Review by Spiffymarlin
Welcome to the madhouse!
Batman: Arkham Asylum, I will begin by saying, is definitely a major player for Game of the Year. Rocksteady has taken great pains to bring us a great, original video game. But I won't bore you with a long introduction, so I will jump right into the review.
Many gamers will wonder if Batman: Arkham Asylum is based off of any graphic novels. The answer is, no, in a sense. Arkham Asylum instead takes elements from MANY Batman graphic novels and combines them all together in a wonderful game. A comic fan will notice elements from "Arkham Asylum: A Serious Place on Serious Earth", "Joker's Asylum", "Knightfall", "Year One", "R.I.P.", and "Hush". The story is basically this: Batman has apprehended the Joker yet once again, and is bringing him back to be incarcerated at Arkham Asylum. Batman is suspicious, as Joker gave himself up rather easily to the Bat. Batman accompanies Joker as he is brought through processing, when the Joker escapes from his bonds, kills his guards, and escapes into the depths of Arkham Asylum. The Joker and many other players from Batman's "Rogues Gallery" are now in control Arkham, and Batman must defeat them and return Arkham to order.
This is a great storyline, especially if you have read any of the graphic novels I listed above. There is an impressive list of villains to fight, but I can't tell you those here due to spoilers. Trust me, if you are interested in this game, DO NOT do yourself the disfavor of spoiling the game for yourself. The story may seem pretty linear at a first glance, but there are plenty of tricks and surprises to be had.
Plainly put, I haven't ever heard such great voice acting in any game I've ever played. If you grew up watching Batman: The Animated Series as a child like I did, you'll be very glad to hear of the lineup of voice talent this game serves. Kevin Conroy voices the Bat, Mark Hamill voices Joker, and Arleen Sorkin comes back to voice Harley Quinn. The original voice actors for other characters come back as well, but you'll have to play the game to find out who.
The sound effects are superb as well. The crunching of bones and the sounds of thugs being hit by Batman are spot-on. Some of Arkham's more insane patients have a very, very unnerving scream when they are attacking. I've been startled several times by unexpecting insane assailants, and my only warning was their screams. Arkham Asylum itself has very nice sound, and the ambient noise along with the background music set the mood perfectly. Batman's steps echo down long corridors, there are distant screams and yelling from insane patients, Joker's henchmen fighting their guards, etc. Some of the best sound in the game, by the way, comes from the way the Joker taunts his henchmen as Batman takes them out one by one.
If it were possible to give this game a score of 11, it would have it in this category. The FreeFlow combat system allows for insanely fluid battles, with so many varying animations that it's rare to see them more than a few times in a single fight. There are many of the gadgets in this game that one would expect Batman to have. Choose from Batarangs, Zipline guns, explosive gel, and others which you will need to beat Joker's thugs.
Straight up combat is only a part of the game, however. You will need to employ stealth in many areas of the game. These areas are known as "silent predator" areas, where you use your cunning, patience, and stealth to eliminate enemies without being seen. Those areas truly capture Batman's ability to inspire fear in his enemies, as you can plainly see by going into Detective Mode and watching their heart rates rise exponentially as they are eliminated one by one.
There are a ton of easter eggs scattered about, and you will need each and every upgrade in order to collect all 240. Collecting the easter eggs and collectibles unlocks Challenge maps (where you test your skills in combat and also in silent predator), character trophies which you can view at any time, background information on heroes and villains, and depending on if you have a PS3 or Xbox 360, trophies and achievement points. There are also leaderboards where you can compare your scores in challenge maps with those of gamers around the world.
Exclusive Content: PS3 only
If you are a multi-console owner like I am, then buying this for the PS3 is a no brainer. PS3 owners get additional, exclusive content. There is a Batcave area used in Playstation HOME that serves as a substitute for your default area, and perhaps the best content: being able to play as the Joker in Challenge maps. Playing as the Joker adds a new level of explorability and challenge, as he does not have gadgets in the way Batman does. Depending on whether you pre-ordered from a place like GameStop (kind of a moot point now, though) you get access to an exclusive Scarecrow challenge map called "Dem Bones", where Batman fights wave after wave of skeletons, where getting hit only once means the game is over. The skeleton waves are infinite.
I would definitely recommend buying this game. Take your time in going through the story mode, then go back and collect all the easter eggs and collectibles to get everything unlocked. Then go play the Challenge modes until you drop. This is easily one of the best games I have ever played, and it is a serious contender for Game of the Year. Rocksteady easily outdid themselves here, and personally, I believe there is no way a sequel could live up to the expectations demanded of it. If you are a fan of video games, seriously do yourself a favor and go get this game immediately. You will thank yourself for it as soon as you start playing.
Final score: 9/10
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Batman: Arkham Asylum (US, 08/25/09)
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