Batman: Arkham Asylum
Review by Nafzger
"Best Batman Game? Yes. Best Game of All Time? Hardly"
As everyone knows, Batman games over the past two decades have been quite lackluster. So when a new Batman game was announced, many gamers were both excited and skeptical. It wasn't until I saw the invisible predator trailer that I was completely hooked on this game. Well, after thoroughly playing the crap out of this game, I have to say I'm mildly disappointed. I think I got my own expectations way too high. Don't get me wrong! Batman: Arkham Asylum is a good game, but it is by no means a great game.
Arkham Asylum (hereafter referred to as AA) is like a bastard love child conceived by Super Metroid and Tenchu at the premiere of The Dark Knight. You're Batman. You're dropping off the Joker at Arkham, but since he's the Joker, you know it's not going to be that easy right off the...bat. So you sneak through Arkham--which is actually quite enormous--taking out hostiles as efficiently as possible and collecting items that allow you to reach certain other areas. Sound familiar? Like I said, bastard love child.
The setting of the game is about as Batman as you can get. The main plot seems to borrow a few elements of Grant Morrison's Arkham Asylum, which is my overall favourite Batman story. AA has the feel of the darker side of the comics. No shark repellent spray or corny ice jokes here. It's all serious, except for the Joker of course. The story is pretty solid, written by TAS (The Animated Series) alum Paul Dini. The ending is a little over the top for my tastes, but the rest of the story is really solid. It feels like a TAS episode, but playable and a little more grown up and dark. That's quite a feat considering how dark the cartoon already was.
In addition to Paul Dini, Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and Arleen Sorkin all return to voice their respective TAS counterparts. This is a treat to all TAS fans, although I feel Conroy's performance was just a bit under par. However, I can forgive him because he is getting old. It's almost been twenty years since TAS. And besides, Mark Hamill's performance as the Joker is the best he's ever done and makes up for any other voice actors short comings. Many may remember him as Luke Skywalker, but to me, Hamill will always be the Joker.
Gameplay is a little varied. You're usually given the option to either brawl it out or to sneak around and pick them off one by one. I usually opt for the latter, not only because I feel it's more Batman-ish, but also because I absolutely fail at brawling. Sometimes the combat gets a little clunky, especially if there's more than 4 guys on you. I wish this game had some kind of targeting system so I could attack one guy, switch targets and attack to keep the combo going. Most of the time I think a guy is sneaking up on me and I attack only to punch the air and get hit in the back of the neck.
But where the combat fails, the stealth elements succeed. I have always been more of a stealth person. I love sneaking around finding clever ways to ruin my enemy's days. There's plenty of opportunity for that in this game. And just when you think it's getting too easy, they take away a certain crutch just to keep things interesting. The takedown animations are all pretty rad, and I find myself going over sections in challenge mode again and again trying to find new inventive approaches to dropping their numbers quickly.
Detective mode is another important element of gameplay. You switch to a blue screen where secret walls, vents, and enemies are revealed. Sometimes this mode is a little too obvious, I feel. But I also think that you're eventually supposed to adapt to not needing it. I played with it on for maybe the first three hours of gameplay, but after that I turned it off and started noticing things on my own. I only resorted to Detective mode when solving certain riddles that required Detective vision.
One of the biggest disappointments in this game is the boss fights. Aside from a few special occasions, you basically use the same tactics every time. This is a huge letdown considering you're Batman, the world's greatest detective. I was hoping for boss fights that would challenge my intellect and wits more than my skills with a Batarang. The worst of these fights is the last one, which I won't spoil here. But trust me, when you make it to the end, you're going to be very perplexed as to what they were thinking.
On the flipside, the best parts of the game are so good that it *almost* makes you forget about the tiresome boss battles. Solving the riddles is great fun. Some of them are really easy, but some are so cleverly hidden you'll be scratching your head and maybe even consulting a walkthrough. The riddles unlock a lot of neat bonuses, like character bios and in-game trophies. The bios are a marvelous extra addition that they didn't need to include, but did anyway. Most of the bios you find are from characters not even featured in the game. If you bought the Collector's Edition like I did, you got the majority of these bios in a nice leather-bound journal. These little extra details were not necessary in any way. It's just polish.
Challenge mode is the source of replay value in this game. You can go over challenges again and again bettering your scores until the end of time and it's still fun. As I said earlier, I try to go through and do the coolest takedowns possible. There's also a few beat 'em up challenges for all your brawlers out there. And if you're reading this review, you know you can play as the Joker in this mode as well. He's a little different than Batman. I was disappointed I didn't get a satisfying bone snap when he does his silent takedown. In combat, he's extremely slow and it seems a lot of his attacks are based on counters. Nonetheless, it's fun taking Joker for a spin.
All in all, I'd give this game a B, or an 8 since GameFAQs doesn't do letter grading. Compared to most modern games it's good, but if you compare it to it's parent games, it leaves a bit to be desired. Of course if you compare it to previous Batman games...we won't even go there. Maybe I just got my expectations too high. What I like isn't necessarily what everyone likes, but I think this game does a good job of giving every video game fan a little something they like. If you don't like sneaking, go beat the crap out of 'em! I just wish that same principle could have been used on the boss fights.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/31/09
Game Release: Batman: Arkham Asylum (Collectors Edition) (US, 08/25/09)
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