written by Blain Newport on Saturday, September 26, 2009
Well, there will be some minor gameplay spoilers, but I won't discuss plot details beyond the game's premise, which is that Joker has taken over the asylum and Batman has to stop him.
Arkham Asylum is a well made game with many minor issues that keep it from being great.
It looks good. The setting is well rendered. The characters, while overly beefy / tarted up in many cases, are well animated and detailed. There are distracting clipping issues where Batman's cape will pass through things or where his final slow motion finishing punch will appear to pass through or completely miss the target.
It sounds good. The music set the mood well. Honestly, I would have enjoyed an easily identifiable main theme for the game, but oh well. The voices, many of which were from the animated series, were good. But in keeping with the beefiness of the design, Batman's machismo was dialed up too much in the early stages.
It plays well.
Overall progression through the game is in the style of Zelda or Metroid where Batman gradually gets new abilities which allow him to enter new areas and unlock secrets in old areas. This feels a little artificial but basically works. The detective mode stuff is there. It exists. But it's usually just finding a chemical, then setting your visor to track it.
Hand to hand combat is very streamlined. It can mostly be reduced to three buttons: attack, counter, and evade. The main problem is that the game gives out upgrade points based on continuous combos, so when off screen attacks are the most common cause of broken combos, that's frustrating. Also, the game wasn't designed with keyboard play in mind, so Batman would occasionally attack the wrong enemy. I played on hard and died a fair amount in the game, but I often felt my deaths were not my fault.
There are also enemies with knives or tazers that you can't block and must stun before attacking. It's a little ridiculous when Batman obviously has the skill to counter them. He just won't, in the interest of gameplay.
There are a lot of bonus combat tools aren't really needed, and the basic batarangs have a huge problem. There's nothing more iconic than using a batarang to disarm a foe with a firearm. It doesn't work consistently work in the game, and trying it will probably you killed. *facepalm*
Stalking armed enemies is generally fun, providing lots of opportunities to feel like you're outsmarting / freaking out the AI. I played on hard, so if I was spotted it was almost instant death, but it's not difficult to remain undetected thanks to Batman having a visor that sees through walls.
Some reviewers never turned off the visor. I did leave it on sometimes when I wished I hadn't, as the game is prettier without it. But outside of stalking scenarios, I tried to leave it off as much as possible.
The story is okay.
The Joker has a simple plan which drives the narrative. But at the end of the experience, it feels like a bunch of stuff that just happened. Batman's largely reactive, which is unsatisfying. And the one time he's most notably ahead of the game, it was scripted, which was also unsatisfying.
There are no characters with stories I cared about. Gordon wasn't really Gordon. Oracle had no character outside concern for her father's safety. Cree Summer's character arguably had a story, but every time I heard her voice I heard Max from Batman Beyond.
For the most part it was a video game story. It's an overly long, colorful tale of numerous ass whuppings.
I know it sounds like I'm down on the game, but it's just because I'm an obsessive fanboy. It's Batman. It's Kevin Conroy and Paul Dini and Mark Hamill. I want it to be perfect. But I'm not dumb enough to let my fanaticism override my better judgment.
For all its rough edges, the game is well built, and being Batman is fun.
4 of 5