Wednesday, September 02, 2009
Serious house on serious earth
My review of Batman: Arkham Asylum is up at thephoenix.com.
Some leftover thoughts from the cutting room floor:
With the short space I have in the paper, I don't like to do token complaints when a game is great, just to prove my critical distance. Still, I do have a couple of token complaints, and I may as well get them out. The combat works quite well, with a streamlined interface and beautifully animated battles. The only problem is when enemies start to get stronger, and entire boss battles become about trapping you in a room with wave after wave of them. It's not too hard on the default setting -- it's just boring. Fortunately, this only happens two or three times.
Additionally, although the stealth aspect of the game works great, the reliance on gargoyles as your only means of escape starts to feel strange after awhile. Why do gunmen only populate rooms that have gargoyles? Why is Batman unable to hide on any other structure besides gargoyles? And why does every building in Arkham, while sharing few other common design elements, all prominently feature gargoyles? Yep, this is the level you have to stoop to in order to criticize this game.
One thought kept coming up while I was playing: "This is the game Metal Gear Solid 4 should have been." I don't say that just because of the heavy stealth element. In fact, the stealth gameplay was probably a little stronger in MGS4, although not much. There just wasn't very much of it. And whenever that game diverted from its core strength, it suffered, and sometimes badly.
Arkham Asylum, by contrast, varies its gameplay nicely, and it all feels of a piece. Stealth sequences and beat-em-ups come in equal measure, without anything silly happening like a Batmobile driving level. Sometimes Batman needs to do some light problem-solving to navigate the prison, and sometimes he needs to use his detective skills to track key NPCs.
The real reason I made the comparison, though, was one particular sequence that happens late in Arkham Asylum. At several points during the game, Batman ingests the Scarecrow's fear toxin, which leads into clever and frightening nightmare scenarios. The third of these is the kind of brilliant fourth-wall breaking that Kojima used to do so well, but only intermittently in MGS4. Granted, I'd been playing Arkham Asylum for several hours at that point and it was well past midnight, but I honestly questioned my sanity for a minute.
Oh, and Arkham is also shorter and has no filler. So there's that.