Scum and Villainy

Just finished playing both Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. Both are good. Really, really very good. 

In both, you take charge of Batman (and in the latter, Catwoman) in an area where assorted villains have run loose and you’re trying to clean it up, etc. This mostly means a lot of fistfights with random thugs, which is handled very well. It also often means stealth segments, where you hide from and regularly pick off said thugs in a closed room. Stealth shit in a game can be very hit or miss. Very few games do it very well, though lately there’s been a surge in competency, it seems. Batman, being a master thereof, handles it beautifully, even if it does get a bit formulaic.

Protip: if you find yourself in a room with indoor gargoyles (technically grotesques, actually… the term gargoyle is only meant to apply to creature-shaped downspouts), you’ll be swinging from one to the next quietly taking out bad guys in a bit.

The combat and the stealth are generally well-handled, but the point that gets me most is the story for each. Neither of them fucks around at all, and although Arkham City has a slightly less sensible premise, once the two of them are kicked off they’re beautifully paced and well written. They’re like the game equivalent of page-turner novels that you can’t put down. Except you do, because now and then you’re stuck in some ridiculous fight that’s just too difficult to get past on the first several tries. I’m particularly impressed by City: its story isn’t quite as well handled as Asylum, and yet it does a better job with a story in a sandbox setting than any other I could name. 

It’s interesting, I find, that the voice acting is the same as (or very similar to) the voices from the animated series, and yet there have been significant art-redesigns. The whole effect is brilliant: the characters are new and refreshed, and yet each seems to carry the experience of being that character. The Scarecrow in Asylum and the Riddler in City (he was in both but his role was much expanded in the latter) are wonderful. The only downside to the villains is Poison Ivy… not that she’s acted poorly, but the writing has effectively turned her into a sort of deity that definitely comes across as over the top.

I’m generally not a fan of superhero stuff, and especially not as games go. But these put a pretty major dent in my dislike.