Stolen Pixels #173: Riddled

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Mar 2, 2010

Filed under: Column 51 comments

Arkham Asylum is a fantastic game, if a bit short. I beat the whole thing in a weekend, and it took another evening to run around and finish up 100% of Riddler’s sidequests.

Still, it was uniformly entertaining.


Once the game was over I tried the “challenge” modes.

Challenge mode sticks you in a room with a bunch of thugs to see how efficiently you can take them all down. I was feeling pretty good about my skills with the game at that point. I tried the lowest-tier challenge and got through the fights completely untouched, and built up some long-ish combos. It was the best I knew how to do, and I missed getting “bronze” by a long way. I had 5,500 points, and I needed 6,000 for the lowest prize on the first-tier challenge. The gold medal? 18,000 points.

I could see that I needed to build up longer combos, but that didn’t feel possible. Up until that moment I really had been operating under the false impression that I was good at this game, and I didn’t see how I could improve. I’d get halfway through the fight and there would be nobody left within strike distance. Or everyone was on the floor, waiting to get back up. I couldn’t see how to keep the attack chain going without needing to take a step and break the chain.

I think that having a serious challenge for serious players is a great idea, but this is a case where I had no idea what I might be doing wrong. I’m sure there was a trick to getting the higher scores, but I had no idea what that trick might be and the game never kicked any hints my way. I could spend hours and hours practicing my thumbs off, but without any idea of what I was doing wrong it would not lead to improvement.

I figured I could go on YouTube and see how it was done. I exited the game and… never fired it up again. My heart wasn’t in it. I was looking at a lot of practice just to beat the lowest level of the first challenge. The game had fallen below the critical threshold of reward vs. time invested, and I no longer cared. It’s the same reason I stopped playing World of Warcraft when I got near the 40’s.

Still, finding Riddler’s hidden crap was fun.


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51 thoughts on “Stolen Pixels #173: Riddled

  1. Mark says:

    I’ve found that you can use the “dodge” maneuver (hold a direction and double-tap the spacebar, on PC at least) to move Batman across a room without breaking the combo. Also, variety is your friend.

    Finding Riddler’s junk wasn’t completely pointless, though. It does allow you to catch him.

    1. Jarenth says:

      Also, the Batarang and the Batclaw work wonders on extending a combo. And yeah, the more different moves you have in your combo, the higher the total multiplier will be; if you knock out all the room’s thugs in one string but only use simple punches and kicks, you probably won’t even reach the Bronze level.

      That’s the way the combo system crumbles, I guess.

  2. DaveJ says:

    One of my friends is 3rd or something in the world on one map. If games for windows live didn’t crap up and actually let me play the game, I still wouldn’t bother.

  3. JoshR says:

    Wasn’t the main attraction of that game stealth based combat and atmosphere?
    I mean I keep going back to Zeno Clash to try and beat some of the challenge levels, but only because I am a masochist and really love both the combat and the world of Zenozoik.
    The Batman combat felt… samey to me, from the demo I played. And stealth has never really been my thing, so I left it.

    1. Merle says:

      Yes, it was – and you WILL get your cape perforated if you try attacking gun-toting thugs openly – but the combat system itself is very well-handled (at least in the XBox version), and it’s very clear that Batman is more than a match for any melee-equipped thugs he encounters.

      I swear, some of those counter-attacks you can indulge in are just plain brutal…catching a punch, wrenching the arm out of its socket, then wrenching again might seem a bit sadistic, but then again, it does keep them down.

      1. Jarenth says:

        If those thugs are dumb enough to go toe-to-toe with the goddamned Batman, they deserve every ounce of pain they get and more.

        Consider it natural selection at work.

      2. Dodds says:

        When I played through the game on Hard I had a few friends over. One of them groaned audibly every single time he heard a crack from a bone being broken. Call me sadistic, but I found it incredibly amusing. =D

  4. I had a similar feeling, I had almost finished the game when a mate game round and showed me how to get scary high scores on some of the challenge maps.

    At which point my good feelings about how well I’d been doing collapsed when I realised I really wasn’t that good.

  5. suedenim says:

    I like the challenge maps not so much for wanting to excel at them (though improving one’s “personal best” is not completely irrelevant to me), but more for revisiting cool “feel just like Batman” moments.

    The stealth bits are great. Seeing one of Joker’s goons discover a trussed-up pal and saying “How does he keep DOING this?” Never gets old.

  6. neothoron says:

    I believe it’s a good thing that it’s there – gives “pro” players a reason to spend tens of hours on the game, while not depriving story-driven players from the integrality of the story.

    1. Shamus says:

      Agreed. If the game had set that same standard for the third act, I probably would have walked away from the game.

      This way we all leave happy.

  7. Nick Bell says:

    What difficulty did you play the game on? Talking with people, and reading about it online, the difficulty makes a huge difference in what skills you pick up.

    On normal, combat is a button mashfest. You can do more elaborate combos, but they are not required. You can play the game at a basic level and get through everything without any serious problems.

    On hard, combat is a whole nother beast. Every tool in your arsenal is needed to beat some of the fights. You learn how to build long combos not because you want to, but because they are the best way to survive fights.

    I played through the entire game on hard. So when I went into the challenge rooms, I was able to get a silver on my first try. I didn’t keep doing them, mostly because I didn’t find them particularly enjoyable. But the harder difficulty definitely prepares you better for it.

  8. Yonder says:

    Your comic makes me think that there is more possibility for an antagonist in the game providing the achievements. A game with a reasonably fixed time limit, such as a variation of Majora’s Mask, where the antagonist had set up way too many optional quests than you could complete during the game and still foil his main plans. It could be very meta, especially if the plot of the game revolved partly around the fact that your character was controlled by a separate entity. In order to win the boss has to defeat either the player or the character. He can kill the character, but the Player he can only distract and confuse.

    It’d have to be carefully managed though, too much confusion, the sort of thing that usually happens accidentally, just has the player walking away in disgust.

  9. Sheer_Falacy says:

    That would not be a popular game. A lot of people play to see all of the content, so that would suck for them. In addition, it would be possible to get the game to an unwinnable state.

    As for Batman, I enjoyed it a lot. I tried the challenge areas and, in addition to having ridiculous requirements, they weren’t very fun. I mean, sure, beating up tons of dudes is exciting. But beating up tons of the same dudes, over and over, not even necessarily improving each time? May as well play an MMO.

    1. Yonder says:

      Yeah, it would have to be carefully done, and would have a smallish audience, but I think there are a few things that could make it successful.

      First of all, as far as getting achievements goes, that could be accomplished by successive playthroughs, there are already many games where it is impossible to get all achievements in one playthrough, as some are mutually exclusive.

      As far as the game being put into an unwinnable state, that would absolutely happen. However there are a lot of people out there that don’t mind losing now and again. Dwarf Fortress’s mantra is “losing is fun.”

      The game would have to be relatively short, so that replaying it wouldn’t feel like a chore. As such it should have a good deal of replayability, helped along by the fact that by design it has too much content in it for a single playthrough.

      It would also help if success and failure were not black and white terms. Instead you should have a host of possible endings, based on your secondary accomplishments. Even if you didn’t beat the main quest the secondary objectives should still matter, they should seem important enough that any one of them is well worth they extra time they would take. That will have the more important effect of (hopefully) making the player regret having to pass the objective by.

      In most games now when the player is asked “which one will you save” the right answer is to respond “Both! I’m the goddamn Spiderman!” a game where that wasn’t the case would be refreshing.

      1. Viktor says:

        It’s been done. Dead Rising. 72 hours, 54 survivors(only 53 technically possible to save on one playthrough, and that is borderline impossible anyways), a wide array of psychopaths, 53,594 zombies, and an investigative main quest. Pick and choose what you want to do, because you can’t even come close otherwise.

        1. Soylent Dave says:

          “borderline impossible”

          But such a great thing to have in there as the ‘big challenge’ of the game for when you’ve played it through a few times.

          Astonishing that this is such a fun game, considering a big part of the game is effectively escort missions. It’s probably the fact that you can let the other survivors die without screwing up your entire game/ getting a game over that stops it being irritating.

  10. Zethavn says:

    Fantastic game with a great story. My only regret is that the main story felt a little short, though it probably would’ve felt too drawn out if it was longer. The Riddler’s challenges were diverting and entertaining when you needed something different, and the rest of the game was immersive enough that you didn’t need the side quests if you didn’t want them. It was a lot of fun to unlock the collectibles, though.
    After playing through on Normal and completely dominating every fight the game threw at me, I found that the brawl missions in Challenge Mode were something I actually had to work for. I could achieve Silver on my first try in the Predator missions, but usually didn’t make Bronze until at least my third try at combat. Still, I worked my way up to Silver for most of them with a bit of practice.
    I’m going to play through again on Hard in preparation for the sequel.


  11. Jeff says:

    The funny thing about your WoW example is that when I joined (3.2?) the focus was on high level content and it was easy to blaze from 1-60 with no real slow-downs in the way. The veterans all moan about our early mounts and ease of leveling, but eh, less grinding = more fun.

    1. Ian says:

      Heh. I started playing WoW at 2.4.2 and am the only one of my friends who paid full price for every one of my mounts and training (though I started at just the right time to get my normal ground mount at level 30 rather than 40) and I have no problems with the mounts being available at an early level.

      About the only thing that I wish is that Blizzard would have made flying at level 60 an account bound tome, ala cold weather flying. Opening up flying at level 60 across the board made Outland almost trivial, even to new players. Certainly not a huge deal, but I think it does take a lot of the danger out of it.

  12. rxtx says:

    Yeah I found the combat challenges annoying too. It was made worse because the game never explicitly tells you what you’re meant to be doing to get a high score. I’ve also found that the combo chaining is a bit buggy at times, and you seem to lose your combo when it should have continued

  13. Rob G says:

    I absolutely adored Batman’s combo system. Sure, you could button mash and in general you’d do alright, but when it clicks and you really, really get it it absolutely flows. It feels almost like a rhythm game or a well cut movie where there’s a series of hits followed by a brutal smash, all timed well and slick.

    The best part about the challenge system was just as you guys said; you get the challenge for the people who loved it, but you don’t need to muck up the game with unnecessary difficulty. That said, I also enjoyed them just for pure enjoyment value.

  14. Nick says:

    I never did like challenges like this in the game. I tried it for a bit, but mostly just to get a couple achieves related to it, such as the “all moves in one combo” achieve and the “don’t get hit once” one.

    As for continuing combos when everyone is knocked down, try a ground take down. It takes a while, gives you mad points (even more so, the further into your combo you do it), and gives them time to get up.

    also, I found that unless the guy JUST fell down, you can still target and attack a ground guy and they magically get back up to be punched.

  15. B.J. says:

    The combo system in the game is extremely finicky. The combo chain breaks if you miss *any* attack. As in, if you push punch even once and it doesn’t connect with someone’s face, combo over.

    The way to rack up the big points is to never miss a single attack and do every one of Batman’s moves in one big combo. The variety multiplier cranks up quickly in challenge mode. e.g.: punch+punch+punch+counter+power attack+dodge+cape stun+batarang+batclaw+throw+takedown, if I’m not forgetting one.

  16. Cat Skyfire says:

    Just one question: Which version did you play? XBox360? PC?

    1. Shamus says:

      PC. (Review copy, if that matters.)

  17. NeilD says:

    I thought the way they included the Riddler in the game was a brilliant idea poorly executed.

    In the middle of everything else that’s going on, now he’s got Riddler tormenting and distracting him through his comm system. He can’t just go and punch him in the face, so while he’s working his way through Joker’s gantlet, he has to play along, keep the Riddler talking, and bide his time until he and Oracle can trace the signal back to it’s source. An enemy you never get to see, but have to defeat all the same. A clever subplot, smoothly integrated.

    Unfortunately, just about every aspect of it didn’t make sense and it broke the reality of what was otherwise a fairly well-grounded game world. In just about any other game I wouldn’t have questioned it — it’s a game, this is what you do in games: go around and “picking up” things just because they’re there. But they did such a great job of setting a down-to-earth (well, within standard comic book sensibilities) tone and atmosphere for the game that it really did seem jarring.

    A lot of it could have been resolved by making it clear that there was an actual threat somewhere. Say, he’s got Robin, and if Batman doesn’t complete the challenges, the Boy Wonder gets it. Then at least there would be some reason for Batman to be crawling around in vents looking for glowing trophies, smashing harmless novelty toys, closely examining random items and craning his neck to get just the right angle on an invisible question mark.

    As it was it just made me feel… well, pretty much like you said in the comic. But I had to find every last one of them anyway (yay, OCD!).

  18. far_wanderer says:

    Funny story about the Riddler: I’ve never really gotten into comic books, so Arkham Asylum was my first serious exposure to Batman other than Dark Knight. It took me until almost the end of the game to realize that the Riddler was one of the bad guys. I figured he must be some crazy guy that likes leaving a bunch of cool toys lying around for Batman. None of his puzzles hurt you and they give you piles of XP.

  19. Conlaen says:

    Jut finished the game myself. With all the Riddler stuff of course, and having figured out the Spirit of Arkham. Did a bunch of the challenges, but indeed, I tend to hover around the 6k for the fighting stuff. I found using the batarang and the grappling hook help in keeping the combo’s flowing better and it’s also very important to keep moving in dashes cause while you’re jumping over a guys shoulders in mid-combo that does not break the chain.

    The sneaky challenges are more fun, where you are rewarded for doing diverse takedowns, but I often can’t quite figure out which 3 they want me to use and I can’t be arsed to look it up then, and replaying the level over and over till you figured all 3 out is also a bore.

    1. Gildan Bladeborn says:

      You… never noticed the game mentions “Press this key to see the objectives for this challenge” or what ever it actually says? Because you can totally bring a screen up as soon as the level loads that will tell you exactly which 3 objectives you need to complete. Or at least it offered that on the PC, I’d assume they wouldn’t make console players guess.

      The only reason you should need to replay the level over and over would be to figure out a way to actually pull all 3 of the requirements off and not get yourself killed in the process.

      1. Conlaen says:

        No I did not. I’ll try to keep an eye on that next time.

        1. Conlaen says:

          It turns out it’s Tab. I never saw it. Thanks Gildan :)

  20. Maxie Zeus says:

    I have a lot of fun with the challenges, but I completely agree with your observations. I’m lousy at the combat–after lots and lots and lots of Challenge practice, I can regularly get the Bronze on that lowest-level Challenge, but can only get the Silver about 20% of the time. I’ve yet to get the Gold. The game doesn’t really explain how to get those big numbers, and it’s kind of depressing to think that, well, you have to be BATMAN to get that kind of number–some combination of unbroken chains, panoramic awareness of the arena, instinctive ability to know where to jump and who to hit, and Batman’s patented “white magic.” My hat’s off to anyone who gets the Gold on these regularly!

    I do have a quick query, though I don’t want to come off like one of “those guys”:

    You write: “I tried the lowest-tier challenge and got through the fights completely untouched, and built up some long-ish combos. It was the best I knew how to do, and I missed getting “bronze” by a long way. I had 5,500 points.” If you get through “Intensive Treatment,” which is the lowest-level combat challenge, without being touched, then you should end with a lot more than 7000 pts. (You get 500 pts for each round without getting clocked, and an extra 5000 for getting thru all four rounds untouched.) I would picture that number plus “long combos getting you very close to the full 18K, if not more. I must be misunderstanding something.

    1. Shamus says:

      As far as I can tell, I wan’t using much variation. For me a “long” combo was 8. Which is “just getting started” as far as the game is concerned.

      I was pretty sure I’d passed all three rounds untouched, but I never saw 5,000 bonus. So I must have gotten clocked once. It’s been a few days now and I don’t remember clearly.

      1. Maxie Zeus says:

        Huh. How strange. Maybe it has to do with it being a PC version of the game? Or it being a review copy? You mention “three rounds” when there are supposed to be four–maybe the review copy is incomplete.

        Back on topic: I often feel betrayed by the camera: I’m trying to move in one direction to take out a bad guy, but the camera starts swinging, and … well, either the camera and I are fighting each other or I just get completely disoriented. The game also has a maddening tendency to pick targets I am not interested in, either from sheer perversity or because it (probably correctly) thinks it’s making a better decision than I am trying to make.

        Anyway, I’m glad Shamus has been playing a game I’ve played, for once. I visit because I like reading whatever he’s talking about, but it’s nice to actually have some hands-on familiarity with what he’s talking about. :D

        1. Shamus says:

          I’m sure any differences should be attributed to my memory. I only played challenge mode for a few minutes.

  21. Julian says:

    As for combat, here are my tips:
    Batman has 9 moves. If you can do all those in one combo, you’ll get 5000 extra points. The moves are:
    Strike – punches, kicks, etc
    Cape Stun – where Batman slashes with the side of his cape to stun an enemy
    Dodge – jumping over an enemy
    Throw – You must be in Critical mode to throw.
    Takedown – that shift+right click on the PC. It inmediately knocks out a thug. You need to be in Critical mode for this.
    Batclaw strike – that means batclaw, and then punching one of the batclaw’d enemies.
    Combo Batarang – firing a QUICK Batarang in Critical Mode
    Ground Takedown – punching or breaking a downed enemy’s bones.

  22. Jonn says:

    This is intended as a polite query, not an insult or anything of the kind.

    I was surprised to hear you struggled with these challenges Shamus, after reading about your skill in FPS’es – knowing which way an opponent is moving based on subtle cues.
    Like spotting a health-kit and knowing that the target has a lot of health; skills I never developed, at least not for a fast paced environment.

    But in the beat-em-up challenges, keeping track of everything is key – knowing if a thug is in melee range or not (you can slide a surprisingly long way to strike and continue your combo), where any lieutenants or guns are (might have only been in the advanced challenge) and so on.
    Knowing which combo to use and when to use it, to counter or dodge, continue punching one thug or move to the next – all are down to subtle points of experience.

    Again, not trying to be rude; I’m simply intrigued why FPS skills don’t translate well to brawling.

    I’m guessing its just down to different skill sets, maybe someone else can add to that theory?

    For the record, I took silver first attempt at the basic combat challenge, gold at the third. I’m assuming most readers will know what I mean by ‘being in the zone’ – I can get gold reliably on the basic ones if I am, otherwise its either silver or start again. Not being hit is critical for a high score.
    I can also reliably hit silver on the advanced set, however find it very hard to get gold. Thats just the beat-em-ups, the stealth ones I tend to take too long and only hit silvers on a good run.

  23. Irridium says:

    I had the same feeling. Granted I was getting closer to silvers than bronze :P

    However I still go back occasionally. I have the game on the PS3, and playing as the Joker is just so damn fun.

  24. Mazinja says:

    I found Batman: AA to be intensely fun. Thh challenge modes I did have trouble with… at least for combat. I much preferred the Predator ones, and got the 3 bats on all of those!

    Also, I loved getting the Riddler stuff. He just gets so INDIGNANT as you get more and more!

  25. Hawkehunt says:

    “It’s fun, in a self-destructive, obsessive-compulsive kind of way.”

    So, in other words, it’s just like the Bat himself?

  26. Danath says:

    I stopped playing Arkham Asylum cause of GWFL, the stupid thing keeps failing to update and refusing to let me save my game. I had fun with the game, but the challenge modes are pretty brutal. You have to have variety and long unbroken combo chains, which resulted in spacebar dodging and flipping over people followed by launching single attacks to keep the chains going.

  27. empty_other says:

    The predator challenges was awesome!

    I did sport out of giving the poor goons the most pain they could ever ask for…
    It wasnt unusual for them to be kicked, exploded and stunned (but still surviving) until i finally had them right where i wanted them; standing on a floor about to go *BOOM*.

    It was when Joker added explosives to the gargoyles, that the game turned fun and challenging.

  28. Deoxy says:

    “The Joker is the kind of guy who will come up with a plan to kidnap a scientist and have them create a super-pheromone that will attract little old ladies to a warehouse so Joker can feed them into a woodchipper and use the resulting paste to make counterfeit money so he can buy fuel for his ice rocket that will freeze the entire city which will cause everyone to flock to his beverage vendors who will sell them hot chocolate laced with a mutagen designed to drive everyone insane.”

    The comic was very funny, of course, but there’s the real gold. You captured the Joker very well there.

    Edit: awaiting moderation? When did that start? And why didn’t my quote tags work?

  29. Windblade says:

    I must admit, for a long time I despaired of beating the combat challenges (especially shock treatment on extreme), as I’m the sort of person who will mash instinctively even when I know what sort of rhythm is needed…

    and then something just clicked.I got the flow, and feel of combat. not perfectly, but enough to manage the challenges (even if I beat Shock Treatment Extreme with the final blow landing just as the screen was fading out…)

    Quick-firing the bat-claw will make things much easier, and if in doubt dodge away before launching an attack. It can be glitchy though (for some reason if there are two viable targets in the path of the attack, the game will always pick the ‘worst’ target – if I use a take-down, it goes for the unarmed inmate I’ve already given a beating. if I throw a normal punch, it goes for the knife wielder and my combo is broken.)

    1. Maxie Zeus says:

      “if there are two viable targets in the path of the attack, the game will always pick the “˜worst' target ““ if I use a take-down, it goes for the unarmed inmate I've already given a beating. if I throw a normal punch, it goes for the knife wielder and my combo is broken.”

      I’m glad I’m not the only one with this problem. For a master martial artist, B:AA’s Batman seems to have really awful instincts.

      Probably it’s just me, but my Batman also seems to think he’s Superman or something: He LOVES to throw himself in front of express trains. If a Titan charges, and I try to dodge, he almost invariably jumps right in front of it. That makes the “when in doubt, dodge” tactic, sadly, almost as self-destructive as the “spam attacks even when standing right next to a Titan” tactic.

  30. Dodds says:

    Off Topic: I dunno if you’ve all got this planned out way in advance, but to see a Spoiler Warning of Batman:AA would be brilliant.

    On Topic: Yeah, essentially everything Julian said. Variety really is everything. If you only tried the Combat Challenges, I’d highly advise trying the Inviisible Predator ones instead.

  31. Soylent Dave says:

    Yeah, when I first went into the challenge mode I was horrified at how low my scores were compared to a) the targets and b) the leaderboards.

    I think once you realise you can link your floor takedowns into your combo it helps, as does bouncing from one henchman to another without finishing the first one off (so he’s still standing for you to bounce back to him). The truly massive scores come from taking the entire room down in a single, varied combo.

    (I’m nowhere near good enough to do that unless there only 3 or 4 henchmen in the room!)

    It’s well worth trying out the ‘Predator’ challenges (if you can be bothered to fire the game up again, that is) – they’re a lot more like the main game (being primarily stealth-based), and they’re problems you have to think your way around rather than button-twitch your way around.

    I certainly found them a lot more doable than the fighting challenges (I’ve forgotten what the game calls them)

  32. The biggest trick that appears to be getting missed here is that, once you get a combo going, there’s no need for Batman to walk anywhere: He will leap the entire length of the room in order to hit the next guy you tell him to.

  33. Vegedus says:

    I found the game was actually rather helpful, regarding ways to improve, namely, the various bonuses are explained during loading screens. Granted, the levels load fast enough that I barely manage to read them the first time, but after having tried I got a good enough idea of it. Besides the mentioned “Perfect Dark Knight” for not getting hit once, there’s also a nice boost for clearing the entire level in a single combo (tricky, but doable with skill and some luck) and variation bonuses (a multiplier that gets higher for each different attack you utilise in a single combo, not necessarily how varied you are) can also give a nice boost.

  34. El Quia says:

    This happened to me, too. I really loved playing the game, finished it with a 100% completion of the riddler thing, and believed myself pretty good at that game. Then I tried the challenges, didn’t reached bronze and said “Oh, well. Good game, though” and never touched the challenges again.

    I am pretty sure than one day I will play it again, but I think that the challenges will stay unfinished forever. It’s seems that I am not the target of those challenge things. Then again, the “normal” play was great, so it is really nice how this game caters to such different kind of gamers without forcing me to endure the stuff I hate. Maybe for the other side it is worse, because they are forced to play through all the game to unlock them all, but they are also the kind of gamers to be more obsessive over the Riddler’s challenge.

    And yes, it was short and somewhat easy, now that I realized that I wasn’t good enough for the challenges :p but it was still a very enjoyable game.

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