It took almost 2 months, but I finally started playing (and beat actually) my most anticipated game of this year, Batman: Arkham City. Arkham Asylum was my GotY when it came out 2 years ago so this game had a lot to live up to. It does live up them. It may no longer feel as fresh and unexpected as the original (how could it), but it is more of what made the first one great. Just bigger. A lot bigger.
Maybe too big? While the first game had a very focused narrative and you progressed through it in a pretty linear way, learning new abilities and unlocking gadgets along the way, Arkham City basically starts you off with most of your toys from the first game intact. And while the main storyline will give you focus, it is very hard to keep that focus with all the side missions that pop up as you are making your way to your destination. This introduces a problem with a lot of open world games in that you are often forced to break "character", but veering off the main story which oftentimes is time sensitive, to go off and do other things. I won't spoil anything for those that haven't played it, but there is a pretty big incentive for Batman to hastily advance the main story for most of the game, yet the "gamer" in you wants to waste time collecting Riddler trophies or pursuing other side missions.
As far as game mechanics, the game plays just like Arkham City. Meaning, very, very well. Locomotion in this game is a total blast and traversing Arkham City with all your gadgets and abilities is just fantastic. You feel like Batman as you zip around, chaining together moves into a graceful dance through the rooftops.
Combat remains the same as well, which is a good thing since the first game's unique combat mechanic was one of its best features. It may seem simple at first, one attack button and a counter, but it is actually extremely deep and complicated and practically overwhelming. The number of moves you can unlock and techniques you can use is vast and certain enemies require different tactics. Chaining together a perfect combo while surrounded by 10 enemies of various types requires an amazing amount of concentration, timing and precision. Anyone that dismissing the combat as a "button masher" hasn't even scratched the surface of the nuances in the combat.
Now that I have beaten the main storyline, I am tying up all the side missions I am finding some annoyances. Many of the side-missions do not let you advance them yourself. You happen to come across a clue, investigate it, and need to find additional clues to continue the mission. However, you do not know where that next clue will be. You don't even get the general direction or area it may be located in. You basically just have to keep exploring the entire city in hopes of getting close enough to the area to trigger the next part of the mission. I find this poorly done and a bit annoying. Traversing aimless through the city with no real direction hoping to trigger a mission is all kinds of "not fun". Not sure what Rocksteady was going for here. Encouraging exploration? That is what the Riddler trophies are for, not side missions.
Speaking of Riddler trophies, some of them are very creative and fun to find. However, I do think they went a little overboard and just put too many of them this time around. 400 trophies? Ouch. Sounds like fun on paper, but again, trying to find all these things can become pretty dull after a while. But hey, your results may vary.
I don't want to end this post on a negative note, because the game really is great. I haven't even mentioned the Catwoman sections (which I actually enjoyed quite a bit), or all the great bonus content and Challenge Rooms. You definitely get your money's worth. I only hope they release extra side-missions as DLC, instead of just these characters which can only be used in the Challenge Room stuff. Being able to play as Robin in the main game on a few missions as a DLC pack is something I would definitely buy. Or even just some more Batman side-missions. Arkham City itself is too cool a place to not take advantage of. Come on Rocksteady!!!