A Christian Bale success, or a Val Kilmer shocker?
First things first: I love comic books, but I was never much of a Batman fan (X-Men FTW, baby!). Although I have enough knowledge of the series to appear suitably geeky to my friends in the pub, most true Batman fans pick apart my knowledge quicker than a puppy with a slipper. The latest Nolan films did readdress this somewhat, and I found myself reading several of the darker storylines after watching Begins and TDK.
So I was suitably impressed, and fairly well armed with lore when the first previews and screenshots of Batman: Arkham Asylum circulated the internet. Part of me was wary, however, of the fabled Curse of Film/Comicbook Adaptation: to wit, it is a real rarity for a game to be based on a film or comic, and actually be enjoyable, and still appeal to hardcore fans.
So, upon starting the game, my first impressions were excellent. The graphics were fantastic (3D rocked too), the voice actors did a grand job of bringing Batman, Joker and company to life, and the story setup was fabulous. The game starts with Batman escorting the Joker into Arkham Asylum, after successfully capturing him on the outside. Several minor characters are mentioned or introduced, and the Joker mocks Batman and the guards in a funny (and, at times, very adult) way whilst strapped to a chair.
Needless to say, all hell breaks loose, and the Joker escapes. From this point on, the game properly begins, and you essentially spend the rest of the game playing cat-and-mouse with the Joker and several of his minions.
The decision to create a new Batman tale, as opposed to a game based on a film or one of the major comic arcs, is of immense benefit to the game. The casual player isn’t bogged down by needing to know all of the backstory to Batman and his opponents, and yet the game is full of geek-nods (I’m trademarking that word as we speak) designed to send the die hard Batman fans into frothy-mouthed frenzies of joy. It also allows for a fantastic story to be told, which weaves between several characters (allowing for variation in gameplay), whilst never losing sight of the overall goal.
The level design is excellent. All the areas of the game feel like what they are supposed to represent (sewers, a mansion, etc.) whilst still adding some real gameplay. The platforming elements, whilst somewhat easy at times, break up the action very nicely, and the environmental puzzles feel just the right side of easy to provide some challenge.
You really do feel like Batman himself
Combat in this game is also very tight. Whilst it is initially possible to play by mashing the attack button furiously, later enemies force the player into becoming more methodical with their attacks, and string together combos. Many moves are unlocked as the game progresses, allowing a development of a fighting style which really makes you feel like Batman himself. Also, unlocking several moves allowed for a more stealthy play style, and I actually found it far more fun to try to clear a room of henchmen with out being seen, in true “Dark Knight” style
One small gripe I did have was that many of the standard enemies fell into one of three types, and later in the game, they felt less like a formidable obstacle, and more like a small, repetitive hurdle to be overcome. The same could also be said of some of the boss fights, with the same boss being recycled many times, even (criminally!) the final boss. However, several of them were also very memorable too, and mixed up the pace of the game nicely.
Also included in the main game are the Riddler challenges. These range from ‘Hunt the Object’ searches, to actual riddles that need solving. Whilst fun, the riddles aren’t compulsory, and add maybe another hour or two of gameplay to the main quest. This is somewhat necessary, as I found myself finishing the main quest, with 60% of the Riddlers puzzles complete in about 7 hours. Also, after completing the main story, there is little reason to return to the game and play through again, although the life is extended somewhat by a challenge extra, which invites you to retry key areas of the game, and play them in a different way. There is also no multiplayer.
So, a few very small niggles aside, Batman:AA is a great game, for die-hard bat-fans and newcomers alike. The story is very involving, the combat is good, the level design is great, and you really do feel like Batman himself. I would recommend this game to nearly everybody, as it is a great example of how these types of games should be made. The only thing I would like add is that this game is most emphatically not for kids, as it has a lot of violence, some adult overtones, and quite a lot of blood too (hence the 15 certificate).
The Bad: Maybe a little short; most of the Riddler challenges are, at times, blatant filler material; some boss fights are less epic than they should be; little replay value.