Batman: Arkham Asylum (GOTY Edition)

This game won accolades out the hoo-hah. And friends recommended it highly. So why do I think it’s a steaming pile of crap?

The enemy AI is mediocre. The only tactic seems to ever be “surround him, then take turns attacking him” and each stealth segment of the game is presented as more of a “people puzzle” than an actual stealth experience.  Nobody ever thinks “Holy shit 3/7 of my compadres have disappeared, maybe it’s time we hole up somewhere defensible and get some guns?” Enemy difficulty barely scales, with health increases, batons, and extra crazy mostly remind you that you can use the (largely) useless cape swipe and vault buttons in combat.

While the flow of the combat system is appropriate, it really doesn’t fit into what my perception of Batman is.  Batman is about psychology – dominance, fear, the presentation of superhuman ability to the point where the battle’s over before it starts.  As the four-stroke cycle of melee, stealth, (pointless) “riddles”, plot clicks on with nobody ever engaging the clutch –  nothing ever really seems to happen.  Joker must have got himself a big book of crossword puzzles mailed to him because he is waiting quite some time.

One of the things that I like is that the events of the game happen over the course of one evening and that’s reflected in the punishment you and your suit absorb.  Which creates conflict with the idea of accumulating experience.  Over 12-hours, you magic more new and improved batarangs, upgrade sensitive electronics and explosives, install 4 armor plates, and learn new moves in your mobile dojo. But still can’t sew up some tears or get a new cape? Then again, why didn’t Batman leave the house with a full utility belt? Ok –  even making the case that he didn’t know he was going to need the Batclaw, Ultra-batclaw, zip-line, explosive gel, and Cryptographic hack tool – you only get one secret cache of weapons (and in the future, maybe put in a spare suit? Part of that whole pesky British-Red Coats/Invulnerable-Batman-Why-Should-I-Try psychology?)

What is Waynetech Enterprises doing? The first thing Batman should do when he gets back is hand out pink slips!  Allow me to introduce? The OMNICLAW!  Combining the grapple gun, Bat Claw, Ultra-Bat claw and Zip-line – you should never leave home without it.  The “open-grate-push-A-really-fast” minigame is fucking awful. And that’s just the first 50 times you endure it.  And while the Cryptographic hack tool was a fun mini-game (if a laughable codebreaking concept) Batman has “Detective Vision” which lets him not only see a wireframe of the surrounding environment in realtime, it analyzes organic matter, structural integrity, highlights features of note and identifies weapons – do you think any of this requires some processing power? So yeah – Waynetech Cryptological Hacker: There’s an app for that.

Now to the elephants in the room.  Batman has never been easy.  Ignoring the fact that “maybe this isn’t the best way to clean up a city,” recent successes of the rebooted Batman movie franchise clearly demonstrate that a MPAA rating of PG-13 does not equal an ESRB rating of “Teen”. The chimeric hodgepodging of Moore’s Killing Joke, to Nolan’s The Dark Knight/Brian Azzarello-Lee Bermejo’s  Joker, to Batman: the Animated Series is incredibly jarring.  Mark Hamill voices the Joker, who is extremely good – until he intermittently opens his mouth and Heath Ledger’s voice comes out. Or to the delight of horny 13-year-olds everywhere, Harley Quinn is tarted up and in some desperate need of pants. And why can’t Ivy leaf together a pair of the same – yeah she kills people with sex, but doesn’t she have pheromones…. and therefore can wear pants? Oracle just parrots whatever your current mission is, not offering any real relationship with the person on the other end of your lifeline – look at MGS for how this should be done.

In summation, the problem with Batman lies in the frequency of these split decisions. “This is one night” vs. leveling and progression, utility belt vs. leaving all the equipment cached around the island, even just the tone and identity of the main characters is fragmented. It just comes across as not making a whole lot of cohesive sense, the riddles and missing equipment makes you feel like Rocksteady is padding a fairly short game, and didn’t really have a cohesive design strategy in mind.

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