Skip to content

Batman AA Day#3: A Long Night in a Hardcore Game

Today, in a rather long play session, Arkham Asylum proved itself to be a truly hardcore game. More fights and puzzles in what is clearly the core mechanic of the game. I am also introduced to the Scarecrow segments of the game, which are an interesting cross-section of interesting narrative moments and really out-of-place gameplay. It’s honestly the first major misstep in what is shaping up to be a great game. But in the same session, a truly OSSIM time challenge. Spoilers within.

As a primarily casual game designer, I have some pretty detailed thoughts on what makes a game casual or hardcore. The main way I distinguish between the two is how they treat player failure. Failure in a casual game is a bad thing, something that players don’t ever want to experience and that taints their view of the fun of the game. Failure in a hardcore game is a learning experience; by that I mean that it’s sometimes not possible to avoid death in order to figure out a rhythym or a puzzle. By these standards, there are a lot of so-called core games and even full fledged retail titles (say the newest Prince of Persia) that are actually casual.

But Arkham Asylum is fully in the hardcore camp.

Case in point: the puzzle to rescue the third doctor. There are goons in a room with the doctor. I can stealth around or over the room. I notice there is an explodable wall that leads to the room with the thugs and hostage. I spray it with gel, and then detonate it, getting ready to run into the room to kick thug ass. When the wall explodes, I get a cutscene of the guards near the wall getting knocked down, but then the remaining guards shoot the doctor, and I lose the scene. Three interesting things here:

1) You can apparantly lose scenes based on objectives rather than just dying. Didn’t know that. Makes this much more of a puzzle game.
2) I had no idea that the guards will kill her if they see or hear me. I realize when I replay the scene that they mention this in their incidental conversation, but you can’t be expected to have heard that.
3) When I fail, I’m told that the solution is to blow up both of the exploding walls (there were two?) to knock down all of the guards. Okay, there is no way I could have known that in advance. I have never used my explosive stuff for anything other than breaking down walls. The only way I’m going to get that is either experimentation or helpful hint.

And 1) + 2) + 3) = hardcore. Got it. Assumptions appropriately adjusted.

Last doctor I save is a Doctor Young, who has some kind of notes on the Joker. She turns out to be an important person in the game later on.

Back to the Gordon hunt. Quick fight with more thugs — fun, but now standard. I end up getting hit with a gas that turns out to be Scarecrow’s attack, and then it’s off to delusion land for the somewhat obligatory insane level every action game seems to require. I think I see Gordon dying. Then I’m in a morgue and I get a very Eternal Darkness like set-up, a door opening back into the room I was just in. My dead parents are in bodybags on slabs, and when I open the bodybags, they talk to me to amplify my guilt over their deaths. There’s also a lot of whispered voices and such. Trying to be scary, not really working. Ghostbusters actually did a better job with this stuff. Maybe that’s because in Ghostbusters, I’m walking through a nightmare as an incompetant shlub, and in Batman, I’m walking through a nightmare as Batman.

Then there’s this surreal scene where there’s a giant Scarecrow in the center of the level, surrounded by these little islands of floating building pieces. The camera is way back, and I look at Batman in profile as I jump from island to island, ducking to avoid being seen by the Scarecrow, who crushes me if he spots me. My goal, I shit you not, is to reach a Batsignal at the end of the level, which kills the Scarecrow when I shine it on him. Excuse me? Is this from a comic I haven’t read? I thought I was the Dark Knight, patrolling the mean streets of Gotham. If I wanted to go into a surreal platforming headtrip, I’d dust off Psychonauts. There’s a lot of good effort here, but the tone is so wrong it kills the whole experience.

Anyway, I kill the Scarecrow with the awesome power of my spotlight and return to the game. Turns out Gordon’s not dead, but being held by Harley in another see-the-bat/hostage-dies setup. It’s a pretty good set-up for the gargoyle/predator play. I have a little trouble getting into the room with Harley because it takes me a while to find the grapple point, but it’s fine. I drop Harley and save Gordon. That launches a cutscene where we investigate another room and find Bane chained up, having been experimented on by Dr. Young. Bane even calls her a Bruja, so there’s some story going on here. Anyway, the Joker pumps Bane up with a new kind of Venom (I guess that’s the steroid he uses — Batman was not my comic growing up) and sets him loose. Cue boss fight.

Overall, it’s a fine boss fight in the Zelda model. It’s a lot of dodging and well-timed Batarangs, and of course two or three deaths to figure this out. I beat Bane, we leave the room, and there’s a cutscene where Bane reawakens to try to kill Batman, and Batman remote uses his car to knock Bane off of the island. Not sure why I needed that cutscene, but I got my own version of the kill by beating Bane myself in the boss fight, so I don’t feel too much like the game did my victory for me.

Gordon gets on a police boat and leaves the island. And Batman decides to go to the Batcave he conveniently built on this island for just such an occasion (was that in the graphic novel? Because it feels cheesy as hell here.) Fight my way back across the island and then enter a cave that leads eventually to the Batcave. The Batcave itself is a bunch of walkways with huge, purposeless gaps between them, and I swear I have more near falling deaths and grapple-hook rescues  just trying to walk around my base than anywhere else in this game. A talk with Oracle reveals more plot: Young made a more powerful version of Venom, but then returned the money the Joker gave her to make it. Joker wants an army of steroid-driven superthugs, AND ONLY I CAN STOP HIM.

I leave the cave with a new toy, a Batclaw that allows me to grab objects at a distance. I got through a platform section where I climb to the surface, and then it’s off to get Young’s notes on the formula. There’s an interesting challenge here, with two snipers on the balcony of the building I need to get to. They kill me like ten times. It’s a good challenging stealth puzzle, now that I know I’m playing a hardcore game.

Oh, by the way, there are also these riddles that the Riddler leaves in every major area where you have to examine an object in the space that is the answer to a description he gives. I know I was ragging on this earlier, but it’s actually pretty cool. Paying any real attention to it would suck colossally, but as something to do while you walk around the level, it’s a nice different way of thinking.

Anyway, again there’s a forcefield right inside the front door of the building I need to enter so I sneak into the mansion somehow else, fight-fight-fight, and find some hostages. There’s a nice timing puzzle where there are hostages in the basement you have two minutes to find before the Joker kills them. There’s a staircase going directly down to the basement, but I assume that’s no go, so I open a vent instead. And I am rewarded with an awesome Joker line that’s something like “Jumping right to the last page of the book, Bats?” I really hope that line was context-sensitive to me going to the vent without trying the stairs first, because that would be rad. There’s also no timer on screen; the Joker just pops in every chunk of time to tell you how long you have left. I ended up in a room several floors above the basement that had no obvious exits, and with fifteen seconds remaining. I throw on my detective vision and notice that the giant chandelier in front of me is glowing. I also notice it’s attached to the ceiling by a string, and overhangs a hole that descends down several levels. On a chance, I throw a Batarang at the string. The chandelier goes down, I jump into the hole to follow, and I end up in front of the hostages and a big gift box. I defuse the box with two seconds left. OSSIM. That could not have been better. Bravo, Bravo.

Now that the hostages are safe it’s back to getting the notes. This part is a little annoying in a FedEx Quest way. I run all the way to one side of the building to find the notes, only to find that Young got them first. Then I follow a forensic trail all the way back to find the notes themselves, which I destroy. But the Joker already got Young, and gave her to Zsazs, so now I have to run all the way back to find her again. Sigh.

Along the way, there’s another Scarecrow interlude. The beginning of this is really good. I enter a hallway that becomes the Wayne Mansion, but it’s raining inside, and I can hear my parents on the night of their murder. As I walk the hallway and the murder scene advances from the setup to the crime, there are lightning strikes in the hall that are slowly transitioning it to the alley where they died. The tranisition completes as I come upon their bodies, now with a child’s avatar, and hear some nice foundational dialogue about how the cops aren’t sympathetic to me because of my wealth, and how Gordon helped me out. At this point, I’m remember that the Arkham Asylum graphic novel is about whether Batman is as crazy as everyone he fights, and these scenes are setting that up quite well.

But then there’s another giant Scarecrow scene. And I mean it’s almost exactly the same: dodge Scarecrows gaze, platform jump, death-by-spotlight, etc. I guess there’s a pointless Batclaw bit, and there are now skeletons to fight, but they are exactly like thugs, right down to the style of alert feedback they broadcast when they’re going to attack. Sorry, this has no place in Batman. Fail.

Once that’s done, I’m back on Zsazs’s trail, and there’s a nice scene where you have rescue Young who’s being held from behind by Zsazs. It takes me a couple of deaths to figure this out, but the key is to corner crouch where you can see them, wait for Zsazs to look up from behind Young as he argues with the Joker via intercom, and then Batarang him while he’s exposed. It’s a really nice mechanic, it feels seamless with the scene’s dialogue, and it’s one of the truest Batman moments so far.

Young’s free and you get a cutscene where she reveals she was blackmailed. Good voice actor for Young. She doesn’t know much more about the Joker’s plot, but she has more information in safe in the room. She goes to access the safe, but there’s Joker graffiti on it and when she touches it, a bomb explodes, killing her and knocking me out. This IS the Dark Knight. Very nice.

I come to with Harley dragging the Warden away, leaving me guarded by some thugs who are supposed to keep me here. Ha, I AM THE NIGHT, MORONS. I take them down and chase Harley. More fighting and stealthing — I’m seeing the basic patterns now, but it’s still fun. There’s a new enemy with a stun baton that I still haven’t figured out how to beat; I just use the Batclaw to drag him towards me, which costs me some health, but also disarms him. I follow Harley into the security wing, running past a bunch of total lunatics that I know I’m going to have to fight later. I find the Warden, and get a chip from him that I can use in a new tool to unlock forcefields with a little effort. (You have to use the analog sticks to make a wave on your device take a certain shape — it’s a timekiller, but it’s more immersive and thus I appreciate it.)

Cutscene shows Harley releasing Poison Ivy and Joker releasing all the lunatics as predicted, and then it’s back to me chasing Harley. I get into a fight with her and some goons, and learn in this fight that unarmed goons will pick up weapons. I should point out that I learn this by being killed with a bullet to the face from a previously unarmed thug. I decide to call it a night there.

Posted in Hardcore.

Tagged with .

0 Responses

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

Some HTML is OK

or, reply to this post via trackback.