I’m Going A Little Crazy Here Bats…
Yes I know. What am I talking about one of the best games in the batman catalog, if not the best game? Why am I going to criticize and judge a game that has been beloved by many? All I can say is have you read the Breath of the Wild opinion piece yet?
Yes ladies and germs, welcome to another exciting entry of Unpopular Opinions, where I give you a great insight into a video game, and you hate for me it. That’s okay though, because I do this for those of you who want to get a little bit more out of their games and don’t want to live in the past. So….Arkham Asylum…for most of us this game is a pretty positive beacon, one that encourages us to know that a super hero game can be good, sure we have gotten games like Spider-Man 2 back in the day, but that game is different…. Arkham Asylum is a masterpiece though, enjoyable and most importantly….YOU GET TO BE BATMAN!!!!
However did any of you stop to think that maybe this game isn’t as good as you once though it was? That you were caught up in the magic of it all? Of course not, because you are always right. Now sure Arkham Asylum is remembered as a great game, it received great critical acclaim and ended up spawning four additional titles, so it couldn’t have been that bad right?
(I walk a lonely road…the only road that I have ever walked)
Arkham Asylum is a badly designed game, with a terrible plot and even worse combat. What that you say? I’m wrong!?!?!? Well let’s start this $*** show right now and look at this game as a whole. Arkham Asylum released in 2009 and still holds a pretty high-ranking on metacritic. So how can a game that was reviewed well be a bad game? Well lets break this bad mamma jamma down piece by piece.
Part 1- Story
So first of all spoilers. It starts as any good batman story should, the joker is chained up throwing his usual jokes around nilly willy. Joker escapes and reveals to batman that he is now on his Island and that Joker has control of everything on Arkham Island. So it’s not a bad start, joker plans to kill batman here…right? Well no, actually joker is there to get a hold of a formula for the venom that is used on Bane, which he then plans to take over Gotham…makes no sense right?
There are various tapes hidden throughout the game, every tape is a patient interview and goes deeper into the psyche of each individual inmate in Arkham. Which is totally rad. Turns out that one of the doctors at A.A. was working on using the venom coursing through bane as a catalyst to create even more individuals like him. The Joker sees this as an opportunity and decides to blackmail her, Joker then escapes from Arkham and when he asks for the formula while he is out, she refuses. So enter the reason Joker comes back, to get his formula back to create his super Bane army.
Anyone else seeing some major plot holes here? Since when has the joker ever trusted anyone, especially a scientist in a mental institution? Why would a villain leave his grand plan in the hands of someone who 1. doesn’t work for him, 2. In fact works to cure the criminally insane and 3, why in the heck would he leave?! The only thing that happens as a result of him leaving and then coming back in ensuring that Batman is now with the joker in the same place, which as insane as the joker is, I highly doubt he has any want for Batman to be there while the plan is underway.
(He may look and act crazy, but he’s not dumb, at least normally)
So we can just put this up to a big plot hole right? Or the Joker was setting up something outside of Arkham for later, which sure we can buy this idea, but plot hole regardless. So what about batman’s side of the story? First why is Batman best buds with the guards. Batman just waltz’s right in, hands over the Joker and then decides he is going to follow them until Joker is behind bars. Which you know is cool for us and it ensures that the Joker is locked away, except for the little fact that Batman is literally putting himself into a facility with not many ways out in an area where most of the guards are not going to be sympathetic to him. In fact many probably have more reasons to arrest him rather than help.
Sure it makes sense that Batman is friends with Gordon and that the two of them respect each other enough to not instantly be at each other throats. This still begs the question, why would the guards no arrest or detain Batman on the spot? If the movies, comics and animated series has taught you anything it is this, the police are not Batman’s friends. They do work towards a common goal and don’t shoot or purposely fight each other, but they sure as heck aren’t buddies walking down halls conversing as if it is just another drizzly Monday.
We could always say this is a different universe Batman, but Batman would still use oracle which would say that he needs someone capable of utilizing the GCPD without him actually working with them. So it still begs the question why would they help batman. Sure in the later games the GCPD becomes the main Hub and it makes sense because the entire city is under attack. In Arkham Asylum they just let a guy in a Batsuit walk into their asylum. You know…An ASYLUM-HOSPITAL FOR MENTAL PATIENTS!!! Just saying, a few issues here. Let’s also discuss that Batman’s involvement with the plot doesn’t matter at all. That’s right, almost the entirety of the game is pointless. So does Batman save everyone in the game? No. In fact tons of people die. Wait a second though, why are they dying?
(It looks cool, unfortunately it makes no canonical sense)
They aren’t dying because joker wants them all killed. In fact the only reason that they are being killed is because Joker wants to prevent Batman from getting close to him. Yeah, if Batman was not in the asylum it would have been a much better situation, well maybe not for everyone, Sorry Quincy, but definitely for many of the guards who were gassed to death. joker would have then gotten his serum and his henchman would have been injected with the titan formula, which here’s the kicker. Regardless of what Batman does, Joker’s entire plot unfolds. Joker gets the serum, has a long ways to go before he can get it mass produced and eventually injects himself with the serum.
Which honestly is one of the least Joker moves of all time, but for a video game it is cool, plot device in the Batman universe though, pretty weak. You see we all know the Joker, he is crazy, but his plans are always about the spontaneity of an action and him not caring if he hurts anyone at all. He is never about overpowering Batman, in fact most of the time it is about breaking Batman psychologically. Sure Joker would shoot Bats, but he’s never going to win against him in a pure fist fight, that’s okay though. So Joker turn into buff Joker, a boss fight ensues and Bat’s win….big surprise.
Anyone else see a problem with this? Batman could literally have showed up at the end of the game and the same results would have happened. The GCPD could have shown up at Arkham at the very end, taken out all the thugs gun’s blazing style, Batman shows up, Joker reveals his grand plan finds out he has to fight Batman and pops the Titan formula down the hatch. Literally the same results would have occurred, sure maybe a few people die, but more die because Batman is there. Most likely the guards would have left if they knew they were all alone and Batman wasn’t present. Most were taken hostage as traps for Batman, which were set up again, by the Joker.
(Seid ihr das Essen? Nein, wir sind die Jäger!) (Attack on (Titan) Joker)
Now I want to be honest. This was 2009 and the series did evolve and become better, and yes Arkham Asylum laid the groundwork for the great combat in the later titles, but let’s talk about the gameplay as a whole though. So first up, combat. So combat in this game is weak, there are only a few number of variations you can actually do in the combat itself. You can throw batarangs, punch people, counter, bat grapple, throw, do a finishing move, ground pound them or you can stun them with your cape. So only 8 real moves in combat and two of those require you to have a pretty good combo going and two others are gadget related and are designed to interrupt enemies from far away.
This is okay, but the combat requires a level of perfection that isn’t fun. It takes the idea of a free flow combat, which means that you focus on one guy for a second, knock him down and then you punch off to another combatant, knock him down, and essentially create a kind of bad guy pinball. Batman is in constant motion, except when he is not. You see the real problem here isn’t that Batman isn’t good at what he is doing, but rather that the game doesn’t allow you to actually have freely moving combat. If at any point you hit a wrong button, or wait too long to make a decision your combat multiplier run out.
The problem becomes that once this happen Batman just stands still. He literally forgets what he was doing. You didn’t hit that counter button fast enough, you are going to stand there and get clocked. Oh you punched and your analog stick wasn’t perfectly aimed towards the bad guy. Batman will then decide to throw a punch randomly and then has a look of confusion as two guys simultaneously hit you from the direction you were aiming. The game expects you to have perfect combat awareness, which is really hard to do considering that most of the combat takes place in enclosed areas with a wonky camera. It doesn’t constantly move around or give you an overlook of the combat area. So anytime there is 4 or more enemies there are constantly enemies standing off to the side with throwable items and guns and you won’t know until you get hit.
(See! Guard laying dead, BATMAN IS USELESS IN THIS GAME!)
This little fact can make combat annoying really fast, when it works it feels fast and fluid, unfortunately the games design constantly gets in its own way. So one gameplay design down, what about that excellent detective mode? Well this is also a really weak part overall, and no I’m not talking about the Riddler sections, I’ll get to those soon. So you are the worlds greatest detective right? Well not really. The game has you stop at certain points and then investigate something specific to a character you are chasing or look for. Whether it is the Directors DNA, Harley Quinns fingerprints, or even the pungent whisky on someones breath. You chase them down based on those aspects and the game gives you a trail to follow to other parts of the Asylum.
These are cheap and pointless side attractions because of the linearity of the game. There are some side activities in the game itself, but being told to follow this line of whiskey particles in the air becomes pointless because you can honestly only go in one direction. This isn’t the sprawling world of the Witcher 3, this is literally a closed off Asylum. This gets worse because the trail will go cold in a certain area and then you have to beat enemies for the trail to magically appear again. Why did you give us detective style gameplay aspects if they don’t matter?
I get that we want to show that Batman is rich and that he has cool science gadgets that nobody else has, but why didn’t you actually let us do something cool with them. Let us have a mini-game to analyze some things, or even figure out weakness of enemies, or even allow sensors in Batmans visor to show the range of a certain weapon, but no. We get a cheap follow the trail mini-game that doesn’t really tell us much.
(It looks cool, unfortunately it is a let down from what could have been….)
So a bad game design choice, but this is the first game. Now let’s talk about those boss fights! So yes there are a few small boss fights in the game, it’s Batman so why not show off some of those awesome baddies? What about Killer Crocs fight? It is literally just a time pad section. You have to run from point A to B getting pollen and just keeping quiet. So the whole boss fight is just quietly moving…No awesome fight? I mean the most you do is throw a batarang at him to make him fall, it’s not even a challenge!
The first boss fight is against Bane, which hey should be pretty cool right? In the beginning yes. You don’t just fight him, you have to dodge him and then jump on his back while removing some of the Venom injectors, which hey has been done before in other games, but it’s still neat. The problem is that this fight is repeated ad nausea throughout the entire game with the titan version of henchmen later in the game. So then we have poison ivy. It’s a neat fight, but its just throwing batarangs at her while dodging, not much though process in the fight itself.
There is the scarecrow fight, if you can call it that. It’s more of a fight against bad controls though. Scarecrow shows up suddenly and takes a deeper look into batman’s psyche, which hey is a really cool idea. These nightmare sequences force you to play a more platform style game with Batman and are cool in idea, bad in execution. The problem here is the controls. Batman doesn’t control smoothly in a 2d playing field, he doesn’t have an instant stop moving animation and because you can’t aim during these sections, gadget usage is irritating at the least. Yes these moments stand out because they are really unexpected, but they are irritating gameplay wise and you’ll notice that this gameplay perspective never returns to the sequels.
(Looks really cool, controls like $***)
So then we can talk about the big daddy of all bad fights, the Joker. Now we have already come to the conclusion that this was a bad idea. It was an even dumber idea of a fight. You don’t actually get to even fight him. You fight his goons, knock them out, then pull him down because he is showing off to the news crews and cameras. Rinse and repeat 3 times because this is a video game. This fight is a joke, and not a killing one. I didn’t feel like I beat a big adversary, I just felt like I was beating up on a few goons so that I could have the opportunity to initiate a fight. You don’t feel accomplishment at the end of this, sure you saved Arkham, but in the end it doesn’t even matter (que linkin park).
Part 3- RIDDLER!
So the biggest problem with the series as a whole has always been this, but lets start positive here. The riddles in this game are so well done. They are fun, make you feel like a detective and if you are a fan of Batman it can even give subtle nods and hints back to the comics. The problem is the sheer amount of them and what it actually does for the game as a whole. So first off why are they there?
Riddler as always says they are a test, but why would batman even care, sure at the end of the quest line you find where he is hiding, but how would that actually work? It’s not like in the bottom of every trophy there is a chip that gives a small piece of a puzzle revealing his location. So why does Batman even care? Sure in Arkham Knight they make sense, well more sense, but this is just pointless. You never see him and even then it’s not as if the Riddler made them to actually challenge the Dark Knight, only waste his time. You see the reward for getting them in game is experience and challenge maps, which is cool for the player, but for Batman, pointless. You are just wasting your time looking for metal that yields no purpose to the in game characters.
(A Master of wasting my time)
Collectibles in games are fine, but at least make them matter in a game like Batman. In fact if you never scanned or picked up a riddler trophy in game the same thing would happen regardless and E. Nigma would still get caught. It is a completely pointless part of the game that does nothing for the story. Sure you get to actually hear what happens to him, but was it worth it? WAS IT!?!?!? Some collectibles are really well done like the interview tapes, and that was more of what the game needed, not the cheap never ending search for trophies, which luckily this isn’t Arkham City otherwise oh boy would we be having an entirely different conversation.
So is Arkham Asylum a bad game then? I have gone through and torn it apart piece by piece. Well I mean that’s kind of the point of an unpopular opinion. The reality though is that the game is good. It may not hold up as well as it did almost 8 years ago, its still good though, just flawed. You see the point of unpopular opinions is for you see games in a different light. We may have a sense of nostalgia for the game but that doesn’t mean we can’t critically look at it. This isn’t an awful game, but we don’t need to still treat it like its perfect, it has problems…and that’s okay. It has pacing problems, gameplay issues, and some story holes as big as the Jokers smile. That’s okay though, in the end it’s a game, one that is near and dear to my heart that I still enjoy.
EXCEPT FOR THOSE SCARECROW SECTIONS, DR. CRANE CAN BURN!!!!