Review: Batman – Arkham Asylum

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Introduction

Batman:  Arkham Asylum is a thrilling look into the dark corners of the Caped Crusader’s mythos.  This stealth/action title was released in August 2009 by developer Rocksteady Studios and publishers Eidos Interactive, Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment, and DC Comics.  A gorgeous game with a veritable utility belt of tools at its disposal, Arkham Asylum is ready to BAM! and ZOW! its way right into your heart.  A bit much?  Sorry about that.  The story thus far is that the Joker has found his way back to Arkham Asylum after suspiciously minimal fighting.  Batman is wary of a possible trap, yet he has no choice but to bring his archenemy back to the asylum, where his belongs.  Aaaand things begin to go south from there.  Keep reading, and I’ll try my best not to throw in an old-school witty palm-punching interjection a la Robin.  No promises though.

Gameplay

Batman: Arkham Asylum (AA) is an amalgam of stealth and “Freeflow” combat, with a little bit of investigation on the side.  Fairly linear in all regards (except for some of the Riddler’s more frustrating secrets), AA is not a difficult title.  In fact, if the protagonist were to find himself leaping or falling to his doom, the player has a few seconds to tap an indicated button in order to “Escape” via grappling hook, in a most dramatic (and automatic) fashion.  If you fall in combat, well that’s only a matter of picking up at the most recent of the game’s MANY autosave checkpoints.  Defeating enemies and solving riddles bestows upon Batman not only health but also experience to be used at any time on enhancements to gadgets, armor, and Freeflow combat efficiency.  Easy to learn from the get-go, AA has a little bit of everything.

combat

Freeflow Combat

    The touted “Freeflow combat” in AA highlights Batman’s extensive knowledge of the martial arts, as well as his inherent proficiencies in ass-kickery.  Initially, timed corresponding button presses will allow Batman to attack, stun, counter, and takedown enemies that will frequently swarm him.  The Dark Knight’s combo meter will climb, creating opportunities to use advanced techniques such as throws.  Combat is fluid to the point that Batman at times seems to fly through the air in order to deliver a devastating kick…it’s stunning, really (nyuk nyuk).  When the range gets a bit too far for even Batman’s limbs, a quick tap of the appropriate button will fling a Batarang or deploy the Bat-Claw in order to keep the combo going.  Lower difficulties will display when an opponent is about to strike, making it relatively easy for beginners to set up simple or extensive combos by stringing together strikes and counters.  As the storyline progresses, certain enemies vulnerable to specific attacks (stun then strike, dodge then attack from behind, etc.) will call upon a player’s newly-learned combat techniques in order to avoid taking damage.

Stealth

    No matter how much the player might try to will it so, Batman just won’t pick up all those dropped guns!  I suppose it’s dishonorable, even though these villains are clearly trying to kill him, but the Caped Crusader prefers to render his enemies unconscious.  Never fear, for he is the night, and as such subtlety is his closest companion (sorry Robin).  Silent takedowns are a button press away when sneaking behind unsuspecting foes, but that’s just the beginning.  Early on you can unlock (through experience points) an Inverted Takedown, which is a hilarious tactic that involves Batman dropping from an overhead gargoyle and stringing up a nemesis that passes directly beneath him.  Often other henchman will run to see what just happened by way of curiosity (thugs eventually wear collars that will emit a pulsing sound when the villain is incapacitated) or at the urging of the Joker’s intercom announcements.  From perches, Gliding Takedowns are also queued onscreen when the opportunity presents itself.  Following up with a strike after leaping upon the unsuspecting henchman will take him out of the fight.    Explosives can be strategically deployed and subsequently detonated to take out criminals.  And that’s not to mention the modified Batarangs or Bat-Claw…

detective

Detective Mode

    Batman’s cowl has built-in x-ray to detect the location of armed and unarmed hostiles and civilians, as well as interactive objects.  At times the player will be restricted to what could be compared to a CSI segment, where a certain object or substance must be discovered for tracking purposes.  When shadowing an individual after this item is found, the cowl automatically switches to scanning mode to track the fingerprints, DNA, or what have you when necessary.  Detective Mode does all this, and more!  In order to find many of the Riddler’s hidden statues or points-of-interest, Detective Mode must be active.  And if the Riddler wants it but it’s not a statue, it’s got to be scanned.  The cowl will do this in the same manner as discovering the desired target from the “crime scene” mentioned earlier; holding a predetermined button for a second or two is all that is required to scan.  If the target is out of focus or not properly aligned, there will be an appropriate on-screen warning for that.  It’s just that easy!

Gadgets

    Batman has a plethora of nifty toys, and many of them find their way into AA.  The Grappling Hook/Bat-Claw, Batarang, Explosive Sprayer/Detonator, and Frequency Scanner all find their way into your utility belt, and they get Batpimped along the way.  Accrued experience will unlock new toys and modification of old ones, allowing access to previously inaccessible areas of the map.  No worries about passing up what is clearly a Riddler trophy, as the game is free-roaming…even after you’ve beaten it, the final checkpoint is just before the very end.  This means that at any time you can run around the asylum complex, even if you only want a midnight glide from the clock tower…which I recommend trying, by the way.

Presentation

The audio of AA honestly falls to the wayside.  I say this as a compliment.  Many games feature mismatched music or trumpeting themes that draw your attention from the game, but not this one.  The audio settles quite snug in the background of all the action, adjusting as necessary to what is going on in the game.  It lends just enough shadow to this already dark game without smothering it.  Running on Unreal Engine 3, AA is a marvelous bit of eye candy.  The characters are well-rendered, the skyline is stunning, and viewing the complex from above is breathtaking.  Seriously, try the gliding.

Extras

Riddles

Batman’s cowl has a built-in receiver that he uses to correspond with Oracle, his eyes and ears on the outside.  At times the Riddler will take over, provoking the Caped Crusader and challenging him to demonstrate his mettle by finding the riddles hidden in the world of AA.  Finding these riddles is DEFINITELY worth it, as they award XP and health, while often unlocking character profiles, statues, and patient interview tapes.

Challenge Mode

Challenge Mode has Predator (stealth) and Combat (POW!) maps, which require the player’s savvy to gain top score.  Surviving isn’t the only theme here, as each map has its own specific requirements for bonus points.  While some objectives are as simple as throwing a Batarang to cut down a victim of an Inverted Takedown so that he falls onto another henchman, these goals naturally vary in difficulty.  Prodigal performance on these maps will get your name on the list of online rankings, placing you amongst the best of the best.

Pros and Cons

Pros

Detective Mode is good.  TOO good.  I can almost guarantee that you will be seeing blue from playing the majority of AA in Detective Mode.   While this certain perspective is quite handy indeed, it lulls the player away from truly appreciating the gorgeous graphics found in the game.

Finding riddles can be quite frustrating.  Although the Riddler was so kind to have hidden guides that will reveal undiscovered riddles on the map as dancing green question marks, it can still be tedious in chasing down all of them in order to finish the game with 100% and maximize your Achievements.  Also annoying is that some of the riddles involve finding the top of a question mark somewhere in an area, then finding the dot that goes beneath it, and coordinating your view so the question mark is properly aligned before scanning it for the Riddler.  The man is sick, I tell ya.  Sick.

You will want more than the casual cameos of the other villains.  You will run into the Joker, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Bane, the Scarecrow, and others, but the Riddler’s quests will guide you to mere cameos of other characters in the world of Batman.  While this provides a clever little shout-out to many of the more unsung characters, avid fans will hope in vain to have just a little more than that.  At least Harley has a pretty big role in the game!

Autosaves can be a blessing and a curse.  The player does not have true freedom over when to save; rather, this is accomplished by entering/exiting areas of the map, accomplishing key goals in the storyline, and solving riddles.  This can be used to your advantage if you keep this in mind, but many players will argue about having to suddenly abandon a game then pick back up at a previously saved checkpoint.

Cons

Written by Paul Dini, seasoned Batman writer, to grant a straight-from-the-source appeal that is not often found in video games, AA is a winning title while boasting continuity within the character universe.  The fact that continuity is maintained (at least to a degree) while maintaining enjoyable gameplay makes this a phenomenal enterprise on the part of DC Comics et al.

AA features the talents of many of the voice actors from the Batman animated series.  Kevin Conroy (Batman), Mark Hamill (The Joker), and Arleen Sorkin (Harley Quinn) have notable contributions to the game, and the Joker’s voiceovers are hilarious.  Though his announcements often send his henchmen scattering about the area to look for you, it’s amusing to hear the Clown Prince of Gotham hassling his hired help because you’ve downed one and they haven’t even noticed.  The patient interviews are really cool too.

The Scarecrow’s induced segments can be pretty freaky, and ingenious to boot.  There are a couple of instances in particular that will make you do a double-take.  You’ll know them when you see them.  Very sneaky, Dr. Crane.

joker

Conclusion

    A nifty little bit of trivia is that Batman:  Arkham Asylum dethroned Marvel vs. Capcom 2’s Guinness World Record for “Most Critically Acclaimed Superhero Game Ever,” beating out the old average of 90.0 with a score of 91.67 from worldwide reviews.  It’s hard to argue with that.  There is stealth, trophy hunting, and a fluid combat system that vaguely resembles God of War at times…only better.  There is a bit of continuity with the Batman mythos lent by Paul Dini mingled with fan favorite voice acting from the animated series.  There is an array of techniques employed by Batman and a surprising ease in the ability to execute them.  There is a gorgeous, yet haunting world ready to be explored at the player’s whim both during and after following the story arc.  Batman: Arkham Asylum is a title that succeeds in so many areas, and it can satisfy anyone from the Batman cognoscente to the casual action/adventure gamer.  Once you visit Arkham Asylum, you’ll never want to leave.

Score: 9.5

– Iggypu

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