Wednesday, September 09, 2009

I'm Batman!

Wow. Batman: Arkham Asylum really took me by surprise. Of the four PS3 games I have, it is the one I would have put last on my list of what I thought I’d enjoy.

As it turns out, I had just forgotten how much I loathe trying to play First-Person Shooters on a console system; so that kills two of my four games. Seriously, it’s like I’m floating around while looking at the world through a paper-towel tube.

The fourth game is Little Big Planet, and the spongy jump is getting on my nerves. I’m hoping the level building stuff will be fun, but I haven’t gotten around to that yet as Batman took all my time. I finished it last Friday and I’ve been replaying it on hard, though I did just pick up Assassin’s Creed PS3 used for $17 and Braid PC on special this weekend on Steam for $5.

I read a number of reviews where Batman: Arkham Asylum is being called this year’s BioShock and frankly, I don’t see it. Other than the visuals and atmosphere, where I see the comparison on quality, I think Batman eats BioShock’s lunch. I’m saying that having played BioShock on the PC for those of you paying attention where I mentioned my view on FPSs on a console system. Anyway, Arkham Asylum’s story may or may not be better, but I think it came across as part of the game better. The depth of the gameplay is better. Arkham Asylum is a much better game.

The camera work was amazing, Batman hardly ever got in my way. I remember how frustrated I got at the old Alone in the Dark game back in the early 90's because of the way they handled the camera. We have certainly come a long way. (BTW, Has anybody played the new Alone in the Dark: Inferno?")

The world is very immersive and beautifully rendered. The game is a confined, open world; meaning you’re stuck on Arkham Island but it isn’t a series of levels your forced though. You travel back and forth across the island and through its buildings all of which change a bit as the story progresses. That is exactly the type of set-up I like in a game. It makes it feel like a real place. I hate games that are nothing but hallways. Even Half-Life 2 is really nothing but a game full of well disguised hallways.

The gameplay in Arkham Asylum feels great. The controls are intuitive and easy to master; and that is being said by somebody who hasn’t seriously played with a console controller in a few years. Although, I do have a small problem with the combat system in the game. Don’t get me wrong, it was easy and fun. But it was kind of too easy. The extra combat combos and other unlocks didn’t do it for me. I wasn’t able to use them very much. The combos themselves are only available after you chain a certain number of attacks and the situation is right. In

my case, by the time I noticed that the combo was available; it was too late to use it. All of the other unlocks felt a bit useless. It took more time and effort to try and use them when I could just have easily defeated the goons normally. I felt a little like they designed and balanced this decent combat system and then added the extra stuff instead of having it all in the mix in the beginning. Maybe that was just me and not having played a console game in awhile. I would have rather see those just unlocking generic combos that you could use much more freely. Again, just to be clear, the basic system was still fun. I was Batman and I kicked some butt exactly as Batman should.

The best thing about the game is that it is Batman in this world. Batman feels like the big, bad, Dark Knight. He looks grim and gruff, and even that evolves as the game progresses; rips appear on his costume, he gets bruised a bit and even develops a five o’clock shadow. He moves, gestures, and fights exactly like Batman should. And when you are controlling him, you feel like Batman. It really hit home for me when I was spraying the explosive gel on a wall, and didn’t bother to step back before blowing it up. In another game Batman might have taken damage and that would have taken away from the mystic that this is actually Batman. In Arkham Asylum Batman simply turns his face away from the explosion and takes it like a man with no damage.

The designers/writers/artists also included a lot of subtle things that really show you how much of a grip they had on the source material. I’m not a big Batman reader myself, but even I was catching lots of little things.

The voice actors were also great, I beleive they are a lot of the same people from the cartoon series including Mark Hamill as the Joker. Excellent.

Some of the other nitpicks I had besides combat being a little too easy, was that I felt like I had to always run around in Detective Mode. Even though its graphic effect was subtle, I would have rather enjoyed the visuals naturally without the color shift, but it was too easy to otherwise miss things like hidden Riddler’s question marks alignment puzzles which you could only see in Detective Mode.

I also didn’t like that some of the Riddler “camera puzzles” were ones that you couldn’t solve unless you came back later in the game when you got some more equipment. I wasted a lot of time trying to figure them out only to find that I needed the zip line or something else that I wouldn’t get till much later in the game. I’m fine with some of the Riddler’s other hidden stuff not being accessible right away, but the “camera puzzles” text are thrown in your face when you enter a new area so I expected to be able to solve them.

Control wise, when doing the hanging movement along a ledge, the game tilted the camera at an angle but you still moved the joystick straight to the side. I thought they should have let you move the joystick to the side in a matching angle to move Batman to the side. Wouldn’t have hurt to have both directly to the left or angled to the left work.

Story nitpicks:

Batman can remotely summon the Batwing to fly in so he can get his zip-line launcher out of the glove compartment (which I really wish he’d brought with him in the first place) but he can’t use it to fly out some Arkham personnel? Especially since he keeps finding guards and doctors, telling them to sit tight, only to find them dead next times he comes through.

About the entrance to Croc’s Lair from Batcave: Batman says, “I found a door in the Batcave, but it was locked.”

Umm, didn’t YOU build the Batcave? And isn’t it supposed to be a secret? If somebody is building new passageways, and putting in locked doors you can't open, that’s bad.

A nitpick about the DC universe in general as far as Batman goes; reading these villian back stories, I’m seeing a constantly reoccurring pattern. So if I ever find myself in theGothem area, I need to remember to be careful to not so much as bump my head or stub my toe. If I do I’m more than likely to develop some physiological break-down and/or neurosis which will cause me to become a super-villain. This normally only seems to happen to people with names that easily, and stupidly, relate to their pending neurosis. This is so their super-villain name can be easily identified. I’ll be an ax-murderer if you were wondering, Hewitt. = Hew It.

P.S. Blogger's new (actually it's kinda old by now) editor sucks. It keeps screwing up the formatting and is just flooding the post with unnecessary HTML. It is also preventing the Crome browser's spell checker from working at times. I also have no idea why these last two paragraphs are printing in a lighter color. Spent a few minutes trying to fix them, then I stopped caring as I have other things I need to go do.

P.S.S. Yeah, like I could let something like that go. I fixed the color.


Tim said...

I enjoyed this review thoroughly! It has only increased my frothing desire to play this game, so thank you!

Joseph B. Hewitt IV said...

What are you doing? Constantly spending your days, sitting at the computer pressing the 'refresh' button while viewing my blog?

If so, I approve. :-)

Cap'n John said...

I played the Arkham demo at my local Target and loved it (not enough to buy an XBox, just enough to wish I had one ;)

It's probably the best Batman game I've ever played where you really felt like the Dark Knight. I recall a Batman game on the SNES (yeah, going back a bit) where Bats could die after getting punched a few times by a lowly henchman. Yeah, they really nailed The Batman in that SNES game. /sarcasm off

I loved the counter button and Batman's version of Parker's Spider-sense that told you "PRESS THE FREAKING SQUARE BUTTON NOW!!!" followed by one of several awesome looking counter moves that had Bats spinning around and clocking some poor schmo just when he thought he had the Batman dead to rights.

If I ever get an XBox (or a PS3) I'm totally getting Arkham Asylum. Not because it's a Batman game, but because it's THE Batman game.

Nick said...

I also thoroughly enjoyed this review. I hadn't really considered playing this game, let alone picking it up.

Maybe I'll give it a go after I finish Valkyria Chronicles (which I won't review in as much detail... it's AWESOME! You should check it out now that you have a PS3... that's set up).

Joseph B. Hewitt IV said...

I kinda of started to play Assassin's Creed and I really think Batman spoiled me. AC is annoying me and I've been avoiding going back to it.

Syx said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
turbosushi said...

I'm slowly playing through AitD Inferno at the rate of an hour a month. (Stymied by someone who used the 360 in the office as a basketball.) I can't recommend it but I'm intrigued by the chapter skip feature and what will happen when more genres [try to] adopt this.