Friday, August 28, 2009

Bow Down to the Dark Knight Once Again... The Batman: Arkham Asylum Review

Note: The PS3 version's exclusive downloadable content of the Joker challenge maps will be also mentioned in this review. Plus, the videos may contain possible spoilers, so watch at your own risk.

The gaming industry gods have not been so kind to the Batman ever since the NES days. Sure, there might be some Batman games that are somewhat decent, but the majority of them are pretty bad. Even with last year's amazing success that is the Dark Knight movie, it seems like things are going right for the Caped Crusader. There are always the skeptics when Batman: Arkham Asylum was announced that the developers Rocksteady have no chance at all of making a good Batman game. Not only Arkham Asylum is a pretty good Batman game, it is a pretty good game that is an early contender for game of the year. It captures the essence and atmosphere of the Batman universe beautifully as well as giving you so many OMG moments to experience. After all, you are truly the Batman in this game.

The story of Arkham Asylum is basically straightforward. Batman captures the Joker easily and sends him to the infamous prison. However, Joker had planned something bigger than Batman thought and now he controls the asylum thanks to a little help by Harley Quinn. It is up to the Batman to stop the Joker from escalating things to worse proportions in Arkham Asylum, but as you progress through the game the story becomes more than just stop the Joker as some of Batman's greater villains such as Bane, Killer Kroc, and Poison Ivy are roaming around as well ready to cause trouble. In addition, there are moments where it throws you in a loop once Scarecrow starts doing his shenanigans as these are arguably the best moments of the game. The story does pace perfectly as you navigate through Arkham Island from one section to another trying to figure out Joker's true motives are.

The gameplay is split into three major parts and they all work exceptionally well. First, the hand-to-hand combat is simple to grasp, but difficult to master going to big combo multipliers. In terms of simple, there are buttons for attacking, countering, cape stunning, and dodging. At first, the combat may seem a bit mashy pounding on the attack button, but as you progress through the game especially in the later sections, it becomes less mashy and actually requires some skill and luck to get past them. Once the combat flows though, it is a pretty beautiful sight as Batman can just take out crowds of Joker's goons in such a badass and stylish manner. Other than the combat is the stealth mechanics in which Batman really shines at. Sneaking around is pretty simple as well just like the combat. He can use his gadgets to his advantage for stealth purposes such as his grappling hook, battarangs, explosive gel to blow certain surfaces away against enemies, and more. Especially when in a room full of armed thugs with guns, executing the perfect plan of attack just using stealth feels very satisfying, but one wrong move can often lead to Batman's death and at least the checkpoint system is pretty generous as going to a different room, the game autosaves. Then there's detective mode where you turn the game to Batman vision to try to find hidden collectibles, visible enemies' locations and emotions whether or not he has been scared or not, and clues toward completing puzzles and objectives. This mechanic works beautifully well in lots of situations, but sometimes you may rely on it too much as if you're going to play the whole game in this blue-ish vision not grasping the atmosphere that is Arkham Asylum. The overall gameplay makes you feel like you truly are the Batman being both intelligible and badass.

Other than the main storyline, there are tons of collectibles to collect in Arkham Asylum courtesy of The Riddler's challenges. They are scattered everywhere in Arkham Island of riddles, trophies, interview tapes with the various villains, and more. Besides the main campaign there is the challenge mode where you play certain sections of the game being scored on your performance. They are split to brawler and predator challenges testing both your skills at hand-to-hand combat and stealth. The predator challenges have specific tasks to complete compared to like the melee ones while trying to take out the opposition as quickly as possible such as a killing three goons by one explosive gel takedown, inverted takedowns, and other tasks that are similar. There is also online leaderboards for high scores and fast times giving the challenge mode a little more replay value than being just another diversion to the core game. Exclusively on the Playstation 3 is the chance to play as The Joker by download as they are the same challenge maps, but playing as a totally different character. Joker does not as much tools or health as Batman, but still can get the job done in his own way. Especially in the brawler challenges, Joker has to counter more since he has low health and if he gets caught in the predator challenges, he is pretty much screwed. You have to think a little differently utilizing Joker's tool set of his gun, exploding teeth, and specs to take out Arkham's guards. At least there will be more challenge maps available by downloadable content later down the line.

Graphically, Batman: Arkham Asylum looks stunningly amazing. The infamous prison and island environments looks very atmospheric and fits the canon as if you're in a terrifying place trying to escape. As for the characters, the major ones look great especially Batman and Joker while minor characters like random guards may not look as good as others. As a whole, this game is extremely polished with little to no glitches at all, load times are very minimal throughout the game, and the framerate stays consistent the whole time. What is also stunningly amazing is the sound in Arkham Asylum. It truly felt like you're playing through a long interactive cartoon as the major voices from Batman: The Animated Series reprise their roles as their characters such as Kevin Conroy as the Batman and Mark Hamill as The Joker. Both of them did an amazing job as they are truly those characters once again just like the 90s. Just like the asylum is very atmospheric with the graphics, the same goes for the sound as well with very moody sound effects throughout the game along with Joker's constant heckling and his infamous laugh. The theatrical soundtrack is also extremely well done as it fits the Batman theme just like the cartoons and movies.

Batman: Arkham Asylum is a pretty special game that comes out of nowhere and blows your mind. The hype was certainly there for this despite all those skeptics, but it was truly worth the wait to experience arguably the greatest Batman game of all-time. It is an experience that most be played right away as it is amazingly well done and extremely polished. On the default normal difficulty it will take a little less than ten hours to complete unless you are going for all the collectibles in which it will take you a little longer. Of course, there is a harder difficulty to mess with as well as there is no counter signal to rely on when in hand-to-hand combat. The gameplay flows smoothly as if you really are the Batman from the combat, stealth, and the puzzles. There is also some replay value with the challenge mode especially playing as Joker only on the Playstation 3. As my early contender for game of the year, Batman: Arkham Asylum is one of those games and experiences that should be not missed by anyone.

Score = 9.5/10

  • Simply the greatest Batman game out now - so many OMG moments
  • Extremely polished and captures of the essence/atmosphere of the Batman universe
  • Gameplay makes you feel like you are the Batman
  • Amazing graphics and sound
  • Playing as the Joker on PS3 is a nice bonus
  • Early contender for game of the year
  • If u don't buy this game, shame on you.
  • Other than the challenge mode, not much replay value beyond the main story.

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