Posted by Tim on September 20, 2009

Batman: Arkham Asylum Review: Batman at his Best

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Batman: Arkham Asylum

Developer: Rocksteady Studios

Copy Reviewed: PS3 Version

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It’s a question comic fans have been arguing for years: who is the best super hero? It could be The Incredible Hulk, as he is practically indestructible. Superman is a viable option; you can’t go wrong with “the man of steel.” And there’s always Spiderman, who perhaps has the most unique powers with his web-shooting hands. While the argument of best comic super hero may never be settled, the argument of best comic video game just has. Batman: Arkham Asylum offers the best gaming experience a comic themed game has ever offered. Not only does it win best game in its own genre, it is a serious contender for game of the year. If you don’t believe me, then just play the game for awhile. It only takes a few minutes of play to appreciate how much fun this game is. The graphics, atmosphere, animations, and game play are all top notch and combine to give the best single player experience in a game this year so far.

You play as the impossibly enigmatic Batman, with a 3rd person over-the-shoulder view as you run around in the game. At first I didn’t really like the point of view, as the camera angles can be frustrating to move around. It also gives the game a slight claustrophobic feel. While this view point is a negative for just walking or running around, it has its major advantages, which I will get to later.

Batman has all his iconic accessories, including his batarang, grappling hook, wings that allow Batman to glide, and an array of other sweet Wayne Tech devices (including ‘detective mode’ which enables you to see through walls and examine the environment) to help you navigate the game’s puzzling landscape. This element in the game is classic Batman, as you will rely on using the high tech to fight back against The Joker. While the gadgets are a nice and necessary touch to the game, the story is where the game’s major strengths start to become evident.

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The game follows a story crafted from the entire 70-year franchise rather than one particular aspect, or the recent Dark Knight movie. There are Easter eggs, and side stories that will make the hard-core Batman junkie smile. The story puts Batman in Arkham Asylum, a maximum security prison for Gotham’s craziest sociopaths. While it appears that everything is under control, it was actually Joker’s plan to get arrested and seize command of Arkham. Batman must navigate his way through the island, while facing some of the series’ most iconic villains, to get to Joker and stop his mysterious plan.

The originality of the story is very refreshing. Unlike games based on a movie or book, you really have no idea what will happen next, which greatly augments the cinematic elements of the game. On top of all that, it feels like classic Batman, with the witty villains, esoteric Batman, and dark-themed undertones. The character voice-overs are unbelievable, and the audio syncs up almost perfectly with the mouth motions. The level of production detail in this game rivals Hollywood movies, and for those familiar with the cartoon series, the voices will sound very familiar.

However, while the voiceovers are spot-on, and the story is very original and suspenseful, some of the dialog drags the game down. While I’m not expecting Batman to be the most eloquent and insightful individual, it really gets old hearing Bruce Wayne’s alter ego say “You won’t get away with this,” or “I will find you,” over and over again. This is a minor detail at best, and one that definitely doesn’t take anything away from the game play, but it is a slight annoyance; nothing that isn’t easily made up for by all the other elements of the game.

While the story is certainly great, the core of a game is the game play, and Batman: AA delivers on that aspect as well. Fighting utilizes a “Freeflow” fighting style, where users combine three main buttons with a handful of special moves to unleash devastating combos on your foes. It is a simple yet effective system, as you simply aim the joystick in the direction of the guy you want to attack, and press an attack button. Throw in a special move that you unlock as you pile up the combo and it really makes a nice, clean, and insanely fun system of fighting.

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What also makes this system work unexceptionally well is how it is based on timing rather than memorizing button combos or mashing them as fast as you can. Freeflow fighting emphasizes timing and combining your attacks across all the enemies on the screen, and rewards you for making your combo as big as possible. It makes you slow down and pace your attacks, while simultaneously planning out your next attack. It makes the fighting more like a game of chess, or a boxing match. Something even Bobby Fisher would find strategically stimulating.

And while you patiently and ingeniously construct your attacks against a horde of a dozen enemies, the animations that occur while you beat them into a pulp are other-worldly. The game delivers jaw-dropping movements. Half the fun of fighting is watching as Batman flips and jumps across the screen to deliver punches and kicks to enemies in dramatic fashion. Big attacks are shown in slow motion, and usually involve a sweet aerial move, such as a round-house kick to the face that would make Chuck Norris jealous. Special moves show off Batman’s martial arts expertise, and add a nice touch to a long-strung out combo. The more attacks you combine, the more points you ear, and these points can be applied to purchasing upgrades for the Dark Knight.

Remember when I said the camera angle would have its advantages later? This is what I was referring to. The 3rd-person style gives you perfect angles to construct monster combo attacks. You can see all your enemy’s actions and positions as you time your attacks, making it perfect to pull off counters and aim attacks towards your next victim.

But we all know that Batman isn’t typically a run-and-gun type of hero. He takes the more passive-aggressive approach of sneaking up on his victims, yet leaving no trace that he was even there. Possibly the single best element in the game is this stealth aspect. This is where the detective mode and other gadgets become very advantageous. The x-ray vision allows you to plan your furtive movements ahead of time. Use the grappling hook to get to higher ground, which also allows you to pull of special moves such as the ‘glide kick’, or the ‘inverted takedown.’ You can even use the batarang to distract enemies while you attack them from behind.

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On top of giving you a strategical advantage, the detective mode also allows you to monitor your enemy’s heart beat and state-of-mind, as well as point out near by secrets. After one successive stealth take-down, your enemies become alerted to your presence. Their heart rates shoot up, they go into patrol mode, and they are audibly scared of the big bad bat. It’s the small details like this that give this game an atmosphere practically unrivaled in games today.

And what about the graphics? Do they measure up to the standards of the rest of the game? The answer is yes, absolutely yes. The game is built off the Unreal Engine 3, and the developers used it well. I already talked about how silky smooth the animations are, and you can add to that greatly detailed textures, realistic lighting, and a physics that puts the game amongst the graphically best of this generation. One of the coolest looking objects in the game is, you guessed it, Batman’s cape, and it looks best when gliding. Not only is this game pleasing to the soul of a gamer, its pleasing to the eye as well.

One thing I was worried about the game before I played it is how long it will keep me entertained. It’s a single player only game, with what I thought would have all its chips in that basket. However, I was, fortunately, mistaken. The game has a really good amount of replay value, much thanks to the challenge rooms.

Other than just playing through the game’s story, you have the option of completing several challenge rooms that are based on specific missions in the game. These rooms focus on completing the task by either stringing together huge combos in freeflow combat, or you have to complete the challenge by being as stealthy as a bat. Not only are all the challenges fun, but they are scored and the scores are posted online. This means that for all those who want to prove they are the best bat on the planet, they will be playing these challenge rooms over and over again.

There is plenty to come back for in the single player story as well. Not only is Batman fighting The Joker for control of Arkham, The Riddler has hidden trophies and secret riddles to solve throughout the island. This not only will boost your play time, but it adds a treasure hunt dimension to the game. On top of Riddler’s challenges, there are Joker teeth all over that you can destroy, as well as auditory tapes and chronicles to collect which will complete the story of many of the Batman series’ most famous characters.

The only negative about the extras is with Riddler’s challenges. If you enter an area where a challenge is located in, a clue in the form of a riddle appears on your screen. The clues are designed to help you find the specific item The Riddler is referring to. Unfortunately the clues are pretty obvious, not something I would expect from one of the smartest of Batman’s enemies. There is a handful of challenges that actually make you think, but most of them are extremely obvious and very easy to find.

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Overall, this game offers a ton of variety between the campaign, side quests, and challenge rooms, as well as delivering fresh and fundamentally sound game play with the Freeflow fighting system. Between hunting for hidden trophies, sneaking up on enemies, and dark themes, Batman: Arkham Asylum has elements that reminded me of games like Bioshock, Metal Gear Solid 4, and Uncharted. If that sounds like that would be one sweet game, that’s because it is. This game offers the most fun I’ve had in a single player game for this year. Even if you’re not a Dark Knight fan, this game is a must buy for 2009, and one that has not only set the bar for comic themed games, but one that is a solid game of the year contender.

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3 Responses to “Batman: Arkham Asylum Review: Batman at his Best”

  1. DaMexiRican says:

    Absolutely agree this is a GREAT game!!!

  2. Horhay says:

    One of the best games I’ve played this year without a doubt!! I couldn’t agree more with this review.

  3. John says:

    Hold on a second,

    I’ma let you finish but RED FACTION WAS ONE OF THE BEST GAMES OF ALL TIME!!!!

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