Let me just start by saying I think it's a fucking Masterpiece of Gaming, similar to the New Batman movies Nolan did on the big screen to get that out of the way quickly. I'd even go as far as to say it was probably (aside of a few games like Portal or World of Goo that were more Gimmicky/Indie-based) the best, most immersive game I've played in the past 5 years, and yes I include "Overhyped" games like Mass Effect, Fallout 3, GTA IV, Bioshock, CoD4 and cohorts in that statement, some of those even partially left a feeling of disappointment behind...
MAY AND PROBABLY DOES CONTAIN SOME SPOILERS!
Batman:AA keeps up an awesome atmosphere and pacing throughout I am usually not familiar with in most games nowadays. There aren't 5 minutes that go by without something "happening", it never leaves you alone or hanging somewhere for more than that unless you really want to be. The story is continuously being told, either using full-blown Cinematics or by InGame-Cutscenes spruced up with a few radio communications and TV appearances of the Joker throughout the game world, presented in a dark, gritty style with movie overtones.
Ranging from impressive tracking shots and sequences, that some of the Batman movies should be envious of to "Credits running over your screen" during the Prologue (while you learn how to walk), this game borrows quite a few things from the big screen.
There aren't even any overly long passages where you have to search for keycards or feel that you want to get to the end of a level already so you can move on with the story because parts of the game are getting dull. The world flows continuously without any loading times or level loading I can think of which could break the immersion, and as a whole it feels neither too long, nor too short.
Aside of borrowing from the movies, the game obviously borrows and combines elements of a lot of its colleagues and does about everything right in that aspect too:
- The Scarecrow sequences reminded me a lot of Max Payne, where the world started to become surreal every now and then, greatly done and executed. They ranged from me wondering how the hell they managed to change a level from a corridor to a dark alley seamlessly in a matter of seconds, to nearly hitting the Reset button of my PC until I realized: "Ah... I saw what you did there..."
- You are constantly sneaking around and sneaking up on people. Shooting enemies from behind corners and taking them out from behind was very similar to Splinter Cell. The short "Dreamworld" sequences reminded me of Metal Gear Solid.
- Running, grappling and climbing around, finding Riddler secrets while exploring the world leaves some sort of "Tomb Raider" flavor behind.
They combined those and a few other aspects with movie-worthy storytelling and polished it to a "shine", at no point does it feel superimposed or overdone but it all comes in a symbiosis with the rest of the game world itself.
Even the "Hacking Minigame" doesn't feel as Out of Place or at times annoying as in Bioshock or Mass Effect but is fun and adds to the atmosphere, Batman moves his thumbs on his gadget exactly like you move yours on the controller.
Combat never seems boring even though it's as easy as pressing 2 buttons and choosing a direction repeatedly. Between Batman grabbing, kicking, throwing and punching his way through waves of enemies and close-ups of finishing moves there's always some eye-candy to behold.
The controls are pretty much intuitive both on a Gamepad (I had the X360 Wireless Pad) and Keyboard+Mouse while getting little hints on targeted hotspots. I had the feeling that the movement "flows" a little better on the latter and the tools are easier to reach with the 1-9 keys outside of combat. During combat using the 3 mouse-buttons seems a little awkward though and you'll fail dodging or attacking at the right time more than once.
Batman doesn't trust clowns as far as he can throw them
They finally even managed to make most of the secrets worth finding and somewhat fun to do so (albeit they could've done it even a little better e.g. if you find everything you could have been able to find the Riddler hidden somewhere and fight or incapacitate him yourself) by linking them with sarcastic comments of the Riddler, making them reward XP to advance your abilities and integrating them into the story by having to solve certain puzzles or unlocking character entries and recordings of patients in the Journal. They're also challenging but not impossible to find on your own (maps with all the Secrets locations are available Ingame!) instead of stupidly well hidden or almost impossible to find alone (GTA4, Assassin's Creed spring to mind). They don't feel like being there only for the sake of padding the total playing time by a few dozen additional hours but add to the actual game experience.
The game just feels great throughout and everything seems just right, from the Level design, to the Atmosphere, Models, Animations (both amongst some of the best I've seen), Gameplay, Top notch Voice acting (really great job on Batman, Joker and Harley right there), the Style used throughout and a few encounters of the special kind also hinted to above to small things like Batman constantly taking damage to his suit throughout the story and near the end looking pretty "battered". (Besides he looks so stunning throughout the game, you could basically just watch him walk for around 10 minutes straight and not get bored)
Batman before and after being beaten to a pulp repeatedly
The Levels also change dynamically during the course of the story, so even though you may traverse the same basic Level layout several times it is a completely new experience and you will have to find new ways of going through it and taking out enemies.
The game left me longing for MOAR and it truly even has the potential of making nonbelievers into Batman fans, it certainly made me like him even more.
Those Pros aside there were a few points that deserve critique and I'd like to point out, for example the boss fights. Especially the last one seemed too easy and didn't even seem like a real boss-fight at all. I also had the feeling that even the story (although GREAT for the most part) could've been a bit more iconic and about something else than "Titan" (not that bad as a side-plot but it seemed overdone and slightly cliché by the end).
The video sequences in games in general are still nowhere near "Blu-Ray" quality and this game is another prime example for that, especially for CG-Material there is a lot of blocking/artifacting going on throughout. There is no reason the PC (Installation) and PS3 (Blu-Ray drive) versions could not have benefitted from a higher resolution video with a generally better quality/bitrate, you'll always notice when it changes from cutscene to ingame rendered because it is a lot sharper.
Blocking and Banding during the many Cinematics throughout the game
At times it also gets frustrating that you aren't able to finally kill someone or that the game doesn't leave that decision up to you, especially because some of those maniacs are going around killing everything that moves and they can get their hands on... repeatedly and will probably do so again whenever they manage to get free next month for the next issue of "Batman" or the next game. But I guess that also comes with the responsibility of being Batman :P
There is no reason the game could not have had at least 5 or more Save-slots to save your progress and replay certain parts without having to repeat the entire game. There is no Option for doing that and imo if you've been through the story once, it loses much of its "Zing" the second time through. (it still stays fun on a harder difficulty though)
Regarding the AI of enemies, it can sometimes be challenging to take out an entire room of them, but it never gets more than moderately hard because they generally don't seem very clever.
Good thing Joker seems to employ a lot of crazies with Alzheimers, short-sightedness or attention disorders, cause they seem to forget they've just seen you while you're gliding from one gargoyle to another and don't seem to notice you taking out their mates standing right beside them (seeing as a few shots kill Batman and they NEVER miss it might be for the best for the overall gameplay though).
On that note, a greater diversity in henchmen to fight wouldn't have been THAT bad either. They require slightly different strategies depending on what they managed to pick up from the walls or the ground, but you're mostly only fighting Jokers henchmen and Titans. All the other enemies feel more like QuickTime Events. Regarding combat... it can get frustrating at times that missing once (e.g. hitting air) breaks a combo if most of the enemies are on the ground and there is nothing to hit in the vicinity, nothing against it going wrong when being hit or you miss an attack though.
A Greenpeace protest for more environmentally
friendly cars around the Batmobile, Batman is not amused...
On to the PhysX features that DO require quite a bit of horsepower under the hood GPU-wise or rather what the main difference between the PC and Console version is besides of the obvious higher resolution (true 1080p instead of 720p and Higher Resolution textures to boot). Here are a few examples:
PhysX allows for new breakable environment during some fights, although kind of rare some tiles are breakable (unfortunately you can't break them whenever you like, only if you throw enemies against them during fights and only in certain locations or scripted events)
Some tiles broken loose after fights and the heavy-duty stuff:
Dynamic Paper, spider webs and fog are some of the more prominent PhysX features throughout the game that also add to the experience, you will find spider webs throughout caves and venting shafts and paper on the ground throughout the levels.
A few of the features feel like Gimmicks though, like some of the added smoke pillars between energy barriers or the banners if you pick the "High" Option. They don't really seem to fit in or add much to the gameplay.
Here are three Real-Time Videos of the PhysX features, maybe making the changes even more obvious:
Overall, I'd give it a 9.3 and recommend it to any Batman or Non-Batman fan that likes a suspenseful and interesting story and wants to play a great game.