As we steadily make our way through a mountain of unplayed video games, we will record the escapades in detail through The Backlog Chronicles.
I am the motherfucking Batman. Silent, but brutal. Humble, yet majestic. Have a gander at this magnificent bastard:
My gamer friends usually fall into one of two categories: Those who played and loved the Rocksteady-developed Batman games, and those who never really got into them. I am in the latter category. I’ve always had the compulsion to buy these games when they’re released, but I could never get past the first few hours. There is one, and only one reason for this – I have too many games in my backlog and it’s been very hard for me to focus on beating a single game. What a perfect case for our first feature of The Backlog Chronicles! I will play through the first game in the Rocksteady Batman trilogy, Batman: Arkham Asylum. I’ll be playing on PC with a wireless Xbox controller, my preferred method of control for third person action games.
Things that appeal to me about the Batman games (or why I have historically been compelled to buy them on release):
- The graphics
- PC-specific graphics features, like PhysX and DirectX 11
- The simple and fun combat
- Batman is fuckin’ cool
- The dark, gritty and foreboding atmosphere
As I fired up each new game, I couldn’t shake the feeling that they were “just another third person action game”. I wasn’t necessarily wrong, but as the general consensus stood that these were some of the finest third person action games, I always knew one day I’d go back and play them. I’m glad I did. The story goes like this (there will be some mild spoilers here):
Arkham Asylum is like the Haunted Alcatraz of Gotham. As prisons go, this place is Hell incarnate; a cesspool of the worst
and craziest criminals imaginable, on a secluded island off the coast of Gotham City, in a supermax-style compound. Basically, the perfect home for all of Batman’s enemies. How convenient! The game opens with Batman and a crew of prison guards escorting The Joker (voiced by Mark Hamill), in chains, into the compound. Batman is suspicious: The Joker seemingly “allowed” Batman to capture him. In the midst of the extended playable intro, things go awry, and sure enough, havoc ensues. Joker quickly gains control of the entire prison (and by extension, the island), kills a ton of guards and prison staff, and effectively captures Batman.
Everyone knows Batman is no pushover, so he quickly escapes the compound and begins investigating Joker’s plans in full (with the help of a super secret, alternate Batcave on the island, that Batman constructed years ago). As it turns out, a doctor at the prison was experimenting with a serum that she thought could heal inmates with the most collapsed minds. But the serum proved far more dangerous, transforming it’s users into super-strong and ultra-deformed, mindless, rage-filled monsters (of course it does)! Joker wants control of this serum to create his own army of roid-raging dudes. Batman must stop him at all costs.
At the time of this article, I am about half-way through the game. Let’s discuss two particular points in Part 1 of this series.
- The combat
- The gadgets/upgrades
Often imitated, never duplicated. This describes the combat of Batman: Arkham Asylum. Much like Gears of War started the “cover shooter” concept, the Batman games gave birth to their own unique brand of melee combat. It had been similarly used before in games like Assassin’s Creed, but it had never felt as tight, polished, and slick as it does in the Batman games. The two most important buttons: Strike and Counter (X and Y, respectively). Then, there is Stun (B) and Dodge (A). Your speed and strength increase as your hit combo increases. The combat is free-form, in a sense that you begin by punching a dude in the face, then angling the stick in the direction of another dude and punching him in the face, and repeating this for each guy surrounding you. The animation of Batman drifting from man to man, beating the shit out of everyone, is always seamless and impressive. As you continue to strike dudes, Batman gets faster and faster. If a guy attempts to attack you, there will be little lightning bolts above his head, and you will press the Counter button quickly, where Batman will then catch the punch and beat the dude to the ground. It’s smooth, quick and brutal. It’s very satisfying when you take out a gang of 10 or more guys without taking a single hit, moving between strikes like a ballet dancer in a dress made of recycled Firestone tires. I love the combat in Batman: Arkham Asylum. But I’ve only talked about fighting in the first couple of hours. Just when you think it’s starting to get repetitive, Rocksteady changes it up.
Is it becoming too easy pinballing around from man to man, kicking the crap out of them? Throw in some thugs with guns. You’ll need to go airborne to sneak around to take them out. Too simple, just countering punch attacks? Toss in knife, or taser-wielding psychos. You’ll need to flip behind them to catch them off guard and avoid their front attacks entirely. You got pretty good at all of that, now what? Throw in a section where you have to fend off 50 guys while avoiding parts of an electrified floor. I didn’t know this when I first started playing the game, but the possibilities are vast. The combat is awesome.
Some words about gadgets and upgrades. Like most modern third person action games, you have many ways to upgrade your character’s active and passive skills. The game trickles them out, allowing you to get progressively stronger until the end of the game. It’s common superhero knowledge that Batman has a Batarang (throwing star/boomerang) and a Batclaw (grappling hook). In Batman: Arkham Asylum, the titular hero also has access to other gadgets, such as explosive gel, a computer terminal decoder (cryptographic sequencer), and a zip line called a Line Launcher – but I call it the Bat-line, because why not? Each gadget is peppered into the story in effective and interesting ways, and for the ultra-crafty, most can be used in combat. Some of the gadgets get upgrades as you progress. Batarang not quite hitting the mark? Boom, remote-controlled Batarang. Cryptographic sequencer not quite able to reach that far-away terminal to hack? Boom, upgrade the range. I love upgrades like these, as they keep the game fresh by layering on top of the mechanics you’ve already learned. I think Saints Row and InFamous (and even Prototype) do this extremely well, but none of those games have upgrades that feel as crucial and important as the upgrades in Batman: Arkham Asylum. These aren’t just fun and frivolous improvements on existing skills, or minor tweaks. These are simple, but game-changing advancements.
Let’s not forget about the Grapnel Gun, or the basic grappling hook that Batman starts with. It doesn’t appear to be upgradable, but it contributes to a basic movement mechanic of the game: Flying around doing Batman shit. Remember the guys with guns from earlier? If they’re pelting you with bullets, simply aim for the nearest high ledge or gargoyle, press L1, and Batman will fire the Grapnel Gun, latch on, and shoot through the air to his destination. There are many more layers and fun things to do I haven’t even covered.
Part 2 will detail what I think about the game after beating it, the story, the level design and puzzles, the sound and the voice acting and finally, the graphics. Spoiler – I love it all.