Saturday, December 08, 2012

Top 50 Games - #37

Ho-leeeeee shit, I added to this list.  I've actually moved house now, so I might get this finished one of these days.  Not that I've written everything yet, but hey...

37. Batman: Arkham Asylum
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: Eidos
Year: 2009
Format: Xbox 360, Mac, PC, PlayStation 3

I’m about to court a bit of a controversy here.  Your honour, I contest that Arkham Asylum is a better game than Arkham City.
   (Gasps!  Murmurs!  A YouTube clip of the courtroom from Ace Attorney, were it not for the fact that I don’t really want to put two YouTube clips on one post!)
   Both of Rocksteady’s glorious Batgames are absolutely essential, of course.  But I prefer the tighter focus of Asylum, and the fact that it swooped out of absolutely nowhere has helped to cement it in my mind better.
   Indeed, it’s hard to remember now just how unexpected Asylum’s skyscraping brilliance was.  A London developer with just one game on their CV, taking on a subset of gaming that is almost always awful?  Science has proved that 88.6% of all licensed superhero games are absolute piffle, a rate rising to 94.2% when Bruce is involved.
   Rocksteady’s solution was to a) shamelessly cherry-pick the best bits of Bats and b) work hard on making the player be Batman.  For the first part, they chose cleverly – the basic plot from Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s seminal graphic novel Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, the lead writer and several voice actors from the acclaimed ‘90s cartoon, the Gothic tinge of the Burton movies and the gritty flavour and gadget-love of the Nolan flicks.  Mashing them all together gave something for every Batfan. 
   The second part’s the hard bit.  The ideal superhero game is one that makes you feel like you are the hero.  I’ve only come across one other game ever to do that – Treyarch’s excellent Spider-Man 2 on the GameCube – but through a mixture of context-heavy controls, clever shortcuts and a combat system that looks great and feels satisfying while not actually doing that much, Rocksteady made you become the Bat.
   And once you are Batman – creeping through the shadows, making goons panic, using fancy tech to do the seemingly impossible – you get a heck of a playground to explore.  The weird, unsettling Arkham Island is easily one of gaming’s most memorable locations, from the wrecked hospital wards to the hidden Batcave (“It’s me, remember?” deadpans Bats when Oracle wonders how the heck he managed to keep that secret) to the crumbling ruins to the completely inexplicable room where a Joker with a TV for a head freaks you out for no particular reason. 
   There are a couple of minus points: the bosses are a bit repetitive, and (although this isn’t actually the game’s fault) it kind of annoyed me how people went on about HOW AMAZING the Scarecrow bits were when, as we’ve seen, they were basically lifted from Eternal Darkness.  But that’s basically all that’s wrong.
   And that’s the thing about discussing Asylum’s greatness – you have to remember that no-one expected greatness in the first place.
MAGIC MOMENT: discovering the joys of the Inverted Takedown.  Hang from a gargoyle.  Wait for passing thug.  Drop down, grab thug, knock him out and leave him tied up to the gargoyle.  For bonus points, wait for his mate to find him then cut the rope with a Batarang, knocking thug #2 out with thug #1’s head.  Giggle.

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