Game Review: Batman: Arkham Asylum

Holy mediocrity Batman…

Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment,
Platforms: Microsoft Windows (reviewed), OS X
Available on: Steam

The Batman games have been quite well regarded by most gamers over the years. It’s one of the very few franchises adapted from another medium that has seen high critical praise and great sales. I personally was never all that interested but since I’ve owned the games for years now – having bought them at various points through sales and bundles for next to nothing – I decided it was time to finally experience these games for myself.

I’m kinda torn on this one. For one, I liked the stealth-action approach overall with the way you can swoop around the levels and take out individual guards and you actually hear the others panicking with every enemy taken down. On the other hand, I’m really not a fan of the excessive backtracking or the combat system.

Now I can already hear the groans as I tear into something people have agreed is the best thing that happened to gaming since fully 3D sliced bread. But I just didn’t find the combat in this game all that engaging. Mashing the same button over and over again for attacks with the others being only there to parry different types of enemies is not what I’d consider a fleshed-out combat design. There really isn’t any finesse to this at all, just randomly bash your way through hordes of enemies that just tank way too much damage. Really, if you’d let enemies wail on you, I wouldn’t be surprised if Batman could take less punishment than any of his foes. And I really don’t see how this is what gamers wanted out of a combat system. Sure, it looks kinda cool, fluidly switching between enemies, but every so often it also just looks ridiculous whenever Batman darts 10 meters between enemies at an unbelievable speed, just so the combat engine can maintain the input timing, but it gets monotonous fast. Similar to Assassin’s Creed combat.

Batman’s ever expanding arsenal is a neat idea and it opens up new ways of traversing the island every so often. My gripe with this is the excessive backtracking that forces onto the player. It seems like Rocksteady wanted to wring out the absolute most of the levels they had to design for this game. And while they did a quite nice job with incorporating the Riddler stuff in there (even though I personally didn’t go out of my way of getting the trophies that weren’t in my immediate line of sight or solving the riddles I couldn’t figure out in a few seconds), that still doesn’t make it more interesting to traverse the same levels multiple times, even with the added changes from Poison Ivy’s mutated plants, which turned out to be more of an annoyance. Another baffling inclusion is the detective mode. Now I get that seeing shit through walls and highlighting interactible stuff is crucial when you want to build levels with exploration in them. But the detective mode is just way too practical for you to ever turn it off. I basically had it on the majority of the time because it didn’t bother me at all and you basically need it to find all the walls with structural weaknesses and other such stuff.

Speaking of annoyances: Whoever came up with the Killer Croc level deserves to be fired. Who in their right mind would think this shit is entertaining? Slowly walking around a maze in order to not alert Killer Croc to your location and then still having him pop up every so often just to shoot him back down with a batarang. And this section goes on forever with a typical needles busywork quest to find enough plants to gather samples from. Seriously, fuck that section of the game.

And while I’m already discussing the villains, most of their boss fights suck too. Mostly because a ton of them follow the same formula set up by the first villain, Bane. Blind him with a batarang so he smashes his fat face into the wall behind you and pummel him for a few seconds while he recovers. This fight is repeated six or seven times over the course of the game and it becomes stale by the second time it happens. I get that the narrative pushes the game into that direction where Batman ends up fighting a ton of people treated with the same chemical Bane uses to buff himself up, but from a gameplay perspective, I just found it boring and repetitive. The only real boss fight that stands out as different was Poison Ivy’s, since it required a different if still fairly repetitive tactic to beat. The final boss fight against the Joker is a fucking insult. Having him just summon waves upon waves of henchmen while he himself is roided up is just a fucking waste of my time.

The only really delightful villain in this entire game is Scarecrow with his platforming segments. They were stylish and at least a bit different to fighting the same enemies over and over again, even though this also happens during his segments. And somehow, I have to assume that Rocksteady knew players would keep on detective mode for a big part of the game, because he summons actual skeletons to fight you so the fights don’t look any different to when you’ve got X-ray vision on. Though I’m not quite sure what the point of his arc in this game was.

The writing really isn’t one of the better parts of the game either. It’s at a typical level for comic books, way too overcomplicated in its setup while still being childishly predictable right from the word “go”. Tons of contrivances – like the batcave on Arkham island – and clichés that really don’t do justice to the mostly pretty good voice acting. Though I found it kinda weird how Harley Quinn talks in her inane voice back when she was still a psychiatrist when you find the conveniently placed audio logs.

You know, reading through this again, I’ve come to the realization that I didn’t really enjoy the majority of this game. There are just too many little annoyances and not enough variety there for me to really like this game. And I’m really not sure if I’m inclined in checking out the sequels, even though I already own Arkham City and Origins.

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