Review by JW ACE
"And we all thought the movie with Heath Ledger was good........."
Batman: Arkham Asylum is a 3rd person action game staring the famous Dark Knight. The game is not connected to any specific movie; it is more like an interactive episode of The Animated Series. As the name would suggest, the whole game takes place on Arkham Island, with Arkham Asylum being the main draw. It is very easy with a game like this to concentrate solely on what it does wrong; however, this game does VERY little wrong!
The graphics are pretty top notch. They are on par with other games of the PS3, although remember that they are more cartoony than games like Metal Gear Solid or Uncharted. The entire group of characters look right out of The Animated Series all modeled very well. Slow motion sequences are done flawlessly, as well as using detective mode, which is explained later. Last but not least, the architecture looks just as it should, a very nice mixture of modern and gothic.
Fans of the The Animated Series will be right at home, every character in the game is voiced by their respective voices from the show. This includes Mark Hammil for The Joker, who does especially well. You will be hearing his voice quite a lot. When fighting the goons, all the punches, kicks, and grunts are as smooth and integrated as the controls. Music is also done well and adds.
Seeing the demo, it looked like the controls would be rather complicated, but they are not. With exception to a few slow responses while fighting, the controls are perfect. During some of the larger fights with 10-12 goons on the screen, you will occasionally be pressing attack and combo buttons almost 2-3 seconds before Batman responds. This is probably due to the heavy details in the animation, but it can get annoying on harder difficulties because the goons deal more damage to you for each mistake. Other than that small gripe, everything is fine. All the gadgets that Batman uses are so easy to use its amazing, not to mention gliding and hanging are all easy to do and integrate well.
This is where the game truly shines. The game play is very smooth throughout the whole game. You are Batman and you control him in the 3rd person. The game has stealth, action, exploration, and puzzle solving. The game has a good feel for a Batman game, in the sense that stealth is your best friend and you do not carry any firearms. You do have quite a number of gadgets at your disposal however, although they are not always used while fighting.
First, let's talk about the exploration part of the game. Many times during the game you are given a clue as to where to go to find something or someone and you have to figure out for yourself what to do. Batman can enter Detective Mode which allows you to see things the naked eye can't. A perfect example is following a blood trail, or footprints. Generally, while doing this, you won't encounter many enemies. There are a few surprises though.
Next, we have the action and stealth parts of the game. These are brilliantly done. You will encounter many goons who will try to pummel you. Batman can quickly jump and duck back and forth while attacking every goon visible. This usually flows very well except that on later levels where there are MANY goons, sometimes the controls are a bit slow to respond. This is the only complaint though. Otherwise you will find yourself chaining 10, 20, sometimes 30 hits in one shot, Batman style.
Speaking of Batman's style, stealth plays a very important part of the game. Quite a few of the enemies you will encounter have guns, powerful guns. If you attempt to fight them in the conventional Batman way, you will die very quickly. You will need to have a plan of attack. Thankfully, you are Batman, and can fly, glide, and hide within the shadows. You can silently take out the goons one by one, using either a good old sleeper move, or a varying amount of gadgets.
Now, let's talk about the various gadgets you will get to use. You start off with the basic grapple, which is very easy to use. You will see a yellow circle on points where you can hook the grapple and fly up. Next, you have the good old Batarang, which is your chief ranged weapon. When you aim, you will again see a highlighted area of where it will strike before you throw it. This can be upgraded later to have up to 3 thrown at the same time, and have one that you can control in mid-flight. Next, you have the Bat Claw, which you can use to pull down objects from a distance. The most common use will be to pull down grates that you can't reach. This is upgraded later to allow you to even pull down weak walls. Next is the line launcher, which allows you to make long horizontal jumps. Finally, there is the explosive gel. It sounds just like it is. You will mostly use it to destroy walls, but can also be used to stun enemies.
Last but not least, you will have some puzzles to solve. Nothing too hard, but you will be presented with a various amount of puzzles. Most of them are what I call Prince of Persia type puzzles, meaning you have to figure out how to get from point A to point B. Most of the other puzzles you encounter will be while the action is going on, like figuring out how to disable a door before the room fills up with gas. It should also be noted that there are various optional puzzles throughout the game left behind by the Riddler. They are either finding an item or taking a photograph of an object. Usually they have something to do with one of the minor Batman enemies.
The game as a whole is very well paced. You will go from fighting thugs, to scanning for evidence, to following a trail, to planning an attack on another set of thugs. This might sound boring at first, only it is not. The situation changes every now and then. Every once in a while there is a boss battle, sneak attacking becomes harder because the goons eventually place collars on themselves to alert them if one has been taken down, some will have guns, some will take hostages, and the list goes on. You will never get bored.
The boss battles are all various villains. Each one will require slightly different tactics, and some aren't even really battles. A good example is Killer Croc; you never actually fight him fist to fist, but I would certainly classify him as a boss. Batman will need to perform some kind of action to win the battle, like throwing a Batarang, disarming a bomb, setting a bomb, or even just get to a specific area alive. It is worth noting that the bosses, as well as the normal enemies, have pretty decent AI that fit their role. Killer Croc will hide in the water and ambush, Bane will always charge you head on, and the regular goons will try to gang up on you or reach for a gun if one is lying around.
What would a Batman game be without a dark yet cool story? Well it starts off with you carting the Joker to Arkham Asylum. Of course no one besides Batman himself can keep Joker in check. Soon he has the whole Asylum under his control. Along with Harley Quinn, he calls the shots throughout the whole game, not to mention taunting you every now and then. As you progress the story will begin to unfold. You soon discover that Joker needed to get into Arkham to follow up on a special plan of his.
It is perfectly fine to just play through the game without exploring more than you have to, as the story has plenty of surprises and plot twists. However, it is recommended you explore a bit and learn all you can. One of the optional quests is to collect interview tapes of other villains on the island. These will expand the back story a bit and also give you perspective on the other villains. A cool tie in from Riddler has him saying he will kill Batman, take over Gotham blah blah blah who understands the Joker anyway?'
The game is easy to pick up and play for anyone who is a fan of Batman. You can have fun just playing the main game strait through, or try to find every little secret the Island of Arkham has to offer. If that wasn't enough, you also have challenge maps to test your skills in fighting and stealth even further. Not to mention the PS3 exclusive Joker maps, which are interesting as the Joker has a much different fighting style.
If you are a fan of Batman in ANY way, shape, or form, you owe it to yourself to give this game a try. On top of being a solid action game in general, it captures the essence of what Batman is all about.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 02/22/10
Game Release: Batman: Arkham Asylum (US, 08/25/09)
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