|Batman: Arkham Asylum|
|Platforms||Xbox 360, PS3, Windows|
|Genre||Stealthy beat 'em up|
|Buy from Amazon|
A year ago I played the first hour of Batman: Arkham Asylum. The conclusion was that I would keep playing “for a while,” and much of that decision rested on what percentage of the game would the stealth gameplay take up. I had to give the game back to who I was borrowing it from, however, and Arkham Asylum started burning a hole in my brain. I began to really want to play it again, but the opportunity never came up the rest of the year. When Christmas rolled around I said I wanted one game, and one game only: Batman.
I received the game but forced myself to beat Fable II before I moved on to something bigger and better (if I play more than one game at a time I’m bound to never play one of them again). The moment after I saved Albion again I switched over to Arkham Asylum and went to town.
Released in mid-2009, Arkham Asylum seemed to spring out of nowhere from absolute nobody Rocksteady Studios. Why and how these guys received the criminally under performing Batman license and then went out and made one of the best games of the year is a bit mind boggling, but a story for another day.
Here’s my full review of Batman: Arkham Asylum.
Before I get into the details of what I loved about this game, I’d like to make it clear that while I played the first hour on regular old Batman: Arkham Asylum, I played the full game using the Game of the Year Edition. The GOTY version has some bonus maps to beat guys up on and also comes with a pair of old-school 3D glasses. I played the maps for just a few minutes after beating the game and never bothered with the game in 3D. Somewhat surprisingly is that the game would not read my original Arkham Asylum save, not like I was going to use it anyway, but this is, in the mind of my Xbox 360 at least, a totally different game.
As I was nearing the end of the game, I started to think about what I didn’t like about my time in Arkham Asylum. I’ve usually got a long running list in my head by this time in any title, but I could not think of a single aspect of the game that I really didn’t like. I actually made it a point not to read any other establishment’s review as I didn’t want anyone to plant something in my mind, this is one of those rare games that I just had a blast playing from start to finish.
What I didn’t like: Here’s a very short list of some minor things that bugged me, just to get them out of the way
Shimmying. I hate shimmying along ledges. It seems like every third person adventure game feels the need to have you shimmy around, grinding the pace of the game to a full-stop. Whenever I encounter shimmying in a first hour I make a point to call it out, but Batman surprised me: throughout the game, you hardly ever need to shimmy, and when you do, he moves quickly. I feel bad even bringing this up, but 10 years from now I’m going to ask myself what I didn’t like about Arkham Asylum and I need to write something down.
Secondly, this game is drop dead gritty gorgeous, but the game also forces you to spend a lot of time in the night-vision like detective mode. While this still has its great visual perks like skeletal systems of people and tons of heads-up information, Arkham Asylum’s carefully crafted set of details are glossed over in a white sheen. In Arkham City, I’d like to see this heads-up information integrated into the regular viewing mode.
I also became a little annoyed with the combat about halfway through, it started to feel repetitive, but I’ve chalked that up to the decision to level up other things like my health and batarang instead of learning new combat skills early on. Once I began nailing higher combos and pulling off some of the unlockable moves, I started hunting for large groups of enemies.
Finally, the cutscenes don’t look nearly as good as the real time graphics, and the switch to them can be noticeably jarring with their pixelation and blockiness.
What I loved: Everything below.
From Batman’s first fight, Arkham oozes style. The combat is incredibly free-flowing and it actually feels like you’re in control of a superhero (who still has human limitations). The developers continually introduce one-offs of existing enemies that disrupt your rhythm and force you to fight just a bit different. Punching guys is simple, but then you counter them, flip over their heads, and disarm them. It’s really not complex at all but timing is everything. Moving from Fable II with its melee spamming combat to Arkham Asylum’s superbly polished fights was just mind boggling.
There’s also a decent amount of stealth action, which stuck out at me like a sore thumb during my first hour with the game. My fear was that it would dominate the game but in reality, the stealth sequences were nicely spread out and quite a bit of fun. Perching from a gargoyle waiting for that one Blackwater inmate to wander off alone was rather thrilling. Plus, you’re playing as The Batman!
Batman also uses a great array of gadgets to get around that are doled out in a way to make this feel like a proper Metroid game. Areas open up with new devices but it’s never obnoxiously obvious that you won’t be able to travel across that particular pit without the right tool, and so on.
Fun Factor: 10
It’s almost too obvious that great gameplay leads to a fun game, but there’s also a ton more that feeds into that in Arkham Asylum. The characters are a joy to watch, especially the cutscenes with Harley Quinn and the Joker. There’s just a great thrill in everything this game has to offer accompanied by a well balanced difficulty that was both satisfying and never ulcer-inducing. And to top it all off, Batman takes on a great final boss.
There’s something to be said about the Unreal Engine 3 when a year and a half old game still stuns me in its gritty beauty. But I’d also like to give the artists at Rocksteady the bulk of the credit because they designed and crafted a set of characters and environments that look like they’d be perfectly at home in a comic book, movie, or video game. “Details, details, details” must have been their mantra because every character was perfectly translated into the Arkham Asylum universe. The first hour of the game rang particularly memorable with me just for the sheer amount of fun it was to zoom in on the Joker’s body in the opening scene as he was being dragged down the hall. Multiply this across the entire game and you have many sights to behold.
The stages are also well designed and I was reminded frequently of BioShock. While Arkham Asylum doesn’t have the multitude of layers Rapture seems to feature, Batman still feels like a living, breathing world. And then to top that you can enter detective mode to view the asylum from a whole different spectrum, I’m still shocked how well it was pulled off. The outdoor areas are huge and there is absolutely no problems with the draw distance or framerate issues.
I also can’t go much longer without praising the voice actors. Most of them were grabbed right out of Batman: The Animated Series, including Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as Joker. These guys seemingly know their characters better than anyone else alive and their history with them shows. But the entire cast is excellent, some of my favorites are the never-seen Oracle and of course, Arleen Sorkin Harley Quinn (who has pretty much always played the crazy former psych).
It felt at first that the game was going to go through Batman’s entire rogue gallery in rapid succession, but in reality, Rocksteady covered about seven bad guys and gave them the focus and attention that they deserved. The plot also effectively bounces between them, not lingering on any one rogue for too long for fear of outstaying their welcome.
Joker’s grand scheme is somewhat questionable on how he pulled it all together so well, but much like The Dark Knight’s hospital/ferry/money pile sequence, it’s most effective to just keep taking it in and not question how he must have been in a hundred places at once.
Arkham Asylum was truly made by some devoted fans of the Batman comics canon, it’s chock full of fan service and even a non-comics fan like me could appreciate what it all had to offer.
Since I can’t find anything blatantly wrong with Batman: Arkham Asylum, I have no reason not to give this game anything but a 10. Everything from the varied gameplay to the Joker-starring story is stellar. Go and play this game so you’re ready for Arkham City later this year.