This week, Zero Punctuation returns to the black tights of everyone's favorite caped crusader.
I've been a little busy working at the junkyard crushing cars between my muscles to read comic books, but some of my nerdy friends tell me that DC Comics have been making some controversial moves lately. First they reboot their entire universe, which kind of makes sense to me, because if comic continuity was a person, then you would never be able to ostracize them fast enough. But then apparently they also turned all their strong female characters into big fat nympho cockslobberers who wave their tits around like maracas, because there isn't quite enough popular culture being aimed exclusively at teenage boys just yet.
But perhaps some hearts and minds could yet be won back with Arkham City, a sequel to the excellent Batman Arkham Asylum, and the DC universe can get back to what it's really about: hordes of impressionable poverty-stricken young people having all their arms and legs broken by an extremely rich businessman. In his pants!
While Arkham Asylum was my game of the year that year, I had a sinking feeling about Arkham City that I could only put down to professional intuition. The concept felt a bit too sequelly - does that make sense? No, obviously not. Well, you know how Super Mario went from Land to World to Galaxy and now they've sort of written themselves into a corner? I can't help thinking this franchise is taking a similar path, and once they get to Arkham Universe you can't rely on suspension of disbelief to explain how the Joker can pay for a space program.
Even Arkham City is pushing it a bit. Evil neckbeard Hugo Strange persuades the authorities to put a big wall around a large section of Gotham City's slums and call it an internment camp, where all the major villains can fight it out for control and The Riddler can run around with a team of contractors, grappling hooks, and spelunking equipment leaving question marks everywhere, because it will in some way prove that he's smarter than an emotionally-retarded bloke in a pointy hat. And then when Bruce Wayne suggests that this might not be the smartest way to rehabilitate people, he gets arrested and thrown in there without trial. What I'm saying is that unless Hugo Strange has also been crowned king of the human race, I don't see how he can swing all this without provoking a few letters to the editor.
So it's Arkham Asylum with more of a sandbox setup, but like whipped cream on an angry dog, the sandbox doesn't necessarily make a game better. Bigger, certainly. But Arkham Asylum was about a core group of villains linearly taking it in turns to give Batman a solid Bat Teabagging and was generally more coherent, while Arkham City has rather splurged all over the place. When your starting point is a game as solid as Arkham Asylum, represented here by a kickass motorbike, all a sequel can do is pack on colourful stickers and amusing tassels and replace the wheels with ones from a monster truck, and I start to feel the motorbike people are trying too hard to impress me. The sheer number of villains lining up for fisties mean they have to bunch up and sacrifice screen time a bit, and there's no room for anything so wonderfully indulgent as the Scarecrow bits from last time. Even the city map itself seems a bit too cluttered, like someone tried to eat an entire central heating system and puked it all up onto a half-finished LEGO project. I keep getting caught up on terrain. "Oh, look! The silent avenger of the night oversteered and is spazzing out on someone's TV aerial."
Don't get me wrong - it's still good. Everything I liked about Asylum is still here. The stealthing and fighting are still very well implemented, and now you can counter multiple twats at once, so you can beat Attacker A into submission with Attacker B's leg. But they also didn't fix the few problems I did have with the first game. I still think we're crying out for an autorun option, because in hectic moments I keep forgetting to hold down A, so Batman saunters casually around the battlefield trying to remember what the button combination for the quick hookshot was. And again, you might as well leave Detective Vision on all the time, so the game turns into Batman and the Argonauts. I find this rather galling. I had to work very hard to find those nitpicks, Rocksteady - the least you can do is validate me.
The only problem area that I can say has improved is the boss fights. They're not quite as crap now. And no, I guess I don't expect that line to be quoted on the box of the special edition re-release, but they aren't. There are still a lot of villains who'll just pit you against their entire entourage because they themselves don't have much going for them besides a sharp suit and assorted personality disorders, but the superpower battles are now more sophisticated then endlessly tricking the local brick shithouse into endlessly banging their head against a wall.
And if you bought new rather than pre-owned - which of course you did, because you're a good boy or girl or intermediate who supports game developers! - then you also get to play as Catwoman, Batman's sexy frenemy who paid for an entire jumpsuit but isn't getting her money's worth on the zipper, if you see what I mean. Mainly she plays like Batman making use of a few pole dancing lessons in her own combat and stealth sections, although she can cling to ceilings as well, just like a real cat (that's been bitten by a radioactive spider). She's also a lot less fun to explore the city with, because instead of glidy wings and hookshots her method of getting around is to whip onto the tops of buildings and then smash straight into a wall. Then she has to hop her way up the wall in a sort of "no, really, I meant to do that" kind of way, leaving another bloody imprint of her increasingly two-dimensional face to congeal on the brickwork. She also has her own Riddler trophies to gather, so I guess the Riddler feels he has to prove that he's smarter than her, too. But if the Riddler is sitting with his feet up watching the security cameras with a question mark-themed mug of milky tea while Catwoman is out headbutting masonry and picking up his litter, I think it's pretty self-evident who's smarter.
Arkham City isn't getting out of here without a recommendation, but it's worth remembering that when you go straight sandbox you lose control of a certain amount of structure. A word of warning: if you're like me - handsome, talented, and secretly longing for death - you'll want to finish the main story first and do the side missions in post-ending fuckabouts, because you'll need all the gadgets to find all the secrets. And then, like me, you end up flapping back and forth like a confused magpie at the aluminium foil tennis championships trying to trigger the side missions that your quest log says you haven't found yet. And like me, you'll eventually look it up and discover that some, but not all, of the side missions get locked off if you don't finish them by the story end. And then, like me, you'll probably make a noise that's somewhere between a sigh and gnash. And then, like me, you'll say "How does that make any donkey-boffing sense!?" And like me, you'll maybe jump up and down a few times. And like me, you should probably stop padding this video out.
- Riddle me this: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- And for the record the box art is slightly better than a squirt of male spunk on a ceramic tile this time around
- Batman doesn't buy pre-owned and neither should you