Sunday, 22 November 2009

Batman Arcane Asylum game usability review - the good

I've been playing this for an age, and it doesn't look like I'm going to be putting it down until I finish it. So because I've invested so much time into it, I thought I'd split the assessment into 2 posts:

- Part 1 - the good
- Part 2 - the bad

Lets make 1 thing clear, I'm a big fan of this game. This part - the best aspects of the game's user experience, it's high quality game usability, will be EASY.

Good graphics

The game itself looks great (bar the character's comically huge muscles). The environments are detailed and busy. There's fairly few cutscenes, and those that are there look really good.

Engaging combat

As the director said they have put a lot of effort into the combat system - and you can tell. It's flexible and fun. It also looks great, dynamically adapting according to the situation.

In earlier brawler systems, the player controls the direction the fighter is facing, and is given buttons that do specific actions, such as puch/kick/throw/etc. This often led to the frustrating situation of a players character swinging just to the side of a bad guy whilst making no contact (usually whilst they watched, bemused).
A swing and a miss...

In this game players are given 4 controls (jump/avoid, counter, attack and stun), the player controls where these are directed with the control stick. The buttons don't do a specific action, but the intention of the button. So 'attack' may punch sometimes, and kick on others, or 'avoid' may jump over an attacker, or slide between their legs. All this is dependant upon the situation, meaning the games combat feel much more engaging and free flowing than others I've seen.

Players also recieve clear feedback on any combatants about to attack, a visual signal displays, giving the player time to counter or avoid the blow.

The system is pleasingly easy to pick up and understand, but I certainly feel I've yet to master it.

Good, well paced story line

The story line, while not groundbreaking, is pretty good. It keeps you moving through the areas with little feeling of being shepherded. It's also well paced, with a good variety of puzzle solving and fight scenes. Even the fight scenes are kept fresh with a nice variety of situations.

Help when you die at set pieces

One of the best parts of the game, the part I was most pleased about was the hints the game gives when players die at set pieces. For instance, when I was struggling with a boss fight - Bane - after being knocked down the game gave me a short message hinting to use my 'batarang' more.

It could consider giving more and more clues if players continue to struggle, or even offer to reduce the difficulty for that specific part of the game.

Quick save unobtrusive

A great feature I always love to see it autosave, it's great not having to worry about saved games. I know loads of games do this nowadays, but it's so well integrated I thought it deserved a special mention. Whoever put this into games in the first place was a genius...

Easy controls, gradual introduction of additional tech

The game has really well thought out controls (anyone who's read my blog all the way to this point will know this is a particular obsession of mine). It's very easy to run, jump, zip around, surprise thugs, etc. There's really very few points where you really feel you're fighting the controls to make the game do what you wanted (more on that in part 2).

The game also takes care not to introduce everything at once. Controls are slowly added with the gradual introduction of Batman's technology, meaning players are given time to get accustomed to controls before further complexity is added. This gradual introduction of complexity is a sure sign of a game developer taking care not to over-burden new players when they take their first steps into the game's world.

Even something simple like skipping cutscenes is well designed. Some games skip cutscenes after 1 button press - this means you place the controller to one side holding it like some delecate Ming china in case you hit a button by mistake. Batman needs 2 presses. The first press brings up the on-screen message allowing skipping, the second is the confirmation.

To be continued...

And there I'm just scratching the surface! For each one of these points I could go into more detail very easily, but that would mean I've got to spend more time writing and less time playing.

Generally, a great user experience.

Coming up - part 2 - the bad! (Dramatic music)

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