Batman: Arkham Asylum was one of my favorite games in 09 and rose to the top of my favorites that year along with Demon’s Souls. Now, two years later, we have both sequels out with changes in each. Earlier this year I wrote about Dark Souls and how it felt that the designers moved away from what made Demon’s Souls great due to the design changes. Arkham City doesn’t share the same fate and you can just feel how the game is bursting from the seams with new content, for better and worse.
Continuing the story of B: AA, B: AC kicks off shortly after the first game. With the island no longer usable, the inmates of Arkham have been moved into the slums of the city and kept locked away from the citizens, which Batman isn’t too fond of. After some important plot points that I’m not going to spoil, Batman finds himself knee deep in Arkham City and forced to find out what is going on.
Now, I could once again talk about the excellent voice acting and how great it is to hear Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, but the stand out for me was Nolan North as the Penguin. If I didn’t read that he was doing the voice, I would have never known it was him and he did a great job of making him sound menacing.
The motto behind B: AC’s development seems to be “go big” as every aspect of B: AA has been built on for the sequel. Side quests are more prominent thanks to the game space being opened from the start. As Batman explores the city he’ll find cases that involve more of his rogue’s gallery for him to solve. The cases do a lot to bring the city to life and finally give us a good Batman game that lets us patrol Gotham. Perhaps the biggest enhancement is the Riddler challenges which play out as their own full side story this time around. The Riddler has set up all kinds of puzzles and death traps around AC for Batman to solve and his challenges play into unlocking more content and puzzle rooms for the Dark Knight to solve.
Stealth has become more challenging this time around as the enemies have picked up new tricks including being able to disable detective vision. The AI reacts more random this time and it never gets old frightening harden criminals by taking out their friends without being seen. Like the first game, Batman is not bullet proof and a few hits from a gun will take him out. This time Batman is armed with his trademark smoke pellets which can be used to disorient and act as a safety net for stealth areas.
The one main fault of B: AA which was the boss battles, have been touched up for B: AC. They are more varied this time around and less focused on Batman just wailing on someone. One of my favorite battles is an actual “stealth fight” which I’m not going to spoil who it is with.
Overall B: AC is an excellent game, but it’s not without problems. Looking at the design the problems seem to stem from how the designers built their new game-play on top of B: AA. The beauty of B: AA was in how everything was designed to work with each other and was balanced that way. By building on top of the design, B: AC doesn’t feel as refined compared to B: AA in a few areas.
The combat system in B: AA was one of my favorites due to how accessible it was and at the same time complex with the quick gadget use. In B: AC, the # of moves available to Batman has been increased dramatically: more quick gadgets, special moves, aerial attacks, beat-downs, special combos and ultra stuns. The problem is that all of these moves have been added to a primarily one button combat system and it feels convoluted compared to the first game. There is no in game logic for the player to follow why square-triangle is the weapon break move or X-Circle is the multiple take down move. Enemies armed with special gear now require specific attack combos to hurt them. It feels like the simple combat system from the first game is being stretched in multiple directions.
Not helping the combat is the camera system. I lost count of the # of times where an enemy would begin his attack animation off screen to then move into focus as he’s attacking, leaving me with no way to avoid it. The camera during combat is stuck in this awkward position, because of the increase of enemies per fight. The camera is too close to get all the enemies on screen, yet too far away to make it easy to see enemy attack tells.
During movement in the city the camera has a habit of getting stuck on objects in the environment. In the first game, the design of the levels was very wide to keep the camera from getting stuck in places. With the increase agility of Batman and narrow areas, the camera has trouble keeping up sometimes.
In regards to the Catwoman DLC, she plays like a quicker version of Batman. I do like how her movement across the city is more horizontal with her whip compared to Batman. In terms of content, Catwoman has her own 4 mission story arc along with Riddler challenges set up just for her. During stealth sections she can climb around on certain ceilings which lend a different feel to Batman. The only problem I have is that her “thief vision” doesn’t show enemy vitals like Batman’s and it can be hard to see from a distance what equipment enemies have.
Even with my complaints, B: AC is still an amazing game; Rocksteady have shown that they are not a one hit wonder with B: AA. I’m very curious to see how they will try to top themselves with whatever their next project is. B: AC is a clear definition of a successful sequel by keeping what made the first game special and improving upon it.
I’ve always been a fan of the city builder genre, as I’ve enjoyed the multi-tasking and the splendor of watching a fully developed city. These past few years however have not been too kind to the genre with no information about a Sim City 5 and the closure of Tilted Mill have left us city builders with few options. With Anno 2070, not only is it one of the most polished city builders I’ve seen, but the changes under the hood do a lot to make it rise above other games in the genre.
From start up, the game’s setting and plot are integrated into the menus. As the title states, it’s the year 2070 and global warming has lead to the polar ice caps melting and the world has begun to flood. Many coastal cities have already been submerged and the ecosystem is changing. You control a ship called an Ark, which has the technology and tools on board to create settlements for the human race. There are three groups vying for control: The Eden Initiative, Global Trust and S.A.A.T and how you build your cities help determine the state of the world.
As in Anno 1404 (or in the US: Dawn of Discovery,) Anno 2070 comes with the usual suspects of game modes: Campaign, continuous, scenario along with multiplayer. The difference is how everything is wrapped into this global meta-game. Every few days a global vote takes place to decide what group’s plans is enacted and every player gets a say. The agreed upon plan becomes a global modifier that affects your city building in either scenario or continuous play. Daily missions pop up that allows the player to make career points for a specific faction, which plays into unlocking rewards on your profile.
As for the actual gameplay, things are both new and familiar in 2070. First, here is a quick primer for those completely new to the franchise. The Anno series is about managing economic growth with the use of trading. At the beginning of every map you have access to the lowest tier of buildings and the lowest class of citizens. As you meet their needs and more people move in, at certain population points, new buildings are unlocked. Once you have unlocked and met every need for that class of people, you can then upgrade their homes to the next tier, which also unlocks new buildings. The higher the class, the more they need to be happy, while still requiring the basics from previous classes.
Trade comes into play with how you have to move resources around. Many products require resources from multiple sources to be produced and effective supply chains are the name of the game. You can set up trade routes to transfer resources to and from your colonies which becomes a necessity as you go up in tier.
Playing into the future setting, Anno 2070 mixes things up from previous games. Besides worrying about your people and income, power and the environment are now factors in the world. Every non housing structure on your island requires power, and if you go into the red you’ll suffer a productivity penalty until you create more power generators. Structures also have an effect on the environment and if the quality of the land goes down, your farms can suffer. However, you can build structures that positively affect the environment which in turn can give you bonuses in production.
Each faction has its own affect on the world. Eden buildings take up a lot of space, but hurt the environment less and their farms receives bonuses based on the environment, while the Trust using smaller more efficient buildings that do greater harm. S.A.A.T or the tech faction is the analog for the Orient faction from 1404 and are used to support the highest class of citizens of the previous two factions. Their buildings are mostly underwater based and players can set up mining colonies under the sea.
What sets S.A.A.T apart, is the concept of research, as you go up the tech tree for their faction, you’ll unlock research buildings that allow you to spend money and resources to perform research projects. The projects range from providing you with warehouse buffs, to timed duration bonuses and even upgrades to your Ark which act as global bonuses.
As you can tell, there is a lot in 2070 to do and the inclusion of the Meta game helps tie the game elements together. As you play continuous games, any ark upgrades become stored on your ship and can be taken with you from game to game. This will allow you to get a head start with future games or make things easier for you. Research projects also persist across games allowing the player to keep their progress with unlocking them. With everything that needs to be digest I wish that the game went a little more towards helping the player learn.
The interface for 2070 is one of the most streamlined UIs I’ve seen for the genre; however this means that a newcomer will have to figure out all sorts of little icons and graphics to make sense of the game. The game’s campaign is essentially the tutorial, but it doesn’t feel like it does as good of a job as 1404’s campaign did.
What made 1404’s campaign work, was how it was focused on only showing the player a few mechanics each level to not overwhelm the player. At the start of a new map, the player is usually given a base city that has all the previously learned mechanics already established for the player, so that they can focus on what’s new.
2070’s campaign switches between the three factions throughout the missions making it harder to understand how progression works. The campaign is separated into three groups of missions, and within each group the player’s city is transferred from map to map. While the concept is commendable, it can leave the player in a situation where they have developed their city in such a way that makes progressive maps harder. The help screen isn’t as intuitive compared to 1404’s help panel on the bottom right of the screen and takes the player to a separate screen which makes it harder to follow how the tips relate to what’s happening in game.
As an example of the unintuitive nature of the campaign, the first time the player is introduced to drilling for oil, is the last map of the first group, where they must set up refineries using the tech faction. After that map, oil is not re-introduced until the 2nd map of the third group and this time the player is asked to use the Trust faction. The problem is that the game does not explain anywhere during that mission that the Trust can drill for oil on islands and where to check on the UI to make sure that it is possible to drill there. When the game asks the player to build more power structures or affect the environment, there is no mention on screen why the player should be performing those actions.
The other problems with Anno 2070 are the same ones that are inherent with the series, first, is that the game is sloooooooooooow (yes I had to spell it that way.) This is a game where the easiest scenario can take at least 8 hours to complete. For people looking for a game where they can just hop on and play for 15 minutes a day and make some headway, Anno 2070 is not for them. For all the complexities and depth of building your city, combat still doesn’t feel as fleshed out as it could be. Anno 2070 introduces air units through the tech faction, but combat still feels like a side dish compared to the city building instead of being fully integrated.
Still, the campaign is just one part of an excellent game and the other issues fans of the series have looked past. Fans of previous Anno titles should snatch this one right up. For newcomers, I would suggest either trying out a demo or watching gameplay footage on YouTube so that you can have an idea of what you are getting into. The dynamic of introducing a Meta game of connecting progress and settlements together was a smart move by the developers and does a lot to expand upon the sandbox nature of the game. While the thought of the polar ice caps melting is not a pleasant one, I do look forward the time where we all have corn powered robotic servants.