Review by SensibleParadox

"This Asylum apparently allows "Knightly" visits"

The Batman, the epitome of brooding and coolness, comes to us full force in this game. The character, created approximately a long time ago, still stands as one of the more interesting heroes.

The game starts off like any Batman game or movie should: at Night! The thunder and rain is icing on this dark, dark cake. I mean, does no one commit crimes during the day anymore? Anyway, he's in his Batmobile with the Joker handcuffed in the back seat. Admittedly, I don't really know my Batman history nor have I read the comics, but there's a back seat to the Batmobile? I have to say, I did not know that. Moving on, I'm surprised he didn't just tie Joker up on his roof as opposed to letting him in his swanky car. I mean, with someone that level of insane, do you want him in your backseat to be a backseat driver? They finally arrive at Arkham Asylum and Batman takes the Joker in.

Inside, he meets with the Warden and the Commissioner. Batman is wary that he caught Joker too easily, his bat senses tingling. And not two sentences after that, the Joker breaks free and takes over the asylum, just like that. Uh oh, the crazy henchman/inmates are free, time to kick some ass.

As the story progresses, and Joker taking over the whole of Arkham Island piece-by-piece, you realize that the security on this island is actually kind of bad, but more importantly, you become the hero once again by taking down some of Batman's villains from his past. While the “story” was interesting enough to keep me engaged, I do have to say that it was mostly “take down this guy, go here, follow that trail”.

Another thing that prevented this from greatness is the “super hero syndrome”. From what I know about certain super heroes is that they do things because they are, well, simply heroes. That is boring. There are no inherit personal stakes to speak of. Yes, in this game, Batman's life is in danger around every bend! But the only reason his life is in danger is because he is there… If he wasn't there would it really affect his life one way or another? Actually, it would, he would be 100% alive.

For example, having Commissioner Gordon kidnapped is a good thing. It adds to the urgency, to the personal stakes to Bruce/Batman. But that was only small part of the game, a very small part. (And no, that's not a spoiler, it was in the previews!) The rest of the game is just Batman being Batman. And don't give me the stuff about “fighting for the people” blah blah blah. That's generic and boring. “The people” has no face, no tangible identity for the audience/player to hang onto.

When you “fight for the people” or fighting “the bad corporation”, you have to have one character to represent it so there's a face to attach that identity to. Ultimately, when it's all said and done, to cap it all off, to me, the motivation for Batman here is not strong enough. The more personal and specific it is to the character, the better. We don't need to care about what they care ABOUT. As long as we care about THEM, that's all it matters. We care because they care.

On the flip side, the problem I have with the Joker here is the same one I had in the movie in “The Dark Knight”, he has no real motivation to speak of. Yes, he wants to take over the island…okay…but why? He takes over the island and THEN what? What did he want with it? If he simply wanted to kill Batman, taking over an entire island to do so is kinda…excessive. Again, his true motivation is not clear. And if I hear one more time that his motivation is “to create chaos”, I'm gonna kick the wall. Characters can still be chaotic and unpredictable with a true motivation with stakes. They are not mutually exclusive! The ultimate question is what they have to lose if they fail. And both Batman/Bruce and Joker are stake-less!

Luckily, the gameplay more than makes up for any story shortcomings. I've always thought that first and foremost, a game should be fun. Any good compelling story is delicious icing. If I want something with JUST a compelling story or doing something JUST for the story, I'll read a book or watch a movie or a TV show. To me, the story in any game should enhance the experience, not the sole focus.

As Batman in third person, you can go around in one of two modes, regular and detective. In detective mode, everything goes into a blue-ish shade and the scans the area for the number of hostiles and whether if they are armed or not. Allowing you to see through walls and estimate where these hostiles are, you can plan as to how you take down the armed guards.

I only say that because in the areas with unarmed guards, they are usually in a group and doesn't require much stealth than to release your inner bat powers to take them down. And by bat powers I mean your combos and gadgets. With the push of the B button, you can attack your opponents with punches and kicks to make combos. After a few hits, you can even make Batman fly around from one enemy to another with a well-timed button push, knocking them down. In between these impressive and satisfying combos, you can also counter incoming attacks with Y, cape stun with B, or evade with double tapping A. You can also throw your Baterang with LT or release your Batclaw by double tapping RT.

Of course, besides the aforementioned gadgets, Batman has more up his sleeve, so to speak, but they are really on his belt. The fighting and comboing is fun, fast-paced, and intuitive while the stealth sections are nail-biting and require your wits.

From my estimation, the main story will last anywhere within 10-15 hours? But with 240 riddles (finding Riddler trophies, scanning the right things with the LB button, and scanning question marks that can only be seen and formed from a specific POV), it really doubles that play time. These “riddles” are also more fun than cumbersome. It may still just be fat to add on play time, but at least it's good fat.

But even after the main story has ended, there many challenging challenges you can partake in. There are 16 in total, half of which are kick-some-ass-to-chain-combos-to-get-points kind of challenges and the other half is stealth based.

You can lose hours upon hours doing these challenges as you'll be trying to reach the high score for the kicking-ass challenges and trying to fulfill the conditions with the shortest time possible for the stealth challenges.

For the sound, everything sounds as it should. Certain sound effects were more noticeable than others, but the punching, kicking, and swooshing sounds during combat really takes the cake.
The voice acting is really top notch. Mark Hamill is the definite standout here as the Joker. Yoda will be pleased. Kevin Conroy, who voices Batman, also does a good job here. These actors prove again how voice acting is crucial and important to a game. (Paying attention Square-Enix?)

Visually, the game suffers a bit from the Gears of War syndrome. What I mean by that while it is visually stunning, it only *seems* to have two or three colors. GoW had mostly grey and black while this game has maroon, black, and dark black. I guess it beats GoW by one color, yay?
None-the-less, it's stunning to look at and definitely easy on the eyes despite my crummy 24-inch TV. (sigh) But even that is not saying much as you'll be mostly seeing blue in detective mode as you'll be locating enemies, searching for clues for the riddles, and finding highlighted vents for you hide in. Well, at least Joker adds some color with that outfit and not just his personality. Which reminds me, his outfit kind of looks like a cake.

From what I do know about Batman/Bruce, is that he is a detective. Or at least he should be. Nowadays, he's been turned into an action superhero, which is, you know, fine and all, but I wished they celebrated his braininess more. Intellect is not valued enough in society, I just wished they had SHOWED his intelligence more instead of being TOLD in his bio.

Despite being super picky with that last paragraph, with all the extras, the exciting, fast combat, the excellent voice acting, and the anal-retentive need to do all the riddles, it's worth buying at a store near you. What I love about the game is that it FEELS like a Batman game. At no point in the game did it feel like a generic game with Batman in the lead. It is unequivocally a Batman game.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 08/28/09

Game Release: Batman: Arkham Asylum (US, 08/25/09)


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