October 26, 2011
I really wanted to like "Batman: Arkham City." It is a big, beautiful game with much adventure. But Batman is a weakling, and missions are frustratingly vague. I can't take it for one more minute.
The good stuff: "Arkham City" is a sprawling game featuring engaging film scenes, lovely visuals, and capable film directing and voice acting.
The plot: Gotham politicians realize there are too many super villains to hold in one prison. There's the Joker, Riddler, Penguin, Harley, Two-Face, Mr. Freeze and Bane.
So to incarcerate them all, Gotham has turned a city area into a prison capital called Arkham City. Those villains are stuck in Arkham City along with gangs of armed goons protecting lairs.
I portray Batman, and Catwoman at times, tasked with taking down these bad guys via fists and solving puzzles.
I zipline from rooftop to rooftop, using my cape to float, while I use a grappling hook midair to grab onto roofs, the way Spider-Man does with his web.
OK, so here's what's too terrible to cope with.
1. Batman is a weak wimp. It takes him a lot of punches to knock out one goon. But a few goons can kill Batman pretty quickly. (Although, some gangs can be taken out merely by mashing the punch button redundantly.)
After a few hours, I collected enough experience points to upgrade combat skills.
Even so, Batman remained a complete and total loser who got killed over, and over, and over by the simplest of armed henchmen. What's supposed to be entertaining about that?
2. "Arkham" is set in a metropolis. Yet the game provides awful target beacons to try to let me know where my next missions are supposed to happen across this vast place of skyscrapers and alleyways.
These beacons are so heinous, I frequently run around for an hour or more, looking for mission action! At times, I feel I'm flying blind in a giant urban landscape, hoping to luck up and stumble upon main villains.
3. It's cumbersome to float from roof to roof. Unlike the masterpiece of the comic book genre, "Spider-Man 2," I can't land anywhere I'd prefer. Instead, I must find very specific landing spots.
4. When I disarm a goon using my batclaw, that goon merely grabs another gun out of his back. What kind of cheating, defeatist magic is that?
5. Since Batman does not kill people, this game encourages me to sneak up and beat goons silently.
But too often, a goon from another room senses my "silent" takedown and shoots me. What use is a stealth game if the "silent" takedown is clumsy?
All this bad stuff outweighs what could have otherwise been a top game of the year.
Yes, "Arkham City" is an ambitious, highly stylized adventure, lush with beautiful film scenes.
However, "Arkham City" is afflicted with the trouble that has drowned too many major releases in 2011: I don't find it much fun to play. Very disappointing.
("Batman: Arkham City" by WB Games retails for $60 for Xbox 360 and PS 3; $50 for PC — Plays un-fun. Looks terrific. Very challenging. Rated "T" for alcohol reference, blood, mild language, suggestive themes, use of tobacco, violence. One and one-half out of four stars.)
Doug Elfman is an award-winning entertainment columnist who lives in Las Vegas. He blogs at http://www.lvrj.com/columnists/Doug_Elfman.html. Twitter at VegasAnonymous.