I already preemptively discussed this game in an OtLB, but now with it in my grubby little hands, I feel obligated to update you all on just what’s in store should you choose to make the purchase yourselves.
I’ll begin by saying that this game is an amazing value, as it’s actually two games in one. On the one hand, it is a very mediocre video game. On the other hand, it is the quintessential Batman gaming experience, not simply because it’s the best Batman game ever, but because it’ll be hard to top.
Let me explain.
This game falls prey to the tropes and traps of so many video games before it. The thugs hover at their designated start points, doing nothing at all, until Batman crosses the invisible line in the sand and they rush him. That’s right, there’s no passive AI at all, except in specifically scripted sequences. Of course, once they rush you, you get to explore the game’s free flow combat system, which is absolutely stunning to behold, as Batman catches punches, flails his cape and drives his knee into the faces of the Joker’s thugs. At one point, I thought I’d been knocked on my ass, but I was actually rolling backwards to deliver a devastating kick to the assailant behind me.
The ambiance and writing are pretty spot on, too. As you enter Arkham, you cross paths with Killer Croc, who issues a rather menacing threat that simply reeks of foreshadowing. Walk past Croc to take an elevator ride into the depths of Arkham, and just as you find yourself wondering, “Why is Batman being allowed to escort the police as they inter the Joker?” you’ll hear a guard posit a very similar question. You may be Gordon’s buddy, but some people see you as more vigilante than hero. Then again, that still doesn’t answer the question of why you’re being allowed in, or why you’d actually be needed amongst the sea of heavily armed guards (perhaps a little TOO heavily armed for an asylum), or why those same guards never actually DO anything to stop any of the bad guys you encounter.
Another problem is the XP system. As you level up, you’re allowed to purchase new skills and equipment. That’s right – you’re locked in Arkham with no ingress or egress, the plot has specifically told you no one is allowed to come or go, and yet because you punched six thugs in the face, you can now “buy” better armor or impressive new Batarangs. What? A very simple fix would’ve been insinuating that Bruce had hidey holes throughout the asylum where he’d stashed gear over the years… just in case. Admittedly, however, the new techniques you learn are amazing (such as the inverted takedown where you hang from a gargoyle, grab a thug, drag him up, choke him out and leave him hanging) and can easily be attributed to you becoming “better” at what you’re doing.
To accumulate XP, you’ll need to complete tasks, from the most straightforward, such as beating up the thugs you encounter, to the more sublime, like seeking out hidden items or employing your detective skills to solve riddles and gather evidence. Yes, it’s a Batman game where you actually gather and analyze evidence. Albeit in the most ham-fisted way possible. As you stumble onto these clues, your “detective mode” scanner will instantly identify them as unique items and will do all of the actual thinking for you. Similarly, it will identify friends vs. foes and how heavily targets are armed, X-ray scan through walls… you name it, detective mode will do it for you. Basically if you leave detective mode on, you can pretty much sleepwalk through the game.
You can also use detective mode to identify interactive items, like grapple points and door control panels: Grapple points, which are the only places you can shoot your grappling hook to, and door control panels that cannot be affected until you obtain item x, no matter how many shoulder tackles and Batarangs you throw at them. Then again, you can grapple and throw Batarangs!
What it all boils down to is a simple equation, really. If, like me, you’ve always wanted a game that gives you an immersive sense of playing as Batman, this is the game for you. Receive updates from Oracle, move in the shadows, and strike fear into your supersitious and cowardly enemies.
5 out of 5 incarcerated Bat-villains
On the other hand, if you’re a gamer, pure and simple, looking for the next big thrill-a-minute game, this may well be a pass. The fighting is impressive, and the other elements combine together nicely enough, but this really isn’t anything all that impressive when stood up against Fallout 3 or FEAR. I’ve also heard it’s fairly short. I’m not a hardcore gamer so this’ll probably still take me months, but I’m just saying… that’s what I’ve heard.
3 out of 5 checkpoint-only saves
One last technical note on the topic of saves. In order for the game to save, you have to be connected to Windows Live. In order for Windows Live to work, I had to partake of a roughly 45-minute update. An update that wouldn’t work for me. Because after digging online for a bit, I discovered that in order for the automatic update to work, I had to go to Microsoft’s website and download a different update that would allow the first update to work. Huh??? Why doesn’t the thing that automatically checks to see if I need to update recognize that I need two updates!? This was one of the most infuriating installation procedures I’ve ever undergone, considering it took me three passes to get the game itself installed in the first place and then another couple of hours dealing with this malarkey. IF you’re encountering this problem on XP or Vista, try the links about halfway down the following page. Hope they work for you, as they did for me!
The Windows XP/Vista update necessary to run Games for Windows Live can be found at http://support.microsoft.com/kb/960554.