Monday, January 30, 2012

One more post about Arkham City: DLC Roundup



Even though the Internet at large is pretty much finished talking about 'Batman: Arkham City' and have moved on to other gaming pastures (Skyrim, Mass Effect 3 pre-release discussion, playing outside, etc) it should come as no surprise to anyone that it still plays an important role in my day-to-day life and that I still spend a lot of time thinking about it (particularly in light of my previous review, which perhaps had too much of an unintentionally negative slant to it).

It's certainly the best Batman game ever made, and honestly while there were some awesome elements in 'Arkham Asylum' that were sadly omitted in its sequel (most notably the 'cinematic' look of the original, the camera was in a lot closer for the fights), I think 'City' comes closer to what I've always wanted from a Batman game. Mostly because of the player's ability to freakin' roam around an open-world Gotham (sort of) and has tons of familiar locations from the mythology.

But aside from that, there's the plethora of downloadable extra-content available for the game.

Frankly, DLC is a very new thing to me. As a tightly-budgeted student, it always took an extra effort to buy games at all, let alone shelling out more money for additional features. And honestly, outside of content for games like GTA (which became available on a separate disc later on, anyway) most DLC seemed incredibly hokey and over-priced. Not to mention that seeing as I didn't have my own credit card, it was just too much effort to go through the hassle of borrowing the money from my father and paying him back.

Well, needless to say I have my own credit card now (to be more specific, it's one of those "Why haven't these always been available?" Visa debit-card dohickey gadgets) and I've been purchasing just a LITTLE bit more DLC for my games. First and foremost though, has been for Arkham City.

Wisely taking note of the massively-positive fan reaction to 'Arkham Asylum', WB Interactive made the wise economic decision to stretch out the extras for their next Batman hit, by making players pay for almost half a dozen challenge maps (mostly in separate packages) as well as two additional playable characters. In fact, if you bought the game second-hand, you even had to pay to download Catwoman (who forms a significant, but not entirely compulsory portion of the game's story). Some people saw this as a bit of an excessively shrewd dick-move on the part of WB. Certainly, it wasn't very convenient for people who bought the game second-hand, but I just see it as a clever marketing technique.

Anyway, let's take a look at the different downloadable content available for the game. First and foremost, there's the "Iceberg Lounge VIP Room".



Like the free "Totally Insane" map for 'Arkham Asylum', this map is basically a non-stop combat-survival environment, where endless waves of enemies attack Batman, until the player is defeated. While the concept sounds monotonous (and probably looks it, to people who aren't actually playing), it's hopelessly addictive and it's not until you really start racking up a high score that you begin to realise just how innovative, amazing and utterly Batman-like the combat system really is. There's really nothing quite like racking up an x400 combo while you play Hans Zimmer's 'The Dark Knight' soundtrack in the background.

"The Joker's Carnival" is a similar map, but it develops and expands on the original idea of unlimited waves of enemies attacking you. In this map, there's a time-limit and a level-up system. When you defeat a set number of enemies without being hit, you level up and a new, more advanced wave of enemies attack you (basic thugs, followed by armoured thugs, followed by mystical ninjas, followed by one-armed scythe-wielding behemoths, followed by Titan monsters). Every time you level up, there's a set of bonus points that you can 'bank' (think "The Weakest Link"). When you 'bank' points, they're added to your overall score and you go back to Level 0. If you don't bank the points and you get hit, then you go back to 0 and the points are wasted. It's a lot less complicated than it sounds and it really adds to the enjoyment of a 'survival' mode when you can get more points in less time and the enemies get more advanced. The best part is that if you rack up an x100 combo (which is easy enough if you've played the combat challenges for a decent amount of time), the Joker himself jumps into the ring.



Other downloadable combat challenges include "Wayne Manor Armory" and "Freight Train Chase" that come exclusively with the Nightwing and Robin bundle packs, respectively. Wayne Manor is just another basic three-round combat set-up and while the environment is really nice and the enemies are decently realised, it's not really any more impressive than any of the combat challenges that come with the game. "Freight Train" is one of the most peculiar and interesting maps available for the game. Instead of the basic 360" third-person view, it takes the form of a side-scroller, with 3-D characters. It involves your character running from left to right to get to the end of the train and disable a bomb, all the while dealing with waves of enemies. It's an interesting idea, but it ultimately fails, as you have to contend with a camera that isn't fast enough to keep up with you, making it extremely difficult to get a Perfect score.



Among the downloadable Stealth Predator maps, there's "Wayne Manor Main Hall", "Black Mask" and "The Batcave". Of these three, Wayne Manor is my favourite, as it's full of interesting little hidden entrances and destructible walls and all kinds of funny little things Bruce Wayne's house would have in case of emergency. "Black Mask" is fun, but no different from any of the other Predator Maps. "The Batcave" was always going to be a disappointment, as it didn't include as many familiar elements as people hoped (where's the giant penny?) and it would have been more fun to roam through the cave at your leisure, rather than have to deal with irritating villains. It's a bit of fun though and it's nice that it's considered to be a training exercise and not a real mission.



As far as the downloadable characters go, they're all a lot of fun and they're a great inclusion to the game. It's a pity that you can't play as Robin or Nightwing in the main city section of the game and not simply the challenge maps, but that's always a possibility for a future update to the game. And at least you can play as Catwoman. As far as combat goes, Nightwing is probably the most effective of the new characters as he's incredibly fast and really easy to get to grips with. Personally, I've really gotten used to Robin though and I feel his smooth-handling is most similar to Batman's (who remains my favourite combatist in the game). Catwoman is fun to play as and her combat is probably the most unique of all the characters. She's definitely the weakest character of the lot though and sometimes it's harder to string combos together with her as she can be a bit more unresponsive than the other, more agile characters. It's fun playing as a woman for a change though.



The other most significant downloadable contents is the assortment of alternate skins available for the characters. Robin and Catwoman both get two skins, Nightwing gets one. Batman gets a whopping eight, including one that was released entirely free, as a thank you to all of the fan support.

Additional skins have ALWAYS been the cherry on top as far as superhero games go, particularly for long-time fans like myself. When you follow these characters for years, you tend to see them incorporate different visual motifs that end up tugging different heart-strings. So it's a delight to be able to celebrate as many of them as possible when you're embarking on simulations such as these. Most fans will agree that even the worst superhero games have been slightly bettered by the simple inclusion of a few extra outfits ("It's just like getting new clothes!" as my girlfriend so wonderfully put it) and when they're added to exemplary games like the Arkham series, it just makes a perfect thing even better.

I won't go into detail regarding all of the skins, but I will say that I think it's just terrific that the developers went to the trouble of putting skins in the game that resemble the Animated Series counterparts of all the characters. Admittedly, Robin's is a bit jarring-looking (his head is HUGE), it's a shame Nightwing's mullet was omitted and I don't think it was a good idea to cel-shade the outline around the Animated skins; but I think they're a great addition and it really feels like you're playing through an episode of the Animated Series, when you're using one of these skins; especially as Batman with Animated veteran Kevin Conroy's voice!



Other skins I really like include the excellent Batman Beyond skin (with pop-out wings instead of a cape, just like on the show!), both Frank Miller skins (Year One and Dark Knight Returns) and the aforementioned Free Batman Inc. skin. The Batman Inc. skin fits the look of the game the best and it's a much better use of Batman's alternate logo (with the yellow disc encompassing the bat emblem) than any of the other skins that feature it.



As for the other characters, I think the Red Robin skin is outstanding as is the Long Halloween Catwoman. Nightwing only gets an Animated skin, but I love his default skin so much that I don't really mind that there are no decent extra skins.



The only glaring omission where all of these extra skins are concerned is the oft-mentioned, conspicuous lack of any costumes from the Batman movies. It seems odd that there should be issues concerning rights to different 'looks' of Batman, when Warner Bros. own everything to do with Batman lock, stock and barrel. Personally, I'd go as far as to say that I'd be willing to pay €50 (the price of the actual game itself), if it meant we could get movie-skins for all of the characters. There's just so much potential there, between the various 'looks' Batman has had in the movies (Keaton, Kilmer, Clooney and Bale have all had two Batsuits each and you're going to have to FIND me a Batfan who does not want to play as a pot-bellied Adam West), not to mention Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer, Julie Newmar, even Halle Berry), Robin (Burt Ward, Chris O'Donnell) and even, technically Nightwing (Robin's costume in "Batman & Robin" was basically a Nightwing costume and it was also the best thing about that stupid movie). While I'm happy enough with all of the costumes as is, a "Movie Pack" would bring the game to dizzying new heights of awesome and I for one would be more than willing to pay top dollar for it. Hopefully WB have something like this planned in time for the release of "The Dark Knight Rises" (particularly as there does not appear to be any tie-in game planned).



So once again, in case you didn't already know, "Batman: Arkham City" is compulsory for any fans who have ever wondered what it would be like to BE Batman. It's one of the most gripping and satisfying experiences I have ever had in nearly a decade of gaming and a lifetime of following the daring exploits of the Dark Knight. While it stumbles a bit where the story is concerned, it never ceases to amaze with its innovative, intuitive gameplay style and systems. I've never played a superhero game as thorough as it and I just hope the best is still yet to come.

P.S.: As far as the DLC goes, if you haven't downloaded any of it since you bought the game and you want to get it all in one go, you can download the DLC Mega Pack (it's called something along those lines) for the very reasonable 1,500 points on Xbox Live, which in real-life terms, comes to about a tenner. Given the hours of enjoyment you'll get out of "Iceberg Lounge" and "Joker's Carnival" alone, let alone the awesomeness of two additional characters (three if you don't already have Catwoman) AND the spectacle of the extra skins, it's well worth the money.

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