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SummaryUnique in many ways
The GoodI am going to do things a bit different from other times and I would really appreciate a little feedback. If anybody reads this, I would love it if you could send me a PM on this website and tell me if this new style of reviewing is better than my usual method. With that said, enjoy the review and thanks for any help you may offer:
The game is very accessible to people interested in the game, but without back-story. Only a few lore-references and useful character bios.
The combat is very smooth and fun due to the fast moves and overall intuitive controls.
Sneaking feels satisfying and tactful.
The story is well-written and additional dialogue tapes help to flesh it out a little.
Story is also well-paced.
Fun challenges to be found.
The commentary you hear characters giving changes depending on where you are and at what stage of the game.
The BadThe Joker is not as visceral as he was in the movie.
DRM is beyond stupid.
The game is very linear, but has a lot of open areas with no enemies in it. This leaves me with an hour of work every time I come somewhere new.
Detective vision is obnoxious
Very often you need to go to insane lengths to save random characters who die a few minutes afterwards anyway.
Boss-fights aren't spectacular.
The Bottom Linestory
In this game the player takes control of Batman who has just apprehended his rival, an insane murderer called The Joker. Upon returning him to the asylum (that is located on a large) island Joker makes an escape and releases all the convicts, including some of the major villains from the Batman lore. The island quickly falls under Joker's control and it's up to Batman to punch all the villains back into their holding cells.
What is interesting is that Batman comics go back to like 1939, but the game demands little to no knowledge from the player. Instead, the game turns around the isolated event on the island and characters never really talk about events that go back too far or are unconnected to the task at hand. This is comparable to how you can play Mario Galaxy 2 and never ever have to have touched upon a NES before. For those who are interested in learning more there are a number of character bios and interviews that can be found in-game (more on that later) that flesh out the characters a bit more.
Another major plus is that not all the villains in the Batman lore make an appearance. Prior to playing this game, I took the time to sit down and watch "The Dark Knight", after that I looked up a list of Batman villains and found myself somewhat staggered. The game instead circles around a core group of the more interesting villains; Joker, Harley Quinn, Scarecrow, Killer Croc, Poison Ivy and Bane. The pacing is also not too bad and at the beginning you notice that Batman is struggling to get his bearings, but as time passes you will soon take out the first villain and then run them all down a lot quicker. It doesn't feel too rushed, but at the same time it never really drags on too much either. If I have to give out one complaint though, it's that Joker is not as insane as he was in the movie and comes off more as a clown. While that is certainly the idea of the character and heck he even wears clown make-up for crying out loud, in the movie he was more than just that and came off as very threatening too. He also uses guns to kill people a lot, while in the movie his kills were very well-crafted and visceral (such as ramming a man's head into a needle stuck in a table early on).
Batman: Arkham Asylum is a very rare example of a game that brilliantly mixes combat and stealth together in one tasty soup. The reason for why Batman always appealed to me as a character is that he doesn't have superpowers, he can't just conjure webs out of the ether or turn into a green giant. Batman has to use his wits and his hard-earned combat abilities to make it through the day and that is very visible in this game too. When combat shows up, Batman stands out as an obvious powerhouse, but when enemies bring guns into the fray or alarms, you'll have to sneak through ventilation shafts and hang from the ceilings to survive properly.
While the sneaking does work really well, I often went for combat regardless of that. The reason is that the game utilizes a very clever engine that makes combat feel very flowing and natural. You don't just awkwardly string together combos, you will have to deal quick blows, switch between baddies and keep an eye out for enemies that you can counter. When punching you can also steer in a direction to make Batman leap for another enemy and this is where the flow comes in. Because you can switch so easily I managed to rack up pretty decent combos and for once enjoy a beat-em up game.
Navigating through the asylum works pretty well too, but lacking an auto-run functions is kind of obnoxious. If auto-run turned off for stealth sections, then that would make sense, but here you have to keep your thumb on the space in order to run. Especially when backtracking this can get very annoying or when you're spotted by some armed thugs and kinda want to get the hell out of the fight. Other then that, Batman uses a variety of gadgets that help him opening up parts of the asylum; a grapple hook allows him to reach ledges normally out of reach, explosive gel blows up weak walls, a claw can pull down items and that line-thingy can help you cross large gaps. There is also small computer that allows Batman to hack doors and open them up.
Batman has a problem that I run into an awkward amount of times lately and that is graphics that are simply too dark. Even when messing around with the Gamma-settings a bit, the game's environments are still so dark that I run into walls or have to zoom in if I want to see anything. The art-style is also very familiar to people who play a lot of modern games and this title seeks to recreate the realistic and gritty feel that the movie had as well. It's not too bad, but I feel like opportunities are been missed to go all-out with Joker's style.
Overall Batman does a decent job in terms of presentation, but it never rises past it. Perhaps the only remarkable points are some of the story-heavy sections that often involve Scarecrow, something we rarely see in mainstream games these days. If anything, it proves that a widely popular title (6.3 million copies sold!) doesn't need to have a tacked-on multi-player of any kind. I was however surprised when I was browsing some articles on relyonhorror.com and found that Batman was credited as an "honorable mention" among horror games. I admit that the Scarecrow sections are fascinating a way, but horror is a much different kind of sandwich, if you ask me.
One thing that I have to mention, even though it has little to do with in-game presentation, is the irritation that is caused by the DRM present in this game. I have debated with myself over purchasing this game for at least a month, not because I wasn't sure if I would like it, but because I tried a pirated copy to see if the game was fun, but ran into so many layers of excessive protection that I started to doubt if the game was customer-friendly or not. Tucked away in the smallest corner of the sales page is a note saying "4 times activation limit", meaning the game may only be activated on four different systems. This is vague at best because sometimes replacing the hardware on your system counts as a separate activation in the world of DRM and sometimes it can just mean that every single re-installation eats up another precious activation. Even when buying the game on a service as great as Steam, this rule still applies, even though it goes in against everything Steam stands for. Also obnoxious is the forced use of Games for Windows Live, which literally demands that you log into or make a Windows Live account in order to freaking SAVE your game. This is once again regardless of whether or not you are using Steam, ignoring the fact that Steam has a Cloud service and can make save-files locally on the user's system.
Batman: Arkham Asylum actually strikes me as a game that isn't too bad to pick up and replay every once in a while. The focus on combat and the lack of expository cut-scenes makes sure that you never really have to sit through anything grating and in the few cases that the game does take away the control from you, the cut-scene that follows it can often be skipped immediately. The game also has several difficulties, so after completing it once, it can be fun to revisit if with a meatier challenge ahead of of you.
The game however offers little in terms of customization and while it is possible to get upgrades for Batman, you get enough points to get everything that's available to you. Even if that was not the case, the upgrades don't really make much of a difference to the gameplay, so it's unlikely you're experience will differ that much from the first time you played.
Though the Joker is your main target throughout the game, there is a very large side-story on the side which involves "The Riddler". As the name implies, this villain is obsessed with Riddles and would very much like to test his wit against Batman's detective skills. His challenges come in several different kinds, the most prominent of which are the actual Riddles. Every time you enter a room where a challenge lies, you get a message containing a riddle. You then need to look for the item that the riddle refers to and use detective vision to capture it. Detective vision is a mode in which you get a colored filter over the screen, all the enemies show their skeletons (X-ray) and important items start to glow. It sounds interesting, but since you pretty much need to have it on all the time to spot Snipers, weak walls and receive general information, it feels like something that should have been implemented better, preferably in the regular HUD.
Aside from the riddles there is also a large amount of collectibles that you can find; "Arkham statues" that reveal a large part of the asylum's background story are hidden in secret locations, Interview tapes are character-specific recordings that flesh out the villains a bit, Joker Teeth are obnoxious buggers that you can destroy and the trophies are more or less filler content. This brings the total of collectible items to 240. To make this more do-able, the game provides you with constant commentary from Riddler himself, which is very enjoyable. What starts out as arrogant comments soon turns into disbelief as you slowly solve each and every single riddle.
That's where the in-game content ends, but outside of the story, there is also a challenge mode. Personally I have always resented these modes and this particular one is a clear example as to why. The challenges all exist outside of the story and contribute little to nothing to the narrative or experience of the game. All they do is put you in a room with a few baddies and say "Hey, hope you mastered the mechanics. Good luck". There is not even a set goal, you sort of need to get a certain amount of points in order to get the best ranking and if you don't get the best rankings, you won't be able to get a 100% save. I have always stood by the notion that getting a 100% should always be a case of will; I was willing to spend hours scouring every last nook and cranny for the collectibles, I was willing to see the story through to the end, I was willing to go through the many fights just to get all the upgrades. Challenge modes aren't about will, but more about skill, which is a completely different kind of virtue. If a casual player were to put in all the hours to get the items and even complete the game, then he or she will run into a brick wall, just because they aren't capable of putting together endless combos with varied attacks.
Before we finish this up, I would like to remind all readers that I would really appreciate feedback on this new style. You can send me a PM on this website or my Backloggery account of the same name, thanks once again for any help you can offer. Back to the important things though: a recommendation. Well, fans of the Caped Crusader are certainly in for a treat with this one, but like I said before, you don't need to be a fan to get into this game. The combat, decent presentation and good integration of the story make this a very appealing game for the mainstream-gamer and the extra content offers a nice challenge for the Completionists out there. Casual players are also not excluded, but not particularly played to either.