15 September 2009

Batman: Arkham Asylum

I played the PC demo for this game a while ago, and it was pretty cool. I'd been following the new on the game's development and whatnot for a while, and it had me excited. The demo didn't show much though, concentrating almost exclusively on the combat, which really doesn't paint a full picture.

So for this reason among others, I took advantage of the new PS3 pricing and got a Slim. I needed something to play on it, so I nabbed Arkham Asylum. The next few days outside of work were quite filled with the wonderful world of gaming through the eyes of the Dark Knight.

This game is great. I haven't played many Batman games; I think the only other one was Batman Returns on a Sega Nomad, which was pretty fun at the time, but I didn't play the whole thing. From what I've read every Batman game before Arkham has been pretty crappy. This time around, some major effort was put into adhering to and using the complex histories of the Batman universe, and making it a fun and beautiful experience. It's really quite amazing how much attention was given to even relatively minor characters, even if they don't technically appear in the game.

There are a number of different aspects of play to this game; combat (brawling or stealth), exploration, secret finding, riddle solving, skill leveling, and salivating over visuals and awesome voice acting. One thing that really helps the exploration and secrets bit is the complexity of the level design. Many locations within the main maps are inaccessible until certain skills are unlocked, which can be gotten through combat experience, riddle solving, or simple plot advancement. For this reason there is little need for a huge linear path like that of the Half Life games or whatever; you are really in Arkham Asylum. You can see where you want to go, but you can't go there yet! It really makes it a great feeling when you can finally break that wall.

As mentioned, the voice acting is spectacular, especially the talent brought by Mark Hamill, also known as Luke Skywalker. He voiced the clown prince on the animated TV series from the 90s, and he did a great job. Also brought in from that show are the voices of Batman and Harley Quinn, who are also great. Whoever did Edward Nigma's voice was good too.

The combat is really fun, especially the stealth stuff. I love hanging from ledges and roping up baddies upside-down. Brawling is cool too, with a combo system pretty simple in concept, but difficult to really execute perfectly without a lot of practice. There are unlockable challenge modes that help with this, although I didn't start those until I finished the storyline.

One technical issue I had with both the PC and PS3 versions is the visual quality. It's really quite pixelly, with pretty low anti-aliasing. I'm hopefully going to get a chance to play the full PC version very soon. Maybe they'll have added graphical controls to the settings (probably not).

EDIT: I just started playing the PC version, and they did everything right (well, almost). They hosted the free download on Steam for starters, which is great. The game launcher allows for full graphical control, even allowing for use of NVIDIA's PhysX technology. Since I now have high-end card (GTX 295) I was able to run everything on pretty much the highest setting, and it's absolutely beautiful. So much better than what I got out of the PS3. The only thing that I don't think is completely awesome is the use of Windows Live for achievements instead of Steam's, but it's not a big deal.