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PLATFORM: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC
ESRB RATING: T
DEVELOPER: Rocksteady Studios
PUBLISHER: Warner Bros./ DC Comics
No one thought it would ever happen. It was the unattainable, it would be the most unlikely thing to happen in entertainment history. More unlikely than Nintendo retiring Mario, or Lionsgate making a halfway decent Saw film. No, the good Batman videogame seemed destined to never be made.
Batman has just never been done justice in videogames before. It doesn’t seem like it would be so hard, does it? You’ve got the iconic character, you’ve got the gadgets, you’ve got the terrific villains- it almost makes itself. Still, so many have failed so miserably to make a game that’s even remotely playable.
But relative newcomer Rocksteady Studios has finally done it. They managed to not only make a good Batman game, they’ve made a great one- and the world seems like a darker place. (That’s a good thing.)
Batman’s cruising to Arkham Asylum in his Batmobile with Joker beaten up and tied up in the back seat. He’s bringing him in personally because something feels off. Joker gave up too easily, and Batman has the feeling he’s up to his old tricks again.
CHUDTIP- The opening sequence sets up everything nicely, so just sit back and enjoy and get used to the controls… it’s about to get much more hectic.
Dragging him into his former home things soon go awry, as Joker gets out and traps Batman on the island. While there are still guards left there to help you out are a helluva lot more of Joker’s goons, and Batman’s the only one that can stop them.
Playing Shadow Complex (review) a couple weeks ago might have gotten you in the mood for more Metroidvania-type games, and here’s the next one!
Wait, what? Yep, that’s exactly how this game plays. It places a huge emphasis on exploration and allows you to wander around the whole island, but you can’t get into certain locations until you get some powerups. That can be anything from a zipline gun to get across chasms, or a device to knock out electric fields, or explosive gel to blow up weakened sections of walls. The explosive gel might be my favorite if only for the fact that Batman tags walls graffiti-style with his bat-symbol. Brings new meaning to the term “bombing.”
You can go into Batman’s detective mode with the click of a button and see everything you can interact with in the world. Cooler still, you will be able to see skeletons from all your enemies and whether or not they’re packing heat, and even go a little Sonny Chiba on them if you’re so inclined.
CHUDTIP- Big guys like Croc here are best dazed with the batarang. Remember that clicking the left trigger shots one out immediately and get ready for a charge
Of course, the game’s not all about exploration… there’s plenty of bad guys for you to beat on. The world’s greatest detective is constantly falling into Joker’s traps and fighting his minions. Lots of familiar faces pop up and there are some really great and memorable boss battles.
Combat is simple and immensely satisfying. You use one button to attack and one to counter, and that’s all you need to start. As you get better you’ll learn to dive around the battlefield and stun enemies with your batarang and perform takedowns, and the combos start getting more and more ridiculous. Here’s a little video I made of me getting a 43X combo- not my best, but note how smooth everything goes. You’re going to want to crank the sound when you play to hear how every thwack and slam resonates.
Sick, right? It’s so satisfying to get a perfect flow going like that. The game manages to be completely and utterly engrossing, one of the few times when the environment feels real and just sucks you right in. Even things that shouldn’t be fun are compelling!
For example, you know how every goddamn game has to have some sort of scavenger hunt mechanic, one that’s usually more irritating and out of place than anything? This game actually manages to make them completely engrossing thanks to the Riddler. He doesn’t actually appear in the game but his presence is constantly felt. See, he knew you were coming and for some reason decided to leave you a bunch of riddles or “Riddler Challenges” to solve. They’re usually simple stuff (most aren’t riddles at all, simply requiring you to find an object mentioned in the phrase) as well as trophies to find in various hidden areas. He’ll berate you over your bat-radio from time to time. Certain Challenges will unlock bonus content, whether that be character models for you to look at, character bios, or even the incredibly entertaining interview tapes from the inmates at the asylum. They’re really well acted and well worth finding. The Riddler probably has the best ones-
It’s just an example of how much thought went into this game- even minor characters get their time to shine here. But there are a couple gripes, because unfortunately everything can’t be great.
The map system is great but it’s a bitch to keep switching to it when you’re on the hunt for an item. Some sort of waypoint system or even an option for a minimap to appear on the main screen would have saved us a ton of grief.
And for a game with such great combat controls, the game hurts during the few platforming sections. Batman can very easily fall off cliffs and ledges, but thankfully it only gets irritating during a couple of sections.
CHUDTIP- You can use pretty much every gadget you get in combat.
The last complaint is of the end boss, which not only is easier than the battles before immediately it, but also manages to take the story on a truly ridiculous turn. While the cartoony roots of the franchise are evident throughout the game it’s also going for the filmatic realistic take on the character, which is why it’s a little sad to see it descend into madness right at the end.
But these are very minor quibbles. You’ll play this game and you’ll love it and you’ll play it some more.
Batman sure is pretty. All of the cinematics in the game are created using the in-game graphics, and the character models really are something else. While it’s naturally a very dark game there are plenty of colors and the world feels real, even if it is sad that you can’t interact with the vast majority of it.
There are times when you’ll just have to sit back and remark on how cool it is to be controlling Batman, running around as the brute of a man with his cape flying behind him.
CHUDTIP- Thankfully Batman’s cape uses WayneTech anti-snagging technology and never gets caught on vents, gargoyles or in doors.
Special mention must be made of the voice acting, in particular with Mark Hamill’s Joker. He’s just having a ball with this character and it makes you want to hunt him down so much more. Kevin Conroy is great as the Batman as usual but of course once again Batman’s the least interesting character in his property. He’s just too straight-laced for the most part, but Conroy manages to sneak a little humor into his lines that’s much appreciated.
There’s not much incentive to go back and try it again on hard, but it does make things tough for the truly elite among you. Once you beat the game (which will take you around ten hours) you can go back and try to unlock all the rest of the Riddler Challenges and even figure out the secret of the island, but after that you’re stuck wandering around an empty world.
Thankfully they’ve included 16 Challenge rooms, divided up equally into combat and stealth levels. The combat ones are self-explanatory- you’re given four waves of foes to beat down and have to try and get the biggest combo possible to get a high score. The stealth levels make you hide from gun-wielding maniacs and try to take them down using various maneuvers. Both add a ton of replay, what with the medals you can earn, and leaderboards.
There’s DLC on the way that hopefully expands upon this game, because it will be sucked up immediately. Perhaps the 360 and PC will get to download the currently PS3-exclusive Joker one day?
CHUDTIP- He’s only available to play with in the Challenge sections but he’s got a friggin’ gun!
The biggest praise I can give this game is that if it was called Bland McNobody: Crazy in Jail it would still be an utterly fantastic game. But the characters only add to the experience and mood of the game, adding up to not only the best Batman game ever made, but one of the best of this year so far.
You did well, Bats!