the rantings and ravings of a not quite sane cow

Monday, August 10, 2009

Demo Impressions: Batman: Arkham Asylum

As a general rule, licensed games suck. In fact it's a statistic that I just made up that 95% of games based on movies suck. Other licenses tend to fare a bit better, but not by much. Comics tend to be the exception (and by exception, I mean 1 or 2 percent more don't suck). So don't worry, this Batman game is based on the comics. Don't worry if you don't read the comics (I don't, but I do tend to know a bit more than the average person), as most of the major characters are either obvious (like Batman) or in the moves (like the Joker). Well from what I've seen anyway (for a 2 gigabyte download, the demo isn't very long). It does help that there are profiles of all the major characters. There's also trophies of some of the characters, that you can zoom and rotate on, to either get a better view of someone, or the perfect crotch shot of The Dark Knight himself.If you're expecting a story like the latest movies though, it looks like you'll be disappointed, as the story has a real comic book sort of vibe to it.

Okay, for the graphics... they're damn fine (that is to say they're completely awesome). As this bat is based off his comic appearances, don't expect anyone to look like someone from the movies (well, the Joker looks a little bit like Heath Ledger, but that could just be because Heath Ledger makes a damn fine Joker). Places aren't too dark (there's no point having a dark hiding spot if you can't see it yourself). Arkham looks creepy enough that you'd want to be crazy to go there (wait, that's not right). There are plenty of excellent graphical cues for things like dropping down from a ledge and grabbing someone, or swinging around with the grapple.

Sound, like graphics, is top notch. Music helps to set the scene but doesn't get in the way (although with how some of it sounds, I almost wish it did). You may or may not recognise any of the voice actors - it really doesn't matter, as they all do a great job. All your attacks sound like they connect (and really hurt), and all the other sound effects (gliding, grappling, etc.) sound like what I'd presume they'd actually sound like. Like the graphics, it's all the small touches that make the difference... like the chatter between all the goons (just for one example).

All that I've described so far would make a fine movie for sure, but this is a game so I must talk about what makes it a game. Firstly the combat... it's very fluid, goes together very well and before you know you'll feel ready to take on a whole room of goons at once. It's a nice nod to the comics in that you never actually kill anyone - you just knock them unconscious. Unlike the last Batman game I played though, you don't have to go to the ridiculous length of slapping the batcuffs on every thug you K.O. in the first round (and run out of cuffs 10% of the way through the level). I guess the combat is probably most comparable to Assassin's Creed, but it tends to be a lot better here since I'm not just blocking until I can get a counter in. In this, it's just lots of fun to pull of different combos and beat the crap out of anyone stupid enough to fight you. Of course if you don't want to fight someone, assuming you can get a decent vantage point you can glide kick into them for an instant K.O.

This isn't really a platforming game (if there was a way to jump I didn't find it), so any elevation will have to be achieved by using grapple points. This brings me to the fairly cool detective mode - at the press of a button it tints the screen blue but highlights things like grapple points, vents, and enemies, Look at an enemy and you can see their heart rate (how alert they are) and whether they're feeling fine, nervous, unconscious, etc. As for the rest of the HUD - does its job, stays out of the way, just like a good HUD.

Finally... controls. I used a 360 controller (but I have the PC demo... go figure) and it works great. Various fighting commands and context sensitive actions are on the face buttons, the right trigger crouches and the left trigger pulls out tools (in the demo, Batarangs are all you have). The bumpers handle detective mode and the grapple, sticks are as you'd expect (left = movement, right = move camera - for the most part it's a third person affair but it does occasionally go into first person). The d-pad selects from your tools (as I said though, Batarangs only in the demo). It goes together quite well and I can imagine that the 360 version would control in exactly the same way. Keyboard and mouse controls (I tried them for a little bit) aren't too bad but this really is a more controller-oriented affair.

And the all important question will I buy it? Of course I will!

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