Monday, October 3, 2011

Batman Arkham Asylum

Welcome to the madhouse that you'll never want to leave!

Like most popular superheroes Batman has appeared in several video games based on his comics, films, and tv series' with rather mixed results, however one of the caped crusader's most recent video game adaptations has proved exactly what game developers are capable of with the Batman franchise. Released by Rocksteady on August 25th 2009 for the Xbox 360 and PS3, Batman Arkham Asylum is definitely one of the best superhero based games to grace video gaming culture.

Batman has captured the Joker once again and returned him to Arkham Asylum.... a little easier than normal, barely even a few minutes into his return to Arkham he springs free and with the help of Harley Quinn and his henchman takes complete control over the asylum revealing to Batman that returning him to Arkham was merely part of a trap. Batman must now fight his way through Joker's thugs and the other super criminals inhabiting the asylum while trying to uncover the Joker's main intentions. 

The story has several twists and turns that I won't reveal and will keep you on the edge of your seat as Batman encounters other familiar villains from his extensive hall of infamy such as Poison Ivy, Bane, and Scarecrow, and some not so familiar baddies such as Zsasz. The story is definitely one of the game's higher points, which can definitely be attributed to the great writing talent of former Batman the Animated Series writer Paul Dini, who has now not only sucessfully adapted Batman for children without sacrificing the dark nature of the comics and films but has also proved that he can write a much more mature story for a game aimed at teens and above.

Art Direction
Stunning is the word that comes to mind about Arkham Asylum's graphics. The designers paid great attention to detail and poured every ounce of their ability into the design of Arkham Asylum. Keeping in tune with the dark nature of the Batman comics and movies every area of the Asylum is very dark and filled with grisly detail such as corpses of guards and haunting graffiti left by the clown prince of crime himself. Characters' mouth movements synch up almost perfectly with the dialogue giving the game a rather cinematic feel as there is very little difference in graphics between cut-scenes and gameplay. 

With the exception of Batman each of the characters have undergone a fair amount of redesign with some like Joker and Bane looking a little different but still true to their original designs, and others such as Harley Quinn, and Poison Ivy taking a rather radical change in look and costume that you will either love or hate. Personally I don't like Harley's new sexy school-girl/nurse outfit and I'll just let you wait until you see Poison Ivy yourself.

Not quite exactly how we remember Harley huh?
Thats more like it.
Yet another strong point for Batman AA, the sounds you hear in the asylum are very clear and realistic; from the sickening crunch of Batman snapping a foe's ankle, to the chilling screams of the asylum's more animalistic patients. Music is really only present during cut scenes and fights and is somewhat lackluster and does little to enhance the mood unlike the sounds. 

The voice acting is my absolute favorite part of this game, returning from Batman The Animated Series are veteran voice actors Kevin Conroy as Batman, Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn, and the esteemed Mark Hamill as Joker, while the voice acting of every other character in the game is exceptional it is these three who are the stars of the show, you'll be eagerly awaiting Batman's next encounter with Joker in order to hear his exceptionally hilarious yet menacing dialogue.

The great thing about the gameplay is that is constantly evolving and never really gets boring. Most of the time you'll be brawling with hordes of Joker's thugs who while tough and great in number are no match for the Dark Knight especially in hands of a player with good reflexes. In combat you can strike foes one after another effortlessly thanks to the combo system known as Freeflow which allows you to easily move from foe to foe with a tap of the attack button and a flick of the analogue stick, this allows a bit of strategy as you can target specific enemies that pose more of a threat such as armed thugs, you can also disorient enemies with a flip of of your cape and render them vulnerable (which is required for enemies wielding knives) or counter their strikes, through leveling up you'll eventually learn to grab and throw enemies and even learn to perform a series of brutal take-downs; most of which involve Batman effortlessly and satisfyingly snapping one of their limbs.

 Defeating enemies yields XP which is used to buy upgrades for Batman's health, and gadgets as well as to learn new fighting techniques and recover health. as you fight you'll build up combos and obtain higher amounts of XP. As you progress through the game these fights get harder with different types of enemies entering the fray such as knife and stun-rod brandishing foes that must be stunned before pounding, as well as Bane-like abominations called titans. 

However not all conflicts can be resolved with hand-to-hand combat in Arkham Asylum,  several times in the game you'll come across thugs with high calibur guns guarding an area and while Batman is Batman he is still quite mortal and his suit can only absorb so much gunfire, attempting to engage these enemies face to face is a nice way to get lead poisoning, so Batman must sneak around and silence them one by one using his natural stealth and gadgets such as his trademark grappling hook and Batarang. 

While taking down foes stealthily you can also play off their current fear level  which can be raised by messing with them from the dark with actions such as throwing a batarang behind them, or scooping up a foe and suspending him from the ceiling for everyone to gawk in horror at. Raising their fear causes them to be easier to take down as they'll be too busy cowering like a child to notice the Dark Knight behind them about take them down Solid Snake style (well almost since he doesn't kill them). Batman can also use his mask's detective mode to see foes through walls as well as scope out safe areas to use his grappling hook, this detective mode is also used outside of sneaking to locate your next objective by following scents, footprints, etc.

 When not in combat Batman is free to explore the many buildings that make up the asylum and embark on a series of side quests such as solving a series of hidden object challenges set up by the Riddler using the aforementioned detective mode, or unraveling the identity of the mysterious Spirit of Arkham. Brawling, sneaking, and riddle solving make up the bulk of Batman Arkham Asylum but there are other tasks in the main story such as resisting the influence of Scarecrow's fear gas, to venturing into Killer Croc's lair.

 Throughout the game insane patients leap at you, Scarecrow gasses you several times, all along with various other terrifying events all of which will keep you on the edge of your seat. In fact don't be surprised if you get more tha a few scares from this game as there are some genuinely scary moments and though they don't happen too often they are spaced out throughout the story enough to still be alarming especially on the first playthrough. 

Now here comes the big problem, this game is a beat-em-up (to a degree) so the camera has got to be bad right? Fortunately this game does not suffer from the typical beat-em-up camera as it pulls back a fair distance in combat to allow you to see all around you and not take too many off-screen hits. Overall everything about the gameplay is very good and lacks a substatial weak-link; although you might find yourself having some trouble with the stealth portions of the games initially.

Here is where Batman Arkham Asylum misses the mark a bit, replayabilty is awful. Once you have beaten the game you can reload your file and complete all of the side quests but there is a catch.... the asylum is EMPTY! Thats right there are no more enemies to fight, and no way to repeat boss fights; its just you, and Batman. You could always replay the story on hard mode..... if it wasn't only slightly harder than normal and has no differences in content. There is a challenge mode with different brawl and stealth scenarios but aside from location they differ very minimally. Basically this is a beat-it-and-forget-it-for-a-few-months type of game which by the way takes maybe 12 hours if you don't do the optional challenges.

Batman Arkham Asylum is a great game for the time it takes to complete it, combat is addictive, the script, audio and voice acting are excellent, and not to mention the achievements are relatively easy to obtain and who doesn't like a higher gamerscore? But what keeps this game from perfection is the weak replayability and fairly short length. There is a sequel to this game being released this October that from what I've seen shows a lot of promise, I'm very excited but at the same time I expect that the few problems with Arkham Asylum will fixed in the sequel. Nevertheless Arkham Asylum is an amazing game that certainly sets the bar high for future superhero games.

Definitely worth a purchase from Batman watchers, readers, and gamers alike.

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