Let's not forget, everyone was super sceptical on this Batman videogame before it came out. There hasn't been a single good 3D Batman game. There hasn't been a single great superhero game (Spiderman games are only good for the swinging). So, BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM had a lot going against it. How will the game keep true to the Batman character? Will the gadgets have lame gameplay? Would the combat system be a generic beat-em-up? Would the story suck? Who's ever even heard of Rocksteady Studios?
NO ADDED JUNK
Thankfully, it was the exact opposite of those questions. BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM is a tight experience, with game design that sticks stringently to its goals. There is no Batmobile driving sequence. There are no Quick Time Events. There is no co-op. There is no multiplayer. There is no big Gotham city open-world where you do side-quests to pad out more hours. Rocksteady was confident in its single-player campaign, to not have to add any obvious filler.
That's major confidence from a fairly unknown developer studio.
I'M THE GODDAMN BATMAN!So, what should a Batman game be? A platformer? A brawler? A detective game? Or, be like other clever developers, and dip into all those genres? Not many games combine different gameplay genres, or when they do, they're bloated. There's been only one game that I remember that did it well, which was BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL. Most games just rely on what they're good at, and stick to that. I think it's called the "if it's not borken, don't fix it" paradigm that has led to the most generic games ever.
BATMAN: AA isn't that. The developers put excellent gameplay that defines every aspect of the character. Due to this, everything about the game feels fresh. From the insanely refreshing and satisfying freeflow combat system (Batman's the best at martial arts, and it shows) to the exploration of the world with your grappling hook (he's gotta perch like a bat, too) and other geekgasm gadgets (no Bat credit card), you know you're playing a Batman game.
The Batman combat is just genius. Instead of combo mashing, every single face button is a tactic. Little input = big output. You must be an economical businessman with your button presses, especially when it comes to the Combat Challenges. Is it the only game where there isn't a single-button-mashing combo? The variety of moves leads into the animations, with some of the most beautiful mo-cap work I've witnessed from a protagonist. Animations never get old, because they hardly ever repeat. They're dynamic. This again is a huge achievement, to not have "animation fatigue" even in this HD era of having hundreds of animation cycles.
Stealth gameplay could've been screwed up so bad. How many good stealth staple games are there really? I have to give props to Rocksteady for making the most universally simple and elegant stealth system that anyone can pick up. This is the new wave of aggressive stealth. The artificial intelligence is great, which allows you for sandbox SPLINTER CELL-like gameplay where you're toying around with the enemies, and then snapping up the last enemy who's peeing his pants. When you're on a gargoyle, you feel so Batman it's creepy. SPLINTER CELL CONVICTION is also going along this new wave of aggressive stealth (which is resonating a lot more with people who've always wanted to try these games), so let's see what grandpa Sam can muster up. Wait-and-pounce stealth is dead.
Character gameplay even comes down to how Batman never kills, and so never clashes with the overall story unlike in UNCHARTED (let's face it, Drake is Marcus Phoenix in a half-tuck, and a superhero because of his unbelievable jumps of saving grace). To me, it didn't feel like the game was ripping off other games' specific minutia. Sure, if you're reductionist, you could say it's a mix of SPLINTER CELL, TENCHU, METROID but it never plays like one of those games. That's a huge accomplishment and shows Rocksteady are confident in creating Batman-centric gameplay. I want to see enemies' heartbeat in SPLINTER CELL now. I want to glide in every game now. Also, it's beaten TENCHU in the grappling hook department and is making SPLINTER CELL run for its money.
LET ME TELL YOU A STORY
Of course, I wouldn't forget the excellent storytelling. Notice, I didn't say the word "story". It's still a great plot, of Batman being stuck in a prison for 1 night with the Rogue's Gallery, but what shines is the multiple venues of storytelling used. There is soft storytelling through Joker on the intercom or on TVs and the audio interview tapes. Then there's the typical hard storytelling through cutscenes.
Hold on though, there's a new type of storytelling too. Non-linear storytelling. This was experimented with PRINCE OF PERSIA 2008, but felt disjointed at times. Here, you're going from one part of the island to the other, and while the game's missions are not linear, there is still interactional dialogue and reactions. For example, after the Medical Pavillion mission, you can go back and find out that the Doctors haven't escaped but instead have boarded themselves up behind desks! They stay there until the end of the game! Nearly all of the characters give context-dependent dialogue too, at certain points of the game. All the personnel of the island are free to talk to, at any point of the game, so for example Aaron Cash can cheer you on to finally beat Joker when Joker's "party" starts. Because of such reactionary dialogue, it can make the Arkham Island come alive no matter how dreary it is, and showcases that Paul Dini can also write games.
Blah, blah, ALWAYS WITH THE HERO SPEAK!
Now, I won't say it's the most original game ever, but for this year, I feel it sticks out against the crowd. For such a bold game, it also excels on execution which MIRROR'S EDGE (the most original game of recent times) and other original IPs couldn't be. It is in the very rare club of a first game being nigh-on perfect on Day 1 release, like last year's DEAD SPACE. There is no need for a sequel, or any improvements needed other than very superficial ones like more bosses. It also helps that it's the best superhero and licensed game ever made. Riddick, you now have a friend.
I'M IN CONTROL OF THE ASYLUM!All the reviews of the Batman game have been very favourable. The only negatives about the game are things that are very nitpicky. Batman's figure covering a large part of the screen (there is a non-Batman centred camera). Yes, the Titan bosses repeat a couple of times, and yes, there aren't 20 types of enemies, but this is par for the course with nearly every action-adventure game ever made. Plus, as long as they're fun, I don't see the criticism of some good repetition. One that everyone can agree on is that the final boss battle is shallow but it does show how unpredictable Joker really is. BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM is so damn good, people are finding it hard to find legitimate criticism. Usually, with triple A games, you can bash the character gameplay or story, but here it's just damn good.
You also have to remember, a great game has to be as great for newcomers. It should be as pick-up-and-play as MARIO. Because of the excellent controls and simplified systems, BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM happens to be that. BATMAN: AA is definitely up there with MARIO games in terms of being accessible for everyone. Most of the games this year can have very specific audiences, like all of the shooters. Shooters are not every girl's best friend.
THE LONGEST JOURNEY
While most games up their pacing by putting more variety through newer locations or "palette-cleansing" gameplay (turret sections, vehicle sections), BATMAN: AA goes about it by completely changing the level design of Arkham Island at times. Rocksteady didn't feel the need to up the variety by letting you go to Gotham city (even though, you sort of do at one spoilerific point). Enemies appear where they weren't before, like snipers or crazed inmates. Poison Ivy's vines blocking away paths. Scarecrow, period. Batman's armour and face takes a ton of damage throughout the course of the game (for once, it's not a gimmick!). Because of such pacing and setpieces, the non-linear world never gets boring through the amount of backtracking you'll do. There's always something to look forward to.
Thanks to the magnificent pacing and every single moment being memorable, the game ends just at the right moment. So, while you might spend 15-20 hours with the game, it feels you've been through a lot with the characters and the island. This is one night you and Batman won't ever forget.
OVER? IT HASN'T EVEN BEGUN!Because it stands out amongst the pack of games this year and had the MOST TO PROVE, this is easily the Game of the Year.
Totally new gameplay, like the freeflow combat where animations never recycle.
Most fun stealth gameplay ever.
Non-linear backtracking that's always interesting.
And that it's damn memorable! Every moment in the game was given love and care, from Harley Quinn's office to the Riddler.
Everyone loves the game, which is not something you can say for a game franchise other than MARIO. This is a great game for people not privy to Batman's loving cape. The best games are the ones where everyone finds something to love, and for 2009, it's BATMAN ARKHAM ASYLUM, in my opinion.