One of my favourite games from last year would have to be Batman Arkham City on the Playstation 3. The follow up to the excellent Arkham Asylum wowed me by taking everything that worked from its predecessor and expanding upon it. City introduced an open world to explore, tons more riddles to solve and boasted a story featuring many more villains from the Caped Crusader universe. After watching the Dark Knight Rises I was in the mood to don the mantel of the bat once more in a video game and after rummaging through the Apple Apps Store decided to fork out £3.99 on Arkham City Lockdown. The title's ties to Arkham City was a contributing factor in my purchase, although I was also excited to learn that it was developed by Nether Realm Studios who recently revitalised the Mortal Kombat franchise (keep your eyes peeled for a Kano cameo in one of the levels.) Let's see if their efforts produced something on the level of The Dark Knight or a turkey like Batman & Robin.
When condensing a console game to the iPad sacrifices need to be made and in the case of Lockdown the developers decided to strip away the puzzles and story Arkham City is known for, focusing instead on the combat. That's a pity as Batman AC's plot and brainteasers, which tested your detective skills, are the aspects I enjoyed the most about the title. Taking down villains with Batman's melee prowess looked good on the screen, but to be honest it was the title's weakest area given that it was guilty of being overly simplistic.
The aim of the game, for better or worse, is to lay the smack down on a series of hoodlums allowing you to eventually confront their boss. The criminals Batman comes across are a sporting bunch who, despite outnumbering him, insist on facing Gotham's protector in one on one brawls. Swiping your finger across the screen allows you unleash a flurry of punches which will knock out an opponent once you inflict enough damage to deplete their health bar to zero. The visceral combat plays out beautifully on the screen allowing you to appreciate some bone crunching blows, although I do miss the absence of KAPLOW bubbles signifying a hit (as showcased in the sixties TV show.) Tapping the screen allows Batman to evade damage by dodging or if you get the timing down it is possible to deflect attacks using his cape.
Although the regular fights are fun for a while they do get repetitive as you eventually find yourself locked in a routine of evading a foe's assault, which you then counter with a battering of your own. To spice things up you'll come across the odd challenge were you have to kick arse whilst dealing with an imposed handicap. Examples of these challenges include beating up a number of hooligans within a time limit or surviving a series of fights hampered by a reduced life bar (explained away as Batman suffering the effects of poison gas.)
Thankfully the boss fights inject some badly needed variation to proceedings by introducing gameplay mechanics you won't find elsewhere. When pursuing Harley Quinn for example you are able to guide a remote controlled Batarang by using the iPad's motion sensor to tilt the tablet in the direction you want your flying weapon to take. Against the behemoth known as Solomon Grundy you have to tap the screen to win a tug-o-war bout in order to escape the giant's grasp. Joker's gaseous flower, on the other hand, gunks up the screen forcing you to wipe away the grime in order to restore your vision (I wish I would have paid closer attention to the Karate Kid's wax on, wax off training regime as it would have come in handy during those segments.) It's a shame these innovations were limited to the boss fights as adding similar segments to the brawls with lowly goons would have made those encounters more interesting. As it stands the tussles with henchmen feel like you are just going through the motions to pad things out between the more exciting fights featuring Batman's rogues gallery.
GADGETS & COSTUMES
One of the things Batman is famous for is his utility belt which houses all manner of gizmos (old school fans may even recall that the Adam West iteration came with a dose of shark repellent.) In keeping with this tradition Batman gets to utilise a plethora of gadgets in combat, providing he has purchased them using the Wayne points earned each time you level up. The arsenal up for grabs includes smoke bombs which stun foes, electrical gauntlets which grant bonus damage to your punches and the ability to summon bats who nibble away at a bad guy's health for a few seconds. Wayne points can also be spent on training to improve a range of attributes including boosts to your health, increases to your dodging speed and improved chance to score critical hits.
If you are one of those players who has no qualms about "paying to win" it is possible to spend real money to acquire Wayne points and there is also a wardrobe of optional Batman costumes (such as the Batman Beyond disguise) which can be bought in this manner. As someone who loathes the downloadable content market I didn't take advantage of these "offers." Although I can understand why free games may encourage consumers fork out mullah for supplemental features I think it is cheeky to ask for more dosh when you are already paying a fair price to download the software. Thankfully Wayne points can be earned naturally, just by playing the game, and the costumes are not essential to complete the main campaign. You aren't compelled to fork out extra funds on fluff, which essentially only transform Batman into a snappier dresser.
Overall I think Batman Arkham City Lockdown deserves a lowish three stars. I was tempted to award it a mere two stars when I first played it, as the combat feels shallow, but after persisting with it I started to warm up to the game as unlocking gadgets gave me more fighting options to play around with. The gorgeous visuals are identical to the console version of Arkham City, which is no mean feat. It's a shame though that there isn't much substance to go along with the eye candy. Even if the developers opted to scrap puzzles and turn this into a beat-em-up, it would have been nice had they added some story to explain why exactly Batman is randomly visiting parts of Gotham and picking fights with strangers.
Another strike against the game is the short length. You can complete it in no time at all which is a tad disappointing given that there are cheaper games on the App Store offering more content. Impressive as the game engine and controls are I cannot help but think that they would work better for something like a boxing game as opposed to a superhero property with a rich history of stories ready to be exploited. As it stands I can would only recommend Lockdown to hardcore Batman fans who want something they can play quickly for a few minutes from time to time. As a casual game it has some replay value as you can repeat the levels to face tougher enemies and earn more currency to purchase further upgrades. How much you choose to revisit Gotham is however dependent on your tolerance for the samey combat you will engage in whilst patrolling Arkham City's streets.