Sunday, December 18, 2011

Megabits Column: Batman Arkham City

Megabits of Gaming contributes a monthly column in Charged Middle East – a leading Dubai-based gadgets and games magazine that provides news, reviews and features on the latest home and consumer electronics.

Each month, Megabits takes a look at a new release in a gaming franchise and considers how its evolved over the years and what makes it great!

Here’s the latest of the articles from the December 2011 issue. For more about the magazine, check out its Facebook page after the jump.

There are many truisms in the world of gaming. One is that comic-based games are invariably poor and tend to pale in significance alongside their traditional paper-based representations. At least, that used to be the case...

Until Rocksteady Studios wheeled out one of the hits of 2009, Batman: Arkham Asylum, superhero games had somewhat of a poor reputation and seemed most popular among fans rather than diehard gamers. Arkham Asylum dispelled that myth and it was the worthy recipient of numerous Game of the Year awards. It also held the honour of holding a Guinness World Record for Most Critically Acclaimed Superhero Game Ever.

Fortunately, the bat signal has been reactivated and the Dark Knight has swooped back onto our screens. And what’s more, its review scores are already surpassing those of its predecessor. Combining elements of action, stealth and puzzle solving, Batman: Arkham City basically offers more of the same but is bigger and better in every way.

Everyone’s favourite billionaire, Bruce Wayne, once again dons his cape and cowl and steps into the dark and seedy parts of Gotham that few dare to talk about. Sections of the city have been transformed into a maximum security prison that houses all the most dastardly and despicable hoods and hoodlums.

The game opens with none other than Mr Wayne being grabbed by the cronies (oo-er) and manacled before finding himself in that very prison. Fortunately, after a quick punch up – and the help of his trusty butler Alfred – he’s back where he belongs, hanging off tall buildings and dressed as his alter ego, Batman.

It’s a veritable feast for fans of the caped crusader and you’ll come face with his most-loved arch rivals including The Joker, Penguin, Harley Quinn, Hugo Strange, Mr Freeze and Two-Face to name a few.

On paper, at least, it seems so simple to replicate this winning formula: an expansive play area, plot that stays true to the comics and loads of our favourite villains would surely equal a surefire hit... But the path to comic-based greatness has not been smooth and there have been plenty of disappointments over the years. Iron Man, X-Men, Spiderman are all guilty of failing to live up to their super status.

Superman was the first superhero to make an appearance on the Atari 2600 back in 1979, coinciding with the original Christopher Reeve movie. Batman didn’t make his first appearance until a few years later – but his 8-bit debut in 1986 in Ocean’s isometric adventure proved popular among fans and promised great things. Sadly, besides the 1989 rendition of the Tim Burton movie, Batman Return of The Joker (1991) and more recently, LEGO Batman (2008), Bats has appeared in more than his fair share of turkeys over the past 25 years.

Rocksteady’s rendition of the Caped Crusader is certainly a long way from his less than auspicious escapades in Batman: Dark Tomorrow (2003) on the GameCube and Xbox. There are many parallels with Rocksteady’s efforts, with him trying to stop a gang war that’s raging in the city and infiltrating Arkham Asylum. Eerily familiar, he? However, this was arguably his worst ever outing and critics rounded on the dodgy camera angles, poor AI and the linear nature of the game.

Catwoman also failed to break the Batman curse when she made an appearance in a self-titled game in 2004 and struggled to make an impact on the gaming world. That was despite Halle Berry lending her voice talent to the game and curvy form to the character model. In fact, it’s sad to say that the game is probably best remembered for its fantastic idle animation, which sees the sultry Miss Kyle preening herself after a few motionless minutes!

After years of disappointment, comic book fans certainly owe a lot to Rocksteady. Finally, gamers can rest assured that puzzles, gadgets, arch villains, and combat combined with our favourite superheroes is now more likely to mean the game earns a place in our hearts rather than the bargain bin.