Review by Menji

"Sometimes it's only madness that makes games what they are"

Locate your cape, mask and crime fighting persona. Now throw it all away. No longer must you pretend to be a superhero when playing one in a videogame. Arkham Asylum takes care of it all for the player. The first superhero game where the player actually feels like the superhero he or she controls. Like other monumental games, Arkham Aslyum has set the mark for a superhero game. Any future game in the genre that does not at least meet what Arkham Asylum can do – will be a disappointment.

Arkham Aslyum does not base itself off a movie. Most notably, not off of The Dark Knight - a very smart move on the developer's part. This title brings an original story to the Batman universe. The actual Arkham Aslyum houses just about every Batman villain in high-security cells. Batman has the Joker in captivity and begins the game en route to Arkham Aslyum. Appearances deceive as Joker is transported to his cell and eventually escapes with a few quick moves. Naturally, Joker and company have been planning this for quite sometime as revealed when Harley Quinn appears and helps Joker escape and together they let loose every captive in the asylum. The rest of the game sets up numerous tasks for Batman to take care of because the dumb ol' security guards are useless and can't do a thing. Many villains make an appearance or are at least mentioned. Riddler hid over two hundred “riddles” throughout the island. Most are just finding hidden trophies or destroying mechanical Joker mouths but some are actually challenging. Some villains are clearly being saved for the sequel and the rest are just mentioned in clues or by some symbol on the wall. However, Arkham Aslyum does a great job incorporating everything without cluttering up the game. Except the way things appear on screen – it is almost too fast, at least for me. When a new bio or map location is unlocked the screen jolts open and moves all over the place. These are minor issues that may bug some. The other thing that can clutter the game is the constant swarm of bats that fly all over the place when an enemy is defeated or when Batman walks into a new area. Both take some time to get used to but can be annoying at first.

I demoed the game when it first released and only participated in a couple fights before stopping. Something felt off to me – it felt like I was just pressing one button and I beat a whole group of guys. There was no challenge and I knew it would get repetitive fast. Finally, I decided to give it another try. Same thing again but I got to thinking. This is Batman. I am controlling Batman – of course I can take out a horde of enemies without any problem. That is who Batman is, that is what he does. Immediately, the game lets the player experience what it is like to be Batman and immerse the player into the feel of the game. A brilliant move. Batman has access to his usual gadgets. Most are unlocked after acquiring enough experience which is gained from defeating enemies and solving Riddler's riddles. The player then has the choice of selecting whatever upgrade they want to fit their style. However, some gadgets are acquired when Batman returns to his batcave at planned moments in the plot.

Normally the upgrades are just advancements of already available weapons. Batman's grappling hook is near flawless. The hook can be used on just about any ledge to lift Batman up. But Batman's cape outshines the rest. The cape allows Batman to glide from any height and deliver a devastating bat kick to an [un]suspecting enemy. As the game progresses, enemies naturally get tougher. They will come at the Bat with bats, knives, and machine guns. Batman can't take machinegun fire and must sneak up on anyone with a gun or Batman will go down fast. Batman has a detective mode which is essentially a Metal Gear Solid 4 clone of the Solid Eye. This mode reveals enemy's body heat and points out breakable walls, vents and other items of interest. I almost feel bad leaving it on as long as I did. I felt like I was missing out on the real graphics of the game and instead saw it in this blue world most of the time. It is almost impossible not to use all the time since one false move in a large stealth assault could finish Batman off and reward the player a game over. Naturally, the mode does allow for easy locating of enemies – especially dangerous ones. Melee weapon equipped enemies usually need to be stunned a bit to take them out. Combat is fluid and generally easy to fight off eight guys at once. Thankfully, the developers simplified the ability to counter attacks. A mark will appear above an enemy's head right before he attacks and can then be countered. There are plenty of attacking, countering and jumping motions to keep the battles fresh and unique.

The only real problem I had with the battles is the lack of boss fights – good ones are scarce too. Bane is the first real boss and introduces a simple yet effective method to defeat someone who could easily overpower Batman. The player must throw the batarang while Bane is charging and then dodge, while Bane is stunned, Batman attacks. The problem is that this tactic becomes the solution to numerous other fights afterward with any titan-like enemies. Poison Ivy's fight is so typical of any plant-like boss it was not even fun. Scarecrow has an impressive boss fight if you could call it that. At certain points in the game, Batman wakes up into a nightmare after being drugged by Scarecrow and must work his way through a building without being seen. Aside from those few, there are no other boss battles which sucks because it does get a little repetitive just fighting goons.

Character designs and graphics are impressive. A few costumes are original designs to keep the game fresh to viewers. The environments have plenty going on and the asylum grounds have space to explore. Voice acting for each character is spot-on and fits their personality. It does look weird when you actually see them close up trying to matches the look of the character. There is a couple engrossing songs played throughout the game to set the dark batman tone. Joker has the entire asylum rigged with speakers and cameras so he can always talk and see Batman. There are times when the urge to explore comes up but Joker will repeatedly tell Batman where he wants Batman to go. The ability to explore is still there but hearing Joker repeat his comments does get annoying.

Lastly, I just wish there were actual appearances by more villains but I suppose the developers have to hold on to something for the sequel. Arkham Asylum lasts as long as the standard action game. It can be run through in ten hours. Searching out every trophy will add more play time. There are plenty of challenges to try out as well but that is about it. Arkham Asylum is the perfect renter and an amazing action game. I can't wait for the future of superhero games. Definitely check this game out!

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 07/01/10

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

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