Title: Batman: Arkham Asylum
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: Eidos Interactive/Square Enix & Warner Bros. Interactive
Original Release Date: August 25, 2009
How have I not played this game yet? I know right? It’s a semi-perfect nerd trap. Superheroes, villains, Kevin Conroy voicing Batman, Mark Hamill Joker, Arleen Sorkin as Harley, Paul Dini writing? It’s basically Batman: The Animated Series: The Game. Oh my, if they ever made a game based on “Night of the Ninja”/”Day of the Samurai,” I’d be all over it…after price drop. Truthfully, it’s just been too much for me to spend. But, after it came out in the Warner Bros. Humble Bundle, how could I say no?
Despite being released four years ago, Batman: Arkham Asylum still holds up pretty damn well. It was the Game of the Year, after all. Some elements of the game do come off a bit dated, such as the facial animation during dialogue sequences. Sometimes the character models’ lip flap doesn’t quite match up to the audio, or very rarely doesn’t happen at all. Additionally, facial animation seems to be isolated mostly to the characters’ mouth. The eyes and rest of the face don’t really change to reflect the character’s emotion. In all other areas, however, the game is still stunningly beautiful. A lot of that comes from the art design, which is awesome.
The combat system in Batman: Arkham Asylum is simple overall, but sufficiently deep enough keep the player engaged. There’s definitely a Smash Bros. philosophy behind it in the very simple button mapping, with combat depth coming from timing, direction, or spacing. One main button is used to complete a great majority of Batman’s attacks, with other buttons for counter, stun, and dodge. There is no lengthy “moves list,” unlike other third person combo-based action games, like God of War or Darksiders. Instead, Batman’s flashy moves are pre-scripted, and vary depending on the enemy AI direction and proximity. While this sounds like it might become a tad boring, and perhaps susceptible to button-mashing, the combat is varied and visceral enough to keep the player entertained. Yes, button-mashing happens, but it isn’t as rewarding, as all of the really awesome combo animation comes from well timed presses of the attack and counter buttons. Successfuly chaining multi-hit combos enables Batman to use other special techniques (ok, I think there are two), such as a take down where he picks up the nearest baddie and tosses them like a Gimli.
The game controls were straightfoward enough, and felt precise, with a few exceptions. The left trigger taps to launch a quick batarang felt a bit inconsistent at times, and cost me a few restarts. I wasn’t exactly sure whether the “quick tap” was registering through a fast squeeze of the trigger, regardless of how deep you depressed it, or vice versa. It’s possible that it could be the controller I’m using, as it is… an off-brand X360 controller. Blasphemy. Also, sometimes, if felt like the character hit boxes and environment interaction trigger areas were a bit off. Minor qualm.
Trash mob encounters are fun, for the most part. I appreciate that when you first run into a new type of mob, say the cattle prod wielding henchmen, the game doesn’t immediately tell you how to defeat them. Instead, it throws you in there and lets you figure it out, and then gives you a hint when you die. I could, however, do without the constant trash mob injections into the boss fights. Too often, it felt like the second phase of the boss encounters meant “Ok, now you have to deal with the exact same boss mechanic as the first phase… but with added trash mobs!” I would have appreciated a change in mechanic for some of the bosses, just to keep me more on my toes. It felt more like a chore I had trudge through, as opposed to a puzzle I had to think my way through.
The game has a great balance of stealth and action. I normally hate, *HATE* stealth portions of games. Really, it’s my attention deficit that makes them so difficult for me. I suck at stealth. Metal Gear Solid and Thief games are my mortal enemies… kinda. Actually, they’re more nemesi than enemies. Batman: Arkham Asylum, though, makes stealth portions fun, perhaps just because everything is just so pretty. For example, each of the Scarecrow missions are awesome. They provide a nice break, not only to the gameplay, but visually as well. Camera switches to make it feel more like a 2D-3D platformer. The designers even throw in some combat to break up the stealth. Great stuff. Additionally, in the armed thug rooms, there really isn’t anything quite as satisfying as glide kicking a henchman, knocking them out, then grapelling away to avoid detection.
Level design was also good. I appreciated the Metroidvania style exploration, as well as the semi-open world. Also, I felt like several elements of Batman: Arkham Asylum were quite similar to the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot. Hey, it works, right? Maybe they’re just endemic to today’s 3rd-person action games. I dunno. I play games 4 years after release, apparently. But, Arkham Asylum : Detective Mode :: Tomb Raider : Survival Instinct. Similar ability upgrade system. Arkham Asylum : Line Launcher :: Tomb Raider : Rope Ascender. Pulling down walls with the claw hook = pulling down walls with the rope ascender. Both awesome games, so what if one borrowed ideas from the other? It’s game evolution, yo.
Sound design and voice acting are pretty awesome, with a few missteps. The score in the Killer Croc/spore collecting sequence felt a bit heavy handed. That’s not even necessarily the score’s fault. The section felt a little long, with a few too many Killer Croc jump moments. Voice acting, especially in the cut scenes and cinematics, where top fricken notch. I mean, look at that cast. During gameplay, however, especially with lesser NPCs, the voice acting felt a little stilted. This was the case in spots where the dialogue was a listing off tasks for the player to complete. I understand, believe me, that kind of stuff tends to feel a little odd on the page as it is. To make it sound un-odd while recording is an undertaking. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen very often at all over the course of the game.
All in all, this was a downright amazing thrill ride of a game. I finished the campaign in about 13 hours, at 67% completion. The story itself was darn engaging. I mean, Paul Dini, amirite? Combine that with the fun as hell combat system, amazing visuals, and the awesome voice cast. Guess what, you get an awesomesauce game.