Iam not Batman. If you had asked me that question while I was running Rocksteady Studio’s latest game, Batman: Arkham City, I would have had a harder time answering. For the duration of the game, you are undeniably Batman. The designers know the caped crusader’s strengths and weaknesses, and play on them both, leaving you feeling like the invulnerable avatar of justice, and at the same time a man, as vulnerable as any other, who chooses to pit himself against impossible foes simply because it is the right thing to do.
The reason the game works so well is, of course, Batman himself—the developers have a strong insight into what makes the character work, and the game reflects this.
Batman is the master detective, and the designers want the players to put their minds to work as well. You’re going to be solving crimes and carrying out forensic studies, even as you work your way through thugs employed by some of Batman’s most famous enemies, such as Two-Face, The Penguin and The Joker.
Heroes and villains: Batman fights one of The Joker’s minions.
The game’s script has been written by Paul Dini, whose previous writing credits include the TV shows Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond, for which he won Emmy Awards; he has also received the Eisner and Harvey awards for work on the Batman comics.
Right at the start, you’re being beaten up by The Penguin, and you have to fight off his thugs to survive. A radio stolen from a security guard lets you talk to Alfred and arrange for an airdrop of the Batsuit—on top of the Ace Chemicals building, the same building where a nameless young thug would become The Joker.
Voice artistes from the TV series, such as Mark Hamill, are voicing their characters in the game as well, and the whole put together results in a rich world that feels complete.
Taking down thugs is easy enough, but if you pay attention to the rhythm of the action, then you turn the brawl into a balletic symphony of broken bones and beat up the bad guys with so much style that it’s a treat to watch.
While the combat is enjoyable, the game shines in mixing things up. At times you’re a predator, lurking in the shadows, picking off enemies one by one. Moving around, zooming to vantage points using the grappling hook, you place yourself out of sight and take out enemies with a single strike.
Artwork from the game.
Batman villain Riddler has placed trophies all over Arkham City, for some unknown, fiendish purpose. Solving these puzzles requires logic and creativity, and involves no fighting. You can also track the assassin Deadshot, who has been killing political prisoners in Arkham City. These cases require you to search for clues such as bullet fragments to try and track down the killer.
You can keep yourself busy with many side missions, but the story itself is interesting enough to keep you on the main quest. There’s a good blend of puzzle solving and combat, and the level endings are proper climaxes for each phase of the narrative.
This is also leavened by sections where you are playing as Catwoman. These sections come by a few times in the game, and don’t intrude on the experience of being Batman. Playing as Catwoman is an entirely different game. You’re not gliding and using your grappling hook to get around any more; Catwoman leaps and scrambles up walls and rakes past thugs with devastating speed.
Batman: Arkham City is an excellent game—the best based on a comic book. It recreates the sensation of being Batman, and touches the landmarks of Batman’s canon satisfyingly. The only drawback is that the game becomes very complicated. You start with a huge number of gadgets and tactics, and keep adding to them; and all of them have to be used.
Meanwhile, the Catwoman chapters of the game are locked—to access them, you have to connect to the Internet and enter a code.
There is still a very good game on the disc, but forcing legitimate buyers of content to jump through hoops unnecessarily in the name of piracy is wrong.
Batman: Arkham City, which released on 21 October, is available on PS3 and Xbox 360 for Rs2,599.