The Dark Knight Rises… again
Last year saw the release of Batman: Arkham City, an open-world action adventure game that was touted as one of the best titles of its generation. Now Nintendo gamers are treated to an all new iteration of the already classic game made specifically for Wii U, with Batman: Arkham City: Armored Edition. While the new console may be much more powerful that its predecessor, gamers are still concerned that it can’t handle a game of this calibre; those doubts aren’t nearly enough to stop the Dark Knight from rising.
Batman’s story begins when Bruce Wayne is arrested and thrown into Arkham City, a sectioned-off portion of Gotham City that essentially acts as a super-sized prison. After knocking out a few thugs, you quickly don the cowl and immediately start your adventure as the Dark Knight. Batman’s return to Arkham quickly raises some flags and garners the attention of most villains, many of whom immediately act to take Batman out. As you progress through the story, you encounter a veritable who’s who of Batman villains who have been locked up in Arkham City along with you. The plot is a little convoluted and could have been kept much more concise if fewer villains had been used, but seeing almost all of Batman’s greatest enemies together in one place is a real treat for any fan of the Caped Crusader.
Simply put, Batman: Arkham City: Armored Edition is an open-world action adventure game with stealth elements sprinkled in-between. While most of the brawls will have you simply tapping buttons to attack and counter, the process never seems to feel dull or repetitive. The action is smooth and the way Batman moves is fluid, making for very exciting and downright fun battles. The stealth elements, much like the combat, are compelling and integrated into the gameplay well. Sneaking around a room and using Batman’s various gadgets to take out oblivious thugs is both exciting and rewarding when executed properly.
Completing missions and finding in-game secrets will allow you to upgrade your character. While upgrades may be limited to new combo moves and slight weapon enhancements, these options add an element of customization to the game. If you enjoy getting in brawls, then you might want to upgrade your combos, but if you’re more into the stealth aspects, then you might want to consider some of the subtler gadget upgrades instead.
One of the new features exclusive to this Wii U version is the Battle Armored Tech Mode, or B.A.T. Mode. As you fight baddies and achieve combat combos, a blue meter will fill up on the side of the screen. Once this meter is completely full, you simply tap the on-screen icon on your GamePad’s touchscreen and your Batsuit will temporarily be super-charged, allowing you to deal massive damage. While this feature can be fun and useful when you actually remember to take advantage of it, it also feels a bit trivial. B.A.T. Mode is a fun addition to an already exciting game, but it doesn’t actually alter the game in a significant enough way to make it a necessity.
B.A.T. Mode aside, the key feature that truly defines this game and sets it apart from its previous iterations is the use of the Wii U GamePad and its seamless integration into the Batman universe. Working as a mini Batcomputer, the GamePad’s touchscreen allows players to check their in-game map, swap out gadgets and weapons, hack into password protected security systems, and even upgrade their character without ever leaving the action of the game. The second screen does wonders to increase the sense of immersion, almost as though you’re actually holding access to Batman’s arsenal. Because you don’t actually have to pause the game to gain access to your equipment, there is a sense of urgency while exploring the streets of Arkham City. It can be a daunting task trying to swap weapons while in the middle of a heated brawl with some villainous goons.
You also have the option of playing entirely on the GamePad by dropping the game down to the smaller screen, but doing so will take away the advantages of having two screens in the first place. It’s still very playable on the GamePad screen, but checking your map and equipment require a pause in gameplay, thus breaking up the action’s pacing. Thankfully, from throwing a punch to gliding around the city, the majority of controls are mapped out to the GamePad’s physical buttons in an intuitive way, making controlling your character an easy enough task that won’t take too long to master.
The campaign can be completed in around 10-15 hours, but there’s a whole treasure trove of additional content that will keep you plenty busy beyond just the main story. Wii U gamers are in for a treat because Batman: Arkham City: Armored Edition contains all of the downloadable content that was released for previous versions of the game, including expansions that extend the plot beyond the initial campaign and allow players to take on the roles of Catwoman in one, and Batman and Robin in the other. There are also various Combat and Predator Challenges that test your skills of strength and stealth. These challenges can be played as any of the aforementioned additional characters, and Nightwing as well.
Beyond the additional content, there are also plenty of side missions and hidden puzzles placed around Arkham City for players to find. True treasure hunters and completionists will definitely have their hands full trying to locate every piece of loot. And even if you’re not committed to finding and completing everything that the campaign has to offer, these side quests do help to upgrade your characters, as well as unlock bonus art and character models; it might be in your best interest to keep an open mind.
Batman: Arkham City: Armored Edition really puts the Wii U’s power and output to the test. The game looks great in HD, and it has a riveting soundtrack that matches the intensity and pacing of the action to a tee. Though the characters may be detailed and the environments look gritty and realistic, when it’s all put in motion there are some frame rate issues that simply can’t be overlooked. While most of the slow-down occurs during cinematic sequences, it’s still present, and noticeable to the point of being distracting. It’s not jarring enough to be game breaking, and it generally doesn’t interfere with actual gameplay, but players hoping for a smooth and seamless experience might be disappointed.
It’s difficult to call Batman: Arkham City: Armored Edition the definitive version of the game, but it does well to stand on its own merits. Frame rate issues aside, the incorporation of GamePad controls makes this feel like a natural experience, almost as though the game was originally made with Wii U in mind. Any fans of Batman will have a blast taking control of the Dark Knight and knocking out classic baddies, and anyone else just looking for a great action adventure game will be satisfied as well. With a relatively lengthy campaign and loads of extra content, this one ensures that gamers will practically be able to play as Batman forever.