My first impressions (5 hrs in) **WARNING: THERE MAY BE SOME SPOILERS!!**
Batman: Arkham Asylum has a déjà vu feel to it. A creepy, yet happy feel to it. That “I played this game not too long ago” kind of feel. The last time I played a game about someone creeping thru a madhouse where death lurked at every corner, where the ambient sound made your spine tingle, where ads and voices made everything seem alright although quite clearly it was not…was Bioshock.
Before you all get yourselves into a furor, Batman is NOT a Bioshock rip-off or should there ever be an apples to apples comparison but this game has so much depth and weight to it, this is the only other game that I can conjure up in my mind of the feel.
For what it’s worth, all the hype and delays of this game so far have been well worth the extra wait and it shows. The game’s opening sets the mood for the story that we all know about as far as the Joker luring Batman into Arkham Asylum to spring a trap and we later find out the Bane is the part of the key to this trap. The fact that so far having Paul Dini writing this macabre story really reflects on how polished this game plays. The mystery is set up, cops have betrayed each other in order to further the Joker’s goals and a warden with political aspirations are all integral part of the Dark Knight’s quest to find out what is going on inside Arkham and the Joker’s twisted brain.
So how well does it play? So far it’s pretty smooth in terms of playability and as you progress you can power up Batman’s abilities and this is one place where it doesn’t play like Bioshock….hehehe…In Bioshock where you had an elaborate setup to have to ‘buy’ certain abilities from vending machines, Batman’s power up system is a straightforward system where you earn points through fighting. The fighting mechanics takes a little bit of getting used to as for rooms where you have to clear out thugs and henchmen, you have to strategize your attacks and trust me, Rambo-ing thru a room is the quickest way to your death. This game makes a simplistic use of stealth abilities and it’s to a point where instead of making it an overly complicated mechanic as seen in some recent stealth wanna-be’s released ** cough cough Velvet Assassin** , it organically fits right into the game. As you play you learn how to glide, glide kick and hang to pick off enemies. The grapple gun is pretty easy to use and is a good way to get out of a sticky situation when you are surrounded and as an added strategy I recommend that when surrounded and going to high ground keep moving because sometimes they can lose sight of you. I digress however…the fighting system helps you earn XP which in turn unlocks those abilities that I have discussed some of which gives you extra bat-a-rangs’, more combo moves and better armor. As far as the fighting, this is something else that is not bogged down in a complex system of button pushes although it is wise to learn some good mechanics that helps you unlock better gear a lot quicker as you play.
And of course you get a nice range of abilities that are persistent from the outset of the game which is needed to help you solve certain puzzles. The detective mode is your best friend in finding out where the bad guys are their condition as well as to helping you follow clues to progress through the game. Vocal cues from the voice actors will also let you know if you are going in the right direction.
I really thank the fact that Eidos and the rest of the creators of this game really took the time out to make sure they got the voice actors from the cartoon to set this game up because it is indeed superb and this is definitely a very mature version of the animated series. There are dead bodies that litter the hall in some places, there is gore, strong suggestive language and a very creepy hallucination scene in which Batman sees his dead parents in a morgue who talk to him. Arkham has a very oppressive feel to it much like Rapture did in Bioshock. Not to mention the cut scenes are well done and informative…again…do NOT underestimate the value of vocal cues you hear throughout this game!!!
They very easily could have taken the route of creating a Dark Knight Movie adaptation and put out a crappy game. but they didn’t thankfully!
Graphically, the game looks gorgeous and one thing I do applaud the creators for is that they didn’t clutter up the game with needless HUD info so you get to enjoy the game and the HUDs that do pop up only pop up when needed. Anything that you can find out you can get when you push a button to see another screen. You do spend a lot of time exploring also because the Riddler has st up riddles for you to solve in many locations and they can distract you from your main quest to solve them. Also, there are many other unlockables and challenges that you will run across as you play as well as recordings of the Arkham patients as well as Dr. Arkham himself. Speaking of, as you explore, note the places that you could not initially could not get to because as you get better gear you can always go back and access earlier levels and collect what you couldn’t get.
As far as villains and bosses…well I like to take my time and enjoy a game and not run thru them so if my 4 to 5 hours may seem slow to some to reach this point, so be it…but so far I have run across the Scarecrow and had to escape a hallucination to defeat him (although I think this was not the ‘final’ fight that I will have) then I fought Bane which reminded me of the countless boss fights in Wolverine, but done a little better. At present, I have found the Batcave and trying to track down Dr. Penny Young. Surprisingly when I saved and shut down for the night, my stats told me that I had only progressed thru 17% of the game, HA! This doesn’t feel like a ‘longish’ game but at the same time I would be a bit pissed if I ran right thru it and have a ‘this was it?’ kind of feeling. A slow burning game like this is what I need right now.
Do I have any gripes on this game? Not many. The henchmen are a bit repetitive but they are of course your source of XP. I kind of wish the terrorized you similar to the denizens of Rapture, BUT this isn’t that game now is it? LOL. I also wish there were more things to grapple onto and swing on but then that is part of the puzzle in some places which is finding the right thing to swing to, pushing the right buttons and finding the right things to break and disarm.
This is by far the best Batman game at present and hopefully this will set a bar to how superhero games should be made. I do think it will overshadow MUA II, although I know I will be picking that one up as well, in terms of quality and storytelling and draw. When I read the initial reviews I just knew some palms were greased for the reviews it has gotten. I was wrong…it earned those reviews and as Batman the Dark Knight set the bar for how to make a good superhero / crime movie, this will set a bar on how to make a good superhero/ survival horror/ action game.
Make sure you do not miss this first entry into fall gaming as it starts off with a BANG!
4.5 out of 5 stars, 9.5 out 10!