Now Playing: Batman – Arkham Asylum
September 2, 2009 · Print This Article
I finished Batman: Arkham Asylum yesterday and really liked the experience from start to finish. Great job by developer Rocksteady! I went in expecting a Bioshock version of Batman, which might have slightly thrown off my enjoyment for the first couple of hours. But once I realized that this is actually a stealth game/brawler, and once most of the core mechanics had ramped up, I kept playing and playing. The best compliment I make is that it kept getting more interesting the further in I got, rather than less. New gadgets and little twists on combat and stealth kept everything fresh until the very end. The sense of character was outstanding in places – taking down 7 or 8 armed guys late in the game, with the Joker taunting his own guys in the background and the AIs playing more panicked voice lines for every guy who disappeared, made me feel like a 100% badass dark knight. “Fear me, I’m coming for you next, thug!” Brawling with all mechanics in place – which includes knife guys (need to be stunned before hit), stun baton guys (don’t attack from the front!) and weapons (don’t attack at all!) – was great as well. Once you start stringing together combo hits the action just flows beautifully, and the game puts a positive spin on blocking by using an appropriate counter mechanic, rather than the bland “I negated an attack but didn’t advance the action” standard. I never reached the 40 hit combo achievement, the best I could do is 28. But I certainly tried for it every time I went into combat! Very nicely done.
The game looks good, plays well, and encourages player exploration extremely well. Each area has a couple of dozen hidden trophies and riddles to solve, which goes a long way towards making sure that all levels and art assets are thoroughly utilized and seen by the player. I’ve never done so much searching/sightseeing in a game. I ended the game having found between 70-80% of all Riddler secrets, and I’ve seen people on my friends list who managed to find 100%. Hats off, I’m not sure I’ll be that hardcore to go back and find the remaining stuff! But the hidden secrets, combined with the slow rampup of player abilities (not everything is accessible the first time you find it), provides a nice Metroid feeling – I’m constantly encouraged to revisit various game areas, and I feel good when I access new secrets.
I have a few small nitpicks – the way that killing guys feeds into the XP system never felt very meaningful to me, the system just ran in parallel with me making progress in the game. The feeling was one of “I proceed, more stuff becomes available” – not the more meaningful “I proceed, I earn more stuff”. Part of that might be the relative blandness of the available “Waynetech” upgrades. All of them help, but not necessarily in obvious, “I must have this now!” kind of ways. As a result I wasn’t encouraged to go out of my way to level up quicker and to get additional upgrades. The savepoint system was a bit annoying, as well, if only for the reason that the save icon is small and I was never sure when the game had saved last. So leaving the game came down to playing through an area until that little icon finally appeared. And as much fun as finding secrets (and tracking evidence) is in Batman: AA, I had to spend a bit too much time in the game’s “detective mode”, which highlights various level elements for better discovery. The mode is very cool, but it also turns the game into continuous shades of blue. But hey, if that’s the worst criticism I can level at the game you know that it’s been an awesome experience.
I’m not a huge Batman fan. I liked the Tim Burton classics, don’t really care much for the current Nolan flicks, and I don’t remember ever reading a comic (I’m sure I did when I was young, but it didn’t leave an impression). Batman: Arkham Asylum game drew me into the comic universe and made me care for the fiction and characters in a way I I hadn’t experienced before. That’s a great feeling, and now I’m looking forward to the next one! The end of the game already hints at the next villain who might wreak havoc on Gotham City and surroundings…