S-Ranking a relatively new game? Say it ain't so!
Yes, Batman: Arkham Asylum finally hit a price point where I'd consider buying it for the XBox360. I refuse to pay more than 100 dollars for a game considering it they are usually about 60 US new and the exchange rate currently puts that at about 66 Australian. If companies are spending 32 dollars or more per copy to ship it here then they need to stop sending them in diamond encrusted yachts. Anyways, this stance on the price point of games means that I will usually hold off new purchases until a sale occurs. So it was a pleasant surprise to go into one of my local games/music/dvd superstores a discover that Batman, which has been described on this very site as the Multi-Platform Game of 2009, at an affordable price. Also, when taking it to the counter I was assured by the sales assistant that it was in fact a fantastic game. Well if you say it is Mister Salesman then it must be true.
He was right though. Batman: Arkham Asylum is a fun, polished, thoroughly addictive action adventure game that handles the Batman mythos with the utmost of respect. The addictiveness of this title can be demonstrated by the fact that on the nights that I played it, I was still punching henchmen and zipping through levels several hours after I should have gone to bed.
The dialogue is great and the voice actors are fantastic. The cast has a solid core of voice actors from Batman: The Animated Series which was one of my staple afternoon cartoons in the 90s. For me, this nostalgia only adds to appeal. Mark Hamill steals the show as the Joker. It is a completely different take on the character than the one in the Dark Knight, but is just as fun to watch. The story at parts is a little gamey, in that some events seem to happen just so you can fight a particular villain. Having said that, this would still make an excellent Batman comic or cartoon on its own. Although there is not much in the way of surprising plot twists, the little bit of forth wall breaking (if that is what you would call it) leading up to the final Scarecrow battle did get me and was pulled off very smartly.
The majority of the gameplay in Arkham Asylum is first class. The different gimmicks are introduced at a steady pace so you always have something new to do. The streamlined controls and Batmans gadgets make the platforming sections fun and varied. It was also really clever to have all out brawling and sneaky stealth scenarios and still make them feel like they belong to the same game.
The brawling mechanics are some of the best I've ever played. The game rewards you for not being too button mashy and actually thinking about the moves you want to do. This is especially true in hard mode as well as the challenges where your score is primarily determined by your ability to chain your attacks for as long as possible, with as much variety as possible. I wish I had done these challenges earlier in my playthrough because they do teach you a lot about how the combat system works. The stealth sections are also a blast to play but the gargoyles (which allow you to escape when things go pear shaped) seemed a little tacked on. I actually tried to avoid these during my hard run playthrough because it is a lot more fun to avoid the armed henchmen using the other stealth and hiding mechanics. Even the collector puzzles, supplied by The Riddler are just hard enough to be fun without being frustrating. They also reward you for going back to previous sections of the game after you have powered up your many gadgets. The boss fights are varied and interesting and they allow you to fight a cavalcade of Batman super-criminals like Scarecrow, Killer Croc and Poison Ivy. If there is one criticism I would give about the gameplay is that the Bane/Titan Henchman mechanic occurred a little too often for my taste.
On to the achievements!
I got most of the achievements done during the initial playthrough, with them either being just rewarded for completing a section of the game, finding a certain amount of Riddler puzzles or performing a relatively easy action like gliding for 100 meters or catching a Batarang you have thrown. The combat based achievement include such tasks as Freeflow Perfection, requiring you to pull off a combo that includes every combat move and Freeflow Combo 40, asking for a combo of 40 moves. Most of these I got when trying to get gold medals on all the challenges (which are also achievements themselves).
When I started the challenges I was doing about 3 or 4 unique moves a combo and these combos were at most 10 hits long. This did not net me very many points however and I learnt that to gold medal the harder challenges I really had to get these achievements first. The way that the points exponentially rise as you master the combat system is very rewarding and by the time I finished the last two brawler challenges I was routinely using all the moves in a 30-40 move combo chain. This also meant I had moved from getting 1000 points a round to 16000 points on an especially clean combo. Even after mastering the combat the harder brawler challenges are still quite vexing, especially the one that adds a timer to the mix. It took me probably 4 or 5 sessions to finish the hardest combat challenges and snag those achievements. This wasn't too frustrating though because most mistakes I made I could see where I went wrong and it was all part of the learning process. On the other end of the scale, the stealth challenges seemed quite easy and I was able to knock those over after a couple of tries each. Only one sticks out at me as being troubling, but that was more getting the guards to bunch up enough to pull three of them off a ledge in one go.
After finishing all the challenges I had managed to 100% complete the game (which, again, is an achievement) but I still had one achievement left! My first playthrough was on the regular difficulty and so I still needed to finish it on Hard to S-Rank this baby. Firing up a new save I was warned by the game that on Hard henchmen don't flash the counter timing and they will spot you more easily. It also advised me this difficulty should only be attempted by the experienced. This is probably good advice. Although I actually had little trouble finishing it on Hard, that was only because I had spent so much time practising on the challenges and so I knew when to counter, stun, dodge and how to stealth properly. If I had attempted to S-Rank this in one playthrough I probably would have failed miserably. As it is, it only took about 2 or 3 sessions to finish the game on Hard and get that sweet, sweet S-Rank.
Getting an S-Rank in Arkham Asylum was especially rewarding because of how skill based the combat feels and the amount of time I spent mastering it to gold medal the combat challenges.
All in all I couldn't recommend this game more highly. They really should have named this game Batman: Crazy Awesome Fun Times. Maybe that can be the sequel.
S-Ranking a relatively new game? Say it ain't so!