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13Sep/090

Game Review - Batman : Arkham Asylum

PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Rated T. PC: $49.99 Xbox 360/PS3 : $59.99

PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Rated T. PC: $49.99 Xbox 360/PS3 : $59.99

I have been waiting for a good Batman game for what seems like forever. Back in the day, the game for Batman Forever almost seemed like it would fit that bill ... but the Mortal Kombat engine doesn't lend itself to making a good side scrolling beat 'em up. The original Batman game for the NES and Batman Returns for the NES were pretty good, but they were also pretty typical. Most of the rest have either been rehashes of the same thing or complete garbage. And no, I never did play Batman Begins. Here we are in 2009 and we finally have a great Batman game.

The game sets itself up nicely with a VERY long and elaborate cutscene showing the Joker cuffed in the Batmobile with Batman taking him to Arkham Asylum. And after that lengthly cutscene is when all hell breaks lose because apparently the Joker had been setting up to get caught and brought there just so he could take it over. There are a few other side stories in the game, but it mainly focuses around The Joker. The overall story is pretty good and original, and being Batman inside Arkham Asylum, naturally a lot of the people who are in there are in there because of you. So needless to say there aren't many people in there who like you all that much. Now, I don't have any knowledge of the comic books, all of my knowledge of Batman comes from the movies and the games I've played. The story itself feels like a very long episode of the animated Batman series, just a lot more realistic and a tad bit more violent. Which, in regards to the violence, I found it kind of cool that Batman doesn't ever actually kill anyone in the game. He beats them mercilessly, knocks people out, does a few very painful looking groin shots, breaks limbs, but never actually kills anyone. Which I thought was a nice thing to add since, at least in the new Batman movies like Begins and The Dark Knight it fits well.
Graphically, except for a few instances here and there the game is absolutely stunning. Batman himself looks great, the animation is top notch, the henchmen look pretty generic ... but they do have a lot of personality to them. And the main characters of the game look excellent. The Joker is suitably disturbing in his appearance, Harley Quinn has never looked better and sports a new outfit which she proudly shows off. The character models are awesome. Killer Croc, for what you see of him is definitely intimidating, and you can't help but think "Oh crap ..." when he enters the room. And The Joker goes through an awesome looking change as well. And Scarecrow has syringes for fingers. Seriously. That's just awesome. Other characters from the Batman universe make an appearance, some you see, some you don't. There are lots of nods to characters who aren't actually in this game. But there are a few downsides. Batman's iconic cape, which is as much of a character as he is, tends to clip through the environment and enemies, though you really won't notice it all that much and it's not a big deal. The henchmen all have the same knockout animation where they grab their heads, roll around a little bit and go limp. Seeing that over and over again got pretty old. And Poison Ivy's hair, while I do get the design choice of making it wavy and almost ethereal in appearance because she's supposed to be the extremely beautiful and seductive woman ... you don't really notice it in the game so much, but when  you really pay attention, her hair has a horrid flat look to it that doesn't really flow well. But those are only small gripes to excellent character models.
The envioronments themselves are gorgeous, and the power of the Unreal Engine really shows it's worth here. Arkham Asylum looks like what Arkham Asylum should look like. An exceptionally dangerous place that's pretty well run down with lots of security measures to keep it's prisoners inside. Which The Joker uses fairly well to keep YOU as Batman inside as well once he takes it over. You start off inside being pretty well confined and it feels pretty claustrophobic, but you play the game more and the entire island becomes unlocked and just feels huge. Everything is extremely detailed and looks great and really helps you feel like you're in a dangerous place you really shouldn't be in. There are a few gripes here as well, but they're pretty minor. The water isn't up to Bioshock standards and looks pretty dull. And the various bushes and tree leaves around the island are flat and jagged like they are in most other games. It doesn't take you away from the overall feeling of danger though, and when the plants start becoming dangerous or a hinderance they are excceptional. You seem to go all over Arkham Aslum's island home, ranging from the various buildings and sections down to the sewers ... which are honestly kind of boring but thankfully doesn't last long. And there's a Batcave. Wait ... a Batcave on Arkham Asylum? Yeah. Why? It's Batman, he can do whatever he wants. The logic seems a bit weird there, and they don't really explain it in the game other than the general "I'm Batman, I do what I want." but it serves it's purpose and while it's not as impressive as the real Batcave, it serves it's purpose by making you want to go to the full, decked out version.
The music is pretty subdued and very Batmanish. Harking back to the Tim Burton era all the way up to the new movies' drum based industrial style sound. Makes me really wish there was a soundtrack to this. The music gets appropriately louder and more upbeat when you get into a fight and really gets you pumped up. The voice acting is all top notch using the actors from the Batman animated series. Mark Hamill as The Joker is just great, and I still can't believe that's him doing that voice. But the real treat comes from just simply freaking out out Joker's henchmen. At first they snide and cocky, but as they start getting picked off by Batman they become more and more nervous. And the other characters come in to either taunt you or attempt it. The other voice actors in the game do they're job and do it well. But a lot of the phrases tend to get repeated a lot, espcially when Joker is on the loudspeaker talking to everyone. And The Riddler chiming in just get irritating quickly.
The gameplay is kind of a mixed bag though. I just want to point out, that I hate stealth games. I think they're boring, no matter how good the story is. And Batman : Arkham Asylum does have stealth elements in it. But you're not completely powerless against the enemies like you are in other stealth based games. The fast pace of it combined with the fact that you can really use to freak out enemies is just awesome and really helps you feel like Batman. But the combat itself is pretty generic and boring, and could have easily been in any other game. And unfortunately, the game has you spending most of the time in Detective Mode searching for things, following footprints, and various other things which tends to detract from you seeing Arkham Island right. It just relies too heavily on it. The Challenge Mode don't really offer all that much either, mainly just bringing some of the more iconic moments from the game into a single challenge that you either get points in or win as fast as possible. Of course on the Playstation 3 you can play as The Joker, but in the end, who cares? There's a lot more to do in Story mode than just go through the game. You can find various little things The Riddler has hidden throughout Arkham to unlock more challenge room, character trophies and various little nods to other characters in the game like Clayface, Camwoman and some others I haven't ever even heard of. As well as interview tapes hidden throughout the game which are very interesting and well worth seeking out. And some of these things are a real pain to find. I haven't even gotten them all yet, but I'm still on the hunt trying to get as many of them as I can without using a strategy guide or Youtube. There is one fairly major thing that brings the game down, because even though the combat is pretty generic, I can deal with that because it is still fun going in and beating the hell out of 8 or 10 of Joker's henchmen. It's just like you would imagine it. Batman walks into a room full of muscular bad guys who want to hurt him, and a few minutes later he's the one standing and they're all unconsious on the ground. But the boss fights, while they're visually impressive, are uninspired, boring and a complete letdown. I expected boss fights like this back in the 16 bit era, not now.
8.0 - While it does have it's shortcomings, this is an awesome game that I'll probably be playing for a long long time. Despite the combat system itself not being all that great, and the lame boss fights, this is still a great game. And you can tell the developers have a lot of love for the source material, because this game does make you feel like Batman. If you're in the fence about it, rent it. But you'll probably find yourself buying it. If you're the type who likes those Challenge modes, it definitely adds a ton of replay value, especially on the Playstation 3 being able to play as The Joker. The replay value for me, however, is going throught the game trying to find all the little surprises Riddler leaves around.

The game sets itself up nicely with a VERY long and elaborate cutscene showing the Joker cuffed in the Batmobile with Batman taking him to Arkham Asylum. And after that lengthly cutscene is when all hell breaks lose because apparently the Joker had been setting up to get caught and brought there just so he could take it over. There are a few other side stories in the game, but it mainly focuses around The Joker. The overall story is pretty good and original, and being Batman inside Arkham Asylum, naturally a lot of the people who are in there are in there because of you. So needless to say there aren't many people in there who like you all that much. Now, I don't have any knowledge of the comic books, all of my knowledge of Batman comes from the movies and the games I've played. The story itself feels like a very long episode of the animated Batman series, just a lot more realistic and a tad bit more violent. Which, in regards to the violence, I found it kind of cool that Batman doesn't ever actually kill anyone in the game. He beats them mercilessly, knocks people out, does a few very painful looking groin shots, breaks limbs, but never actually kills anyone. Which I thought was a nice thing to add since, at least in the new Batman movies like Begins and The Dark Knight it fits well.

batmanarkham_shakehands

Graphically, except for a few instances here and there the game is absolutely stunning. Batman himself looks great, the animation is top notch, the henchmen look pretty generic ... but they do have a lot of personality to them. And the main characters of the game look excellent. The Joker is suitably disturbing in his appearance, Harley Quinn has never looked better and sports a new outfit which she proudly shows off. The character models are awesome. Killer Croc, for what you see of him is definitely intimidating, and you can't help but think "Oh crap ..." when he enters the room. And The Joker goes through an awesome looking change as well. And Scarecrow has syringes for fingers. Seriously. That's just awesome. Other characters from the Batman universe make an appearance, some you see, some you don't. There are lots of nods to characters who aren't actually in this game. But there are a few downsides. Batman's iconic cape, which is as much of a character as he is, tends to clip through the environment and enemies, though you really won't notice it all that much and it's not a big deal. The henchmen all have the same knockout animation where they grab their heads, roll around a little bit and go limp. Seeing that over and over again got pretty old. And Poison Ivy's hair, while I do get the design choice of making it wavy and almost ethereal in appearance because she's supposed to be the extremely beautiful and seductive woman ... you don't really notice it in the game so much, but when  you really pay attention, her hair has a horrid flat look to it that doesn't really flow well. But those are only small gripes to excellent character models.

batman-arkham-asylum-trailer-image

The envioronments themselves are gorgeous, and the power of the Unreal Engine really shows it's worth here. Arkham Asylum looks like what Arkham Asylum should look like. An exceptionally dangerous place that's pretty well run down with lots of security measures to keep it's prisoners inside. Which The Joker uses fairly well to keep YOU as Batman inside as well once he takes it over. You start off inside being pretty well confined and it feels pretty claustrophobic, but you play the game more and the entire island becomes unlocked and just feels huge. Everything is extremely detailed and looks great and really helps you feel like you're in a dangerous place you really shouldn't be in. There are a few gripes here as well, but they're pretty minor. The water isn't up to Bioshock standards and looks pretty dull. And the various bushes and tree leaves around the island are flat and jagged like they are in most other games. It doesn't take you away from the overall feeling of danger though, and when the plants start becoming dangerous or a hinderance they are excceptional. You seem to go all over Arkham Aslum's island home, ranging from the various buildings and sections down to the sewers ... which are honestly kind of boring but thankfully doesn't last long. And there's a Batcave. Wait ... a Batcave on Arkham Asylum? Yeah. Why? It's Batman, he can do whatever he wants. The logic seems a bit weird there, and they don't really explain it in the game other than the general "I'm Batman, I do what I want." but it serves it's purpose and while it's not as impressive as the real Batcave, it serves it's purpose by making you want to go to the full, decked out version.

Batman-Arkham-Asylum_01

The music is pretty subdued and very Batmanish. Harking back to the Tim Burton era all the way up to the new movies' drum based industrial style sound. Makes me really wish there was a soundtrack to this. The music gets appropriately louder and more upbeat when you get into a fight and really gets you pumped up. The voice acting is all top notch using the actors from the Batman animated series. Mark Hamill as The Joker is just great, and I still can't believe that's him doing that voice. But the real treat comes from just simply freaking out out Joker's henchmen. At first they snide and cocky, but as they start getting picked off by Batman they become more and more nervous. And the other characters come in to either taunt you or attempt it. The other voice actors in the game do they're job and do it well. But a lot of the phrases tend to get repeated a lot, espcially when Joker is on the loudspeaker talking to everyone. And The Riddler chiming in just get irritating quickly.

batman_arkham_asylum_screen

The gameplay is kind of a mixed bag though. I just want to point out, that I hate stealth games. I think they're boring, no matter how good the story is. And Batman : Arkham Asylum does have stealth elements in it. But you're not completely powerless against the enemies like you are in other stealth based games. The fast pace of it combined with the fact that you can really use to freak out enemies is just awesome and really helps you feel like Batman. But the combat itself is pretty generic and boring, and could have easily been in any other game. And unfortunately, the game has you spending most of the time in Detective Mode searching for things, following footprints, and various other things which tends to detract from you seeing Arkham Island right. It just relies too heavily on it. The Challenge Mode don't really offer all that much either, mainly just bringing some of the more iconic moments from the game into a single challenge that you either get points in or win as fast as possible. Of course on the Playstation 3 you can play as The Joker, but in the end, who cares? There's a lot more to do in Story mode than just go through the game. You can find various little things The Riddler has hidden throughout Arkham to unlock more challenge room, character trophies and various little nods to other characters in the game like Clayface, Camwoman and some others I haven't ever even heard of. As well as interview tapes hidden throughout the game which are very interesting and well worth seeking out. And some of these things are a real pain to find. I haven't even gotten them all yet, but I'm still on the hunt trying to get as many of them as I can without using a strategy guide or Youtube. There is one fairly major thing that brings the game down, because even though the combat is pretty generic, I can deal with that because it is still fun going in and beating the hell out of 8 or 10 of Joker's henchmen. It's just like you would imagine it. Batman walks into a room full of muscular bad guys who want to hurt him, and a few minutes later he's the one standing and they're all unconsious on the ground. But the boss fights, while they're visually impressive, are uninspired, boring and a complete letdown. I expected boss fights like this back in the 16 bit era, not now.

8.0 - While it does have it's shortcomings, this is an awesome game that I'll probably be playing for a long long time. Despite the combat system itself not being all that great, and the lame boss fights, this is still a great game. And you can tell the developers have a lot of love for the source material, because this game does make you feel like Batman. If you're in the fence about it, rent it. But you'll probably find yourself buying it. If you're the type who likes those Challenge modes, it definitely adds a ton of replay value, especially on the Playstation 3 being able to play as The Joker. The replay value for me, however, is going throught the game trying to find all the little surprises Riddler leaves around.

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