combos, it just feels right.
2. I’m Batman
Along with the combat, Rocksteady did a fantastic job of immersing the player in Batman’s world. The art direction excels with its gritty, gothic canvass of dark alleys and looming gargoyles. The environment just exudes Batman, and floating through the skyline, listening to the chatter of criminals below, it’s hard not to feel like the Dark Knight. Where previous superhero games always felt rushed, merely attempting a facsimile of an established universe, Rocksteady sucks you right into the new world of “Arkham City” and makes you want to stay.
1. It’s Not A Movie Game
Unfortunately, a lot of superhero games are tied into film releases. The result? Games rushed out the door in order to meet a deadline, and in turn, suffering in quality. Moreover, the tie-in games – even those just rehashing comic book stories – often fail to create a new, exciting experience. “Arkham City” has its own story and setting – albeit with some references to previous comic arcs – which means an entirely new experience. When studios attempt to just copy a big-screen story, something usually gets lost in the translation; not the least of which is the developer’s enthusiasm for creating an original product. It’s hard to say what’s next for the “Arkham” series, but it’s hard to deny that every comic-book-turned-game to follow will have to at least try to match its quality.
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