City 16's Top 10 Games of 2009: #2

It’s finally happened: I can’t think of anything to put in this introductory section. No pithy quips and observations about the year 2009, no non-sequiturs, absolutely nothing. Typically I went into this project with absolutely no thought as to what the ramification would be, namely over a week of trying to think of something a bit different to say about my picks at a time when almost every gaming website is publishing overviews of their own.

My method for this was simple: don’t read other sites’ end of year lists… Out of sight, out of mind and all that. I’m starting to think Coren was on to something when he said he did these lists at the end of the academic year. At least you don’t then have to compete with the whole of the Internet (I am aware that I’m not actually competing with everyone, or even anyone, on the Internet mental health fans).

Anyway, I’ll stop with the mad hysteria, there’s more than enough of that in my pick for the 2nd best game of the year:

Batman: Arkham Asylum

(Oh yeah, pulled it out of the bag at the last minute. I am getting good at this!)

This was a pretty late addition as I didn’t get around to playing it until the weekend before compiling this list. It’s rare that I complete a game over the course of one weekend and Arkham Asylum isn’t even particularly short. Yeah, it’s that good.

In Arkham Asylum you play as Batman. That might seem like an obvious statement but in Arkham Asylum you play as Batman. So few superhero games capture the feeling of actually being a superhero. Infamous managed it. Batman’s one of the only licensed examples I can think of that has managed. A key point that lends to this feeling: enemies are terrified of you. On the sections that require you to move from improbably placed indoor gargoyle to gargoyle they’ll start huddling together, complaining and generally acting like they’ll jump at the sight of their own shadow. They never actually run away, they’re far more scared of the Joker than of you, but its a nice touch to help you feel like you’ve actually stepped into the shoes of a legend.

There’s an interesting mix of styles that run through the game. Rooms are generally split into either biffing or stealthing rooms. The stealthing rooms, with the aforementioned gargoyles, give you a room full of armed guards and let you plan your method of taking them down. There are a wealth of options to let you achieve this, although I inevitably ended up hanging from a gargoyle and grabbing a baddie from above. You know, because it looked cool.

So there’s a lot of emphasis on stealth but, unusually for games, Batman’s also pretty tasty in a fight because, well, you know, he’s Batman. When you come across a group of unarmed guards you’ve got a series of moves for dealing with the situation. It’s here the game really shines as the fighting isn’t reliant on ultra-precise timing. There’s a lot of computer assistance, but you’re still required to read the situation: guards about to attack need to be countered, guards with knives need to be stunned before attack, guards with stun guns need to be vaulted over so you can attack from behind. It’s pretty easy to pick up, but takes a lot of practice before you start racking up the big combos.

These two different styles are the reason Batman works. He’s silent yet powerful; patient yet immediate; graceful yet… Wait, this paragraphs getting a bit erotic… You get the point.

Other elements of the game are slightly less consistent. Take the Scarecrow sections. The tone of the game is pretty dark, more Dark Knight than Adam West. At certain points through the story you’re hit with Scarecrows fear gas, at which point the game starts a creepy interactive cutscene looking at Batman’s deepest fears (his parents’ deaths, the fact he’s as crazy as the crazy guys, etc.) These are really good; both atmospheric and tense. Unfortunately they always end in a crappy platforming section in which you must navigate around a giant, rotating Scarecrow trying to avoid his gaze. It’s a shitty denouement to what could have been some of the game’s standout moments.

Actually all the boss fights are crap.

Still, they’re just the odd mark on an otherwise spotlessly polished vessel. It’s hard to think of another game that so flawlessly captures the tone of its source material.

Final point: Why does Oracle, Who’s on voice comms helping Batman throughout the game, insist on calling him Bruce? Doesn’t she know the first rule of communications in field ops? Callsigns only, dammit woman!

Tomorrow may be Christmas day but, more importantly, it’s also the day that I reveal my favourite game of 2009. Ok, so you’re more excited about this Christmas thing…


2 Responses to “City 16's Top 10 Games of 2009: #2”

  1. 1 adam
    24/12/2009 at 12:18

    excellent choice for num 2 game and looking forward to finding out what you have chosen as your num1
    never mind all this christmas bollocks.

  2. 2 Issi
    19/09/2010 at 21:31

    really really loving this game right now! i also like the way they’ve incorporated the backstory/ lore through optional sidequests using the detective side of batman’s character. Its been fun using gadgets to explore the island retrieving case files, solving riddles etc in between getting on with the story.
    Havent really minded the boss fights so far (i havent finished it yet though) i actually like the scarecrow intermissions, they are sufficiently surreal and probably intended to be metaphorical in some way. That said i thought the killer croc “fight” was ridiculously tedious after he popped up for the 379th time or whatever. Overall though it’s been pretty intuitive and hasn’t broken momentum much for me.
    My only thing i really wish for in the game is more mental patient npcs.. The crazed lunatics were a brilliant touch, and i like joker/ two-face/ riddler/ zsasz et al because they are proper bipolar OCD psychopaths. The blackgate prisoners were an obvious practical choice but they kind of make it feel like you’re just fighting average NPCs in an average prison/ base/ facility rather than the depths of a notorius comic book asylum. still if that’s my only complaint, you’re doing pretty good

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