Arkham Asylum was lauded as a classic on release and surprised many for being a superhero game that was actually fun to play and made good use of its license.
Looking back however Arkham Asylum would merely have been regarded as a good game if tight gameplay and good mechanics were the only things taken into consideration. What actually made it a masterpiece was its ability to tell a cohesive story that pulled the player into its world, surprised them with twists and turns, and brought it all to a natural satisfying conclusion. A rare feat in video games.
Batman Arkham City however forgets these elements that went into making the first game so memorable. The actual gameplay is just as good as before. The voice acting is perfect, the soundtrack rich and atmospheric and the script more often than not hits all the right notes.
But something is missing. In sharp contrast to the linear progression of the first game Arkham City is more of an open world sandbox adventure set in a much bigger enviroment filled with sidequests, subplots and diversions. Where every escapade and encounter in Asylum was generated and fed directly back into its rich story, Arkham City goes out of its way to distract and dilute its already weak tale. As a result the game becomes unfocused and loses that sense of urgency that made Asylum such a tightly paced, compelling adventure.
The first game unfolded like a film with a beginning, a middle and an end. It was Die Hard on an island starring Batman. Arkham city is more like a TV series. It starts well, ends with conviction but spends the bulk of its bloated middle throwing in villains and subplots which make no impression or have scant little effect on the main story. Add to this a weak antagonist in the shape of Hugo Strange, an enjoyable if pointless re-occuring cameo from Catwoman, and villain of the week episodes starring Zsaaz and it becomes easy to forget what the hell Batmans main mission is, even after only a few hours.
While many of the games most pointless diversions are easily avoidable they are not as easy to ignore. Batman is often just pointed in the right direction to continue his quest but on the way multiple side quests pop up by way of visual clues, radio chatter, Alfred calling, Oracle calling, cameo appearances, training modes and cut scenes. In trying to cram in as much Batman lore and content as possible, their is a side effect of sensory overload that becomes disorienting.
On a much smaller scale the gameplay too is often a victim of its makers intent of stuffing everything they can think of into the game. The combat sees the addition of many new gadgets and moves that are added at such an incredible rate it becomes easy to forget just what each one actually does or even that you have them at your disposal in the first place.
To sum up, this is a good game and in truth most people will prefer it to its predecessor. But in choosing content over quality, distraction over purpose and spectacle over story, many fans could be disappointed.