'Batman: Arkham City' videogame review: A dirty town, a grand adventure

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Image Credit: Warner Bros.

While playing Batman: Arkham City, the kinetically entertaining new videogame from developer Rocksteady, I found myself thinking constantly about another game based on a decades-old media franchise: The Nintendo 64′s GoldenEye 007. When GoldenEye was in production, there was no reason to believe that it would become one of the greatest games in history. It was a first-person shooter, a genre that had never made the successful transition from computers to consoles — the whole FPS aesthetic seemed positively hard-wired into the specifics of PC gaming. GoldenEye was being designed by Rare, a company that had never worked in the shooter genre; they were known for frothy sidescrollers like Donkey Kong Country and for Killer Instinct, the fondly-forgotten third wheel of the Mortal Kombat/Street Fighter arcade era. Heck, in hindsight, it’s bizarre to even imagine family-friendly Nintendo doing a first-person shooter: By comparison, imagine discovering a lost Disney zombie cartoon from the silent era. 

But more to the point, GoldenEye was a Licensed Game — the industry catch-all term for anything based on a pre-existing property. And Licensed Games have been existentially terrible since the dawn of time. Take a casual gander at the list of videogames based on movies, and you find an endless array of mortal sins: Glitchy gameplay, half-hearted storytelling, level design that borders on abstract expressionism, cut-rate imitation voice actors imitating celebrities, actual celebrity voice actors phoning it in. (Videogames based on TV shows are their own separate hell — woe to all who have ever gazed upon the empty horror of Lost: Via Domus). There were exceptions — the Sega Aladdin, the Nintendo Ducktales, LucasArts’ point-and-click Indiana Jones adventure games — but those were rare indeed.

And then GoldenEye came out, and it wasn’t just incredible: Like an Orson Welles film or a Beatles album, the game simply dripped with innovation. There is much to be said about how, exactly, GoldenEye was able to be so good: it came out a full two years after the movie, something unthinkable in today’s tie-in environment. And there is also much to be said about how GoldenEye pushed the medium forward: focusing on stealth over action, turning “Multiplayer Deathmatch” into the most popular male hobby on college campuses.

But the greatest thing about GoldenEye was just how effectively it captured the source material. It wasn’t just a straight adaptation of the first Pierce Brosnan James Bond film — although the videogame so completely colonized our cultural memory of GoldenEye that the film itself looks a bit shrimpy today.

No, the videogame felt like a massive art-installation translation of the whole James Bond concept. The soundtrack reconfigured old Bond themes. The globe-hopping missions took you from subterranean bunkers to cities to lush green forests. The game’s overall tone could shift on a dime from Connery-era stealth to Moore-era whimsy to Brosnan-era ultraviolence. If you were any kind of James Bond fan — and TBS’ 7 Days of 007 was a holy tradition in my household — then the game’s retro-fabulous extras (the Moonraker level! Play as Oddjob!) made your head explode. It was like listening to your favorite band’s Greatest Hits album, performed live by that band in a perpetual rooftop concert that featured every song five different ways.

And so, as I said, GoldenEye 64 has been on my mind over the last couple days, which I mostly spent in a dark windowless room embarking on a heavily-caffeinated marathon playthrough of Batman: Arkham City. Arkham can’t possibly achieve the same epoch-shifting influence as GoldenEye — it’s very much in the modern tradition of Licensed Videogames that re-skin existing gameplay tropes with superhero outfits. Spider-Man 2 was basically “Grand Theft Auto with a web-shooter,” and you could argue that the essential thrill of Arkham is “Grand Theft Auto with a batclaw.”

But Spider-Man 2 became pretty boring once you got tired of web-swinging. And Batman: Arkham City never gets boring. A big, rollicking, dementedly over-detailed and addictively brutish adventure, Arkham City isn’t just one of the most fun games I’ve played this year. It’s also just a flat-out entertaining Batman story, a celebration of the Caped Crusader’s expansive mythology.

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Comments (81 total) Add your comment
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  • Felix

    No mention of the Catwoman sequences? That’s what I’m really curious about.

    • Joe

      Musta run out of room, with yapping on and on about GoldenEye and all…

      • slay

        who tha hell compares any game to golden eye as if that’s a big staple game

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      • Rick

        The writer admits this on page 3, first sentence – “I worry that I’m talking mostly in abstract here…”
        Too bad he didn’t do anything about this before this review was published. In this review, the writer was being too self absorbed (talking too long about Golden Eye, promoting his web series), provided game spoilers (and not really good ones) and only superficially touched upon the game itself and its features, I hope he gets some help either from his editor or the site’s more proficient writers before he attempts another review.

      • pickle t1ts

        EW is owned by Time/Warner which owns DC comics… Which is why this gets a headline “review”.

      • jonb347

        Goldeneye WAS a big game. it defined the 1st person shooter.

      • sean

        yeah…if you don’t understand how important Goldeneye was to first person shooters (or video games in general) then you’re a moron.

    • DAISHI

      @Slay While there was a lot of talk about Golden Eye, it was a relevant setup. However, the rest of your comment is silly. Golden Eye was and is a big game, one of the most influential in taking shooters to the console.

    • eshaen

      hey

  • Adam

    I picked the game up at midnight but had to work today so it sits on the shelf, waiting for me to get home. It’s been a VERY long day, to say the least.

    • SKR

      Think thats bad, I just got the 3 Red Lights of DEATH!! so now my copy of Arkham City sits next to the paper weight the formaly use to be my Xbox ELITE…its still a problem!! and xbox expects me to pay $120 to get it fixed! this on top of the $370 of the original purchas, the $50 I spend on xbox live every year (a service free on ALL other systems, and the countless dollars I’ve spent on games over all these years!!

  • MIKE

    Two pages of twaddle to wade through to get to the review and then when you do you start with a spoiler. People want to read your review about Arkham City not without a 200 word essay on Goldeneye beforehand

    • verbal

      Yeah, I thought I clicked on the wrong article for a minute when I kept reading GoldenEye.

      • slay

        lol same here

      • sublime

        The dude obviously gets paid by the word. I was expecting how the controls worked, the tool selection, etc. I guess I have to go to Game informer for real info, not a site that talks about who was wearing whose design on the red carpet.

  • Skye Hill

    Ugh, this is what happens when you let idiots do a video game review.

  • Rob

    Bitch bitch, whine whine. I found the review entertaining (weekly), and I will also go to gaming sites for different perspectives on the game.

  • Kevin

    Is this guy getting payed to write a review? Its bloody awful. Go back to school and learn your craft. Yeah Golden Eye is great but this is a review of the new Batman game.

    • Shadowlands

      The joke about going back to school while considering your misspelled word and grammar errors is too easy! Please try again.

      • Skye Hill

        He didn’t misspell any words. He just used the wrong spelling of ‘paid’. Payed is a word as well. It just means something completely different.

      • Mike

        Its = It’s too

      • C Men

        Whom, not who.

      • Teacher

        ‘He didn’t misspell any words…He just used the wrong spelling..’ What?

  • Jose

    I understand mentioning Goldeneye but not for a whole damn page, then skipping half for spoilers and then reading on thin details of the game

    • Mike

      I actually enjoyed reminiscing back to my college days when Goldeneye was the greatest game ever and we enjoyed multi-player death matches whenever we weren’t in class. And, if Darren’s experience playing Batman Arkham City reminded him of the joy he had when playing Goldeneye, then he might have convinced someone who never would have given the game a consideration before. (that’s me, in case I lost you somewhere) I’m guessing there are a few others of me out there. I say “Bravo” Darren. Thanks for the nostalgia!

      • Zoofishan

        Awesome! I am glad I came up with that name. Game Hero!! Just Kidding! It was just natural to have a sengmet like this on Think Hero. Having David hosting is a big plus. Please, if you can put some movie clips of the game play this sengmet would just perfect.

  • muaddib

    Wanted a review and got a spoiler ridden recap, thanks for nothing

  • MCS

    Does the author know what review means? I also didn’t click on an article about GoldenEye.

  • F

    At least Jeff Jensen didn’t review this. Would’ve been 18 pages comparing the game to obscure comic books and philosophers while crying about Lost ending two years ago.

    • joe luck

      Finally, someone else as sick of Jensen bringing up Lost every chance he gets.

  • Judy

    I wish this were a huge article comparing Arkham City to GoldenEye for some reason instead of anything resembling a review of the new game. Oh wait!

  • Joe

    Actually enjoyed the review Darren, for what it’s worth. Don’t really understand why people have to be so negative, if you didn’t like the review that’s ok, but you don’t need to insult the guy.

  • adam

    Uhhhh… You never talk about the game!

  • YeP

    So is it good?

    • Hammerhead

      next page, pro

  • Chris

    Jesus, thanks for the spoiler alert on the beginning of the game!

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