This past week, the gaming world was treated to what has quickly become one of the runaway success franchises. It is a game that features carefully timed brawling combat, stealth action and tons of gadgets. And if you were guessing either Splinter Cell or Metal Gear, did I mention the hero wears a cape and a pointy-eared cowl?
Batman: Arkham City, the sequel to 2009’s Arkham Asylum, is everything you’ve ever wanted in a superhero video game. Gritty atmospheres appropriate for the Dark Knight, voice performances pulled straight from the famed animated series of the ’90s, graphics powered by the Unreal engine. The list goes on.
Yet I can’t bring myself to play this or the original 2009 title.
Maybe its conditioning. I’ve come to understand licensed titles as merely cheap cash-ins. Be it Transformers or Wolverine or the Green Lantern, I’ve come to expect that the game will feature sub-par gameplay, shallow design and will reek of publishers screaming for some quick cash.
Or it could be bad memories of other adaptations. Superman 64 was widely panned as the worst video game on the Nintendo 64 and potentially one of the worst of all time (only outdone by another licensed game, the Atari’s E.T.) Similarly, I played Sunsoft’s Batman back on the original NES as a child. A game that was received well during its times, but was pretty tough for an 8-year-old. What did I know, all I wanted to be was the Batman. I remember Batarangs, punching henchmen and wall-jumping…poorly. Suffice to say, it caused a headache for me back then and has left a sour taste in my mouth since.
But I shouldn’t be too harsh on the title. Arkham Asylum was developer Rocksteady’s first title ever and for it to garner numerous game of the year honors is sure to validate it beyond just being a Batman game. Similarly, recognizing a good game is easy, especially for a licensed superhero game. Back when Spider-Man 2 came out for the original Xbox and PlayStation 2, it was a great twist on sandbox titles like Grand Theft Auto, except this time you were Spider-Man. Spider-Man 2 let you truly feel like Spider-Man.
Maybe that’s why the old side-scrolling brawlers of the ’90s were successful. Titles like Captain America and the Avengers and X-Men Arcade let you assume the role, and simplified moves of one of the members of a superteam. In hindsight, they weren’t great games, but they were fun and fit into the style of play of that era. If Arkham City and Arkham Asylum are successful at making me feel like I am living through the comics as the caped crusader, then I know the game is doing something right.
At the end of the day, I do have high hopes for these games, just my excitement has been tempered by my prior experiences and by my current interpretation of Batman thanks to Christopher Nolan’s excellent film adaptations. Well consider this your entry into my gaming backlog, because Arkham Asylum was on sale via Steam and is officially in my library. While my expectations are as high as my reservations, I want you to surprise me.