Rocksteady Studios’ Batman: Arkham series has happily expanded to the Nintendo family with Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition, a port of one of the best games of 2011 and a contender for best comic book video game of all time. For the Wii U introduction of The Dark Knight, Warner Bros. Studios in Montreal has reworked the title with a few new and altered features, built for the Wii U GamePad’s exclusive control scheme offerings.
Is Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition of better value than the less-expensive Game of the Year editions of the PS3/Xbox 360 versions and do the new GamePad features improve the experience? Read on for our review.
We’ve already reviewed the original content and gameplay of Batman: Arkham City for its release on the PS3/Xbox 360 as well as its graphically-enhanced PC port, giving both the highest praise for its open-world, amazing combat and fun, character-filled story. For our review of the Wii U’s Armored Edition we therefore focus on new and altered gameplay features, how it plays on the new console’s controller, and how it compares to the previously available releases.
Upon start-up, the immediate visual differences in the protagonists are very evident. The extended subtitle of the Wii U version “Armored Edition” specifically refers to the new Battle Armored Tech (B.A.T.) suits worn by Batman and Catwoman. They look cool, shinier, and even though the change is purely a marketing gimmick, it does add a new element to combat. The suits absorb kinetic energy during combat and when the meter is full, players can hit the B.A.T. button on the GamePad (C.A.T. for Catwoman) to activate what amounts to electro-charged fists of fury. It’s flashier, more comic booky, and arguably makes the game a little easier for the Wii U audience. Batman and Catwoman’s non-armored, cleavage-enhanced suits, along with the all of the DLC costumes are available in the game as well.
The other noticeable visual difference isn’t as exciting: Wii U’s Arkham City isn’t as pretty as it was PC, PS3 or Xbox 360. Our fears about a visual drop from our E3 impressions seem to have held true. The game genuinely looks good, but there is a noticeable reduction in texture quality and frame rate, especially within cut scene moments. Shadows are off on characters and glitches on animations and clipping are evidence of some missing polish. These are minor but for a game that released over a year ago and is now coming to the first next-generation console, we’d expect better visuals for the higher price tag.
The real changes of note come from how players step into the armor of Batman via the GamePad. Many of the menu and gadget functions from the original game have been redesigned specifically for the Wii U GamePad and this is where the fun comes in. Players can choose to play the full game on the GamePad itself, but for normal play the tablet-based controller effectively functions as equipment Batman uses, where all suit functions are accessible through Batman’s arm display.
It’s a genius way of implementing all of the new Armored Edition features, and most of what the player does on the GamePad, Bruce Wayne will do on screen as well, but it’s not necessarily an improvement over what worked so well in the original game. The GamePad serves mostly as an always-on minimap with the added feature of switching to a sonar overlay where the player can view NPC characters and certain objects. It’s here where the player can also tactically set off Batman’s explosive gels (up to three at once can be placed) on command. Not having to pause the game to access these is something I’d expect from Wayne Enterprises, although zooming and moving around the map is less effective here than having it larger, more detailed and more responsive on the television set.
Hacking and locating radio signals have been re-purposed into fun albeit gimmicky GamePad minigames, and it’s also where players utilize Batman’s gadgets and menus. By pressing up on the D-Pad, all of the available Wayne Tech toys are displayed on one screen. It’s not practical during gameplay, but players can select three gadgets to attach to the left, right and bottom D-Pad directions for on-the-fly equipping. This requires dragging and dropping them to each slot which is tedious on the sometimes-finnicky GamePad screen – also a problem for navigating menus to upgrade skills.
Activating detective mode requires more work than it should with the game prompting the user to hold the GamePad upwards, facing the television, but when it’s activated, moving the GamePad around the room as if actually scanning it in real life enhances the immersion. Scanning evidence sometimes fails if the GamePad movies in the slightest however, it’s still another neat use of the Wii U. The same can be said about the Remote Controlled Batarang which requires the player to look through the GamePad screen to control it, either by moving the entire GamePad (very difficult) or more precisely, using the right analog stick.
The GamePad is also how Batman and hence, the player, receives communications. Whether it be Alfred’s dry humor, the Joker’s sickly demands or listening in to criminal radio activity, the incoming messages play smartly through the GamePad’s separate audio system while Batman’s dialogue (including his narration) play through the main TV. While simple in theory, it’s perhaps the most successful use of the GamePad in terms of immersion.
Many of the GamePad specific functions can be performed with button shortcuts as well, but outside of the screen, the GamePad itself can hinder gameplay. Firing the grapple hook to rope up to high locations while hitting ‘B’ to run and climb for instance, is made more difficult due to the GamePad’s design of having the right analog stick placed above the ABXY buttons. It’s uncomfortable for the average human hand, yet of all the third-party Wii U ports, Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition still makes the best use of the GamePad. Even if it’s forced, it offers yet another showcase of the interesting in-game uses of the Wii U’s revolutionary GamePad.
On top of mastering the game’s combat and traversal mechanics, newcomers will face a new learning curve in understanding how all of the GamePad functions and menus work. There is an added sense of immersion, but it’s in trade of a less-efficient control scheme. The visuals and audio of the Armored Edition are comparable to the original, but suffer slightly with some strange bugs. Batman: Arkham City still manages to shine through as one of the best games in recent years.
Is it worth the $20 premium compared to the Game of the Year edition of the game for PS3 and Xbox 360? No. For Wii U players without these consoles however, the Armored Edition is still something to put on your radar (sonar?) if looking for a ‘core’ game aimed at adults, especially for Batman fans.
Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition is now available for the Wii U and includes all of the post-release DLC content from the original game.
[Update: correction on available costumes in-game.]
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.