I did battle with the mold in my house yesterday. It’s a substance which has everything in common with those pools of sentient, man-eating shadow you find in the new Alone In The Dark. I’m talking mold which creeps across the floor and ceiling at walking pace when you turn your back on it.
I had a chemical disinfectant spray in each hand, a rag tied around my face for protection and a piece of glass attached to my head via a twisted coat hanger that acted like a rear-view mirror. I knew it would be a fight to the death, but I was not afraid. Should the mold defeat me, should it spread to my body, rot my flesh and make a home of my lungs, it would only ever be so much fungus. As a man, victory was already mine.
Empty of fear, my head soon filled with the noxious fumes of my corrosive alkalis. I went a little crazy during that time. All I could think about was
BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM’S CUTSCENES.
The following is spoiler free. Anyone spoils anything in the comments and I’ll pay a visit to their mother and spoil her for everybody.
This game has the absolute worst case of Let Me Do That Syndrome (L.M.D.T.S.) I’ve seen in a while. You’re aware of the affliction, I’m sure. It’s when you’re playing a game and control is wrested away from you for the duration of some high-octane cutscene, and you’re left wishing you’d been able to play through those events yourself.
Arkham Asylum has it bad. A real terminal case, no visitors allowed, burn your clothes and shave your head if you entered the development studio in the last two years.
It has it bad because it’s a colourful, story-driven game with a protagonist who has a very well-defined personality. During the course of the game certain things happen where we all know how Batman will respond, and the developers were unwilling to let the player damage the narrative by acting otherwise.
It’s extra-frustrating because all the game’s peaks occur when it nails letting you ‘be’ Batman, and yet during all the moments where Batman gets to display some personality (which is to say whenever he adjusts the word ‘bad’ that prefixes his ass like a license plate) the game cuts you out from the action.
To give one of the less coronary-inducing examples, in the opening five minutes of the game Joker escapes his shackles and beats the guards escorting him into unconsciousness. A cutscene then shows you, Batman, beating on the security glass between him and the Joker. One punch! Two punches! Batman’s going mental! The glass is shattered and Batman leaps through the window, though he’s too late and the Joker’s moved on. This is where you get control back.
To give an example which made my very soul itch, at one point in the game you finally catch up to a villain who’s been hassling you for hours on end. Because they’re known to be no physical match for Batman, instead of any manner of fight you’re shown Batman knocking them down like a house of cards in a cutscene. Chasing a villain across the island then having to watch Batman beat them up stems the flow of catharsis somewhat.
For a game so comprehensively smart and polished to simply submit to this problem and let the most dramatic sequences transpire in cutscenes is, I guess, an embarrassment. It shows a lack of imagination, or perhaps a desire to play it safe. OBSERVE how easily fixable this is:
SCENE: The Joker breaks free and Batman fails to reach him in time.
FIX: The game already makes you hammer a button for physically demanding tasks like prying open vents. When the Joker starts breaking free, lock the player into one of these minigames where they have to taptaptap a button to accelerate Batman’s glass-punching. It doesn’t matter if the player isn’t very fast because the Joker gets away anyway, right?
SCENE: Batman dispatches a physically weak villain.
FIX: Let the player fight somebody who goes down in one hit! The villain’s combat animations are in the cutscene anyway. What are you afraid of?
I’ve got dozens more of these, but I don’t want to get any more specific for fear of spoilers. Arkham Asylum’s horrible cutscenes are a fat fly in the Bat-ointment that infest the game right up to the (similarly horrible, incidentally) final boss fight and can’t be forgotten or forgiven.
Other than that, I give it two Bat-thumbs up.
And just so you know, the connoisseur’s choice when it comes to knocking out armed guards is to catch them with the grapple and pull them down stairs.