Review by JMack46
A gift to Batman fans and a very good game overall
The makers of Batman: Arkham Asylum clearly wanted to do justice do their source material. From start to finish, the game plunges the player into the Batman mythology and gives you the feeling that you're playing as the world's finest superhero. Batman can beat up huge groups of thugs, terrify his enemies, and climb or glide long distances effortlessly. He can see enemies through walls and is never surprised. It's a blast to play as him.
Gamplay is a Frankenstein's monster of other great games. The designers essentially picked and chose through solid elements of games like Zelda, Metroid Prime, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, GTA, Metal Gear, and Eternal Darkness and figured out how to combine them into a Batman game. There is plenty of exploration, combined with simple puzzle solving, "I can't get there yet" moments familiar to any Zelda or Metroid player, and a lot of fighting. There is an experience point system that gives you upgrade to your fighting ability, armor, and gadgets. There are GTA-esque hidden packages all over the place, but since finding them always gives you experience point bonuses, you can actually benefit from finding just a few of the game's secrets rather than having to devote yourself to tracking them all down.
Fighting is divided into two types: free-for-alls against thugs with melee weapons, and "predator" set-pieces where you must avoid being detected by groups of enemies with guns and eliminate them one by one. The melee fights will appeal to less patient players like myself, while the predator fights are for stealth gamers. But you really don't have to be that stealthy to beat them, as the armed thugs are idiots and reliably stumble into whatever ambushes you set for them.
The fighting system is responsible for the game's biggest weakness. It is similar to Prince of Persia: SOT, in that Batman can seamlessly transition his attacks from enemy to enemy, and never needs to stop attacking unless he gets hit. While this system is fun for fighting groups of standard enemies (although it does get tiresome after you beat your 50th group of generic thugs), it is terrible for boss fights.
The designers just couldn't come up with a way to make Batman's group-based fighting system work in one-on-one battles. As a result, nearly every boss fight in Batman: AK (and there are several) is almost the same - the boss's appearance might change, but he will have the same basic attacks and recovery patterns as the one before him. The only difference might be that sometimes you're fighting two bosses instead of one, or a boss plus generic thugs at the same time. The repetition in boss battles, which becomes almost comical toward the end of the game, is a major flaw in a game that otherwise lacks obvious problems.
I had seen criticism of the game's ending battle before playing through the game, and I have to agree with that criticism now that I've finished it. The ending battle is a letdown that passes up an opportunity to move the game's disappointing boss fights into an original direction. Instead, the finale gave me the distinct feelings that the designers had done their best but just ran out of ideas.
Plenty of great ideas went into the rest of the game, however. If you like Batman comics or movies, or you enjoy Zelda-like adventure games, you will have a great time playing this game.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Batman: Arkham Asylum (US, 08/25/09)
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