Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Batman: Arkham Asylum Review (PC)

During Episode 15, Scott and I talked about Batman: Arkham Asylum. A combination stealth, combat and exploration game set in the world of Batman. Let's start off by saying I'd highly recommend it. Whether you are hardcore Batman fanatic and read every comic book or just know him from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight - let's just forgot about those bad Batman movies made in the late '80s and '90s* - it's a fun play for sure. What puts it over the top and makes it one of the best, and most addicting, games of the year for me? The "fluff" and ease of play.

This easily could have been just another attempt to cash in on a popular franchise with a sub-standard game. It's not.

This game is a hybrid, for sure. It combines the best parts of a combat game (like God of War), the best parts of a stealth game (like Splinter Cell) and simple exploration of the world environment. It is pretty easy to play, too. (And some may say too easy.) It was simply not frustrating to play nor did I want to throw my keyboard through the screen.


The combat is pretty simple compared to other fighting games. There are no multi-button combos and there are no excruciating long fights. You have two buttons: left mouse to attack - right mouse button to counter. The easiness of this game comes in that combat. You simply point (W-A-S-D keys(or analog stick on a console)) at an enemy and click the button. BAM! You make an attack. You continue to pummel that person or you point at another enemy and click again. POW! The combo comes from just timing your attacks at the enemies without getting hurt. Batman will jump across the screen, do sweep kicks, uppercuts, whatever "looks" cool without you having to remember or juggle with multi button combos. It's easy and looks cool to boot. The right-mouse button is for countering. And the game gives you a little blue halo around an enemy who is about to attack you and you simply time your counterattack based on that and you get some neat judo flips and backhanded punches. Simple. But too simple??

It's not God of War where you can get frustrated not remembering all the button combinations or mistime a move and you don't get the attack you wanted when you needed it.

This is Batman, not Superman. No need to punch all your enemies. There are times (usually against armed gunmen who would shoot The Bat down in a second) when you need to sneak up on people and take them down silently. Simply crouch and walk behind a person .. when you get close enough the game tells you in a pop-up "CTRL-RMB for Takedown". You do what it says and BAM! the guy is silently knocked out.

You get caught? Simply use your bat hook to grab onto a gargoyle in the roof and zip away. You have all sorts of options with Stealth mode, which makes it more entertaining then just slowly walking behind some for a silent takendown. You can glide down with you cape and knock someone out, lay explosives on the floor, batarang them to stun them, batclaw them over the edge, etc. The game also employs "Detective Mode" where Batman uses his technology to have x-ray vision. You can see through walls to see enemies, and you can see pieces of the environment (in bright orange) you can interact with (such as a ventilation shaft).

It is definitely not as frustrating as Splinter Cell or Metal Gear where if you don't walk slow enough or time a move around the cover badly - Bam! - game over.

This was the key to the game, that put it over the top for me. With the two-button combat and the detective mode to help be stealthy, the game may not be challenging enough for some. Rocksteady makes up for that in fluff. This game looks great. It sounds great. It is essentially an interactive movie.

This looks and feels like a Batman game especially since they have the voices of the Joker and Batman straight out of the Batman: The Animated Series. The writing for Joker's dialogue is brilliant. That IS the maniacal genius I picture .. constantly cackling, joking and taunting The Bat. Arkham is dark and mysterious, a lot of major villains are in the game or hinted at (you see Mr. Freeze's cell in Arkham, but he isn't there).

What really is fun, too, are the "Riddler Challenges". The Riddler hacks your radio and has placed secrets all around the Asylum. You can find Interview tapes that have fun little interviews with the inmates to give a little bit of background to the characters psyche's. (Similar to the tapes you find in Bioshock). You can find trophies tucked away in hidden spots throughout the island that unlock character bios, trophies and challenges. And in true Riddler form, he gives you riddles that prompt you to take a "picture" of what the solution to the riddle is (usually unlocking character bios of batman friends and foes). This is all just filler .. backstory; it adds to the "world". It simply is "fluff", but it's awesome. I got a history lesson in Batman and learned some new things about that universe. It definitely was part of the addicting appeal for me that is really hard to describe without experience it yourself.

This is not a large world exploration game like Fallout, but you do get fairly free reign in most areas and not just led down a path like most combat games.

And let's not forget the overall story! It had you going back and forth across the island, following clues and leads (remember, Batman IS a detective) and chasing the Joker and his minions and trying to first discover his plans and then thwart them the only way Batman knows how.

The story plus the atmosphere of this game (aka the "fluff") made Batman: Arkham Asylum a very immersive experience. I whipped through this game in a week. I couldn't put it down. It is always disappointing to get through a game that quickly, but also rewarding because it's "finished". (How many games do you have unfinished?) If fairly short single-player games bother you, this may not be for you. But the game does give "challenges" you can play to test and hone your combat and stealth skills in various arenas throughout the island, which can then be posted on system wide leaderboards.

The game isn't perfect though ...

One of the downsides to the game are its fairly lack of re-playability. I could play through the game again, but really no need. The challenges are fun, but really not that appealing to me as they are just versions of the same stuff you did in-game.

There is a lack of ability to go back to previous save games. Basically as you move along and go from one section of a building to another, the game auto-saves. A great feature in itself as you never have to leave the immersion by going to some clunky menu to save, but you have no ability to go back to a previous point once it auto-saves. You don't really need to, but it would be nice to go back and do a boss fight over again if just for fun.

The other downside is the shockingly missing feature of being able to watch the cutscenes after you finish the game! My game crashed after I defeated the end boss and as it was playing the finale scene .. the game crashed. When I reloaded I couldn't go back. (Thank you You Tube!)

Riddle me this?! Would you like a fairly easy, yet immersive combat/stealth game in the Batman universe?

If you like fluff in your games ... all those extras designers take to make it more than "just a game" ... if you like immersion and combat without an overly complex fighting system that drives YOU to the Asylum ... then your answer is probably yes!

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