There seemed to be a Batman void that needed to be filled in the video game market ever since the runaway success (critically and commercially) of The Dark Knight and the lack thereof a video game to compliment it.  But with the movie being held in such high regard, who dare make a video game after Christopher Nolan’s cinematic tour de force?  Pandemic tried their hand to make the game capable of reaching the brand’s new heightened level of expectations but ended up canning the project due to the loss of potential revenue for not having a release date aligned with the movie.  Now, Rocksteady Studios tries their hand at the Batman lore, this time with no movie, animated series, or pre-conceived storyline setting the guidelines; but only the idea of a determined character, his eccentric foes, and the dark environment that surrounds him.  For all intents and purposes, before the E3 hype, the PS3 exclusive DLC hype, and flurry of promotional trailers leading up to the release, this was just going to yet another Batman game that might’ve been good that had the possibility of being lost in the shuffle in yet another busy holiday release window filled with sequels and prequels…but those who thought that were so very wrong…

The Pros

There’s something about the character of Batman that allures people into his story and world.  The exterior facade might reflect just a man dressed up like a bat fighting characters that might not have any legitimacy outside the pages of a comic book.    But it’s always been about the man behind the mask and the ability of a mortal human to fight against extra-ordinary circumstances through his wide array of skills and tool set.  This is what Arkham Asylum does best, it throws you into the world of Batman and never really lets go.  Each gameplay element reflects a facet of the Batman which has been reinforced over and over with every portrayal of the character.  Firstly, the combat mechanics are stylish and easy to pick up and when you encounter a group of enemies to brawl with, you’re able pull off a string of attacks while continuously switching between enemies and utilizing the parry command to anticipate and counter oncoming attacks.    There also comes instances where confrontation is not the best approach and the game allows you to implement another of Batman’s trademarks with stealth.  Every instance where stealth is needed, it’s formed and treated as a specific challenge where you enter a room of armed enemies who will likely outnumber and kill you if you don’t take down most of them with stealth and sneak attacks.  You’ll be able to use elevated mounts like gargoyle statues to survey the situation and effectively position yourself for every takedown.  These stealth takedowns are especially gratifying given that as you take each of them down one by one, the remaining react as they are left to tremble and contemplate their fate.   As for the detective aspect of the Bat, you’re able to implement “detective mode” which alters your vision serving as a guide on what to do next.  This mode plays an integral part of the game highlighting entry points accessible by utilizing your growing number of gadgets in the game, or leading the way in an objective to locate a specific person or thing.

batman  brawl
As you encounter the many arch enemies of Batman, each of their battles are unique to the character whether it be dealing with the illusions created by the Scarecrow or the brute strength of the man that once broke Batman’s back (in which they make reference to) in Bane.  To compliment this focus on each character is the superb voice acting throughout headlined by Mark Hamil as the Joker.   The man who played Luke Skywalker and the Joker in the animated series effectively portrays the calculated madness and brutality of the Joker as he takes over Arkham Asylum right from the get-go.  The Joker is the most constant villain in the game which adds yet another chapter to the storied Joker/Batman feud.  Throughout the game you’re treated to Hamill’s voice work whether it is taunting Batman arriving too late or overhearing him threatening to break the legs of the wife of one his cronies if he doesn’t do what’s asked.

batman joker

The setting of a gritty Arkham Asylum itself sets the tone for the whole game while establishing a dark mood that inexplicably falls in line within Batman universe.  Within the detailed environment and Victorian architecture of the Asylum lies side objectives from collecting  interview tapes of various villains expanding their back-story, to the 240 riddles of the Riddler (that unlocks new challenge rooms and XP for upgrades) all contributing to a fuller experience and multiple play-throughs.

The Cons

The few gripes I have with this game comes firstly that with the presence of an acceptable and legitimate setting for you to encounter all of Batman’s greatest enemies in one story, you are left a little disappointed when you see villains that you never will eventually fight especially within a game of this quality.  In addition, although the voice acting is terrific on all levels, there are cheesy instances in the writing from Batman’s cocky one liners that just don’t come across effectively to a silly explanation as to why there is a Batcave in the Asylum.

Here’s The Deal

batman arkham
Batman: Arkham Asylum is third person adventure with a lot of depth to the story and gameplay that not only satisfies comic book fans that already know the characters, but also provides enough back story (via collectibles) within the game to generate the same amount of satisfaction from new comers who make the effort.  The gameplay is varied and accurately depicts almost all the abilities of  Batman while confrontations with the many villains portrays the specific challenges they usually propose to Batman.    Batman: Arkham Asylum is not just a great comic book game, but probably one of the best games so far this year.  9.7/10

~ by consolecreatures on September 11, 2009.

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