Arkham Asylum was kind of a miracle. After two decades of mediocre, misguided attempts at bringing Batman to life in videogames – usually through lazy or rushed movie adaptations – who could have dreamed that a team of relatively unknown British developers, working with writers and actors from a relatively old animated series, would finally succeed in getting the formula exactly right, not only for Gotham's Dark Knight, but for superhero titles and licensed products in general?
Our choice for 2009's Game of the Year was easy.
With great success, however, comes great pressure. A sequel to Arkham Asylum was at the top of our most-wanted, most-anticipated list before we even finished the original, and last week's announcement of an official title (Arkham City), a release date (Fall 2011) and new villains (Catwoman, Two-Face) has raised our excitement to an almost unbearably high level. Based on your reactions to the news, we know we're not alone.
So how can Batman: Arkham City possibly live up to these ecstatic expectations? How can Rocksteady improve on near-perfection without ruining what we loved in the first place?
Here are our dreams and demands… share yours below.
The Joker isn't crazy… he's insane. Uncontrollably, unpredictably and unapologetically so. This is not a man of minimalist restraint. This is a man with neon green hair and bright purple pants, a man who builds amusement park deathtraps, man who throws twisted ticker-tape parades in his own honor. Yet, in the first Arkham Asylum, his demented decorations are limited to some graffiti, a few fireworks and the scattering of chattering toy teeth. Even his hidden lair at the end of the game is just a big, dark room with a chair in the middle.
In Arkham City, we want to see The Joker and other villains fully embrace their bizarre senses of style. Arkham Island was old and historic, with buildings established decades before, but since the sequel is set in the random sprawl of Gotham, more extreme customization is possible. Two-Face should be able to take over an entire apartment building and split every room's design into creepily contrasting halves. Mr. Freeze should have a whole refrigerated warehouse with mementos from his tragic past encased in blocks of ice. And Joker? Well, the haunted carnival ride teased in Arkham City's trailer looks about right to us… which is a very promising sign.
Rocksteady nailed the combat in Arkham Asylum – a beautiful blend of stealth, gadgetry, expert martial arts and messy, improvised barroom brawling that faithfully captured how Batman overcomes crime in the comics, television shows and recent films. Too bad much of that was wasted on fighting the same generic goon over and over and over again. See that bald, incredibly bland beefcake in the image above? Congratulations. You've now experienced 90% of the game's enemies. Throw on a dirty tank top or a little clown-face makeup and you're close to the remaining 10%.
While this army of escaped Blackgate prisoners made sense in the original's storyline, we'd better run into a lot more variety during the sequel. Not only enemies with different faces, different voices, different hairstyles and different body types, but enemies that clearly match the theme of their boss villain. Penguin and Two-Face wouldn't hire shirtless, snarling thugs… they'd send out well-dressed, well-equipped gangsters. If Poison Ivy shows up a second time, we want to battle her evil plant creatures, not the exact same guys that worked for Joker, relocated to a greenhouse.
Batman's infamous rogues gallery is portrayed perfectly in Arkham Asylum. Not only are we spoiled by the appearances of a whopping seven major villains, with cameos by dozens more, but each and every one has the perfect look, the perfect voice, the perfect personality and the perfect interactions with our hero.
… Until they stop talking and actually start fighting, anyway. Then Poison Ivy, a master seductress and genius botanist, is suddenly reduced to a giant Lost Planet boss with ridiculously obvious weak points. Joker, a mad scientist of comedy who relies on gadgets as much as Batman does, is suddenly a tank-sized, punch-happy, albino version of The Incredible Hulk. Harley Quinn, who gracefully flips and cartwheels her way through every cutscene, is suddenly reliant on an electrified floor for survival.
These encounters were still fun, of course, but they felt cliched and gimmicky compared to the rest of Arkham Asylum's menacing realism, and instantly reminded us that we were playing a videogame. Fix them or get rid of them altogether – the last thing we want in the sequel is Two-Face on steroids.
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