Now I think it goes without saying that Batman: Arkham City was an improvement on the solid Batman: Arkham Asylum in just about every way. The combat was updated so that is a lot easier to keep a good flow going when taking down enemies and it still remains every bit as satisfying as before. The game is even bigger with a map filled with areas to explore and sidequests to do. The all important stealth element is still entertaining and allows for some interesting new ways to “apprehend” thugs. They even managed to spend some time in varying the boss fights and making them entertaining enough to want to fight. The game is essentially bigger in every sense of the word. However, I want to ask whether bigger means better? We can all agree that many of the tweaks from the previous game did increase the quality of this one. My question is did the big changes lead to us losing something else? Let just take a moment to look at the two games for a moment.
Now the biggest difference between the two games is in how they are structured. Batman: Arkham Asylum is a much more linear game having you go from one objective to the next, although not always in the most straightforward manner. Batman: Arkham City is an open sandbox where you can freely explore different areas by grappling and gliding through the city. Each one has it’s advantages and disadvantages. On one hand Batman: Arkham Asylum has more structure to it but less freedom to explore. Due to this the game tends to be more narrative focused with you encountering more and more set pieces as you further the plot. Batman: Arkham City on the other hand allows for more exploration before proceeding with the main plot and because of the number of sidequests that can open up, you may very well forget about the main plot entirely. Heck, even if you are playing through the main story you can forget about the main plot entirely because while Joker was the clear villain in the previous game, Hugo Strange barely has any presence at all throughout most of the main campaign. The only reason I didn’t forget about the main objective is because he the game kept reminding me with his announcements. Honestly, we might as well consider Joker the main villain considering how much his story affects the main plot. So the story is Batman: Arkham City is a bit all over the place compared to its predecessor.
Now the story suffering isn’t a huge deal since we play games for gameplay. It just feels like the game had just a little too much going on. That is especially if you have the DLC where you play as Catwoman. Don’t get me wrong when I say I don’t have any problem playing as her for fun. I’m just saying that not only do her sections break up the story even more, but for some reason she has to collect Ridder trophies as well. I understand from a game perspective it’s to collect experience, but give me one good reason why the Riddler finds the need to challenge Catwoman. Did they have some secret rivalry in the comics I didn’t know about or something? Or maybe Riddler wanted to make sure that Catwoman can’t take Batman’s attention away from him so he gave her some challenges to complete to distract her. I have no idea what the reason would be story wise, but I can bet it would sound absurd. Catwoman probably should not have had her storyline mixed into the main campaign. Heck, if they wanted to make her into a Batman clone, then just give her a spin-off game. Maybe one with a heavier focus on stealth since that is probably the best part of the series. Instead they put her into an already pretty full sandbox without using her full potential. Again, this isn’t really a big issue and yet I want you to remember that small issues can still lead to bigger problems down the road.
Now Batman: Arkham City was made to be bigger and better than Batman: Arkham Asylum and I would say that it pulls it off. However, there is evidence that the game had a lot of ideas and didn’t quite have the space or time for them. The problem with building a sandbox is that next time you might want to build a bigger one to fit in all your ideas. Batman: Arkham City managed to balance things out really nicely, but the sequel and prequel games definitely had some balancing issues. I am not saying it is the game’s fault, but even if they had kept a number of quests to keep you occupied in the later games, traveling would get boring due to the scope. The sandbox for this game was relatively contained and allowed you a grapnel boost early on to speed up travel time. That is great at keeping the pace flowing and yet the pace could still be thrown off due to hunting for sidequests. Imagine an even bigger sandbox with even more things to do and it would be overwhelming. Granted that is only if you choose to go for this stuff since sidequests should be and are by nature optional. However, cutting out sidequests from a sandbox is like cutting out half a movie’s runtime. It’s such a waste since you are only depriving yourself of content. It would also make the game a lot more boring since you are just going from one objective to the next. That works when the game has a heavier emphasis on plot, but not so much when the main plot disappears for half an hour while you collect Riddler trophies. To close off, Batman: Arkham City was able to pull of a cohesive sandbox and have an entertaining game that was a worthy successor to Batman: Arkham Asylum, but there were already signs that the narrative of the games was starting to suffer and they weren’t sure what to do to keep a good story and gameplay balance. Just as a warning about sandboxes in general know that the bigger you make it, the more sand you need to pile into it. Thanks for hearing me out everyone. Oh and Riddler needs to learn that bigger isn’t better so that I don’t drive myself crazy with Ridder trophies ever again.