Catching Up With 2009: Batman: Arkham Asylum

There was one game that pretty much everyone here at DHGF was going crazy about last year. As you can surmise, that game was Batman: Arkham Asylum. I don’t know if everyone here is a Batman fan or what, (Wait….there are people who don’t like Batman?) but you couldn’t get near a top ten list without the game popping up. It even won our game of the year award for 2009.

Obviously, it had some fans here.

Anyways, there was no small chance that I was going to pass up the game when I got my PS3. I waited a bit for the price to drop and picked it up. I decided it would be best if I didn’t let the game collect dust on my shelf for long, so here we are. This will be only my second column about a game not for a hand held system.

I’ve always liked Batman. Whether it was the early films, the animated series, or the action figures that first hooked me in, I’ll probably never know. He’s pretty much the one DC hero that makes my favorite list, surrounded by the likes of Wolverine, Hulk, Colossus, Beast, Venom, etc. I’m a Marvel guy obviously, but Batman transcends any loyalty I might have for one brand over another. He’s just that damn cool.

I’ve kept an eye out for Batman games over the years. I believe I got to try the NES one and once rented Batman and Robin on the SNES, but I’ve largely avoided the other games because I knew that none of them could possibly live up to the kind of Batman game I dreamed could be. So, when everyone started praising B:AA as the game Batman fans had always wanted, I decided that it was probably time to give it a shot.

So, can the game possibly live up to the hype?

Let’s Catch Up!

What’s The Game?

This weeks game is Batman: Arkham Asylum, an action adventure game for multiple systems. I’m going to cover the PS3 version.

Who Made It?

Rocksteady Studios, who had only developed urban Chaos: Riot Response before this, was given the task of making a next gen Batman game.

When Did It Come Out?

It was released on August 25th, 2009.

The Game of the Year edition was subsequently released in May of 2010.

Where’s The Review?

Alex Lucard himself wrote the review for us back in August of last year.

Why Didn’t You Play It In 2009?

Well, I did try the demo and long for the game most of the year. It didn’t help that I had to sit by and hear people talking about how awesome it was.

The reason I didn’t get to play in in 2009 was simply because I didn’t have a console or a PC capable of playing the game until early this year. After I got my PS3, it only took me a couple of months before I found the cash to pick it up.

I didn’t get it sooner because I was preoccupied with games I felt a more pressing need for. I had to get UFC Undisputed 2009 and I needed God of War III the day it came out. That, and the sixty dollar price tag that Batman was still sporting at the time seemed a bit much. To date, I’ve only paid that much for two PS3 games. God of War III was worth it, but I probably shouldn’t have given in on Bioshock 2. (I blame the first game for being so awesome that it clouded my judgment.)

Anyways, even after I bought it, I had to wait a week or so before I could find time to play it. That’s mostly due to games I was playing for the site in one shape or another. Still, I’ve gotten to play the game so its probably about time I started talking about my experience with it.

So What Did You Think?

I can only assume that I let my expectations of the game run rampant during the many months between the game’s release and the time I got to play it. I had heard so many wonderful things, seen the game on so many “best of” lists, and longed so much for it to be awesome I may have put the game on an impossible pedestal to reach.

What I’m trying to say is that I’m a bit disappointed by the game.

Don’t get me wrong. The game is good. As a Batman fan, I’m still in awe at how this game looks, sounds, and how well it digs into the essence of Batman. From the allusions to some of the greatest moments in Batman history to the perfect casting of the voices and sublime atmosphere, Rocksteady got the aesthetics down pat.

It’s the gameplay that bothers me.

“But Aaron”, you ask. “The combat harkens back to the beat-em-ups of yore and the stealth gameplay fits perfectly with Batman’s character. For crying out loud, you even get to be a bit of a detective for once!”

To that I say, “Sure, but something just doesn’t feel right.”

From the moment I started controlling the Dark Knight, the movement felt stiff to me. I’m sure a big part of it deals with the fact that you have to hold down the x button in order to run. I much rather prefer a game where running is the status quo. I also don’t like the single button combat. True, triangle is for counters and you can use the Batarang and cape to stun enemies. However, if you want to punch someone in the face at a moment’s notice, there’s only one button to do that. My problem is that you don’t always know what move Batman is going to perform and often not even who he’ll perform it on. The game throws over a dozen enemies your way at once and things get hectic. I want to transition from attacking the guy in front of me to the guy with the gun in the corner, but instead I start bashing on the guy directing behind me. Then, said guy with the gun blasts into me. It just feels wrong. That, and for a guy who is a master martial artist, it feels weird that Batman doesn’t have some sort of sweeping attack that can hit multiple enemies at once. I’m also not a fan of the idea that you have to unlock the throwing move and then build up a combo before you’re allowed to use it.

“But what about the stealth gameplay? That was pretty awesome!”

I’m not so much sold on that. True, when I first started playing the game, flying down from the rafters and knocking people out with a kick and then dashing away in the darkness was awesome. But, towards the end, it seemed the game realized that this was too easy and took those chances away, forcing you to use gadgets and tactics that weren’t as fun. I was amused the first time I used explosive gel to knock an enemy off of a platform The next time just didn’t feel the same.

I also grew tired of the incessant back tracking in the game. It seemed that every time you painstakingly worked your way through a building, you had to turn around and go right back through it again. I must have went through this one area a dozen times in the main story, and that wasn’t to try and look for any of the Riddler trophies either.

Perhaps the thing that has bothered me the most is how the Bane and Joker fights went down. Bane is supposed to be one of Batman’s biggest foes, and yet he’s merely a weaker version of an enemy type you fight more of later? The Joker fight is being led up to the entire game, but you don’t really fight him at all. You fight a bunch of goons and then get to perform a context sensitive move to beat him. I pretty much felt robbed of my boss fight.

I’m not saying by any rights that the game is bad at all. What I’m saying is that it never quite clicked for me in the way that it seemingly did for everyone else I know who played it. The game is still quite good. The Scarecrow sections are an absolute blast, Harley Quinn steals the show when she’s not being overshadowed my Mark Hamill’s brilliant Joker, and there are some flat out amazing moments in the game.

It’s a very good game. I just don’t think it was THAT good.

Again, it’s entirely possible I let my expectations ruin it for me. Perhaps had I gone in knowing less, I would have had the same experience as everyone else.

What Score Would You Have Given It?

I’d give it a score of Good or Very Good at the most. There are a lot of things the game does right, but it just didn’t fire on all cylinders for me the way that a classic does.

Would It Have Made Your Top Ten List?

Sadly, I can’t imagine this game making my top ten list. The games that made that list are games that entertained me to no end. I didn’t leave a single one of those games with a feeling of disappointment. I can’t say the same for Batman.

How Much Does It Go For, In Case I want It?

You can find the original version for about forty bucks new, but if you’re willing to fork over another ten bucks, you get the GOTY version that includes a 3D take on the game. For diehard Batman fans, that should be something worth checking out.

Final Thoughts?

I liked Batman: Arkham Asylum. The problem is that I was expecting to love it and the love just wasn’t there. It is entirely possible that I’m one of those fussy people who will never be satisfied with a take on one of his favorite characters. Then again, I loved X-Men Legends. I’m looking forward to this game’s sequel and can’t wait to see what these guys come up with next. I’ll just be sure to temper my expectations so as not to let myself down again.

Next Time: I think I’m going to hit another PS3 game, mostly because I have one on deck that shouldn’t take that long to beat and won’t interfere much with my UFC playing. Look for my next rocking column in about two weeks. See ya then!

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