DISCLAIMER: The following article does contain spoilers that may apply to the gameplay and overall story arc of Batman Arkham Asylum. Be advised that by reading this article, you may ruin your experience playing through the game itself.
Much hype surrounds Rocksteady’s newest software title brought to market, Batman Arkham Asylum. Game Informer reviewed the game at a 9.5 out of 10 and calls the game “this year’s BioShock“. IGN’s final verdict was a 93 out of 100, claiming that Rocksteady “nailed what Batman is supposed to feel like“. Even the Guinness Book of World Records had stepped in, calling Batman the “Most Critically Acclaimed Superhero Game Ever“. After playing through the entire narrative, searching out every Riddler Trophy, and discovering each Chronicle of Arkham(plus medaling most challenge maps), the overwhelming feeling of missed opportunities still seems to rot my gut.
Rewind to the 25th day of September, 2009. Batman Arkham Asylum and Metroid Prime Trilogy came into my posession as a result of picking up pre-orders from the local game store. Obviously(and for good reason), the former was at the top of the play list according to order of importance. Only when “Batman Burnout” occurred did Metroid become a viable option. Upon finishing Arkham Asylum, my attention moved fully to the Prime series. It would seem that these two titles would be meant for two different audiences, would it not? Only after playing Batman and Metroid Prime in succession, did it give me the insight to realize that these are more closely related than previously thought. The slight regret then set in.
Batman Arkham Asylum succeeds with a large majority of what it sets out to do, but it’s potential far outweighs that. It employs every aspect that one would expect from a AA or AAA title. Rocksteady have chosen to follow the mythos of Batman: The Animated Series(originally aired September 5, 1992 – September 15, 1995) and borrows many of it’s assets as well. Veteran Batman voice actors such as Arleen Sorkin, Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamil, comprise the majority of the cast in the game(the latter being the most brilliant- until the end). Sound design and atmosphere have been crafted with care and love as well. Modifications to the Unreal Engine 3 are apparent and result in the lack of the typical “wet” and “plastic” looks. The narrative is paced almost perfectly, and the game contains a “payoff” system that is almost perfect. So, you ask: If the title is of the quality that you boast, why the post-play skepticism?
Should The Dark Knight Have Been This Dark?
At 10 to 12 hours for a complete playthrough, Batman offers an extremely solid example of a game that is truly more than the sum of it’s parts. The only real problem here is that the game could have been so much more. For example, Detective mode is practically fully upgraded from the game’s start. Since Batman already had a Batcave built on Akham Island “just in case”, why not use the Medical Lab as more than a setting? Our hero could come across salvageable medical equipment, in which he finds a small chip that can be used to upgrade his cowl by returning to the “cave”. This would serve two purposes: the satisfaction of item acquirement AND seeing Bruce Wayne’s face as he enhances his equipment. Assuming the role as the Dark Knight is not really the same as connecting with him as a character- this would have bridged that gap. Wait, there’s more.
Another place that Arkham Asylum gets it right is the fact of environments being altered temporarily to suit the storytelling, which is in part, no doubt, to the game’s writer, Paul Dini(also borrowed from the animated show). The issue here is that the development team as a whole did not take it far enough. This was the perfect chance to incorporate one or more alternate “batsuits” again by utilizing items in the evironment and/or Batcave. At several points, the ground is thick with colored mist which is hazardous to our hero. It disappears as you progress, but would it not be more compelling for the player to find a way to tolerate the environment instead of fearing adverse effects it might cause? Imagine Batman donning the eqivalent of the Phazon Suit from Metroid Prime- does that not make the mouth salivate?
Also, after playing the Predator Challenge Maps, the realization comes that the single-player game itself does not go far enough with it’s own takedown tactics. Some of the tactics the player is forced to implement in the Extreme maps give a glimpse what can truly be achieved in making you feel like the world’s greatest detective(and badass, for that matter). The campaign does introduce booby-trapped gargoyles, but hence again- missed opportunity.
What criticism would be complete without mentioning how anticlimactic the final showdown is portrayed? One of two things needed to happen here. Both parties need to remain completely human, or better yet, both should have “hulked” out(for lack of a better term). What resulted could have been a “God of War” type boss battle culminating in Batman THEN using the antidote on himself, returning to normal. As it was presented, the ultimate confrontation felt less “ultimate” and more contrived as if the developers had taken the easy way out.
All things considered, Batman Arkham Asylum is a title that should be fairly high on your “to-play” list. While the article appears to be unabashedly negative and harsh toward the game, this is not the case. The only fear here is that, in retrospect, it is highly possible that Batman might have been critically received a shade too well. This independent journalist is definitely a more complete gamer for having played said game, but while despising placement of numerical value on software, my rating would have clocked in a small degree below a solid 9, possibly an 8.9 in the rear view mirror. Hopefully most of, if not all of these things are what we can expect for the sequel.