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  • Gameplay Analysis: Batman Arkham Asylum

    - Filip Coulianos

  • Gameplay variation

    The developers of Batman Arkham Asylum have devoted much time to develop the pacing of the game as the core gameplay has many different mechanics the level designers could play with. As there are boss fights, predator gameplay (the gargoyle rooms), common combat, puzzles, cinematics as well as traveling/climbing, there is enough to keep the game from feeling too repetitive even after 7+ hours. The different mechanics are spread out in such a way that the player very rarely does the same thing for more than five minutes until s/he gets to a new section with new gameplay. This is pretty close to the critically acclaimed first person shooter Half-life 2 episode 1 and 2, which presents new gameplay sections about every five to seven minutes. Perhaps this is a sweet spot to aim for to keep the game feeling varied but still consistent?

    The two things to point out is that the Penitentiary doesn't include a gargoyle room and the first section of the Croc's lair is ten minutes long with very little variation and low pace. Other than that there is already great variation in the gameplay and really nothing I could come up with that could be changed.

    Challenges and new enemies

    New enemies are being presented to the player in a quite linear fashion during the first half of the game. The chart below presents rough timestamps where the player is being introduced to new enemies, boss fights excluded:

    Snipers, lunatics and poisonous plants are only present on the island in between the chapters.  While being inside the player solely fight regular thugs, thugs with batons, guns or. These four enemy types have already been presented to the player half-through the game. From then on the player faces the same enemies inside the houses over and over again. Adding at a fifth enemy type two-thirds through the game, or spreading out the current ones would help the feeling of progression and increase the challenge for the player. The number of enemies increases in a linear fashion throughout the game with more and more enemies per encounter; however I do not have any precise data on this.

    The gargoyle rooms evolve once throughout the game. At first the player can take out the armed thugs just by making sure no one else sees Batman while incapacitating the thug, later on the thugs get collars that attracts all the other thugs in the room if a thug get incapacitated. This way the player has to make sure all the other thugs are far away from the pray so that s/he has time to escape when the collar alerts the other thugs.

    Some gargoyle rooms have unique features that are not present in other rooms. This includes one room where the gargoyles are rigged and explode as Batman tries to jump on top of them, forcing the player to hunt down the thugs on the ground. In another one the thugs has a hostage and threatens to kill them if they notice Batman. This forces the player to progress through the room without actually incapacitating a thug. These variations to the gameplay are probably 100 percent scripted in kismet (Unreal Engine's in-editor scripting tool) and wouldn't put any workload on programmers, which is a great thing. It really proves how easy it can be to put unique flavor to a challenge without too much effort.


    The boss fights are evenly distributed throughout the game with roughly one boss fight in each chapter and about 60 minutes in between. Each boss fight presents a unique challenge to the player and ends in most cases with a cinematic, except for encounters with Scarecrow. There are eight boss fights in the game (if you exclude the Scarecrow encounters) but only four of them includes super villains (Bane, Ivy, Joker and Croc), the other four lets the player fight waves of thugs as well as super-thugs injected with Jokers toxin. Despite of this these four boss fights are still unique in their own way. For example the boss fight in the Penitentiary has three electric floors that kill both the enemies and the player if they are active and someone is standing there. To avoid getting electrified, the player and the thugs has to move back and forth between these floors while fighting. By solving boss fights like this Rocksteady saved both time and money avoiding creating custom content for each boss fight while still giving the player a unique experience each boss fight.


    The scarecrow presents something very unique in the game as the player is being taken to a hellish-dream world the scarecrow controls. The player has to progress through this level without being hit by the Scarecrows gaze. There are three of these encounters that increase in difficulty and length as the player progresses through the game. These sections are not boss fights per say, but creates a clear change of gameplay and fills in the gaps where a typical boss fight should have been.

    The interesting thing about this part is that it creates a needed break for the player to be challenged with something totally different. It is common for first person shooters to have vehicle rides or rail-shooter sequences for the same reason, but most of these rarely work well as it is very difficult to make an action game and a fully working car simulator at the same time. Very often the vehicle rides feels unpolished and unresponsive in these titles. In when facing Scarecrow however, they never present anything radically different in terms of character control which helps make these sequences more feel like it is truly a part of the game.

    This approach is quite unique in western action games, except for the Max Payne series that had similar sequences in which the player also played through a nightmare-ish drug sequence.


    To answer the question I previously asked in the introduction: What is it that makes Batman Arkham Asylum such a good game?

    Well, the answer is quite simple when you think about it. There is no single entity or killer mechanic that makes this game, it's a great mix of ideas used from titles before it. The variation of gameplay, level progression, creative thinking around boss fights, and the predator and detective mechanics blends together very well and together create a varied and interesting experience done by the book. Apart from the fact that the game had presented all the enemy thug-types already half-through the game and some minor optimizations in their gameplay variation, it is very difficult to find any flaws in the design. It is the execution that makes this game stand out.

    I hope you have found it as exciting as me digging really deep in the effort to find out what exactly made Batman Arkham Asylum such a kickass experience.


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