Being a big fan of Batman: Arkham Asylum and the franchise in general, I was very excited when Rocksteady announced that a sequel was being developed, again with the voice talent of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill. What followed is now one of my all-time favourite action games, something which I have found to be as worthy an entry in the Batman mythos as any comic or movie. Warner Brothers have made a smart move in re-releasing an AAA title which only means small development cost and big returns based on brand recognition. Warner Bros. studios were tasked with the port, and despite being a bit of a hit-and-miss affair, they have managed to deliver a well-rounded product which still lives up to mantle of the Bat.
The first thing to note is that Armored Edition pulls no punches in describing what it is; this is simply a port of the already existing and already fantastic Arkham City, release in 2011. Batman is on a mission to shut down Arkham City; a sprawling complex which houses an immense number of convicts and supervillians, who are all fighting it out to be top dog. When he’s not zipping from location to location in superb, free-flow travel, or brutalizing thugs in the open or from the shadows, Batman dabbles in some streamlined detective work. It’s a winning formula that has been given a mesmerizing scope in the form of a city structure. The game world is not quite as large as Liberty City or the gargantuan Cyrodiil, but it is certainly denser, with every square kilometer packed full of political prisoners waiting to be rescued, Riddler trophies, side-mission clues and training objectives. It’s a richly-populated world and almost runs the risk of being too distracting from your story missions.
Having played through the game twice, collecting a great deal of Riddler trophies, playing a great deal of predator and combat missions and finishing most of the side missions, I would agree that the base game is great value for money. Without the Wii U additions (which I will get around to soon), the game is no less than a polished affair; the plot is gripping, the voice work superb, gameplay is challenging and engaging whether it be combat- or stealth-based (both of which complement each other accordingly) and it just feels very Batman-y. Although that seems like a moot point, it definitely has more of a Batman vibe than, say, the recent movies. While good in their own right, the movies often fail to capture the true spirit of Batman; by the end of Arkham City, you’ll have had all the gadgetry, ass-kickery and detective work that you can handle.
The Wii U port rolls out a few interesting, and a few seemingly unnecessary additions, to the game. The titular inclusion revolves around the B.A.T. Mode, which is used during combat. After Batman’s new suit (and Catwoman’s… do they go to the same store?) absorbs a number of hits from enemies, a ‘revenge meter’ is filled, and can then be tapped on the gamepad screen to enter B.A.T. Mode. While this mode lasts, the player is augmented with faster reflexes and increased damage output, which can make all the difference in hard mode. Although it is a handy feature (although feeling like an easy ticket out), it is baffling why it was included as a subtitle for the game. As far as action games go, there are many that have building attack meters. However, I can’t think of any that have chosen to refer to this small facet of gameplay in the title. Regardless, it’s a small issue. Just know that what would seem to be the most important feature of the ‘Armored Edition’ is in fact a very minor and insignificant addition.
The Gamepad itself has been fully utilised in many aspects of the game; some unnecessarily so. Excellent additions include the map being displayed constantly in real-time on the screen. Although this seems minor, being able to glance down to your hands rather than interrupt the flow of the gameplay is a welcome feature, especially given that the map pans to new objectives for easy reference as soon as you complete your current ones. Unfortunately, WB Studios also thought that we would like to manage our gadgets and upgrades from this screen as well. What follows is a clumsy interface that is at best clunky, and at worst, inefficient and time-consuming. Buttons are still reliable input methods, but many developers throw this simple notion out of the window when a shiny thing comes along, it seems. It can be navigated with effort, however.
Other neat touches includes gyroscopic aiming and dialogue channeling through the Gamepad. The inbuilt gyro controls allow over-the-shoulder aiming whenever Batman pulls out a weapon that uses a reticule. A video feed of the main screen instantly appears on the Gamepad screen when equipping such a weapon, which the player can then use to aim effectively. It is a handy feature, but can be simply ignored if the player desires. Batman can also be steered with gyro controls while gliding through the air, although I found this to be less than reliable, and comparable to clumsy tilt control in many iPad games. Armored Edition also supports off-screen play, which can be activated in the game’s main menu and on the pause screen. There is little to no delay when switching, both in-game and in the main menu. Gameplay is just as reliable as on the TV – however, cutscenes appear on both screens when they are triggered. This is baffling but does not really matter. As for the voice features, the Gamepad also channels all of Alfred’s voice feed through the controller’s speakers, à la Batman’s earpiece. This is a small feature that manages to feel like more than just an afterthought; it is, in practice, a great boost to player immersion. This is extrapolated in the game environment also, where NPCs’ idle chatter comes through on the ‘earpiece’ when far away, but cross-fades through to the TV’s speakers when nearing the source. It’s a welcome touch.
However, there are some problems with the game. The irritating button-mashing to open grates, pull ropes etc. remain from the original game, and do annoy me to some small extent. As well, although the Gamepad has been put to thoughtful use in some circumstances, certain additions like a new hacking minigame break up the game flow. In the original game, players rotated analogue sticks to correct way to bypass security systems; now, a touchscreen minigame appears where the player is required to trace their finger and avoid a sweeping red line. This is sadly reminiscent of the horribly intrusive Pipe Mania hacking minigame in BioShock and is unwelcome, to say the least. Overall though, the Gamepad has been put to productive use, but is not guaranteed to please everyone as many just want to play the game without unnecessary tampering. Last but not least, some reports have indicated some instances of slowdown in the game. Apart from some stutter encountered during loading areas, cutscene transitions and during enhanced vision modes (where the game is rendering enemies and objects through walls), the game maintains a steady framerate, though perhaps not as smooth as on the Xbox or PS3. It is certainly not enough to cripple the experience, however.
Furthermore, the game packs in the DLC “Harley Quinn’s Revenge” and the Robin pack, and also offers the Catwoman missions as a separate, playable option in the game menu, which is appreciated. So you’re getting a pretty decent bang for your buck, as it were. Armored Edition manages to port one of last (?) generation’s greatest action games in a neat, tidy package, and packs in already-available content and extra Wii U features on top of that, which vary in quality and execution. While it doesn’t really offer anything ‘new’, per se, Armored Edition is still a solid game, with an expansive world, great story and excellent pacing. If you haven’t yet played this great game and are looking for an enjoyable action experience, buy this game. Just temper your expectations if you’re riding off the previous release. It’s about the same and adds little that may interest you, so your mileage is definitely going to vary. All in all, a great pickup for action fans and Batfans alike.