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Batman Arkham City Lockdown Review: Dark, Gritty Fighting Game

Holy Touch Controls, Batman! It’s a Batman game for iOS!

Out of nowhere last week, Batman: Arkham City Lockdown appeared in the App Store. And it turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. Built with the Unreal Engine — the graphically gorgeous engine that’s given us such games as Infinity Blade, Dark Meadow, and Epoch — Batman: Arkham City Lockdown is a combat-heavy brawling game that delivers a gritty, fun bit of superhero action.

There’s good and bad at the heart of B:ACL. On the one hand, you’re going to be like, “OMG! I’m playing a totally awesome Batman game on my iPad!” And that’s very cool, especially as this one is tied to the recent Batman Arkham-themed console game. And yes, the thing looks gorgeous. The Unreal engine is quickly becoming the graphical king of iOS, and here it allows for a gritty, shadowy, urban decay look that definitely fits the Dark Knight. This game doesn’t quite reach the levels of beautiful that Infinity Blade 2 does, but it stands toe-to-toe graphically with apps like Dead Space.

On the other hand, the Unreal engine also brings with it that certain lack of open gameplay that all Unreal games have. You don’t get a world to navigate, can’t move freely or attack what you wish. Movement happens in cinematics and combat is a timed-swipe affair. Recently, the Unreal-fueled Dark Meadow successfully tied some real navigation and storytelling into things, but B:ACL strictly goes the Infinity Blade route: defeat an enemy, move forward, defeat the next enemy. It’s more Street Fighter than Batman: Arkham City.

As a result, the game can feel repetitive. Defeating enemies is generally a matter of blocking to daze, then punching repeatedly, then dodging rage-fueled attacks, then repeating the cycle. The game is also what you might call “grind-y”, something it shares with other Unreal games. It’s also somewhat short, with only four areas and four boss fights.

Still, the game is fun to play. While typical enemy fights get repetitive (you’ll get sick of hearing  “I’m gonna kill you, Bat-freak!”), the boss fights do require more nuance, and even regular fights are sometimes broken up by tap-combo special finishing moves.  In addition, there are promised “Coming Soon!” bosses that virtually guarantee future updates and added gameplay, hopefully with a little opening up of the combat system.

One Unreal Engine element the game employs to good effect is a leveling system. By earning WayneTech points, you can improve Batman’s combat speed, health, armor, and other attributes, or buy gadgets like Smoke Bombs and a Bat Swarm.  These elements encourage you to keep playing, as you build up Batman’s prowess and bag of tricks. Honestly, if you want a quick shortcut to the first boss, purchase a dollar’s worth of WayneTech points (5000 of them) and upgrade each of your key abilities at least once, then purchase a gadget. Once you start leveling, the WayneTech points come fast enough that you’ll probably not want to purchase again.

This game has a good offering of extras. First and foremost are IAP skins that make Batman look like either the Animated Series version, the Dark Knight Returns version, or the Batman Beyond version. [Given the dark nature of the game, I couldn’t resist old, fat Dark Knight Returns Batman.] There are also some free comic books to read, character biographies, wallpapers,  and Game Center integration with achievements (yay!).

In the end, I can forgive this game its flaws, because it’s just so much fun to pound thug face as Batman. Would I have enjoyed a little more story, a little more pacing? Sure, but I’m down with a brawler. If you enjoy Infinity Blade and the Unreal Engine experience, then you’ll want to play this, too.  While it’s a bit of a one-note play experience, but it’s a pretty good note, and at a fair price, too.

Our Score: 4 out of 5.



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