Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition Review
Developer: Rocksteady Studios / Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment / Played on: Wii U / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Teen [Alcohol Reference, Blood, Suggestive Themes, Use of Tobacco, Violence]
I’d like to preface this review by saying that Batman: Arkham City was easily my favorite game from last year, if not one of my very favorite games of all time. The large open-world, tons of villains and gadgets, and extensive, fluid combat helped make Arkham City one of the standouts of 2011. Its DLC campaign follow-up, “Harley Quinn’s Revenge,” put players in the shoes of Batman’s sidekick, Robin, providing another incredible—if too brief—foray into the madness of Gotham.
So when I started Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition, a launch title for the Wii U, I hoped that I’d get the same experience I’d played through twice on the Xbox 360, with GamePad enhancements to round out the package. But while the game as a whole is fully intact and every bit as fun as the original version, one major graphical issue mars what should’ve been an easy home run.
As Batman, you zip around the urban prison of Arkham City, beating up desperate thugs, outsmarting ruthless villains, and uncovering clues to mysteries and side-missions scattered throughout the game. If you’ve played the game before on other platforms, all the elements that made it a hit in the first place are here, too. To spice up the proceedings, and putting the “armor” in Armored Edition, Batman and Catwoman (playable during certain sections of the single-player campaign) are outfitted in upgraded combat suits.
The only tangible change these suits have is the Battle Armored Tech Mode, which stands for—that’s right—B.A.T. Mode. As you fight, the energy from the battle builds up in a blue meter on the bottom left of the screen. When it peaks, you can press in both thumbsticks to turn B.A.T. Mode on and bring even more hurt to your enemies. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this the “win” button, but it definitely makes combat much, much easier, to the point that I preferred ignoring it. I’d be more interested in B.A.T. Mode if the challenge were elevated to compensate, but it isn’t. I suppose it’s nice that it’s there, but it’s not much of a reason to get this version.
Other than that, the game is packed with all the DLC that’s been released, including challenge maps, the Nightwing and Robin characters for challenge mode, and the aforementioned “Harley Quinn’s Revenge” follow-up. It’s all great.
The GamePad’s button layout is pretty close to that of the Xbox 360’s, though there were a few mental hurdles—like the transposition of the A/B and X/Y buttons on Nintendo’s controller—that I had to get over before feeling comfortable. The only tangible issue I found is the placement of the second analog stick above the face buttons. It can be a bit challenging to change the view as you fly through the city or during fights—it would’ve been nice if the camera were somewhat more active in this version to compensate for the reduced manual control. Aside from that, the physical controls work just as well as they do on any other platform: tight and responsive.
But one of the biggest attractions for this version of Arkham City ought to be the unique GamePad-fueled mechanics you can’t get anywhere else but the Wii U. For the most part, however, the GamePad doesn’t really do much to improve or even significantly change any aspect of the game. Whether that’s a feature or a bug depends if you were excited for these new twists on old favorites, or dreading them.
The touchscreen usually shows the in-game map, meaning you won’t have to pause to figure out where you are and where you’re going, so that’s good. There’s also a sonar ability you can switch to, showing moving or approaching enemies, which is a kind of neat addition. Of course, developers have incorporated enemy-tracking maps on-screen for years, so these aren’t really innovations so much as they’re kind of quirky spins of standard features. I would’ve preferred if the sonar and map had been integrated, though—as it is, the sonar lacks the map’s layout and vice versa. It’s a decent enough addition, but it’s not particularly functional. Still, it’s easily ignored if you’re not interested.
But that’s where any arguable benefits of the GamePad stop. Much like the trend of third-party developers arbitrarily adding motion-based controls for the original Wii, this game features touch-and-motion-based controls that feel tacked on and wholly unnecessary.
The remote Batarang can be steered with motion controls; explosive gel can be detonated via the touchscreen; hacking security consoles is completely touch-based. Even simply aiming regular Batarangs, electrical charges, or the grapple gun are motion-enabled. Thankfully the game allows for most of the important mechanics, like aiming or steering, to be accomplished with the analog sticks, making most of the motion or touch controls completely optional. That just begs the question: why bother?
Even scanning for evidence is GamePad-powered: when prompted, you hold the controller up to the TV and enter scanning mode, then touch and hold on the evidence in question. Unnecessary? Completely. Cool? Er, I guess..maybe. While that kind of TV/GamePad interaction seems like it could really be an interesting way to blur the line between video games and reality, Armored Edition has nothing in place to make use of this kind of feature. It’s not as though you ever search for evidence unprompted in Arkham City—evidence scanning is always mandated by the game, making the feature feel like a tech-demo gimmick rather than an innovative and interesting addition.
One way the touchscreen did make the game seem more realistic was the way Batman would diddle on his wrist-mounted touchscreen while you use the GamePad to explore the map or swap your inventory. Suddenly instead of a badass crime fighter, Batman seems like just another jack hole on his iPhone, not paying attention to the world around him.
Art imitates life.
Visuals and Sound
The voice acting and sweeping, cinematic score return in the Armored Edition, and the GamePad does offer up at least one interesting sound innovation. When listening in on radio transmissions, or communicating with Alfred or Oracle, the audio comes through the controller’s speakers rather than through the TV. It’s a neat addition that made the game feel a bit more real to me, and I definitely appreciated the thought that went into it. It’s a small touch, but it was effective in making the experience seem new.
The game’s environments and characters, likewise, are just as visually impressive and exciting as they ever were—though, Batman and Catwoman’s armored costumes are pretty overdesigned, featuring weirdly stylized lines and divots that distract rather than enhance. That’s forgivable, though.
The wildly unpredictable framerate is not. And that’s the game’s fatal flaw.
At a few points, the framerate is smooth as silk, seemingly surpassing that of the other platforms Arkham City has appeared on. But most of the time, the framerate sputters and chugs in weird ways, resulting in herky-jerkey action and animation. Sometimes it’s not noticeably bad, simply seeming like a lower framerate than its console peers. But other times it stutters and slows, especially when traversing the city or fighting lots of bad guys, and this is pretty unacceptable. I booted up my Xbox 360 version of the game to compare, just to see if I was crazy. I wasn’t; the framerate’s all over the place on the Wii U, and that’s a damn shame.
The problem never quite hits the level of “slow-down,” when a game’s visuals slow to only a few frames per second, making play temporarily impossible. But the fact that this brand new port of a year-old game couldn’t somehow overcome such a glaring visual problem by its release is troubling, not to mention incredibly disappointing to see on a brand new console.
I won’t say that the framerate issue is a deal-breaker, but it’s definitely keeping me from wholeheartedly recommending Armored Edition. Arkham City is a fantastic game, and the Wii U version is also fantastic despite this sticking point. The fact that it includes all of the previously released DLC makes it a really solid package. But the only reason to purchase this game is if you’ve never played it before on Xbox 360, PS3, or PC, and also don’t own any of those platforms. The “Game of the Year” editions of Arkham City also include all of its DLC, and it runs at about $40 or less for those platforms, making the Wii U version seem ever-more inferior by comparison.
The score below doesn’t really reflect the game so much as the package itself, and that package costs too much considering what it delivers. If the Wii U is your first chance to slide down the Bat-pole into Arkham City, then you’ll have a great time. Otherwise, you’re better off leaving this one on the shelf.
+ Same great Arkham City experience crammed full of excellent content
— Framerate troubles look amateurish, and keep Batman from looking his best
— Touch and motion controls entirely unnecessary considering its cheaper cross-platform cousins
7 / 10