Review by Drunky

Reviewed: 09/03/09

An incredible addition to the Batman franchise.

Batman: Arkham Asylum isn’t just any Batman game, it is THE Batman game. While it doesn’t specifically tie into any movie, comic book, or television series, it takes elements from all 3 and combines them into an amazing game featuring an equally amazing story. Featuring the writer and voice actors from Batman: The Animated Series, art design courtesy of WildStorm Comics, and the mature and gritty subject matter of the Christopher Nolan movies (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight) and more adult graphic novels, Arkham Asylum definitely lives up to the hype as the ‘ultimate Batman experience’.

First off, let me say that the Teen rating on this game is very deserved, if not generous. The fighting is brutal, the storyline is dark, and Batman is pissed off. He may not kill people, but he sure can beat them to within an inch of their life. The game starts with Batman hauling in the Joker to Arkham Asylum, however Batman feels uneasy about this, as Joker surrenders almost without a fight. We quickly find out that after a mysterious fire at Blackgate Prison, Jokers henchmen have been transferred to Arkham. I’m sure you know what that means, time for a breakout! With the inmates running the asylum, it’s up to The Dark Knight to restore order and stop Joker from whatever it is he is planning. Of course, with an army of henchmen and all those super-criminals and deeply disturbed individuals residing in Arkham at his disposal, the Joker will make this anything but easy. The villains consist of such classics like Bane, Victor Zsasz, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, Killer Croc, and of course the Joker and Harley Quinn.

Don’t get your hopes up though, you won’t actually go toe-to-toe with many of these villains, and if you do, the fight will be very underwhelming and over in a in just a few short minutes. They’re really there for cameos and to give a little back story to Gotham City. Plus, it’d just be cruel to subject Batman to fighting all of them in a single night.

The greatest part of the story is the character development. For those who only know the basics of Batman, the game will provide more than adequate background to catch you up through the use of very graphic and mature patient interview audio tapes you can find scattered around and mini biographies provided for each character, and of course the story itself. As I said, this game is dark. The interviews describe in graphic detail the crimes committed by the inmates, and make various references to other heinous acts, from murder to dead baby jokes. There is very little that’s off limits, which makes this game geared towards the older audience.

As for the guy who dresses like a giant Bat, his story is a little more disturbing although much less graphic. You’ll see from the start he isn’t the Batman who has a gadget for absolutely everything stored away in his utility belt. From the rare moment of self doubt when Batman admits he’s not sure he can stop the Joker, to the downright creepy nightmares of Scarecrow, you’ll learn a little bit more about what drives Batman and what his worst nightmares are. I personally love the Scarecrow parts of the game. While the Scarecrow isn’t a real boss (he’s more of a nuisance who’ll pop up now and again to infect you with his hallucinogens), his side missions take you off of Arkham Asylum and drop you into the Batmans worst nightmares. It’s a great mix of sad storytelling and hellish nightmare that I’ll let you experience for yourself.

One of the reasons Batman has so many fans is that he is not an overpowered superhero, he’s just an intelligent man with high tech toys, well trained in most forms of combat, and who wears a bat suit. The game incorporates this into the game perfectly. Being a master of many different forms of martial arts, Batman can easily dispatch a dozen enemies at a time. The game features something called free flow combat, which basically means you’re not locked onto a single target in a fight, you can bounce back and forth as you see fit dealing with whoever you want first without slowing down, and earning huge combo bonuses as you beat thugs senseless. The first impression of the fighting system is that because you only have one main attack button, that it’s weak and boring. This is incredibly wrong. Yes, your main attacks are limited to one button at first, but as you proceed throughout the game you’ll be able to unlock vicious special moves that you can use in combos as well as gadgets like upgraded batarangs, explosive gels and grappling hooks. Like the real Batman, you’ll also be able to dodge and counter any close quarters combat moves using what is basically a Spidey-sense, as enemies who are about to hit you will suddenly flash leaving you a split second to respond. Combined with a dozen enemies all rushing you, the combat is frantic and brutal, if you want to button mash you probably can, but it’s more satisfying if you learn to chain your moves and discover new bone crunching animations and takedowns. Not to mention you’ll earn points based on your combat skills that will let you purchase upgrades like additional health to sonic batarangs.

Like I said, one of the great things about Batman is that he is still just a man. So you can only take a very limited amount of damage before you go down (which by the way, features excellent cut scenes where opponents like Joker, Killer Croc and Poison Ivy will taunt you before ending your life). So going hand to hand doesn’t always seem like the best idea, especially when the enemies have knives, stun rods, or guns, where you’ll be down in just a few hits. Luckily you’re almost always provided the opportunity to avoid a full on confrontation and go the stealth approach such as setting traps, creeping around air ducts to get into advantageous positions, hanging from gargoyles to drop in on your unsuspecting enemies and other various tricks using your limited supply of gadgets. I can usually spot a few other ways I could have completed an objective after finishing it, leaving the game open to repeated playing. The AI isn’t the smartest, I mean, if I’m coming at you from a 90 degree angle, you should be able to see me. However there is one touch given to the henchmen that I love, their heart rate. It can go from anywhere from Calm (they haven’t even noticed you’re there yet) to Terrified (they just found the broken body you left hanging from the ceiling). While terrified, their AI changes behaviour. Instead of solitary patrols they now stick together in teams, making your life a little bit more difficult. All in all, the game does a great job of giving us the options that we’d expect the Batman to take advantage of.

Along with the main storyline, you’ll also be on the lookout for various trophies, maps, the previously mentioned patient interviews, and solutions to riddles left behind by the Riddler. The riddles were a nice distraction during the story and even something fun to do once you’ve finished the game. They usually revolve around your ability to effectively use your Detective mode. Detective mode is basically where your “Batman-sense” kicks in, letting you easily spot objects of interest, follow evidence trails, and recon your enemies. You’ll be relying on this heavily to guide you throughout the games many open courtyards, caves, sewers and buildings. At first this crutch seems to make the game way too linear, leaving you little freedom to go do what you want, but even when you’re playing as the World’s Greatest Detective, it’s still nice to have some help now and then.

The graphics in the game are top notch. Styled after their comic book counterparts, Batman and the rest of the DC characters are incredible. From the Jokers twisted smile to the tattoos on the inmates, the attention to detail are outstanding. The little things make all the difference, from the gradually appearing rips in Batmans suit, to his increasing 5 o’clock shadow and bloody face. The game features many different buildings from the lush botanical gardens and dirty hospitals to the high tech prisons, each providing a unique environment with a nice change of atmosphere. It pretty much feels like you’re playing through one long animated movie, rather than most superhero games that feature incredible cut scenes but subpar in-game graphics.

The in-game music is great, and really adds to the suspense as you sneak around and stalk your enemies and the bone crunching sound effects as you make your move is awesome. I especially love the way the Joker will taunt you randomly over the intercom, and mock his henchmen as you take them out one by one. Even the Riddler takes cheap shots as you try to solve his riddles. Plus, maybe it’s just because I grew up watching Batman: The Animated Series, but to me the voices of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill are the ones I associate with the Batman and Joker respectively. The voice acting simply matches perfectly with the characters, so I’ll say it again, it really just feels like you’re playing through one long animated movie.

Well, long in terms of a movie that is. In terms of a video game, it’s fairly short. Maybe 9-12 hours if you take your time. I wouldn’t let that deter you though. As I said, there are so many ways to complete your missions that it’s a blast to do a second playthrough. Combined with the challenge maps that test your Batman prowess, such as speedily dispatching an entire room full of armed enemies or taking on 20 inmates in a single fight, the game has a fairly high replay value.

Story: 10/10
Incredible script, dark and gritty subject matter and insight into the characters really make this a game for all (older) comic fans.
Gameplay: 10/10
Great blend of stealth and fighting. The free flow combat, stealth sneaking, utilization of gadgets and detective mode really add some variety and leave you plenty of options.
Graphics: 9/10
Top notch attention to detail provides an amazing environment and excellent cut scenes.
Sound: 10/10
“Tell me Bats, what are you really scared of? Failing to save this cesspool of a city? Not finding the commissioner in time? Me…. in a thong!?” Jokers dialog pretty much steals the show from the well suited background music and great sound effects.
Replay: 8/10
Short, but open to repeated playing. The Riddler challenges give you something to do once you’ve beat the main story, and the Challenge Maps will help you squeeze out a few extra hours of game play.
Overall: 10/10

I’d definitely recommend purchasing this game if you’re a big Batman fan. If not, a week rental should let you experience most of what the game has to offer. Even if you’re not a big Batman fan, it’s still a fun game that deserves a playthrough. I mean come on, it’s the Goddamn Batman! How could you not want to play it?

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

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

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