Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Batman: Arkham Asylum (PS3, 360) Review

Returning from the 64 bit days, let's head back into the present. What we have here is a game that could definitely be a contender for Game of the Year. Bah! It's too soon to be talking about that. Instead, take a look at this review for Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Be the Bat.

Comic book video games have always been hit or miss. For every great one like The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, you get one Iron Man, one Aquaman, and dozens of other poor monstrosities. And when it comes to Batman games, there's more often that not been more stinkers than actual quality games. Developer Rocksteady is hoping to break that trend with their Unreal-powered Batman: Arkham Asylum for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. It's got the look, and it's got the feel, but is Arkham Asylum one madhouse you'll want to be admitted to?

This isn't your Adam West-lover's Batman!

Once again, Batman's nemesis, the kooky, all-evil Joker has been reprehended by Batman. The dark knight personally delivers the insane to the membrane villain to Arkham Asylum, home of the criminally insane. However, this time, Joker's capture was easy. Too easy in Batman's eyes. While being brought into the cells of Arkham, Joker breaks free, pummels some guards, and puts his plan into action. The Joker, with partner Harley Quinn, effectively take over, and now the inmates have taken over the asylum. All hell breaks loose as multiple criminals and henchmen roam free in Arkham. It's up to Batman to use his brains and his brawn to bring order back to Arkham and figure out what Joker's master plan is before it's too late. This game's story is quite dark and features some disturbing imagery here and there. Regardless, the story's engaging the whole way through and is your typical comic book fare. Meanwhile, Kevin Conroy known from his work on Batman: The Animated Series and Mark Hamill from Star Wars fame return as Batman and the Joker respectively, and they sound terrific. This could be their best work as their characters.

"Welcome one and all to the Joker Show!"

Batman: Arkham Asylum is one part action game, one part exploration, and one part stealth. Batman can unleash his fists of fury on foes with incredible fluidity. As Batman decks baddies, his combo rises. When his combo reaches higher levels his attacks deal much more. Of course, enemies just won't sit there and let themselves be pummeled to oblivion. Instead, a visual cue over an enemy's head with indicate when they're about to attack. You can press the Y or triangle button to perform a counter attack. Not only does Batman dodge a painful blow, but he keeps his combo intact. As Batman defeats enemies, he'll earn experience which will regain his health if it's on the low side as well as gain the ability to use experience towards new moves and abilities such as more powerful combos, greater defense, and boosts to his various gadgets.

Batman isn't alone in his quest to put Joker back in a straitjacket. He has numerous gadgets as his disposal. At the start of the game, he only has access to sharp, bat-shaped boomerangs to attacks foes from afar, but as the game progresses he'll earn a whole slew of new gadgetry allowing him access to previously unreachable areas of Arkham. There's the explosive gel which Batman can spread on weakened walls and blow them apart, oftentimes showing hidden goodies. There's the bat claw which can be used to pull vent covers off from walls that would otherwise be inaccessible for Batman to reach. Then there's the line gun which shoots a rappel line for Batman to cross chasms.

You can use the action camera to get a close look
at your gadget's action.

While combat is an integral part of Batman: Arkham Asylum, there's times where stealth is the aim of the game because Batman is no match for henchmen sporting automatic rifles. If spotted, enemies will fill Batman full of lead faster than you can say "holy crap, Batman!" In these sections, stealth is necessary. Batman has multiple tricks to use when taking out baddies quickly and quietly. He can crouch and enter vents to get the jump and foes, sneak up behind them, and take them out. He can approach from the air, using his cape to glide behind a foe and knock them into next week. Using detective mode, Batman can scan the area with enemies popping up as red skeletons. This is integral in practicing great stealth because it can see through walls, so the dark knight can plan accordingly. If spotted, Batman will need to take it to the air and grapple from gargoyle to gargoyle until the enemies can no longer spot him. Then it's back to playing cat and mouse.

The other part of Batman: Arkham Asylum is exploration. Progression in Arkham Asylum is dictated by the various objectives Batman will need to accomplish. The asylum itself spans multiple areas with various types of buildings: the penitentiary, the medical offices, Arkham Mansion, the botanical gardens, the caves, and intensive care. Each area has its own ambiance and theme, and backtracking is seldom a problem since you can access almost anywhere rather easily. You'll also never have to worry about wondering where to go because the helpful map will pinpoint Batman's desired location. Sure, you have to figure out how to get there (i.e. finding vents to climb through, properly using Batman's grappling hook), but Batman didn't become Batman by being stupid. There's even some platforming thrown into the mix in areas where the walls are too weak for the grapple gun to support Batman's weight.

Riddle me that.

The single-player campaign will last anywhere from ten to fifteen hours, and there's only one part throughout the whole shebang that felt like a chore. You'll know it when you get to it because you can only walk for the majority of that section. Regardless, the game keeps players chugging through with enough variety that the game seldom feels boring. If you're not solving a simple puzzle, saving a guard from impending doom, or taking out a room full of Joker's henchmen, you'll be exploring the grounds of Arkham, effortlessly floating and grappling across Arkham Island, and meeting up with and taking down escaped supervillains from the likes of the Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, Killer Croc, and the Joker himself.

"How's it hangin', Bats?"

After the main story is done, there's still plenty to do on Arkham Island. For one, the Riddler has strewn about the island various riddles and tasks for Batman to complete. These range from destroying sets of toy Joker teeth, tracking down well-hidden trophies and interview tapes, and solving one of many of the Riddler's various riddles. This is done by scanning certain objects in rooms that serve as the solution to the Riddler's riddles. One riddle will ask for something that can cut. The solution is to scan the portrait of Arkham's warden, one Mr. Sharp. As riddles are solved, new content is unlocked from character biographies to 3-D character trophies that can be ogled to your heart's content. Aside from the story, there's a challenge mode that puts you in various scenarios either for combat or to take out foes silently with the shroud of stealth. Your best times are posted on a worldwide leaderboard for all to see.

The difference between visuals on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 is really slim. Both versions look fantastic and run really well. The only difference is that the PS3's a little more jaggy in certain sections of the game. Other than that, picking one version over the other only has to do with which system or system's controller you prefer. It's fascinating seeing how Batman's costume becomes more dilapidated with cuts and tears as the game rolls on, and hearing the Joker constantly taunt Batman and order his henchmen over the PA is a very neat treat.

Batman: Arkham Asylum successfully brings what makes Batman great and translates it well to a video game setting. The level of polish and dedication devoted this game is apparent. With no hyperbole intended, this may be one of the best comic book video games period. Sure, some sections of the game may feel like a chore, but most of the game has you playing as the caped crusader you know and love-- the one that makes you feel like the hero you are and handling with ease. Batman: Arkham Asylum gets a high recommendation. Fans of the bat will love this game, and fans of great gameplay will, too.

[SuperPhillip Says: 9.25/10]

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