Batman Arkham City: Lockdown has some big shoes to fill, deriving both title and aesthetic from one of the best action games in recent memory. The console version of Arkham City is still something I come back to from time to time, being the most immersive and complete experience of Batman I’ve seen in any game thus far, and I was curious to see how it would be adapted to mobile. Unfortunately, Lockdown‘s feet are so small these shoes slip right off.
Don’t get me wrong, Lockdown looks and sounds great for a mobile game, there’s no arguing with that. The thematic content keeps true to the original, almost to a fault. The sound is the pretty much same, down the sound effects and taunts from henchmen. Batman doesn’t say anything himself in this one, but everyone else seems to use the same voice actors. The character models are also more or less Arkham City’s, but you can tell most of the visuals were brought down a peg in the transition. When you take a game as high end as Arkham City and place it in a mobile context, some loss is to be expected, so I’m not knocking it for this. It is what it is.
I also won’t complain about the lack of an open world, or even a closed one, though it is hard to ignore the disparity in scope. The vast city is now just a campaign map, with six zones offering four missions a pop. Two of the four always have you fighting a string of regular henchmen, while a third adds some extra objective or caveat (like beating down 10 dudes in under 95 seconds, or starting with half health). Lockdown takes pains to retain some of the cinematic quality of its bigger brother with cut scenes, but these are pretty shallow and possess only a fraction of the personality of the original.
No, it’s in the gameplay department that Lockdown especially fails to deliver. Everything is just tepid, like room temperature tap water; fine if you’re thirsty, but lacking the joie de vivre to be enjoyed in any other context. All the best bits of the original Arkham City‘s combat—the fluid controls, intuitive quick-gadgets, endlessly replayable crowd control fighting system—are either missing or mishandled. To begin with, the game progresses in something like a “rails fighter” format, automatically moving Batman from one bad guy to the next in brief cinematics (which I wish you could skip).
Batman is now a wimp compared to his console counterpart, with the stock enemies made unreasonably tougher for the sake of balance. Every idiot you encounter becomes “enraged” at random, making them unblockable and immune to damage for a few seconds. I understand it’s meant to keep the game from becoming too easy, but as a mechanic it’s more frustrating than inspired. It also makes the difficulty between bosses and henchmen roughly equal, save for a few diversionary mini-games thrown into the boss battles as so much filler.
The screen-swiping controls are mildly engaging but not very responsive and often misread moves, extra annoying when you’re trying to dodge enraged enemies. Gadgets are now timer-based abilities (as colorful as “heal” and “damage over time”) which would be more at home in a second-rate RPG than an action game. Upgrades are similarly out of place and err slightly on the side of grind. You can beat the game without resorting to in-app purchases or mission replays, but you’ll need to be spend the points allotted wisely to do so.
When all is said and done, it’s clear Lockdown’s developers piggybacked Arkham City’s image to foist their game onto the series’ existing fan base. Prepare to be underwhelmed if you consider yourself a part of that fan base. At best it’s an okay fighting game with good visuals, but its cardinal sin was to associate Arkham City‘s beautiful crowd combat with such unremarkable gameplay. Call it bias, but if you’re going to use a better game’s name and image to push product, you should at least have the wherewithal to bring something of a similar caliber to the table.