How the new ‘Batman: Arkham City’ game does open-world ‘right’, and how others need to improve.

Rocksteady decided to use an open-world environment in Arkham City, something it's critically acclaimed predecessor didn't have. Taking this risk seriously paid off, and Arkham City almost redefined this genre, and betters so many games that focus solely on this element. I explain how...

Batman Cityscape

Batman: Arkham City, Rocksteady’s sequel to the 2009 unsuspecting blockbuster Arkham Asylum has already been a raging success, exceeding its predecessor’s Metacritic score, and as announced this week: shipping a tremendous 4.6 million in its first week alone. “Why has it been so successful?” you may ask. Well, there are many contributing factors to both its critical success, and its positive consumer reception; it’s gripping in depth story, the incredible hyper-realisation of classic comic villains, well crafted combat mechanics, and more. For me, the greatest new addition in Arkham City was its open world. A feature I initially worried about, actually turned out to be exceptionally beneficial, as well as almost ‘redefining’ the open world setting.

Many games now take the open world route, and it’s a sub-genre that’s become ever popular as the years have progressed. There’s classics like: Grand Theft Auto, Oblivion to the more recent explorations: Borderlands, Saints Row, and Prototype. However all of the mentioned do one thing fundamentally wrong; over diluting their worlds.

These games are so pumped full of quests, that each loses their meaning and impact on the player. Quests quickly become chores, often repeats of repeats: “Get me this.”, “Go to point A, kill person B”, clearly lacking imagination and relevance. Arkham City effectively combats this over-dilution by focusing solely on a handful of deep, meaningful quests that actually add depth and substance to the already stellar story.

Specifically, Arkham City has a total of twelve ( <- spoilers) side missions, nine of which introduce new villains familiar to Batman fans, and two being ongoing ‘collections’. Each and every mission is significantly different to the other, offering an interesting, fulfilling, and overall enjoyable experience that never tires. No one event is repeated, and so it constantly stays ‘fresh’ and engaging. The ongoing missions – notably the Riddler’s challenges – are so tightly packed into the vast city that it becomes near impossible to turn a corner without noticing a florescent green question mark. With over 400 riddles to solve, they act as City’s collectables. With so many, you’d expect to see repetition and gradually boring riddles, however, yet again, each is surprisingly original, managing to create a mix of minor references, clever yet challenging riddles, miniature puzzles worked into the city, and simple hidden ‘trophies’.

Saints Row 2

A lot of the open world games currently on the market manage to do quite the opposite. Take the Saints Row games for example, the worlds of both their games are completely over cluttered, it’s near impossible to walk a few steps without being presented with another bland repetitive quest to complete. These are often the same quests repeated with a different aesthetic. For example, there’s ‘insurance fraud’ quests, which involve the player trying to cause as much bodily harm as possible to themselves in order to generate the biggest insurance payout. There are over twenty insurance fraud quests, all exactly the same just in a different setting. How each can be classed as a different quest is beyond me, it should be a onetime event that lasts maybe a while; not the same dragged out across over two hours, which becomes instantly monotonous and boring. These quests last for around five minutes (or less) each, so it’s hard to even justify them as a quest / mission, more a minigame.

This is again where Arkham City prevails. Each quest, instead of being split into tiny sections scattered aimlessly across the open world, are squeezed into one major quest, which lasts – and remains interesting – for over an hour. And there’s not a single exception.

Another common open world flaw is not being able to escape from a quest. Many of these games force you to stay within the quest once you’ve started, with no way of getting out unless you complete it, or quit – losing progress entirely. Arkham City loses that constraint on the player. In Arkham City: start a quest, and that entire open world environment remains open, never locked. Not at any point do you ever feel trapped in a specific section, unable to get out of an event you’re not really interested in any more. You are able to be involved in multiple missions at the same time, without having to cancel or remove yourself from another. Rocksteady’s approach to this element is absolutely spot on, and makes for a much more deep and engaging experience.

GTA V Logo

Batman: Arkham City blows most modern open world games out of the water, without even technically being one itself. Rocksteady’s approach on this often watered-down genre is near perfect, managing to create the perfect, tightly packed environment without sacrificing story depth or player impact. Developers should take note from this stellar example, and gear their games away from cheap, cheesey, and essentially boring mini-quests used to simply fill their vast world. With Grand Theft Auto V soon to be shown, I only hope it takes the many problems of its predecessor and fixes them, and that Rockstar take a look at the – coincidentally named – Rocksteady’s recent masterpiece.

You can buy the incredible Arkham City on all formats from the following retailers:

GAME - (£38 – £43)

Amazon - (£26 – £35)

Play - (£26 – £40)

Tesco Entertainment – (£28 – £37)

Zavvi – (£25 – £38)