Batman: Arkham City
Reviewed by: Lucas Siegel
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
Despite the perfect score at the top of the page, there is one major problem with Batman: Arkham City. You see, there is simply not enough time in the day when you're also working or going to school or generally trying to live your life to also be playing this game as much as you'll want to. This is a game you can play for hours and feel like minutes have passed; it's the phone call with a new romantic interest, it's the TV show you watch a season of in four days, it's the best superhero gaming experience, if not the best action-adventure gaming experience, that has graced your home.
Coming into this game after the near-perfect premiere of this franchise two years ago, there was a lot to live up to. Rather than rest on their laurels and simply pump out a glorified expansion pack, developer Rocksteady came out swinging for the fences. A lot has been said about this world being five times bigger than Arkham Asylum, but that's not clear enough to describe what this actually means. Rather than the 90% enclosed environments, this is almost exactly opposite. The city's world of exploration is not just expansive, it's also fun. It's so easy to get lost in the world, gliding around, looking for various thugs to take down, informants to question, easter eggs, side missions, collectibles… this is a thriving world with tens of hours that can be played without advancing the story, and without feeling like you have to.
But when you do advance the story, you're in for a treat as well. Writer Paul Dini knows Batman by now. He pioneered how Batman was viewed in Batman: The Animated Series and got into the mind of the world's greatest detective in a strong run on Detective Comics. However, in this story in the vein of Hush and Long Halloween, Dini shows a depth to his storytelling seldom seen in a game of this style. The connections and flow from villain to villain are stronger by far than in the first game. Where the first was more of a "now you're in this area and so you're fighting this bad guy," City actually gives you a real reason to jump from one baddie to the next; there are even seeds planted early in the game that grow into a confrontation later. The inclusion of Catwoman's story helps to strengthen this even further, making the entire thing natural and exciting from start to finish.
Then there's the gameplay; as this is a game after all. Free-flow Combat is back, and better than before. With easier quick-tap gadget use (blowing a quick-explosive gel charge in a huge group of thugs is just plain awesome), smoother Critical hits, and flashier special combo takedowns, Batman's mix of brute force and smooth martial artistry feels great, making it easier to rack up those high count combos. The addition of Catwoman as a playable character in the story mode again adds to this. Her movement is different, faster, and yes, more cat-like. Her dynamic is different and the variety is welcomed. Both characters also get to stalk around in stealthy attacks, and this too has been refined. Improved villain A.I. means you can't use the same old techniques; gadget use on multiple armed enemies is absolutely essential, and just swinging from cover to cover won't always get the job done.
Boss fights are longer, more difficult, and needing more strategy as well, in the best ways. This time around, your encounters with supervillains feel just like that – you are the Batman, and you are taking down a foe worthy of the title super. These are scary, driven, powerful people who will do anything to rule Arkham City, and you're the only thing in the way… just the way Batman would want it.
Guest stars galore add a little icing to this already tasty treat, and the deep and varied challenge maps, which now also include more Riddler story-style challenges than you can shake a question-mark-shaped cane at, plus the difficult game+ mode make this a game that you can play for days of gameplay time beyond the incredible story campaign. Add to that playable Robin and Nightwing characters for the challenge maps in November for all players, and this game is going to stay toward the top of your play pile for a long time to stay.
There are elements that can be tweaked (more stealth options in the open city please!), and teases of gameplay possibilities (dare we say multiplayer with more than one member of the bat-family exploring a city at once?), and other elements that give the series room to grow. But for what this game is, for what it tries to be, and for the way it executes, Batman: Arkham City is a game as perfect as a game can be. In a year, and even just a holiday season, that is packed with potential hits and triple-a releases, this is the new leader, the game to beat. And in the world of comic book or superhero games, this game simply puts on a clinic. Batman is prepared for all eventualities, and can famously take down anyone with the time to plan; well, he'd be proud of his game, which takes down the competition, and makes it look easy.
Spider-Man: Edge of Time
Reviewed by: Seth Robison
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
“…when this baby hits eighty-eight miles an hour, you’re going to see some serious sh**.”
-Doc Brown, Back To The Future
Before Batman: Arkham Asylum, the go-to example for how to do a superhero video game right was Activision's lengthy Spider-Man franchise. The year 2000 PlayStation classic Spider-Man was largely regarded as the first game that put players in the role of a superhero in a setting built specifically for them, without artificially limiting their powers to fit an existing game mold. The franchise also successfully made the jump to open-world gameplay in 2004, where it thrived due to the compatibility of Spider-Man’s power set with three-dimensional exploration.
With that record of successful evolution in its past, it would be easy to say that like last year’s Spiderman: Shattered Dimensions, the new title Spider-Man: Edge of Time (out now for the PlayStation 3, Wii and Xbox 360 from Beenox and Activision) is a digression from the franchise’s open-world successes. Also, Edge of Time’s trimming back to not only to fit a standard action-adventure mold but down to just two playable Spider-Men, down from Shattered Dimensions’ four, could feel like a cheat, but in isolation works to this game’s specific advantage.
As referenced in the title, this game concerns time travel, so when a scientist in the year 2099 tries to rewrite history to his advantage, it’s up to the Spider-Man of that era, Miguel O’Hara, to help the present day Peter Parker, the ‘Amazing’ Spider-Man, avoid a gruesome fate that he has already seen happen but Peter hasn’t experienced yet. It is easy for time travel stories to get ridiculous and confusing quickly, but it is a testament to the game’s writing, led by comics luminary Peter David (a co-creator of Spider-Man 2099), that issues such as predestination paradoxes and the idea that two characters can work in parallel along a single timeline are not only hand-waved quickly and concisely with some classic Spider-Man humor is impressive. Though one should expect to hear the term ‘quantum’ abused to a great degree.
The two Spider-Men, ‘Amazing’ and 2099, share the game’s spotlight, and the player will swap between them about a dozen times along the course of the game, typically whenever one is stymied in his progress by an obstacle that only the other can fix by manipulating the timeline on their end. These events are fixed, so the bulk of the game involves trying to get from point A to point B, sometimes in a certain amount of time, while brawling a host of enemies. Each Spider-Man shares the same basic control scheme with short or long-range melee attacks, a stunning web-bolt and web-line grapple attacks. The latter being the one with the most variation between the two heroes, as one will pull a foe close to him for an attack while the other will zip towards to deal damage, a difference that can get you in or out of danger very quickly.
Breaking up the action a bit is the return of 2099’s free-fall segments. About a half dozen times in the game you will plummet with great speed , having to shift around to avoid obstacles. Frequent checkpoints keep this from being frustrating, but render it little more than an exercise in pattern memorization. Sadly, there are no ‘special’ modes like this for the ‘Amazing’ Spider-Man, which feels like an oversight. The other significant difference is that the Amazing Spider-Man’s spider-sense works by giving you an instant dodge move that borders on intangibility, while the spider-sense lacking 2099 version has enhanced speed in its place that leaves a decoy to distract foes while you move in bullet-time away from danger. Both moves drain a very, very quickly recharging special meter that when used judiciously can make you invincible for a few seconds, every few seconds. Finally, another meter allows you to freeze time in a small area around you for a few seconds, allowing you to quickly dispatch a crowd of foes caught in it.
Crowd is the right term, since crowding is a significant issue with in Spider-Man: Edge of Time. All of the action takes place inside the massive headquarters of the Alchemax Corporation, and therefore there is sadly very, very little room for web-swinging in the classic Spider-Man style. Most of the time you are fighting along corridors or large, but not too large, rooms, so it is not uncommon to get cornered by a masses of enemies or turned around by a camera that is trying to squeeze in there with you, especially when wall crawling. Expect to use the web-zip maneuver more times in this game than any other of the franchise’s titles combined as your primary means of locomotion.
This game is not a long one, a skilled player can complete the single storyline in less than 10 hours, though the experience in expanded by the unlockable costumes via the ‘web of challenges’ feature which places you back in specific segments of the game to either complete in a specific amount of time, accumulate a target combo total, avoid taking damage and the like. These challenges are also available during storyline play-through, but are largely impractical as the window for activating them can open and close very quickly and the rewards, XP you can use to unlock or improve moves, are not rich enough to warrant stopping your game for another try.
Visually, outside of some very nice looking cut-scenes, there is little groundbreaking in this title, though the ghosting effect of both the spider-sense and the enchased speed is impressive. As is how the game world shifts occasionally due to the actions of your past counterpart, doors and walls will materialize as a consequence of their actions and any rip in the fabric of time will project images from the characters memories around them. The veteran vocal cast delivers the dialog well, capturing Peter Parker’s humor and sense of responsibilities as well as an exasperated, aggressive Spider-Man 2099.
Although this game has all the mark of being a just a half-step forward, Spider-fans should not miss taking the time to enjoy a unique Spider-Man story now and not just hold out for the kind of genre defining, large scale Spider-Man title that the character deserves. Maybe it'll be next year's just-announced The Amazing Spider-Man!