I did a post about the games I'm looking forward to this coming 6 months so it seems only fair that I review each one as it comes out. First up is Batman: Arkham Asylum.
Arkham Asylum is a third-person...errr...umm...well sort of action, adventure, puzzle thing. To be quite frank defining it's genre may be pointless, it's awesome. Let's start with the combat, as that may be the first thing you think of when you hear, "Batman". The game has a free-flow combat mechanic, meaning there is no heavy hit and light hit or kick button, there is one strike button. You repeatedly hit this button attacking inmates, if one should get into a position where they might hit the bat you hit another button to counter, it is as simple as that, well almost. As you go through the game you get upgrades from, "Waynetech", which upgrade your combat, armour, batarangs and technology. I have three favourite combat upgrades first is the critical strike, which, enables you to perform increasingly more powerful hits once your combo gets above 3 and you time the hits right. The second is the one which leads to the third, so it's not really important. The third is an unblockable instant takedown once your combo gets above 8 or 5 if you have another upgrade. Let me tell you this last one is so cool, the instant takedowns are brilliantly animated and have the most wonderful bone-crunching sound, every time Batman does one of these, you utter an audible, "ohhhhh, bugger me!".
Next, the stealth. For those who are unaware, the chief difference between Batman and the Joker-other than one being perceptibly evil and the other good-is that the Batman refuses to kill anyone and the Joker goes around killing as he pleases. This is in fact explicitly stated by Commissioner Gordon during the introductory scenes of the game, "We have to show him our way works". So while batman has no problems dealing with a few thugs armed with nothing more than lead pipes and fists, he encounters difficulty with guns. He doesn't use guns beacuse they can often result in bad case of death. So when you enter a room and see 5 armed guards, it bodes well to hide a bit and try not running in gung ho. Using distractions, explosive gel, sonic batarangs, inverted takedowns and a myriad of other creative devices you can take down a room of armed guards in an enjoyable and safe way. Seriously if this was a method for hunting rabbits instead, a health and safety officer would not only approve, they'd join in.
So last is the puzzle element. Our old friend Jim Car...I mean The Riddler has planted a few puzzles around the island to test out mental capability. How he got them there I have no idea, this place is like Alkatraz and how he taps into our earpiece early in the game I also don't know but he does and he taunts you just as much as the joker throughout the game. Ostensibly these puzzles and riddles are meant to be solved to keep the Riddler talking so we can trace his broadcast, but we all know we're just doing them because they're fun. There are trophies in hard to reach areas, there are recordings of the spirit of Arkham (What?!), riddles leading to allusions to old batman characters and riddles leading to question marks printed on the walls that you have to quite precisle align. The puzzle mode holds my key criticism of the game, the detective mode.
The Detective mode is used in other parts like scanning for guards, tracking dna, alcohol and tobacco (sounds weird but will be clear when you play). But a large part of its usefulness is in the puzzles, there are destructible walls, hidden grates and all kinds of things that you will only see with detective mode on. This makes it incredibly tempting to leave it on all the time, and why shouldn't you, if the game has been designed that way you shouldn't feel some weird sense of loyalty to the artists, and have to turn it off to look at their quite lovely work. It's an old problem in video games, usually caused by mini-maps, here you get to see the scenery but not in the gorgeous colour and detail it was intended to be viewed in. Peter Molonyeux is well known for speaking out on this matter. What is the point in creating beautiful artwork and scenery if you give the player a minimap which they're gonna stare at instead of the game. Peter solved it in a way in Fable 2 with the breadcrumbs and dog mechanic, which while a little glitchy at times was elegant and blended into the scenery well.
While I do dislike the over-usefulness of the detective mode, I love this game, I'm on my second run-through and can't see myself getting bored with it, 4 save files may not be enough. It is the best game I've played since Mass Effect and Shadow of the Collossus. So if you'll excuse me I'm gonna go play and not bother proof-reading this, not that I ever do.