Sandbox full of toys
This is how I feel a sandbox should work. There is a huge area to explore with an absolutely massive array of goodies to find within it. Some areas are unavailable until you have gone further in the game and will take a particular gadget upgrade to get to. There is as many bad guys as you want as target practice - and there is a massive number of ways to take them down (stealth, combat, gadgets, batarang to the crotch).
A bit of a challenge
It's also not a walk in the park - the difficulty level is fairly well-balanced, offering challenge if you try to press ahead too quickly but not stagnating if you just want to mess around. This is the difficulty level that I like to play at. Some of my friends (Psykomotor in particular) like to feel invincible and breeze through a game for the cinematic value and for pure fun. I prefer the challenge - to perfect the mastery of the control system and feel that great sense of achievement while watching the end credits roll.
Infinite scope for custom fun
This is pretty much GTA Gotham and it WORKS. It's dark and moody in the streets, colourful and bright when villains hit the town and there is so much scope for hilarity. Get a friend round to try out some of these excellent Pass-And-Play games:
- Drinking Combat Challenges - no shots if you get a perfect round - one shot for each round not achieved.
- Drinking Predator Challenges - no shots for stealth round - one shot for each time detected.
- "Who can throw the funniest remote batarang?"
- "50 points for hitting a thug's crotch and making him fall down a flight of stairs".
- Take out groups of enemies with challenges - no gadgets, no punching/kicking
- Really, the possibilities are limitless.
Baddies go bye-bye
The involvement of some of the baddies in the game is a bit pants - several villains are attacking Batman one minute viciously, then pausing and smiling and asking Batman oh-so-softly if he'll just go and do something for them - which Batman accepts and trots off happily to do (only to be stabbed in the spine the second he spins around) *Freeze in particular. Others show off some top-quality superpowers but when it actually comes to the showdown with Batman they are locked up within seconds *Deadshot, Bane. I suppose this is the "comic book effect" - when you have a dozen baddies coming at you from all angles, some of them will be taken down instantly just so you have time to reach the cliffhanger at the end of this week's issue.
Side missions everywhere
Although there is a massive variety of side missions, with each requiring a slightly different use of gadgets, detective work and acrobatic skill, some side missions are stupidly awkward to find. I suppose you could say traipsing round the whole city and its little alleyways looking for the next piece in the puzzle adds to the immersion. But only slightly. A bit. Annoyingly. Sometimes I wonder whether you are playing the role of an elite detective or just a guy who spends a little too long in alleyways and accidentally solves some murders along the way.
Time dilation and it's negative consequences for street brawls
My third criticism is that the new bad guys thrown into combat can upset the flow of battles somewhat. You take down guys in fights by either hitting them or countering their attacks. These counters need to be carried out during a particular interval (while the enemy has a symbol over their head). Guys with knives need to be countered thusly three times with an instant takedown available if you hold the counter button between attacks. Now my issue is that some of the upgrades and special attacks cause time to slow down suddendly (after 15 consecutive hits or something) and this distorts when you need to counter mid-flow! Then Mr. Knifey gives you a big, friendly hug. Several of those and the game lets you repeat the experience of meeting Mr. Knifey all over again. Yay! *Massive sarcasm*
Textbook gaming. A real masterclass in ingenuity and variety. The scope of the city and it's baddies lets the game down at points but this is made up for by having enough here to keep you going for many, many hours. With Arkham City's secrets slowly being revealed to you through story unlocks, side missions and gadget upgrades, you really get under the skin of this giant criminal playground - and it can really get under yours.