October 20, 2011

The View from Arkham City

Filed under: Editorial Rants — Tags: , , , , — Jamie Love @ 4:30 pm

The View from Arkham City
Flying over the rooftops of Gotham’s urban mega-prison, the ringing of a payphone breaks through the music and radio chatter, interrupting the primary pursuit as I drop to the street to answer another call from Victor Zsasz.

Gotham’s more notorious super-villains are waiting for my arrival, but I seem incapable of passing on another opportunity to lose myself to Zsasz’s side-quest. There’s a game he’s playing with me, challenging me to reach another phone at a different location before time runs out and he kills the hostages he claims to have. It doesn’t really matter if he has hostages or not, since Batman can’t take that chance, and so I race to the next ringing phone, attempting to triangulate Zsasz’s position a bit more with each new conversation.

Those conversations are entirely one-sided, as Zsasz recounts the misfortunes that led him to where he is today – a serial killer who liberates the living from the burden of life, and keeps score of that crusade by carving a running tally on his flesh.

The reason any of this matters owes to the way I’m taking an active interest in a character I was unaware of before the Arkham series. Rather than simply reaching phones as a fetch-quest, I’m learning more about the character I’m trying to apprehend with each new stage in the game – listening to his madness and sorrows while tracking down his location. That’s seemingly central to the energy behind all of Batman’s opponents, a game where the constant is the challenge to understand motivation – cause and effect. It’s also one of the little touches that reaches into the source material to create the depth of game you’re likely hearing plenty of people heap praise on this week.

Arkham City is a game with an expertly crafted primary narrative, spread across a cityscape where it is just as pleasurable to stop and listen to the chatter of criminals – thugs who discuss their personal lives, as well as the major characters that have so much impact on their current situation. While I still have plenty of Arkham City to chew through, it’s clear already that a significant achievement is the way Rocksteady has created a space that not only convincingly feels lived in, but invites the player in via the subtle ways the signs of life are offered up for consumption, and could be missed entirely if one didn’t occasionally stop to smell the sickly scents of Arkham City’s mean streets.

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