I’ll get right to it, Batman: Arkham City is my favorite video game in the whole world.
When I was in high school, I wanted to be Batman. I never had this compulsion when I was in elementary or junior high school, but during my freshman year I began to plot how I would somehow become a multimillionaire (without losing the lives of my parents) while studying martial arts and nonlethal combat. I excelled in math and science and applied to colleges for mechanical engineering so that I could fabricate my own devices. I snuck out at night on weekends when my parents were out of town and went on foot patrol to the local park, where I would sit at the top of the slide in my jean jacket, hoping for evil doers to stroll by, armed with a shortened broomstick handle. As a late-blooming 14-year-old, I was about as formidable and foolish as Kick-Ass, and it was a miracle that I was never beaten to a pulp.
(On a side note, remind me to join the class action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of 30-somethings looking to sue Mark Millar for stealing Kick-Ass from their pubescent experiences.)
As an adult, when I drive into a new city, I look up and imagine plotting a course via ziplines and grappling hooks above the pavement and swashbuckling from flagpole to window ledge to back alley street fight. Mature thoughts and a fear of sleeping in a body bag mute my aspirations, while my real fights are more likely to involve a mortgage contract or a vending machine. But sometimes, those bat-dreams won’t stay quiet.
Last year I picked up Batman: Arkham Asylum and was floored by the game. Finally, I could sit on my Xbox and beat the stuffing out of Bane, Harley Quinn, and other Batman villains. I could use my utility belt to solve puzzles and do some breaking and entering. I could even use my grappling hook gun to soar to the tops of buildings… on the grounds of the Arkham Asylum Mental Institute. In the background, I could see Gotham, taunting me and whispering “you can’t go here, this game isn’t Grand Theft Auto: Batman”.
Well, now it is.
Holy Pixels, Batman!
Arkham City is a sprawling fat greasy slice of Gotham City, and you can, indeed, swing and glide and climb and dash and jump across the buildings and alleys. It’s pure freedom. Beautifully rendered and wonderfully animated, Gotham City comes to life, even if you’re only in the slums for the duration of the game. (Sequel?)
Last night I played with feverish delight trying to find Riddler trophy puzzles and going on a hectic run across the city to intercept payphone calls from the serial killer Zsasz. In one of the many side missions, you play an on-foot version of Crazy Taxi but with lives on the line. Every time I pass a payphone in the game, I tense up anticipating a piercing ring, wondering if I needed to pause the game for a bathroom break in case Zsasz is on the line and I have to start sprinting and swinging.
At 1:55 AM, I had the creeping dread of work, so I reluctantly turned off the Xbox.
I can’t imagine a student, after playing this game, telling their guidance counselor that they would want to be anything but a superhero. Who wouldn’t want to be in top physical condition, a genius entrepreneur and detective, AND beat up bad guys? What’s the downside if you fail? You tried and you got better. Heck, I’d take a gig as Robin if I wasn’t good enough to be The Bat.
But in this game, you CAN be Robin… or Nightwing… or Catwoman… thanks to the downloadable characters. With my limited edition bundle, I now own the Dark Knight Returns costume skin, so I can even play as Old Man Wayne and beat up the young whipper snappers.
The game is one of the best I’ve ever played, and crossed the line to truly interactive entertainment. At times, it felt like I was directing a motion picture. Fans of the Batman: The Animated Series will love that Mark Hamill returns as the voice of the Joker. Next to Kevin Conroy, Mr. Hamill has become one of the most iconic voices in Batman mythology. The first moment that I heard his warbling cackle (put those words together, it makes sense) I got goosebumps.
Someone once said that if words fail you, use someone else’s. I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to the GamesBeat section of VentureBeat for the great review below, because it says just about everything I can’t right now.
(I politely disagree though on their points regarding dialog…)
Thanks for reading. I’ll see you later after I catch Zsasz…