Arkham Asylum: The Final Riddle

Yesterday’s session, it turns out, had left me just a brawl and a fairly easy boss fight away from defeating the Joker and ending the story of the game. This doesn’t mean I ended the game quickly, though: I first wanted to take the time to try to finish up the Riddler’s challenges, the trophies and patient interview tapes and so forth that I hadn’t found. There’s one sort of riddle I particularly liked, involving question marks that you could only see in Detective mode —

Partner to Inspector Median and Constable MeanIt strikes me that I haven’t even mentioned Detective mode yet. It’s a major part of the game, and sometimes explicitly necessary for following people by tracking fingerprints or chemical traces. At any point other than cutscene and hallucinations, you can switch into it with the press of a button. When you do, the world takes on a bluish tint, with thin white outlines, and significantly interactive objects (like frangible walls and Riddler trophies) highlighted in orange. Furthermore, it’s a kind of X-ray vision: you can see people’s skeletons — there’s a cute gag where you can identify Clayface in his cell due to his lack of a skeleton — and furthermore, you can see them through walls. This makes it very useful in stealth sequences, or indeed any time you want to be able to see if there are enemies around. Since it’s both more informative and cooler-looking than the normal view, you might wonder why you’d ever want to not be in Detective mode. And, well, sometimes there are good reasons, like when you’re not sure if there’s a wall between you and the skeleton standing nearby. But in the hunt for riddle-stuff, I spent more time in Detective mode than out of it. I recently described the “eyeshine” effect in Escape from Butcher Bay as “one of the better nonhuman-vision effects I’ve seen“. It’s got some competition here.

Anyway, the Riddler has painted these question marks in invisible paint, and in pieces, on different surfaces, which line up from the correct vantage point to form the full figure. I feel like they could have done more with this idea, but it’s still pretty satisfying as it stands.

The game is generous with guidance towards finding stuff — it provides a checklist of riddles and collectibles for each area, and one of the items you can find in each area is a map that shows the approximate locations of everything else. So utter completeness is a reasonable and achievable goal, and therefore quite attractive to the likes of me. Just one problem: I was worried that I had locked myself out of it. Poison Ivy’s plants were still blocking a lot of passageways. The Riddler’s maps showed stuff waiting to be collected in places that I knew had become absolutely inaccessible during the lead-up to the confrontation with Ivy, as the game tried to keep me on the rails. I hoped that defeating her would wither the vines, but any withering was dismayingly incomplete. And I couldn’t even clear things out by going back to an earlier save, because the only save mechanism the game has is an autosave that it overwrites pretty frequently.

But then, the game clearly expected the player to revisit places to find collectibles, because, in Metroidvanian tradition, a lot of them are behind obstacles that you don’t have the equipment to get past the first time you pass by. It ultimately turned out that everything is in fact accessible in the calm moment before you plunge into the endgame. And even if, like me, you enter the endgame area without realizing that you can’t get out again, the game politely lets you go back to look for more stuff after the credits. Doing it this way fits into the story better than taking the time to hunt for them during the constant and escalating emergencies that form the plot anyway.

There’s just one more riddle ahead of me, and it’s one that I didn’t even realize was a riddle on my last post (as Merus guessed in the comments). Among the things that Riddler directs you to find are the fragmentary ramblings of “the Spirit of Arkham”, written in circles on altar-like stones. At first, they seem like just a recapitulation of established Batman continuity: Amadeus Arkham, asylum founder, went crazy and started secretly torturing and killing the people entrusted to his care. But the later entries — as with the patient interview tapes, you always find the texts in the same order, regardless of where you pick them up — the later entries make it clear that it’s describing the inmates of present-day Arkham. And the final entry more or less states outright that these records were made by someone alive today — someone either possessed by Arkham’s spirit or, more likely, bonkers — and that I can discover who by comparing the information in this narrative with that in the patient interview tapes. Now, even though I’ve filled in every slot in the Riddler’s checklist, there’s one slot left in the “Spirit of Arkham” profile, which I assume comes from confronting the culprit. Since your only option for talking to peaceful NPCs is “press A to talk”, this could probably be solved by brute force. But where’s the fun in that? I have at least one more game session ahead of me, and unlike the rest of the game, it will involve note-taking. But the game is off the Stack already, so I’ll post no further spoilers here.

The weird thing is that the main menu reports me as only 84% complete. I suppose it’s because I haven’t been chasing Achievements. Well, they can remain unchased.

2 Comments so far

  1. Mark on 24 Nov 2010

    I don’t remember if the challenge mode counts toward completion, but I seem to remember it does.

  2. Merus on 24 Nov 2010

    The challenge mode does indeed count towards completion. The stealth challenges are all very interesting, and the combat challenges are useful in seeing the full range of the combat system, but they’re far more tedious if you had much trouble with combat.

    Although it’s certainly possible to brute-force the Spirit of Arkham, I totally agree that the fun’s in working it out yourself. I notice that you might be slightly on the wrong track, though. I will say no more! Even mentioning an interesting congruence is spoiling the fun.

Leave a reply