10 Things “Arkham City” Should Do

I love “Batman: Arkham Asylum.”  It’s no secret that I’m a big Batman fan, but this videogame completely nailed what it means to be Batman and still be a fun videogame at the same time (the first time that’s really happened).  When I got my PS3 a few months ago, “Arkham Asylum” was the very first game I bought, and I still continue to return to it when I need a good videogame fix.  In fact, “Arkham Asylum” is the only game in which I’ve managed to snag every single trophy (and it was not easy).  I know that game backwards and forwards.  Naturally, then, I’m just a little excited about its currently in-development sequel “Arkham City.”  Not much is known about the game yet (aside from the preview given to GameInformer), but I thought I would write a brief piece (based on my own humble opinions) on what is important for “Arkham City” to do in order to be a successful sequel, and what I would like to see in the game.



1.  Keep the boatload of subtle Batman references going.

“Arkham Asylum” was a love letter to all the Batman fans who’ve followed the Dark Knight for any considerable length of time, and nothing exemplified that more than the Riddler’s challenges and the patient interviews.  Few of them were important to the story of the game, but they were packed with tons of Batman trivia.  Finding these references was awesome, and Arkham City needs to continue the tradition that Arkham Asylum started of pulling on decades worth of Bat-lore.


2. Break the Addiction to Detective Mode.

I really liked the use of “Detective Mode” in Arkham Asylum.  It allowed you to see things the ordinary person couldn’t, and it was essential to pulling off stunts only Batman could do.  That being said, Detective mode was relied upon too much in the first game.  This was unfortunate, not only because it made everything easier, but primarily because while using it, you couldn’t see the fantastic art design of the game.  Detective mode gave everything a blue-ish tint and hid a lot of the awesome detail the designers gave the asylum.  I don’t necessarily want the creators of Arkham City to take away Detective Mode (which they aren’t going to do), but I would like it if it weren’t relied on so heavily.  Either allow the visual design to show through Detective mode or cause moments where you simply can’t rely on it.  Either way, I just don’t want to play through the whole game with Detective mode turned on the entire time.


3. Keep Combat Fluid and Simple.

Arkham Asylum had an phenomenal combat system that is quite appropriately described as “easy to learn, hard to master.”  Dubbed the “Freeflow Combat System,” users could pummel crowds of thugs, moving effortlessly from one villain to the next.  Masters of the system could invoke more advanced techniques (like firing the Grapple Hook or performing an Instant Takedown), but even a beginner could pick up the system in no time.  Arkham City promises to add more elements to the combat system, and it should in order to truly develop on the first game, but, whatever it does, it needs to keep that feeling of fluidity and simplicity.


4. Get Alfred Involved.

In Arkham Asylum, Batman occasionally received information he couldn’t get from within the asylum from Oracle – the alias of Commissioner Gordon’s daughter, Barbara.  While this worked fine and, in fact, added much more emotion to Gordon’s kidnapping within the game, true Bat fans know that there is no advisor more awesome than Alfred Pennyworth.  The deadpan British butler was the perfect complement for our serious, crime-fighting man in body armor.  Arkham Asylum was fantastic, but I missed Alfred.  If he was in Arkham City (and better yet – if the same actor from The Animated Series portrayed him), I would be a very happy man.

The Man, The Myth, The Legend


5. Get Dark

Arkham Asylum’s story was incredibly well-written, but, with the exception of the phenomenal Scarecrow segments, it never really tested the character of Bruce Wayne.  If this is going to be a “bigger, better” game, it needs to test Batman’s resolve.  It needs to get dark (Arkham Asylum had plenty of “dark” moments, but I’m talking about the character-stretching kind).  Some of the best Batman storylines out there are ones that test our hero and put him to his limits.  Arkham Asylum treated the character of Batman with great respect and did it justice.  Now it’s time to see that evolve even farther and start testing Batman personally.


6.  Make Catwoman Good….and Bad.

Speaking of testing Batman, Catwoman needs to play the role of both good guy and bad guy in Arkham City.  This is essentially a no-brainer, as the very character of Catwoman is of one who acts completely in her own self-interest.  It’s already been confirmed that Batman saves Catwoman’s life at least once during the game, but it’s important that she also turns on him at some point.  Catwoman works best as a mystery – one whose primary motivation is unknown and keeps us guessing.  If the game stresses one side over the other too much, it may not work.


7. Keep Batman a loner.

This point applies to both story and gameplay.  Firstly, Batman works best alone.  Don’t bring in Robin, Batgirl, or any other ally he may have had in the past.  We’ve never liked them as much as the Dark Knight himself.  Arkham Asylum worked so well because Batman was stuck in the insane asylum by himself without any backup.  At best, he only received advice from Oracle on his communicator.  At worst, he had nothing but his own wits to rely on.  Keep it that way.  Secondly, as far as gameplay goes, do not make this a multiplayer affair.  Seriously.  Batman is not about playing with your friends to see who can rack up the most combos.   There have been rumors of a co-op mode flying around the web since the sequel was first announced, but the formula of Arkham Asylum does not work with a second player without seriously changing the structure of the entire game.  Too many videogames attempt to add something new to sequels by turning what was once a single-player series into a multiplayer effort.  This is neither new nor original, and it misses the point of Batman.


8.  Remember that Bigger does not always mean Better.

Arkham Asylum was quite a large game, but, because it took place on an island, it had some natural restrictions.  Because it’s taking place within Gotham City this time, Arkham City promises to be a “bigger and better” experience than the previous game.  That’s a fine promise, but there’s a few things to note here.  Firstly, remember that there needs to be a balance of open and closed environments.  Just as Arkham island provided some viewpoints that made you feel insignificant, it also possessed some elements that provoked feelings of claustrophobia.  More than this, however, Arkham Asylum set up a winning formula of Metroid/Legend of Zelda-esque exploration and backtracking.  The creators of Arkham City have promised larger exploration and the addition of new elements, including some sidequests – bringing to mind images of an “open world” type game.  Naturally, any sequel needs an evolution of gameplay in order to be original, but it shouldn’t have to rebuild its system from the ground up (if the first game was successful).  Arkham Asylum was not an open world game, despite how integral exploration was.  Its sequel shouldn’t have to make such a radical change in gameplay just to encourage “bigger” exploration.


9. Develop the Bosses

For all its awesomeness, Arkham Asylum’s bosses were a bit of a mixed bag.  The Poison Ivy battle and the fight against Bane were both challenging and a lot of fun, but the Titan henchmen were simply redesigns of the Bane boss and the final Joker boss seemed distinctly out-of-character.  Arkham City needs more well-developed boss battles.  Shake it up, add new mechanics and attack patterns, include more bosses than the first game, and definitely don’t reuse the same boss template three or four times.  Above all, keep the battles sensible – even the final, “epic” battle.  Batman has been battling many of the foes in these games for years – you don’t need to include some magic formula to suddenly give it more validity.  You can find new ways to threaten Batman, if a one-on-one between Batman and Two-Face doesn’t work well with the gameplay formula – just don’t cheapen the characters.


10.  Keep some sort of Upgrade System going

Arkham Asylum boasted an addicting and very gratifying upgrade system based on achieving points from successful combos and solving Riddler challenges.  The upgrade system never gave you brand new gadgets (you usually acquired those during the story), but the upgrades for your gadgets were pretty significant.  Very few of these upgrades would actually open up new areas to explore, but they were extremely helpful during gameplay – especially with regards to providing new ways to take down foes.  Arkham City shouldn’t abandon this upgrading system – it was simply too fun to ignore.  Whether or not it’s implemented the same way is up to the creators, but having an upgrade system where the player can choose which gadget gets upgraded first is immensely gratifying and gives the players a real sense of control.



Of course, with all of these points, I haven’t necessarily highlighted the need for sequels to take a few (reasonable) risks.  In order for a sequel to bring something new to the table, it has to offer some measure of originality (beyond a new plot).  If you don’t offer something new, you’re simply creating the exact same game as the first one, but in a new environment.  In some cases, this will still do well, but franchises have to be very careful to avoid becoming stagnant.  Sequels have to take a few risks.  At the same time, however, sequels can’t make too many changes, or they risk losing their audience from the first outing.  “Arkham City” needs to take a few risks and add new concepts that might seem strange at first, but it also needs to be sensible when taking those risks.  I hope these points offer a mixture of that – detailing what I think worked in the original game and should stay, and what didn’t always work and should change.


~ by digitallysmitten on November 8, 2010.

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