Batman: Arkham Asylum - game review
Three weeks after the premiere of the console editions of Batman: Arkham Asylum, no one has any doubts that we are dealing with one of the best action games of recent months. Now, when the PC edition hits the market, it's time to take a look at what the British from Rocksteady Studios did that they all express themselves in superlatives about their work.
Arkham Asylum makes a brilliant use of the comic book license, also drawing handfuls from all the pop culture achievements in which the Dark Knight has grown over the years. We will find a bit of a Burton vision of Batman here, and fans of the 90s Batman: The Animated Series cartoon will hear most of the actors from the series in action. The greatest fun, however, will be for comic book fans who will find various flavors and references to their favorite series. The authors of the game basically completely cut themselves off from the realistic vision of the Knight of Gotham, served by Christopher Nolan in the last two films - maybe except for "borrowing" one musical theme that an attentive ear can catch. One more peculiar detail remains.
As in The Dark Knight Nolan, Batman's character is generally the least interesting of all the villains we encounter. Well, with a straight face he throws some asexual texts (thankfully without Bale's croak). Fortunately, the rest of the dialogues we hear more than make up for the story's vagueness of the main character, who, on the other hand, makes a spectacular punch on the thugs. In the story told in Arkham Asylum, the Joker is the star of the show and he is the one who pulls the strings, carrying out his plan (at least for a while) always ahead of Batman. Mark Hamill, who voices him, has risen to the heights of dubbing acting and really breathes life into a cluster of polygons covered with textures.
The fun begins as the Batmobile crosses the streets of Gotham in pouring rain. The Dark Knight has captured the Joker and drives him to the insane asylum where all the city's greatest villains are kept. After reaching the place, as you can easily guess, the Joker evades the protection and implements the intricately prepared plan, taking control of Arkham with his henchmen. Batman becomes a toy in the hands of a supervillain who leads him by the nose. You have to believe me that the less I write about the plot, the better - the pleasure of discovering new threads and meeting new villains from the universe is gigantic. However, I will not spoil anyone's fun if I reveal that the game features Scarecrow. While the struggle with it itself does not arouse some great delight, the circumstances in which it appears are simply brilliant! It is a bit worse with the other bosses, but it is a real pleasure to meet some of them. After all, after finishing the game, we feel a bit unsatisfied. However, you can't have everything - something has to be left for the next games in the series, which I hope will be made.
After the plot and the DC Comics universe, another magnet that draws us extremely strongly to the screen is the gameplay that has been balanced in a perfect way. The first of its components is incredibly absorbing close combat. Although Batman does not kill any opponents in the game (only stuns each of them), he deals with all the snags in a very spectacular way. Importantly, everything is relatively easy to learn, because we learn fighting techniques gradually. As the game progresses and experience increases, we unlock new combinations. There is not much of it, but after all, it is not quantity but quality that counts. So there is a basic attack, block, jump, stun the enemy with a cape, throw a Batarang, knock down the Batclaw, finish the enemy, break and throw. From all of the above activities, we can build murderous and beautiful-looking combos. Getting a high multiplier requires a lot of concentration. The most problematic is to finish off the enemy we knocked over (at this point, stars are flying over his head), we have to sense the right moment and then immediately attack the next enemy so as not to interrupt the sequence.
The normal difficulty level has been well-balanced - it's not very easy, and on the other hand, we don't tear our hair out by repeating the enty once again. All the blows are animated very smoothly and naturally, even the very movement of the cape is very impressive. It is worth mentioning the fights with mutated, difficult (seemingly) opponents. When we find a way to weaken them, we will be able to jump on their back and to a limited extent direct their movements and massacre other enemies. I am glad that we have control over everything, and the authors did not go the easy way, using very convenient quick time events, which we will hardly experience at Arkham Asylum. Importantly, we do not meet opponents at every step, we do not have to fight through them, we do not feel irritated by the hordes of enemies advancing from everywhere. We have time to breathe and just enjoy being able to play Batman.
The second extremely important component of the game is exploration. The action takes place on a relatively small island with only five large buildings (plus a few hidden locations related to history). Little? Absolutely not. The level design forces you to constantly combine, search for hidden passages and use gadgets. Everything seems perfectly planned, nothing has been forced. We climb to inaccessible places on a rope, from high towers we glide on an outstretched cloak, hide from enemies on gargoyles, break into security systems to open the door. In fact, throughout the entire game, I did not feel bored with the challenges posed in front of me for a moment, as it was in Assassin's Creed. Where did this comparison come from? After all, the creators of Arkham Asylum were modeled on the work of Ubisoft in many respects. Fortunately, however, they avoided the monotony that made many players discouraged from Altair's adventures.
After all the locations, the story takes us by the hand, as it progresses, we get to know new enemies, to defeat them we have to find a new way. We often do this with the help of completely different gadgets. Although there are no tremors of opponents or gadgets, everything is dosed in such proportions that every silent photo of a sniper, every execution of a freak that throws himself on our backs brings a strange sense of satisfaction. The great thing is that Batman is a flesh-and-blood man who overcomes all adversities with his cunning, not some superhuman strength. On the other hand, our "toys" are a different story.
The first fire is the detective mode, which may hardly be called a gadget, but thanks to it we will see hidden passages, ventilation grilles or enemies visible at all times. We will also take the steps necessary to advance our investigation. It's easy to get addicted to the detective mode, because it greatly facilitates the gameplay. Try to limit it anyway, because you may miss some really beautiful views.
Batman's gadgets are unlocked gradually as the game progresses. The coolest, in my opinion, is Batclaw, i.e. a fired line with a hook, thanks to which we climb to inaccessible places and knock down enemies. At the end of the game, even weak walls are smashed with this contraption. The authors did not leave us much freedom, because we cannot shoot ourselves anywhere, the silent fun is great anyway. We also have at our disposal an explosive gel and a device that allows us to break into security systems, including door. There is also a line to shoot straight ahead to move between buildings or fissures. There is also the iconic Batarang, with which we knock down enemies (only for a moment, because we have to finish them quickly), and we use it to solve a few puzzles. Thanks to experience points, we can increase the functionality of all toys and thus have, for example, a manually controlled Batarang or a gel that explodes automatically when opponents approach it.
As I mentioned, Batman is faced with all sorts of puzzles several times. However, we can forget about real challenges - this stage in electronic entertainment is probably behind us. Despite the simplicity, cleaning the room from gas or reaching the bomb ahead of time fits perfectly into the convention and adds color to the fun.
Sneaking is also an important element of the game, although there are no advanced techniques known from the MGS or Splinter Cell series. Usually, by using elements of the environment, such as ventilation ducts or gargoyles placed under the ceiling, we have to quietly get rid of other enemies. The AI is really well thought out, the opponents, when they notice a stunned companion, get nervous, walk in pairs, nervously shouting threats at us. In addition, we hear the Joker motivating his people to work all the time. After unlocking the special skill, we will be able to slide the gargoyles on our enemies and quickly hang them by their legs on the rope. It looks brilliant. As if that was not enough, by sensing the right moment, we can use the Batarang to cut the rope on which the unfortunate man hangs, thus dropping him on the thugs watching him. Revelation. In order not to be too easy, even in the stealth mode, we will face some unforeseen challenges. But here again I do not want to reveal all the flavors and surprises that the Joker will serve us.
An optional, yet extremely addictive element of the game is to face the Riddler's challenges that this madman has spread across the island. I have to admit that I am not the type of player who usually chases after "collectibles". But in Arkham Asylum, after the end of the storyline, I was happy to start looking for 240 hidden treasures. These include the Riddler trophies (i.e. question marks that must be picked up), Arkham chronicles (characteristic marks that need to be scanned, thanks to which we learn about the history of the facility) and audio tapes from sessions with patients (Zsasz rules). The most fun are the tips because of which we have to photograph the right places or objects in the game world. A lot of problems are fragments of question marks, which we will see only in detective mode. For example, on the floor we see the top of the question mark, and on the balcony railing a dot - we have to position ourselves in such a way as to see the whole "?" In perspective.
Some of the Riddler's challenges unlock the silhouettes of heroes known from comic book cards, which will certainly be a big attraction also for those who are not familiar with the Batman universe. It is worth noting here that you need all gadgets to find all the secrets, so don't be discouraged that some of them are beyond your reach at the beginning of the game. After completing the entire storyline, you can easily go on a treasure hunt.
The lack of a multiplayer game mode successfully compensates for the Challange Mode in which we fight or sneak in closed locations. Thanks to the accumulated points, we win medals and we can see our nickname in the online ranking. Although we do not experience anything new in the challenge mode, it is an excellent training and complement to the game, thanks to it we can practice close combat and increase the combo counter.
Already on both consoles the game looked phenomenal, and the PC version of course looks no worse. On the contrary. Sharper textures and enriched physics do their job, although for most players, the above boosters probably have absolutely no meaning. Batman: Arkham Asylum remains a sensational action game, regardless of whether more dust particles are flying in the air. PC players can enjoy Games for Windows - Live Achievements and support for the X360 pad. Playing with the keyboard and mouse does not cause any problems, but still I felt more comfortable with the pad in my hand. Optimization is also at the highest level, and thanks to the demo version, everyone can see if their equipment will cope with Batman. For Polish players, the price will be an equally important factor, the PC version is twice cheaper than the console version, and in addition it has been polonized in cinema.
When it comes to the pronunciation of the review and the rating of the game, this is probably one of the few exceptions where I had no doubts. Perhaps a masterpiece is too much to say, and a perfectly tailored product is too offensive to Arkham Asylum . It's just an excellent action game, well-balanced, with an amazing atmosphere, sparkling, wonderfully played dialogues, beautiful graphics, great combat system ... eh, a lot to write. Just play it.
Łukasz "Verminus" Malik
PS I've been thinking about the perfect action game and overall Batman has practically all my needs and it's hard to pinpoint any significant drawbacks, but… I envisioned the game in the uncompromising, brutal form that Starbreeze Studios served on The Chronicles of Riddick . That would be a masterpiece ...