The charm of The Arkham Asylum Files: Panic in Gotham City is immediate before you even open the box. It’s a clunky, fairly heavy thing, the equivalent of four regular board games stacked on top of each other, or less whimsical than a box of dishes you might be packing when you move house. Just looking at Panic in Gotham City tells you that despite being an augmented reality game, there are still a lot of physical pieces – which is both a blessing and a curse. I’m only one episode in (21 percent, according to the companion app), but my resounding conclusion is that Panic in Gotham City is a fantastic board game that does everything in its power to keep you from playing it.
The box tells us that the entire game, consisting of seven episodes, lasts between four and six hours, but it took us more than two to get through the first part. This did involve changing the kitchen table to a coffee table in the living room to project onto the TV, but that still puts it almost ten hours past our current speed. It was a team of seven people, passionate and experienced with escape rooms, logic puzzles and Batman IP, but we were still slow.
We plan to review the game again in the coming weeks – and with that I’ll be back with a full review – and hopefully we can shave a few hours off our current estimated completion time. The first episode is unnecessarily slow in pacing. While this might work if you have a group of people willing to dedicate an entire Saturday to playing it from start to finish, it didn’t work for the episodic mode that most will be playing – especially odd when the game itself is broken down into episodes.
Looking back at what we have achieved so far, it seems strange to think that it took us two hours. First we had to find a black light message, then use the phone to find a secret message by spotting the letters circled in the newspaper, then find some animals on the augmented reality map, and then find some graffiti signs in the augmented reality city. That was it. It might sound boring to list all of this so clearly – finding the newspaper report was satisfying and discovering the adorable animals – but the fact is, we didn’t do much. Harley Quinn, the star of the box art and ostensibly the game’s protagonist, doesn’t even appear until the cut scene that ends the first episode.
None of this is keeping me from playing again. Can’t wait to visit again when we have some free time soon. But getting started definitely hurts the pacing, and if you’re in a group where some people are more interested than others, it’s going to really hurt your ability to sell them on the game – which, let’s be honest, is often an equally important part of the game. game night like anything else.
The problem is that the game comes with a map of Gotham City that you have to build all the way through, which is three quarters of the way through the first episode. The first building is light – it is four high walls and a roof. The hard cardboard snaps in and away you go. The next one is a bit more complicated – it’s three sets of four high walls and a roof stacked on top of each other. All three pieces are easy enough in practice, but the fact that they need to be stabilized with an extra sheet of card in the middle of each tower, and the difficulty of fitting them together without breaking the pieces, make them more difficult. However, by far the most confusing is the third building, which, in addition to having two floors and a radio tower on top, for some reason is not box-shaped, but has the door set back from the wall, meaning that the front is not a single piece at all, but five awkwardly interwoven pieces that fall apart when under any duress.
It’s the construction of these buildings – particularly because they’re needlessly fragile, built so often in the early stages, and offer limited gameplay rewards – that derails the experience. The mix between the AR projection and the physical parts is fantastic, although the TV is essential compared to using the phone, but you have to constantly stop playing the game to create the game, and I can’t imagine that was the intention.
A few in my group also suggested that 12 total would be too many animals to find, but I don’t think that would be a problem if the buildings weren’t so difficult. The animals were the most engaging part of the game, finding each one only took a few seconds, and even those less interested in puzzles or Batman lore could laugh at the pandas going down the slide at the children’s park. This was generally the most popular part of the first episode, and when you have something like that, the solution isn’t to cut it short.
The animal game was a memory where there were 12 possible choices and each one contained a different animal, so when searching for say a rhinoceros you only had to remember where you last saw a rhinoceros if you guessed wrong when searching for an elephant. Reducing the number of animals to six would not only cut the playing time in half, but close to a quarter because it would also eliminate wrong answers. I don’t think the solution would lie in tweaking the gameplay itself, but in less ambitious buildings that add very little to the experience other than minutes on the clock and frustration in the brain.
We played The Arkham Asylum Files: Panic in Gotham City for over two hours, became very frustrated with it, and still can’t wait to play it again – a clear sign of success. I’ll have more to say in the full review, but for now I can only offer a warning – it takes a long time to actually start playing this game, so brace yourselves and any die-hard gamers among you. this reality.
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