I remember Batman: Arkham Asylum vividly. It could have been the revisits (three) or my love for all things Batman. It could have been the game’s technical precision. It could have been the cold crack of henchman bones under my ten-pound Bat-boot.
In all honesty, though, it was probably due to the crushing sobriety and legal speed addiction that defined my senior year of college. Whatever the case, Arkham Asylum holds court in my fickle, game-addled mind — never to suffer the fate of forgettable first-person shooters and Kinect titles.
While the entirety of Arkham Asylum has burned itself onto my retinas, a particular moment commands my attention. I stood on the edge of Arkham Mansion, staring at Gotham City. The purpose of this exercise was to solve one of The Riddler’s interminable and unbelievably glitchy puzzles.
As I stared at the skyline, I became infected with an unshakeable notion: "I must go now."
My mind flooded with images of driving the Batmobile at high speed through the heart of Gotham, only to hit the brakes hard, open the hatch, grapple to a nearby rooftop, and rain down bone-breaking Bat-Justice on an unsuspecting henchman. Two hours and several hundred soaked Batmen later, I reconciled that it was not to be and stopped trying to reach a clearly unrendered portion of a video game map.
Adderall’s a hell of a drug.
So along came Arkham City and my chance to Batman (yes, it’s a verb) my way around a portion of Gotham City. Excited as I was during the opening hours of gameplay, I found myself limited. Gotham City still stood as a distant facade. I couldn’t glide off of Wayne Tower; the very building I longed to touch from the shores of Arkham Island. I couldn’t drive the Batmobile at high speed. All the bone-breaking Bat-justice in the world couldn’t console me.
Before I go any further, I feel it's important to note that I absolutely love Batman: Arkham City. It’s an unbelievably refined experience that brings me as close as I’ll ever come to actually being the Batman. I’ve been playing it all week while a copy of Battlefield 3 sits unopened and unloved on my coffee table. I’ll play Arkham City until my eyes bleed, my feet fall off, or the sequel comes out. Which brings me to an unfortunate point.
As excellent a game as Arkham City is, it’s just an upgrade: new map, new moves, new bad guys, new toys. No major gameplay changes. Yes, it was an extremely difficult title to create, and, yes, a team of extremely talented people made it. What, though, did they accomplish aside from the creation of a bigger, badder, better version of a game that I’ve already played?
It’s not fair to turn Arkham City into a proxy for a systemic problem with the game industry, but I tend to abuse that which I love. I can sit by as iterative sports titles come out each year without raising a complaint. I can watch a pack of fanboys, one-hundred wide, flock to the neighborhood GameStop for the sake of a repackaged version of last year's best FPS.
What I cannot do — will not do — is watch brilliant titles wallow on life support while they're drip-fed original concepts so that they can pump out sequels until they're completely robbed of those atributes that constituted their souls. I’d rather they burn out than fade away. I'd rather they live fast, die young, and leave an unbelievably sexy corpse. Otherwise, what’s the point? It's not fine art; it's a poster. It's not sirloin; it's a Big Mac.
Arkham City deserved a Batmobile.