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Rather bored out of my mind (it is nearing 4AM EST when I am writing this), so I figured I might as well do another off-the-cuff sort of review, this time on a game that, while not completely maligned by the masses - I mean, just take a look at that average rating! - is something I do think people scoff and handwave much too easily... especially since I find it to be my favorite Arkham entry to this day. So, indulge my writing here, as I tell you my experience with one of The Bat's most lauded and acclaimed games.
Gonna start with easily the mildest one I have, this is the best narrative of the Arkham series. It feels the most complete, it has the tightest pacing, every voice work from returning BTAS stars Kevin Conroy (RIP my GOAT), Arleen Sorki, and Mark Hamill to stars new to the Batverse like Tom Kane, Cree Summer, Wally Wingert, and Steve Blum to name the notable people delivers excellent performances, some of which have stuck in my mind for years. The way the lighting and framing's done with the cutscenes is reminiscent of the Burton films, even if it wasn't the main influence, so moments like the Poison Ivy encounter and of course all of Scarecrow's encounters stick out so much in evoking that sort of grim, rather haunting feel of both those films and what this game's aiming for. I don't have much negatives to even dish here because it's so tightly written, but if there are a few, it's that there's a weird bump around the last third that feels like a drawback of not having a clear connecting point to the endgame, and the infamous final boss for reasons I'll elaborate on for my next point. It's not exactly a grand slam of a Batman narrative, but it's still something I enjoy a lot, especially considering the following games drop the ball in more ways than one.
Anyway, here's a take that's a bit warmer: I don't find the game's combat to be all that "aged" or whatever people are throwing out nowadays, and in fact find this simple approach much more palpable than whatever Origins and especially Knight were aiming to do. The simple nature of the beat-em-up style physicality, not only sounding and connecting nicely, also has a great rhythm-groove to it, making it so that trying out for high-stringing combos and crit strike timings is always a blast. This is somewhat propped up a few upgrade unlocks, such as the batarang being usable to continue the combo going from far away foes while also stunning certain ones, special throws and takedowns to make it more snappy and line up finishers quicker, and the batclaw to pull more foes in for beatdowns. For what's supposed to be the third iteration of the physical combat, as well as something they noted as being the most difficult design aspect, the team at Rocksteady sort of knocked it out the park, and it's an aspect I feel many overlook and/or don't appreciate as strongly because City does more with it... which, to be fair, I do find myself agreeing to a degree. It at least does a better job of making minute yet fulfilling improvements than the other two games did. Still, a common opinion I've seen in this regard is that stealth's usually the more appealing and diverse route, which again, makes sense. It's Bruce's thing, after all, so I find myself getting caught by surprise over the intricacy of doing all this sort of tasks and involvement even to this day. Again, this was a first stab, and while not a true-blooded stealth game, there is a commendable amount of nuances and opportunities available to make this angle in regards to shifting about the place, going through the vents, mounted gargoyles, what have you and dispatching foes left and right as you make each remaining one feel more and more insecure and frightful of your presence. If there is an aspect I'll actually give City over though, it's the boss fights. It's no secret the bosses in Asylum are the weakest part of the game, consisting of just the Titan-infused lackeys modeled after Bane's movekit, and while far from the worst bosses ever, it's a pacebreaker to flow from one setpiece to the next to hit these bosses where the game makes you wait until you Hit Them Right, run into a wall for big damage, rinse and repeat. This is also why Titan Joker is a massive blue ball because it follows after one of those fights, and exacerbates the whole issue entirely by making you wait just a smidge locker to pull him down. City's fights aren't exactly gold standards, but opting to do more variety after Asylum only teases it with Killer Croc and Poison Ivy - who, even then, is still not all that exciting to fight regardless by how cramped and weird the arena is - makes it way easier to appreciate.
My biggest reason for a good few years now, as to why I prefer this over all the following entries, is that I much, much prefer this linear, Metroid-esque world progression and design over the sequels' often bloated and, to be frank, unnecessary sandbox ethos. Asylum's perfectly crafted to have each spot be used or reused when absolutely necessary in the story, meanwhile the sequels sort of force you to hobble all over the place for the sake of moving on. Asylum has you utilize and activate a majority of your gadgets in ways that feels congruent within the facility's island abode even past their required needs, meanwhile the later sequels fall into the same problem certain Zelda games have where you're sort of just stuck with an item because one closed-off area from somewhere in the world requires you use that and only that to nab it. On that note, getting Riddler trophies in Asylum is actually fun and rewarding because it's super easy to pick up most of them on your first run and cleaning up isn't too much of a time commitment or hassle even without a walkthrough, and the times you get hit with sweeping landscape shots, or even uncover a great secret makes it easy to get into a carefree daze, meanwhile later games forces you to do stupid minigames, waiting on side activities to reach an activation checkpoint and/or asks that you whisk wherever the Trophies are all over the place as if you're playing a middling collect-a-thon from the early 2000s, something City and Knight worsen by the former having Catwomen have her own set of Trophies to collect, and the latter outright requiring you to do this in order to properly get the ending sequence. Sorry, but there's a reason I can 100% clear Asylum in my sleep, while I give up and let the Riddler do what he wants in City and Origins, and bemoan my wasted time in Knight. Even without all of that, Asylum does a plain better job at conveying what you've been doing over the course of the game, and especially at making each quadrant of the item distinct and memorable enough to mold a mental map on. City sort of does this with each of its districts somewhat tying back into whoever the supervillain leaders are, as well as special cases like the soaked Ferris Wheel and Wonder City, and Origins by technicality """passes""" since it's just built off of City's sandbox, but Knight? I genuinely can't remember a thing about that game's world, even discounting a replay potentially helping out since I've seen footage of it on-and-off over the years! Can't help but feel like those games' sandbox approach was only ever done for the sake of excess and not because the game called for it.
So yea, there's my piece. Sorry for all the comparisons done in this (it's probably the most I've done in a long while for a review), but considering the aforementioned iterative approach Rocksteady had for the Arkham entries, it was basically inevitable. Even if you disagree with some, most, shit all of what I had to say, hopefully you can, on some level, understand where I'm coming from. It's not I have totally negative things to say about the sequels even! I'll get to those in time! Just uh, maybe have a butler or round robins force me to replay City again. Anything else here.... I guess maybe avoid the Return To Arkham remaster? I've never played it myself but I have seen comparison videos as well as first hand account from friends and acquaintances, and sorry to say, but I feel safe classifying this job as a genuine "soul vs soulless" moment. Maybe not the worst remaster released, but despite that you're still better off picking up a semi-potato computer (or perhaps a Steam Deck) instead, since and City still run and play fine to this day. Hell, if you want a better HD remaster, a few people have answered your request. In fact, the one I linked for Asylum even details how to play the PS3-exclusive DLCs, a process also noted on PCGamingWiki!
When people said this demo's short I thought they were exaggerating, but uh, nope. This took me 16 minutes the first time, and even then 2-3 of that was just messing with the options menu, along with an additional 2 to get a more flattering screenshot after seeing how blown out the darkness was after messing w/ the brightness and contrast, so it's really 12 minutes overall.
I don't really have much to go off of or say as a result unfortunately. I found Grace to be a little funny because of how nonchalant she is about the obvious off-ness of the mansion, and for a more support-oriented studio for other THQ Nordic properties, Pieces Interactive did a great job on optimizing the game's presentation to not only look as dark and foreboding as it does currently, but also run really well on the highest graphic setting within my comparatively modest PC build (2070 Super, R7 3700x, with a whopping 48GB worth of RAM to top it off) within the scope thus far. Granted, it's more in-line with a AA title, but ya know, credit where it's due, and I'm hoping this level of smooth framerate stays once the full package comes out. Since there seriously isn't much gameplay to elaborate on (you don't even get a puzzle sequence!) it again doesn't give me much to go on, but it's somewhat surprising this is using the spacebar for QTE sequences and not the mouse for keyboard users like myself.
Uh what else... it had a dumb "loud spooky noise at the obvious mark" jumpscare that hurts the sequence after which since it was doing a commendable job in feeling unnerving as it stands... the two monster designs we have at the moment are cool... I don't know much about the first game but there's a couple of little details here that make it pretty sweet... yea that's about it. Since it's coming out in October at least it leaves me with enough time to go through the first four games, and New Nightmare's GBC port I guess, since I only ever played the 2008 reboot which certainly exists.
One side of me: Portal 1 being a short game allows for tight optimization of beating the clock, something further vindicated by using known speedrunning glitches such as the bumps and peeking shots. Great for both casual and hardcore runners!