Game Review: Batman: Arkham Asylum

Batman kicking throat

Continuing with my streak of playing the gaming world’s “greatest hits”, I could no longer resist the temptation that is Batman: Arkham Asylum.  I don’t know if it was the constant chatter about how this game is (or at least, was) the greatest superhero game of all time… or the fact that the price dropped to $20 for the Game of the Year edition… either way, it was a great decision.

The game opens with Batman returning The Joker to Arkham Asylum after a botched escape… but The Joker has laid out his plans long before we bring him back.  Together with Harley Quinn and a whole host of super-villains and generalized thugs and baddies, they conspire to give Batman the longest night of his life… trapped on an island housing the comic world’s most notorious mental asylum.  After releasing all of the inmates, including many prisoners that had been transferred from another prison due to a mysterious fire set during the time The Joker was loose; Batman must track down The Joker and his henchmen while rescuing various doctors, Commissioner Gordon and the warden.

I was never a fan of the Batman animated series that ran from the early 90’s, although I knew someone who worked on the background animation… but for those who were fans, many of the voice actors will sound very familiar… Kevin Conroy is the dark knight himself, Mark Hamill… yes, THAT Mark “Luke Skywalker” Hamill… is The Joker, and Arleen Sorkin is Harley Quinn.  Thanks to their familiarity with these characters, it becomes easy to immerse yourself into this frightening and disturbing world… and the payoff is a fantastic adventure being the world’s greatest detective.

When I began playing I had a bit of difficulty with what appeared to be very stiff movements from Batman himself, until I became accustomed to how he moved and more importantly, how he fights.  If you know anything about the man in black (no… not THAT man in black), you know he never uses weapons of the lethal variety, only weapons to incapacitate his foes.  That doesn’t mean the villains aren’t up for some bloodshed… and accordingly, the game gets dark real quick… many deaths abound and bodies end up littering the asylum grounds.  But fighting those bad guys becomes a great deal of fun once you begin mastering the controls.

Many times you will come across a group of five or more unarmed assailants and be able to simply punch, kick, batarang and stun all of these opponents into submission with a wonderfully fluid and easy to work with system of attacks and counter-attacks.  It can be done with simple button mashing… but it becomes a near art form once you understand how to maneuver and manipulate the controls for multiple takedowns in a constant stream of ass kicking.

When your opponents are armed, stealth becomes your best friend… and for this the game gives us various tools to zip up to gargoyles, hang upside down taking out clown faced henchmen quietly, open vents, pull people off of ledges, spray some explosive gel onto weakened walls and detonate from a distance and takedown your enemies through panes of glass.  What begins as a basic button mash turns into a game of skill and quiet badassery. 

So… which of the rogues’ gallery are included in this game?  I mentioned The Joker and Harley Quinn… but we also get Poison Ivy (who, along with Harley Quinn, are both hyper sexualized and wearing close to nothing.  I can imagine this being quite a big hit with adolescent boys.  This is rated teen, but is a decidedly adult game), Killer Croc, Scarface, the Riddler appears, but only as a voice taunting you to find his trophies and clues, Mr. Zsasz, Bane, and most impressively, Scarecrow.  It is the Scarecrow scenes in this game that put me over the edge… they are fantastic, trippy, weird, and a great deal of fun once you figure out what you are doing.  At one point I thought my system had crashed… nope… just Scarecrow spraying me with some crazy gas and causing me to trip balls.

Another great aspect of the game is the different views you can take… either normal view, or detective mode.  In detective mode you can see through walls and identify where people are located as well as their physical condition.  Are they calm or are they nervous?  What is their heart rate?  Armed or unarmed?  In the case of random lunatics that have escaped, their condition comes up as “crazed”.  This view also allows you to see weaknesses in walls and a better view of places you can use your bat claw and grappling hook… two very common ways to get around in proper “bat-style”.  Although everything goes into a strange x-ray like image in bright colors, I found myself playing almost exclusively in detective mode.  The only time I would regularly switch back into normal view was when I was coming up on a group of unarmed baddies… it is just fun to watch the Batman brawl his way through a group of toughs.

That is really the true joy in this game… brawling.  The sneaking is fun… and solving the various puzzles and traps laid out for you is great… but there is a certain adrenaline rush that can be had when you get the proper flow between attacking, countering and jumping that seems unmatched anywhere else in this game, or any other game I’ve played thus far. 

As a great added touch, Batman’s costume (uniform?) and face gets ripped and bloodied as the game progresses.  You truly get a sense that he is in danger and will not survive the night in one piece and the action keeps propelling you forward.  The main storyline is fantastic… although there were moments it seemed a bit nonsensical… then again, I’m fighting comic book villains… I imagine they are intended to be a bit nonsensical. 

Once you complete the main story though… you still have quite a bit to do.  You will find yourself employing all of the new gadgets you get as your experience points rack up and you level up to retrace your steps and find all of the Riddler’s trophies, opening up new challenges and making it able to hone your fighting skills or your silent predator skills.  Great fun.

There are a host of glitches and bad animation with some of the guards and minor character, but overall… one of the better games I’ve played.  There are moments when some of the action feels a bit repetitive, but it quickly makes up for it by making the challenges and puzzles so much fun… and yes, nothing beats being the Batman himself and beating the living hell out of a group of thugs.  Batman: Arkham Asylum earns its reputation as the greatest superhero game of all time and has me excited and chomping at the bit to begin Batman: Arkham City… the only other game that seems to be giving Arkham Asylum a run for its money as the greatest.

I will let you know… I have it waiting for me in the Batcave… I mean, home.

Same Blahg time… same Blahg channel,
Cornelius J. Blahg

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