When I sat down with Batman: Arkham City for the Xbox 360 over a year ago I considered it one of the deepest and richest gaming experiences of 2011; however, I stopped short from calling it the greatest super hero game of all time although it was darn close. It had fantastic visuals, an immersive storyline, and the highly engaging gameplay made for a game I considered a must-buy. So when I heard Arkham City was coming to the Wii U I was intrigued yet somewhat giddy to see how the game would play out on Nintendo’s newest console.
Aptly titled Batman: Arkham City – Armored Edition, the only difference between this Wii U Batman experience as compared to the one released over 13-months ago is this one comes with all the previously released DLC, a “Stand-Alone” mode where you can play on the GamePad, and it comes with new gadgets designed to “harness the power of the GamePad”. It certainly sounds promising indeed, and after some extensive gameplay there is no doubt the Armored Edition is a rock solid game; however, if you have already experienced Arkham City on the Xbox 360 or PS3 I am not convinced you need to take a walk down memory lane just to give this Wii U version a spin.
For those who have not played the game on previous consoles, Arkham City is an action adventure game that is set in open world environment. Much like other open world games, the single player story progression is at the core of the gameplay. It is a wonderfully told narrative written by Paul Dini who is also responsible for the writing of the first Batman game. There is a main plot and sub plot, as well as a glut of side missions and other add-ons to keep you busy for hours on end.
Arkham City takes place one year after Arkham Asylum. Quincy Sharp, the former Warden of Arkham Asylum, has become the Mayor of Gotham City. Soon after taking over office, Sharp shuts down Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Prison as he no longer considers the institutions appropriate for its population. Instead he relocates the prisoners to an area inside Arkham City. Psychiatrist Hugo Strange is in charge of the open-air prison and is manipulating Sharpe in order to become the supreme ruler of Gotham City. Batman becomes concerned with what is going inside the prison and sets off on an adventure to foil Strange’s plans. Meanwhile, all of Gotham’s super villains are wreaking havoc, taking advantage of the weak and the chaos that has been ensuing. Alas, Batman must set off on an adventure to foil their plans before it is too late.
All in all, Arkham City offers up one of the more clever and engaging storylines I have played in a super hero video game. There never seems to be a lull in the storyline and you are never at ease as you never know which super villain you will run into next. The story offers up a lot of surprises and some of the characters play more prominent roles than others. Arkham City’s storyline never seems to take a back seat to the combat or gameplay, which is something that cannot be said for many action adventure games on the market. Far too often the story in other games provides merely filler for titles that are all about bashing and taking down enemy bosses. Sure Arkham City has its share of bashing, and facing off with enemy bosses, but it also is a game that provides so much more including a fantastic story.
For those fans of the first Batman, Arkham Asylum, this sequel on the Wii U plays out like the other. The combat system, for instance, involves simple one button attacks and combos. On the Wii U GamePad you will spend a great deal of time hitting the Y button for attacks and X button for counter attacks. You can get by most battles by simple button mashing. Sure there are exceptions but more often than not repeatedly mashing away on the Y button in normal difficulty allowed me to breeze past most enemies. Things do become a little more difficult however when the enemies are armed with machine guns. In those instances you will need to strategically take down each enemy one by one using stealth combat, smoke pellets and any other combat tools at your disposal. Overall, the fighting mechanics are rock solid and are truly a joy to witness. It is artistic yet brutal and a combat system that works so much better than games of the same ilk.
Unlike the Xbox 360 and PS3 version of Arkham City, Armored Edition offers up another layer of combat called the BAT mode. This mode acts as an energy boost meter of sorts. When activated, Batman becomes stronger and is able to dispose of enemies much quicker. It does not make him invincible but blows and bullets seem to deliver far less damage. When surrounded by overwhelming amounts of enemies the BAT mode certainly comes in handy. You can access the mode by pulling on both triggers at the same time or you can simply tap the BAT icon on the GamePad screen. Pulling on the triggers seemed far more natural as opposed to looking down at the GamePad screen, which was a little more troublesome.
Accessing any of the Batman’s gadgets is also accomplished via the touchscreen. For me being able to access everything on the Xbox 360 controller seemed far more fluid. Instead fumbling around on the GamePad screen to search for the best gadget seemed to take me away from the game. There are occasions where you will need to access various gadgets within short order from one another. Having to look down and tap some screens just get access the gadget was a plain nuisance and really just seemed to interrupt the flow of the game.
There are uses of the GamePad that I did enjoy quite a bit. For starters, whenever Alfred gives you instructions his voice comes out from the GamePad’s tiny speakers. There are also occasions where you will hear a villain’s voice come through the GamePad speakers too. I thought this aspect was very slick as for a moment I felt like I was Batman himself staring down at his bulky forearm listening to Alfred yammer away instructions. Sure the sound quality is not the best but this little addition was certainly a welcome one for me. Likewise, the radar (aka Sonar) works quite well on the GamePad. Having to look down to see where my next objective was and where all of the collectibles were located seemed fitting. Last but not least, I also enjoyed that I could play the game exclusively on the GamePad screen while my daughter could sit back and watch her shows on the TV screen. Playing on the GamePad does not quite feel the same as playing on TV but it was nice having that stopgap option nonetheless.
In addition to the engaging combat, the GamePad capabilities, and the ability to just explore the massive open world, Arkham City also features some puzzles where you need to use every gadget at your disposal, not to mention it requires a considerable amount of thought. The Riddler also places some trophies scattered throughout the game. Some are easy to find but others require solving the Riddler’s famed mind scratching riddles. It is a clever little add-on that goes beyond merely searching for in-game collectibles.
Another little add on you get out of the box with the Armored Edition is the Harley Quinn’s Revenge DLC pack which was released for the Xbox 360 and PS3 earlier this year. Harley Quinn’s Revenge is a campaign expansion that features a new story, new areas, new enemies, and both the Dark Knight and Robin as playable characters. I warn you that it does contain spoilers to the single player campaign so it is recommended you complete the core game’s single player story before you embark on the Harley Quinn DLC journey. The journey is worth taking and was a highly enjoyable experience that only serves to enhance the Armored Edition package.
Overall, the visuals in Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition are strong and it is about the best looking game I have played on the Wii U to date. Granted I have only played a few games on the Wii U thus far but it is the best looking of the bunch nonetheless, so take it for what its worth. The game is set in, as you would guess, Arkham City and the level of detail that went into the city landscape and environments are absolutely amazing. Everything from the stylish art-deco buildings to the cracks in the pavement, the level of detail is truly impressive. Arkham City is certainly a dark world, but it is perfectly suited for the game and sets the mood. It is world you love to explore and is much more immersive than I could have ever imagined.
Likewise, the character animations are awesome. The Joker, Two-Face, and Penguin, to name a few, all look fantastic. Not to mention the female characters look incredibly sexy. Arkham City hosts a massive cast of characters. It is almost as if the development team wanted to put as much as possible into the game, not saving anything for a sequel. The villains look menacing and it is hard to take your eyes off them. As for Batman himself, he is also wonderfully detailed and his bat suit looks better than ever.
Arkham City does experience the odd technical glitch. I noticed some clipping issues at times as well as some enemies spawning in some weird spots. In one instance the enemies spawned from the middle of a wall. It was very odd indeed. Despite some small glitches, Arkham City is a smooth running game that features a tremendous amount of eye candy, albeit dark and dirty eye candy.
Much like the games visuals, Arkham City is a great sounding game. The games soundtrack plays out very much like a Hollywood action film. The game features swooping orchestral tunes and music that immerses you into the world of Batman. The music is well timed, sounds great in 5.1-surround sound. The games voice work is just as
solid. Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy reprise their roles as the Joker and Batman respectively. Having the same voice actors return brings some familiarity and authenticity to the experience. There are times where they tend to take themselves a little too seriously; however, for the most part this well written story features some terrific dialogue that manages to suck you right in. I found myself closely following the story and much of that has to do with the stellar voice work.
If you have yet to experience Batman: Arkham City on the Xbox 360 and PS3, then Batman: Arkham City – Armored Edition is a no brainer purchase; yet, if you have already ventured a few rounds with the cape crusader through this adventure on a previous console than I have a hard time recommending the $50 plunge. Don’t get me wrong Armored Edition is a fantastic game and even 13-months after its original release Arkham City has made a successful transition to Nintendo’s newest HD console; however, the new Wii U elements only add a smidge of new to a game that is already over a year old.