More Fun Than Just Nuking It From Orbit
One of the things I love about Batman: Arkham Asylum
is that it hooks you within the first minute. As the Batmobile speeds toward Arkham Asylum to drop off the Joker, the player is treated to impressive graphics, lighting and color schemes that sets the atmosphere perfectly, and the great voice talent of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill (who voiced Batman and the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series
). Clearly, Rocksteady Studios is not screwing around.
All the screencaps used for this review will feature Batman kicking a thug. You're welcome.
After a Half-Life-esque introductory sequence where you get to see the asylum before it transforms into a hellhole, the game starts you off with a tutorial of what is the best aspect of the game: the combat. Back when Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
came out, one the features Ubisoft liked to point out was its dynamic combat. You could switch targets between attacks quickly and fluidly. It worked decently, and some other third-person action games emulated it, but B:AA has the best implementation of the concept I've seen so far. Batman has three basic attacks: striking (with kicks or punches), countering and Batarang-throwing. You can use any combination of those three at virtually any time (Batman can only counter if a thug is attacking), and the animations transition almost seamlessly between the attacks. Even canceling out of an attack to counter looks natural. The combat portions of the game were also spaced out well, and made me excited for my next chance to punch more faces.
Batman is classy. He keeps his debilitating kicks above the waist.
Unfortunately, Batman was not blessed with Superman's ability to laugh off bullets to the chest. When the thugs are smart enough to carry guns, he has to get stealthy, which is not nearly as annoying as it sounds. It helps that the rules are pretty clearly defined. If you are in front of them, they can see you. If you are anywhere else and crouching, they don't have a clue. From there, you can sneak up behind someone and do a silent takedown. Or you can perch on a gargoyle and do a hanging takedown. Or hang from a catwalk and pull him off as he walks past. Even if you screw up and let an enemy spot you, it's usually easy to find a place to retreat and throw him off your trail. It's all fairly simple (and silly at times because of the simplicity), but it works perfectly for an action game. Emulating Splinter Cell
would do little more than slow the pace to a crawl and most likely irritate the target audience.
Bat-Fact #26: Stupid haircuts make Batman violent.
The third and final aspect of the game is one I wasn't expecting: exploration. If you've been on the gaming scene long enough, you're probably familiar with the term "Metroidvania". It describes a game (like Metroid or Castlevania) where the primary gameplay is to explore an area, find powerups and new abilities with that area, and then use those powerups and new abilities to open up other sections of the area. B:AA incorporates some of this, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well it works. Batman starts out in one building, but soon gains access to outdoor areas of Arkham Island, which serve as a hub-areas of sorts. As Batman picks up new tools (such as explosive gel, the "Batclaw", and a hacking device), the player is able to get into previously blocked off portions of the asylum. Batman's toys are fun to use, and the entrances to inaccessible areas are sprinkled through the accessible areas to whet your appetite for the next ability. Some of the tools can even be used in combat and stealth sections. For example, the explosive gel can be used to destroy a wall and knock out whoever might be standing behind it; and the Batclaw can latch on to a thug and drag him across the room...or off a railing.
Zip-a-dee doo da, zip-a-dee yay!
Overall, Batman: Arkham Asylum
is a fantastic game. The only fault I found that I truly cared about was with the boss battles, which tended to be derivative. Even the final fight with the Joker was just a variation on the same fight I did about a half-dozen times already. The handful of dull boss battles stands in stark contrast to the sections of the game that are very unique, surprising, and cool. To avoid spoilers, I'll just say that Rocksteady clearly has imagination to spare, so it's odd that they didn't even apply some of it to the Joker battle.
In the end, my one complaint is far outweighed by how much fun I had with this game. If you have any interest in Batman or third-person action, buy this game. You won't be disappointed.
SPECIAL NOTE: For those of you with both a 360 and a PS3, I recommend the PS3 version. It's currently the only one of the two that has access to downloadable content that adds the Joker as a playable character, and I haven't heard any rumors that suggest the 360 will eventually get that DLC.