I have a confession to make: I have begun to tire of sandbox games, and, as such, I have never felt more alienated by the games industry.
I first realised that I had reached breaking point on this issue while playing through Arkham City. I had rarely been as excited about a video game release in recent years.
Arkham Asylum was, for me, a near perfect modern take on old school gaming. It was essentially linear, button bashing fare spruced up with puzzles. But it was also a master class in story-telling; I felt genuine empathy for the characters, and was desperate to see what happened to them, while the twists and turns and occasional bursts into trippy psychedelia fascinated me. I am of course aware that it is a difficult task for a sequel to have the same impact as an original game.
But the prospect of a tweaked version of Arkham Asylum, far bigger and with improved combat mechanics, was enough to make me certain that an era-defining game was on its way. Arkham City, however, while an undoubtedly extraordinary technical achievement, failed to grip me in the same way as its predecessor. While swinging from building to building was initially thrilling, that it was incessantly punctuated by ringing phones and random side missions soon became tiresome. The main story also felt far too short, and lacked the innovation, cohesiveness and challenge of its predecessor.
While the package was bulked up by the Riddler puzzles and the myriad side missions, a lengthier, more engaging storyline and fewer extras would have been infinitely preferable. The game’s pacing felt askew, at no point did it feel like the gameplay was building to an end point, a resolution. It felt like the vast majority of the developers’ time and effort had gone towards making a faithful interactive version of the city itself, to the detriment of the immersive gameplay that had made its prequel so special.