Review by bbears
No game has ever captured a comic book universe better than this.
Batman Arkham Asylum is an original Batman story not based on the movies and not rooted in any particular comic book. While definitely firmly rooted in the Batman universe with lots of references to obscure villains, it definitely benefits from having the flexibility to tell it's own story. Simply put Batman AA is the best superhero game yet made. The story and atmosphere perfectly capture the feel of comics while still being entertaining even if your not familiar with the source material. And the simple and easy to learn combat system takes a lot of practice to master and balances well choreography like animations but never taking the control out of your hands. The graphics are amazing and have lots of detail. The game has solid length to it as well lots easter eggs, riddles, and challenges that will keep playing this game for while. Batman AA received several 2009 game of the year awards and deserves all of them. At this point the game can be had for cheap so go buy it!
Batman AA has a very distinct dark visual style. It kind of strikes me as a cross between Gears of War and comic book look. All of the character are very large overly muscled. Especially Batman, but I think this is a good look. I prefer the imposing Batman instead of the James bond look the current movies go for. Except for a few faces on the guards all character models are well detailed and animate smoothly. The dynamic lighting is also very good and helps the atmosphere a lot. The lighting as well reminds me of the Gears of War look. There is texture pop in occasionally but none of it is to noticeable and there is so much detail in the environments it is understandable. The environments very well done. You stay on the island the whole time but the different buildings don't blend together and fit very well into the atmosphere. One cool touch with the graphics is as the game progresses Batman becomes more and more disheveled. His costume tears and even develops a 5 o' clock shadow. The sound direction is also excellent. The voice acting is done by the animated series cast including Mark Hamil reprising his role as Joker. The sound effects are all fitting and the music while not very prevalent is another highlight. Lots of detail have been put into the presentation which shows the amount of attention and detail this game received from Rocksteady.
Batman AA combat is based mostly on timing rather than button combinations. That being said responsive controls are definitely important., and thankfully they are. Although by the end of the game you will have lots of abilities and options available the controls never become to cumbersome or cluttered. This also means that you can be successful without having to revert to button mashing early on, but experience will definitely allow you to become better as the timing and pace to the combat becomes second nature. Batman's gadgets are accessed by a quick in game menu. And the platforming is smooth and while you will rarely die in these sections it is not as hands off as the Uncharted style platforming.
The story in Batman AA is arguably the best part of it and is a huge factor in pushing your progress. The genius of it is to place it in Arkham Asylum. For those who don't know in the Batman universe Arkham Asylum is for the criminally insane. Basically it's where all the super villains are put after being locked up by the bat. This allows the developers to introduce you to a large rogues gallery while still making it a cohesive and believablestory, because there should be lots of bad guys here. This is something that many comic book video games struggle to do. Often most games will randomly throw in a bunch of super villains in the middle of the game's plot making the game lose any sense of a singular story. Batman AA gains a lot of atmosphere because of doing this. The basic plot is Batman has just caught the Joker and personally drives him to AA. Quickly you realize that it's a trap but Batman has no option but to spring it. There are several iconic moments, especially the Scarecrow sequences, and excellent narrative will help make this one of your favorite Batman stories.
Batman AA is a brawler mixed with exploration/platforming and some detective sequences. The detective sequences are probably the weakest part. You will spend a large part of the game in detective vision where you can see enemies through walls and see evidence and bonuses much more easily. You can turn it on or off at any time but it becomes almost a necessity to leave it on if you want to find the Riddler clues, which is unfortunate because it distracts from the game's gorgeous graphics. The detective sequences are pretty shallow. Often you will just be following a trail of clues that are very obvious. Most of the cool stuff is done hands off with Batman talking to Oracle over the radio. Exploration is another big part of the game and is probably my personal favorite. Most of your time will be spent indoors and the world in comparison to lot of games is not that big, but the world that is there is exhilarating to explore and enjoy. Riddler has helped in this area by hiding 230 something secrets all over the game. Some are are simply finding easter eggs in the most devilish of spots. But some are actual riddles that are really fun to figure out and almost all areas have 1 or 2. These Riddles of course are worth achievements but even better they unlock more and more background on the Batman universe. Combat of course is a big part of any brawler game obviously. And the combat system in Batman AA is simple but timing based. Building combos with the simple attacks not only look great but with timing you can pull great looking one hit kill take downs. Despite the simple setup this formula keeps you constantly engaged with it and gives the combat a cinematic look without having to memorize a massive moves list like God of War or Ninja Gaiden. The predator action sequences area also great and really make you feel like Batman. In these parts you will be stealthily taking out goons while hiding in the rafters with all your awesome gadgets. These sequences also are available in the challenge maps where you are tasked with taking out enemies in a particular way and it's a lot of fun to relive these sequences and compete on leader boards. The boss battles in the campaign are actually kind of repetitive. Once you fight Bane most of the boss fights will repeat this formula, which does get kind of old. But Batman AA makes up for this with the excellent Scarecrow parts. I won't ruin them but rest assured they make the game and are brilliantly well done. Besides the predator challenges there are also combat challenges. In these you are simply trying to get a high score to unlock more and more difficult stages. While simple in combat I found myself playing these quite a lot.
Batman Arkham Asylum will take you roughly 9 to 15 hours on your first play through. Depending on how much you pursue the Riddler challenges. There are two difficulties levels, neither are too challenging. There are also 16 total challenge maps, 8 combat and 8 predator. You have to score so medals to open up all the maps. If you enjoy the game then the challenge maps will hold your interest at least fleetingly and if you want to achievement scrounge them that will add probably another 10 hours. Once you beat the game there is nothing to do on your save file however Batman AA is an enjoyable game so you could easily want to play the game multiple times.
Batman Arkham Asylum is a great game that has received tons positive critical reviews. If your a fan of Batman at all, or just a fan of action games in general I highly recommend this one. However the game is not without faults. The game forces you into spending to much time in detective vision and most of the boss fights are repetitive. And the AI at times can be really stupid in the predator sequences. But these are just nitpicking and you should buy this game.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Batman: Arkham Asylum (Game of the Year Edition) (US, 05/11/10)
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