Friday, April 12, 2013

Batman: Arkham City - Armored Edition (Wii U) Review

The majority of the gaming world was rocked with the news of a brand-new prequel to both Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. The studio behind that game, WB Games Montreal, worked on one of the launch titles for the Wii U, Batman: Arkham City - Armored Edition. Is it just as fun the second time around, or if you've never played the original Arkham City, is this Wii U version the best place to start?

The Definitive Dark Knight?

In 2011, the sequel to the excellent Batman: Arkham Asylum released, Batman: Arkham City. It had a larger open world setting, much more to do, and a broader cast of Batman heroes and villains. The game was so good that it won the Multi-platform Game of the 2011 award at the SPC Best of 2011 Awards. Now that game is getting a prequel with Batman: Arkham Origins. The same team that is currently working on that game worked on the Wii U port, an enhanced version with system exclusive features known as Batman: Arkham City - Armored Edition. Do new features make for a good reason to take a second trip to Arkham City?

Bruce Wayne becomes captured by a task force working under Hugo Strange and gets locked up within the confines of Arkham City, a place where only the darkest of the dark outcasts and prisoners prowl. While tied up, Strange reveals scarce yet ominous information regarding something called Protocol 10. Strange also tells him that if Batman tries to interfere, he vows that he will tell the world the Dark Knight's secret, that Bruce Wayne is Batman. Wayne escapes and has Alfred remotely drop off his Batsuit via the air. Can whatever Protocol 10 is be stopped before Hugo Strange has his way, or will Batman's secret be broadcast to the world? The plot of the game keeps players engaged, and I found myself consistently wanting to play just to see the story's next twist and which character I would come across next, as Arkham City houses a who's-who of Batman universe players.

The structure of Batman: Arkham City - Armored Edition has players running, jumping, climbing, and gliding across city streets, rooftops, and waters as they go from specified area to specified area to progress the story.

Did someone ask for a detective?
Batman can enter Detective Mode where he can gain a pulse of what awaits him around his current positions. The mode detects heat signatures, shows detailed information about henchmen and objects, and is somewhat akin to Samus Aran's different visors in the Metroid Prime trilogy, if that comparison helps. Detective Mode is an invaluable resource for Batman as it allows him to see enemies from behind walls, as well as view secrets.

Even the coldest villain in Mr. Freeze
sports his own heat signature.
On Easy Mode one can pretty much throw caution to the wind and use little thought or stealth strategy to clear out a room. However, in more challenging difficulties, and especially when foes carry guns, stealth is key. Hiding in vents, looking down on foes from above, and peeking around corners are just some of the stealthy tasks Batman can partake in. Batman can perform a stealth takedown on unaware enemies from behind or take out an enemy from above while sitting atop a perch-- both actions can happen as long as Batman's cover hasn't been blown. If he does get spotted, Batman needs to get to high ground and quickly grapple out of his foes' sight. The enemies will still be alarmed, but they will eventually split up and search for Batman.

The Batman stalks his prey.
When stealth is not needed (or wanted), Batman is a capable brawler, and he'll need to have all of the brawn he can muster. Generally there are huge groups of foes that the caped crusader can cycle through, racking up an insane combo streak. When an enemy gets a prompt over his head, that means he is about to attack. With a well timed press of the block button, Batman will avoid the attack and keep his combo streak. The combat of Batman: Arkham City - Armored Edition is just a phenomenal, flowing, and functional bit of fun. Racking up combos exceeding 30 is always great entertainment. This holds true for all of the combat challenges that are separate from the story mode, requiring players to earn medals for excellent play.

Combat in Arkham City was so good that 
games like The Amazing Spider-Man couldn't 
help but be inspired by it!
There are some RPG elements to Batman: Arkham City - Armored Edition. As foes are defeated Batman earns experience points. When enough points have been accumulated, he can learn new skills and abilities, such as more protection against ballistics and melee attacks, for instance, or upgrades to his current equipment.

Be one with the bat in this game's combat.
Batman certainly has plenty of equipment as well. As he upgrades and retrieves his equipment, Batman  can access previously unreachable areas. This makes for a Metroid-like game at parts, with players needing to return to past areas for things they couldn't get the first visit. From his trust Batarang to hit faraway objects to an electric gun that shoots volts at certain machinery to get it to function, Batman has definitely got the goods this go around. Three tools can be mapped to the left, right, and down directions on the d-pad, and the up direction allows players to switch between weapons via the GamePad's touch screen.

As Mortal Kombat's Scorpion 
would say, "Get over here!"
Outside of the main campaign, Arkham City is filled with flurry of side quests to complete. These side quests provide some back story to the main events of the game, and introduce Batman to characters he would otherwise not meet. From racing from phone to phone to trace the call of a serial killer who threatens to carve up his victims if Batman does not engage him to investigating the gruesome murders of victims who have had their faces removed, Arkham City holds plenty to see and do.

Catwoman has her own part to play
in the story of Arkham City.
By far the biggest side quest in Arkham City is that of the Riddler's. Just like in Arkham Asylum, the Riddler has placed hidden trophies and solutions to riddles all around the game world, inside and out. Finding all of these and saving the Riddler's unfortunate victims will most likely be the last task completionists will do in the solo story mode. While the main game lasts around ten hours to beat, doing all of the side quests will make that number go up exponentially.

The Wii U version of Batman: Arkham City holds all of the downloadable content that PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 owners had to pay for and download digitally already on the disc, such as playing as Catwoman and the epilogue to the game's story, Harley Quinn's Revenge. The Armored Edition intermingles Catwoman sections with Batman sections of the story. The woman with nine lives also has her own set of Riddler trophies to find, and plays similarly to Batman, save for the ability to glide. All of the unlockable costumes like the Batman costume from the 1990's animated series and Year One Batman are included too.

The nostalgia... I feel it so bad.
What makes the Wii U version so great in addition to all of that is the GamePad. While off-TV play is possible, the fact that one can explore around Arkham City without ever having to pause is fantastic. The map is on the Wii U GamePad's screen, meaning all one has to do is look down instead of constantly pausing the game. Additionally, there are touch controlled mini-games performed when Batman needs to digitally unlock a door. These games aren't too obnoxious, but they are rather too frequent. There are also sections of the game where players will need to hold up the GamePad towards the screen to investigate crime scenes. It's a novelty, but it's a cool one at that, at least for me it was. The only issue with Batman: Arkham City - Armored Edition is that this version of the game has some problems keeping its frame-rate. They don't happen all too often, but it is noticeable when they do occur.

One of the many convenient uses of 
the Wii U GamePad.
Batman: Arkham City - Armored Edition might be late to the party, but if you're a Wii U owner who has never played Arkham City, you should definitely try the game out. There's no better opportunity than this one. While frame-rate issues are problematic, the added Wii U GamePad features like conversations and radio dialogue coming out of the controller's speakers, included DLC on the disc, and great controls make for a port that is the definitive version of Batman: Arkham City.

[SPC Says: 9.5/10]

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