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Batman Has Ended10:31 PM -- Tue October 11, 2011

To interrupt the constant stream of BHE announcements and contests, I thought I'd talk about the game I finished a few days ago. Batman: Arkham Asylum. Amazing! I haven't been this hooked on a game in years, it's like going back to Ratchet & Clank and Sly Cooper (it's actually a lot like Sly Cooper). It's just fantabulous and everybody should play. It's got everything you could want - there's a good story, great graphics, nifty voicework (you can overhear dozens of different conversations between the thugs that tell you what's going on as well as letting you know there are thugs around), and several different really cool games all executed perfectly. By that, I mean it feels like multiple games all combined.

The main game is Metroidvania - you roam around this island figuring out how to proceed further, looking for ventilation shafts you can sneak into, or high ledges you can grapple up to. Of course, in true Metroidvania fashion, you gradually accumulate new methods of getting around, so you can go back to earlier areas and explore further. And there are little hidden "riddles" to find, which you'll constantly be backtracking to reach with new powers. The Riddler has placed these all over, but calling them riddles is a biiiig stretch. They are collectible question marks, but there are also other things that are a bit more riddley, like having to take a picture of something based on what he says (for example "I hope you SEE what Tweedledee and Tweedledum SAW", so you look around until you find a see-saw, and take a picture of it), or trying to align two pieces of a question mark in your view, then take a picture. I love those ones.

Then, as you're exploring, you come across a group of thugs. This is the second game. You beat the crap out of them, in a practically-one-button fighting system that actually feels really satisfying and fun. There's also a second button, which you use to to counter enemy attacks (super easily, I like that), and a third button for a 'stun attack' that you almost never use, and you could complete the game without, once you learn how to leap over guys and hit them from behind. Anyway, this is your usual brawling, but implemented in an awesome way that makes you feel super powerful as well as giving you a ton of options at any given moment, and a lot of stuff to do. As you go, scarier sorts of thugs appear, with knives or stun guns, and so there are constantly new techniques you have to employ.

The third game is stealth action straight out of Metal Gear Solid, only better. This is what happens if the group of thugs you come across happens to have guns. The game changes completely, because they can kill you very quickly. So instead of running up and punching them, you hide in the rafters, drop down and scoop them up. This is by far the coolest part of the game. It's also the best stealth implementation I've played. You've got no radar because you don't need one. If you get seen, it's not fatal, you can lose your pursuers in maybe five seconds at the most (on the other hand, you can also die in five seconds, so don't get seen). There are probably over a dozen ways that you can take enemies out and it's amazing how much variety there is. I didn't even know about some of them until I played Challenge Mode after winning the game and taking guys out in these special ways was among the "Challenges" it offered me. You can catch them with a grappling hook and yank them off a ledge, you can sneak up on them and do a sleeper hold, you can plant explosives so that a wall explodes on them, you can glide kick from the sky and slam them down, you can zip down and scoop them up and leave them hanging from a gargoyle, you can detonate a sonic batarang to blow one up (you can only do that to one guy in each area, so choose wisely...). And it's all very organic, they're just walking around this room, and you look at all the tools at your disposal, time their movements, and take them down.

Oh yeah, the best part about stealth is how the guys freak out as they realize they're being wiped out. When it's down to the last guy left, he's so terrified he'll occasionally shoot at the walls, and constantly turn back and forth, looking in every direction. This is extra cool because it serves a gameplay purpose - the more the guys freak out, the harder they are to deal with, so even though there are fewer guys, it's still tricky.

But never too tricky! That's the best thing in the game. It's constantly fun and interesting, and never gets too hard! Man, I can't remember the last time I've beaten a final boss without being horribly frustrated. It also only sends you back a very short way when you die. And not just fun, and not just easy, but also always new! The game just goes on and on with new events and situations. There can't be more than about five minutes of gameplay between each 'major event' in this game (unless you spend twenty minutes hunting for riddles like I always did). And you'll be going along, thinking you have everything down, when suddenly The Joker throws something new at you, like snipers or giant super-thugs.

Downsides... Killer Croc's Lair is just stupid. Outright video game stupidity, in the classic "too long doing the same thing and one mistake will kill you" vein. On the flipside, it includes several interesting events, with a bunch of different change-ups to the action. And it's not nearly as long and dull as other games would have. Other downsides... hmmm... I'm trying... it's too awesome? It ends too soon? Hey, the sequel is coming out next week! Whoo! Oh wait, I do have another actual downside. Detective Mode (basically X-Ray Vision that highlights important objects for you) is far too useful, and there's no reason to ever turn it off except during brawls. Why is that so bad? Because in Detective Mode, the entire world is monochromatic and weird-looking. So you spend about 80% of the game not seeing what the game actually looks like. Every time I actually turned it off I was shocked at how cool everything looked.

There's so many other little things I could fanboy about with this, it's just amazing, but I've said too much already, judging by the giant wall of text. It's really just a big ball of perfection the likes I haven't seen in gaming since... Portal I guess? I'd much rather play this though.
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