OK, why am I reviewing such an old game?
Basically, I got it for a fantastic price - considering how often I complain about the price of video games, it should be noted that I considered the $17 price tag for B.A.A. to be too low. I thought I had been lucky and caught the game while it was on special, but a brief glance at Steam a few days ago showed me the price was still as low as when I last checked.
So, because the game is now at an easily affordable price for everybody, I've decided to throw in my two cents about it. In short: you're going to be hard pressed to find a game as good as this for the price of a few candy bars, so buy it right now.
Batman, the second biggest 'Marty-Stu' in the entire history of history (behind Jesus but just ahead of every character Steven Segal has ever played), delivers his arch-nemesis Joker to Arkham Asylum. You'd think by now he'd have prudently resolved to kill the incorrigible lunatic, but he's got to worry about public relations, you see. Lo and behold, it was an Admiral Akbar and Batman is trapped on the island in the middle of a riot that eventually sees the inmates running the loony-bin.
I've already mentioned my problems with Games For Windows Live, but after extensive fucking around, Google-Fu and registry diddling, I managed to get it working. Luckily, once it's functioning, you don't have to be connected to the internet to access your saved games. While that's fantastic, it doesn't change the fact that GFWL is an utter nightmare; at least this means that you don't really have to worry about it when you finally get it working.
The PC version of the game is fine enough, if you have a machine powerful enough for it. Considering the quality of the graphics, it runs extremely smoothly on my stock-standard HP DV6 laptop even when things get very busy. It looks fantastic and everything is easy to understand. They didn't feel the need to get fancy and "original" with the user interface, and the tried-and-tested simplicity is fantastic.
The controls cannot be remapped, which is a bit annoying. Eventually, you'll find yourself hitting the wrong keys and getting lamped in the gob by a burly inmate. However, after some good old-fashioned practice you'll be easily flapping around like the bat you are, except instead of getting tangled in everybody's hair you're snapping arms and comically hurling over-matched wankers into electrical fences.
As you'd expect with the modern Batman, stealth and hand-to-hand combat are the key elements of game-play, and the game handles them both quite well. An inmate armed with an assault rifle is a major threat, but the freedom you have in the complex, well-designed arenas mean that you can not only take the gun-totting lunatic out, but you can do it a different way each time you play through.
This is bloody fantastic.
Firearms are realistically a massive threat, but you'll encounter entire hordes of balding scum-bags who mistakenly believe they have a chance against Batman in hand-to-hand combat.
At first, Batman can only do big, telegraphed punches and kicks, and counter enemy attacks, but the variation in these attacks/counters is delightful - and kicking thirteen asses without breaking a sweat is a always fun.
Seriously, the combat in this game is excellent "schadenfreude." From the close-up, slow-motion cuts that demonstrate how precisely Batman's armored heel makes contact with an enemy's temple to the viciously brutal counter attacks. In fact, one of the first things I did was counter an enemy punch, and I watched in child-like glee as Batman caught the guy's fist, crushed his wrist until the assailant went to his knees, then delivered a knee of his own to the poor bastard's chops.
Things go beyond that when you receive the upgrade that somehow reminds Batman that he trained in grappling arts too, allowing you to execute "take-downs" in the middle of a flowing combo. You stop punching things, leap to a foe and toss them to the ground, for instance with a jujutsu/judo hip-throw, and crack their arms or legs like twigs. Not only are these even more enjoyable to watch (what? Don't deny it!) but they instantly take out enemies that are otherwise impervious to direct attack.
Batman being the overpowered entity that he is, the enemies need to resort to weapons to have a chance against him. Knives and tasers make an enemy a threat because they cannot be attacked by simply punching them (which is rather upsetting to Batman), and they do significant damage- though, again realistically, less than a firearm- with their "un-counterable" attacks. Though by themselves they're just fodder still, in the heat of a battle with a horde of enemies, these armed bastards significantly add to the challenge. However, these are also prime targets for Batman's "take-downs", further increasing the strategy to what seems like an extremely simple game.
Overall, the difficulty is nothing special. You'll likely only find yourself dying when faced with rooms full of assault rifle wielding enemies when you fuck up the stealth sections, unless you're particularly useless at the combat. Hard-mode is available if you want to try it, but I've only just now started my game on that difficulty.
The story is fine enough, leading you from challenge to challenge. Nothing really happens, no characters develop, but it's entertaining enough. Harley Quinn is as manic as always.
Aside from the muddled controls, there's little to complain about. Well, Batman himself is an utterly hilarious character. The game claims he's an genius inventor, expert engineer, escape artist, and, most hilariously of all, an expert in most known forms of martial arts. I literally laughed out loud when I read that. Of course, Mister Wayne is barely even middle-aged.
The scenes involving Scarecrow are utterly incredible, and manage to at least be a little unnerving. Sadly, they're succeeded by platforming sessions that do little more than delay you and look pretty. The makings of a great platformer are in there somewhere, but really... they take a long time, and on my first play-through I succeeded on my first try for every occasion. I don't understand why the mental battles with Scarecrow all manifest as Uncharted through the eyes of a schizophrenic tripper. Though you can't deny the brilliant work that's gone into them, I found the biggest danger was being bored so hard you took risks. Rather than skill-testers, the platforming sessions were patience-testers with incredible graphics.
The replay value of the game is diminished slightly by removing all enemies after you finish the story - you can go back through Arkham Aslyum to solve riddles and such, but without any enemies there at all, it's very boring. The rest of the replay value comes from challenges, but those are unlocked by solving those mysteries. So if you want to actually play the elements of the game you want (punching things) after the story mode, you've got to diddle with a search quest. Thankfully that's entirely optional, and screwing around with collection quests aren't required for advancement in the game. The best replay value comes from merely restarting the game, and doing what few challenges you can unlock with the effort you want to spare for the side-quests.
That's good enough, honestly. Especially for under twenty-bucks. The story mode is long, you've got challenges that focus on the core elements of stealth and combat, and there's plenty of things to collect that a shit-load of effort has gone into, such as the entertaining interview tapes. This is easily a 9.5/10 game, if you absolutely must have it put to you like that.
One thing I WILL say though is that Arkham Asylum itself is a fucking horrific place. Not merely for the inmates, I can't imagine any of the staff wanting to actually work there. Perhaps the most terrifying thing is that Batman's sense of justice is merely conditional - there's nothing just and fair about Arkham. He should be rescuing people from there, or at least petitioning with his mountains of cash to get conditions improved. At least he could donate some tiles for the walls.
But, hey, it's not meant to be an accurate portrayal of the modern public mental health system (though it does ring a few bells if you know how some mental health facilities used to be fifty years ago). It's a convenient staging ground for getting as many famous adversaries under one roof with flimsy pretexts to duke it out with the Bat himself.
And it does it so well, you'll go to bed dreaming about cracking arms, throwing bat-shaped bits of metal at faces, and punching things. Always punching things.