Batman: Arkham Asylum review
Gotham's Got the Goods
If you'd have asked me before my purchase of Batman: Arkham Asylum if I knew who Batman, Robin and Joker were, you'd correctly assume that I'd say "yes". However, besides the main protagonists - and maybe Two-Face and the Riddler - there's little I knew worth bragging about with friends and foe, and it was this reason alone that made me a bit sceptical about buying the game when it first came out. Thankfully my decision turned out to be a positive one (which is rare enough when I seek story-based games) as not only do I feel it was worth the €25 I paid for it, but I also wanted to push for more. It's quite clear that Rocksteady Studios set out to create a game that sat nicely for both big fans of the original comics/movies as well as newcomers; for Marvel lovers, the game offers a crucial amount of information about past-villains, audio tapes of interviews with Arkham Asylum inmates and a distinctive personality for each character that - to say the least - does extreme justice for all; and for those who felt out of their comfort zone when this game arrived, exciting combat, compelling voice-acting and in-depth analysis of unknown characters that diminishes the possibility of the game running on like one big private joke between fans and creators.
Joker's got something crafty up his sleeve
To call the introduction of this game 'compelling' would be a massive understatement and I'd go as far as saying it's probably the best introduction to a game I've seen in the last 5 or so years. Joker is escorted to Arkham Asylum after a failed attempt to attack the Mayor's office of Gotham City. However, right from the off everything seems extremely suspicious. Knowing the Joker and how witty he can be; why would he fall victim to such a rookie's crime? The first five minutes of the game are spent walking alongside guards who bring Joker back to his old cell - while Joker is sealed tight in his straight jacket, ominous asylum inmates cheer him on making the short journey anything but pleasant. At any point in the introduction you feel something is about to happen, and Joker's optimistic attitude - that successfully hits several nerves with guards - solidifies your assumption when Harley Quinn shows up to override security, letting loose all the prisoners of Arkham. Turns out it was Joker's plan all along (who'd have guessed it?) and when security is now preoccupied with the overridden systems, he successfully kidnaps Commissioner Gordon.
As I'm sure you can guess, it is now Batman's (along with the help of Oracle and his own monologue) job to take down Joker and his scapegoats in search of Gordon. It also wouldn't be an asylum if things didn't get a little crazy; with the help of Scarecrow's hallucinogenic gas, Batman begins to see psuedo-images of Gordon, believing he has died and hearing the voices of his dead parents (just one of several examples of how character's backgrounds are successfully enveloped to newbies) which hinders his objectives. During his hallucinations, Batman also experiences the hell of Scarecrow's appearance in an obscure environment which shows a nightmare-esque quality to Batman I never thought I'd see. Overall the introduction might feel a bit overwhelming at first because you're introduced to so many characters in a short space of time, but it is all panned out extremely well and with several riddles featuring around Arkham that develop character's backgrounds, it won't be long before you feel like Comic Book Guy.
The Scarecrow's image more frightening than the name suggests
Combat that remains exciting throughout
If you're gonna release a successful game based on comics, combat is always going to be one of the most important features and I can safely say the combat is never an issue with Arkham Asylum. During all combat scenarios - excluding boss battles - you'll be severely outnumbered by a bunch of henchmen from all directions, while you attempt to hit several combos in order to take them all down. In most situations, you'll feel like you're being circled as you focus on one target to the next and when you put that into perspective, the smoothness of attack around 360 degrees is largely impressive. At first it might seem like endless button bashing but when your ability to attack multiple enemies without reply clicks in your head (or when your opponents become much tougher making you change strategy), you'll discover that it's a lot more complex. Whilst attacking an opponent at the front, you'll be prompted by a signal above an enemy's head behind you indicating that they're about to attack; parrying/countering attacks is difficult at first but when you can master it, combat with multiple enemies always looks refreshing and always has an element of difficulty to it. The objective is to achieve as high a combo as possible in order to attack with different moves and the higher your combo, the more points you will score to level up.
Just to spice things up a bit, these types of enemy battles aren't the only ones you'll encounter. Sometimes you'll enter a room and hear guards below waiting for your arrival, armed to the teeth. When you reach a scenario like this, you can forget about using the aforementioned combat because their weapons are far too superior for your batarang and co. The only logical option is to use stealth and apply sneak kills on each enemy before evacuating the room and it's a lot tougher than it sounds. AI might feel very inferior at the beginning but as the game progresses, some areas of the game might offer extreme difficulty; enough to make you think "what am I doing wrong!?". Each enemy during your sneaking encounters has a tag around his neck - if you've killed him, the tag signals an alarm so all the others can hear so don't stand around and admire your victim for too long! If you enter detective mode (a mode that remains significant for solving riddles and and main objectives), you can determine the enemy's condition - the two most recurring ones being 'calm' and 'nervous'. When an enemy is calm, he may be unaware of your surroundings and if he's nervous, he can often turn on his own allies, making frantic movements that creates so much more enjoyability for a player.
Silently taking down an enemy before his tag signals his death
Throughout your game you'll experience a bunch of memorable bosses, one more unique than the last. You'll come across several of the titan henchman (just like your normal enemy, only injected with a drug that gives them brute strength and physique) as well as at least 7 distinctive bosses. Each boss has a differing personality from anyone else you've met in the game, with an environment that feels fresh and exciting. While the fights aren't always that difficult (I'm looking at you Poison Ivy and Killer Croc), the tense atmosphere created by the game's audio is something that'll stick in my mind and heart for a long long time. When you enter the sewers to find Killer Croc, the encounter isn't difficult but my goodness is it frightening! You walk above the sewer water where your enemy lurks on a linear planked surface and your objective is to make as little sound and vibration as possible. The sounds give you all sorts of scary thoughts; was the drop of water you heard created by Croc himself? Did he taunt you from behind? Front? Left? Right? And before you can answer your own question, he appears from one of a possible 4 directions with a charging sound that's possibly the most daunting of any I've ever heard. What's worse is, the battle with him lasts an excruciatingly long time and your panic doesn't subside until he's gone. Needless to say, every future experience to the sewers will feel haunted by him!
Graphics certainly have that comic book feel
Trying to achieve impressive graphics as well as making them look like they're from a comic is no easy task - for anyone who's played Metal Gear's Peace Walker when Konami attempted comic-type cutscenes, you'll know what I mean; it just didn't work. Without being straight-out-of-the-book graphics, they still capture a sense of Marvel's appearance and are certainly very distinctive in the gaming industry. The most predominant image you'll have probably seen from this game is Joker's appearance and you can see straight up how it differs from anything else you've ever seen. While it's obviously Joker, it's a unique creation not seen before that only reinforces my opinion that this game is such a breath of fresh air. Batman's appearance is also very impressive, right down to his final set of abs - when you've been attacked by an enemy, tears will appear on your costume until you've recovered HP that tend to look unique after every fight. His cape also has two tears down the right side of it, most apparent when he glides from a rooftop. Indeed the most impressive detail about Batman is when he glides; the sides of his cape aren't perfectly curvy but show peculiar rips and tears that add so much more to his appearance overall. Most enemies in the game have that certain ominous image - all extremely muscular and large making no enemy look like an easy target. Even the ladies of Gotham have that seductive femme fatale appearance that shows the designers' ability to be versatile. Detective Mode shows a unique style to the game's graphics too, as you seek out clues and targets that appear as a sort of x-ray screen - when in this mode, you'll see the interior of an enemy rather than his brute outline. This mode also distinguishes guards between ones that are armed and disarmed.
There are a variety of weapons to choose from in the game; you've got your ever-present Batarang that curves at such a crazy angle to attack your foe (throughout your play, you can upgrade this weapon so you have 3 Batarangs for every throw); Explosive Gel that takes down vulnerable environment in the game; a Cryptographic Sequencer that disables the controls on a sealed off area with the aid of your two analogue sticks; Batclaw that allows you to swing to a higher ground at a fast pace; and your Line Launcher that allows you to zipline from one level environment to another (probably the most impressive of the bunch). My biggest disappointment with the weapons is their power - you can't kill an enemy with your Batarang so it sometimes defeats the purpose of using it. This can be particularly tedious against armed enemies as their bullets can penetrate your HP. All the Batarang will do is knock them off their feet for a few seconds while you seek another area of safety. The Batclaw is a nice alternative however; if an enemy is standing next to a ledge and you grab hold of him with your Batclaw, prepare to watch him fall to his death while your gadget ego strengthens.
A definite contender for best voice-acting ever
You can add up all the reasons why this game got game of the year in 2009, but the one that takes the cake for me is the game's voice-acting. When the game opens up, it's so obvious that you're gonna love Joker's character because of his witty, insane and sometimes on the verge of schizophrenic comments but he's not the only character in the game that's so admirable. Scarecrow also has a haunting tone to his voice that sums up his character really well and it becomes a horrid experience every time you hear him usher a sound in the game; Victor Zsasz (a sadistic serial murderer who marks his victims) sounds like the deranged and demented character that he is and his voice portrays him very well - you never know what he's about to do and that much is apparent in his voice alone; Poison Ivy has a very seductive and alluring tone that also portrays her character really well; but my personal favourite is Ms. Harley Quinn herself. Right from the beginning her eccentric nature and voice struck a chord with me and is the most distinctive of all (including Joker himself) in my view. It's scary how she sounds like a child, and yet she's so much more dangerous than that. Her feelings for Joker are very credible, as indeed are most characters' voice-acting. While the henchmen aren't very memorable, they portray fear and anger pretty well - even their opinions of Joker and his plot can be heard throughout the game and it's something that adds depth to the game. It's quite ironic that Batman's (the protagonist himself) voice-acting is absolutely abysmal. Of all the characters, he's easily the worst - he portrays no emotions whatsoever and has a really monotone voice. In fact, when playing with subtitles, they work better with him than his audio - the voice-actor seems to be oblivious to exclamation marks as his emotional dialogue hardly differs from his calm tone.
Harley Quinn - the game's most impressive character in my eyes
As impressive as this game is, it isn't without its minor flaws. Besides the one above, I feel there is only two other relevant ones worth mentioning; the game isn't incredibly long. It's extremely addictive so you'll find yourself clocking up several hours whenever you have spare time and before you know it, the game's done. Overall, it took me about 7-9 hours to complete this and then another couple of hours to go around and complete all of the game's riddles. I also feel that challenge mode (essentially the two combat types I mentioned thrown into various difficult challenges) doesn't really suffice for more hours clocked up. The other flaw is the inability to play as another character (without downloadable content, that is). There's a moment in the game where you control Joker and it's such a tease because you begin to imagine what it'd be like to play as the villain in this tail - certainly the most enjoyable character of the two. But with that said, every second of game time is so entertaining that it's irrelevant if the game should've been longer than it was; the DLC is there and it won't disappoint you if the game tickled your taste buds.
As aforementioned, I'm not a big Batman fan at all. In fact, my only connection with Batman is the movie The Dark Knight but I feel the game definitely does the movie justice; especially the role Joker played in both. When I purchased it, it was essentially 50% of its original price in 2009 but considering the game it turned out to be, I'd have happily paid full price for it. While it improved my opinion of the comics themselves, it also developed my knowledge on Arkham's characters and having studied the game very well and reading into the background of all villains, I look forward to continuing my journey with Arkham City.
OVERALL RATING: 9/10
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