A game like this has been long awaited by gamers and comic fans alike. I can only hope to see even better titles in the future but right now Batman: Arkham Asylum is the shining gem in what is otherwise mostly a fuming pile of feces. In AA, you really get to be Batman, not just play as him, which is something I personally have felt was lacking from previous comic titles. This guy gets beaten both physically and mentally and it shows in his face, in his behavior and even in his costume. Unlike most games which have you start and end a mission, followed by a cut scene where the hero gets some sort of rest time, AA has you experience a single, horrible night in Batman’s life. Will you have what it takes to deal with The Joker and Harley Quinn, The Riddler, Bane, Killer Croc, Mr. Zsasz, Poison Ivy and the combined insanity of both Blackgate and Arkham Penitentiaries back to back? You really need to pick this game up and find out.
The game loosely follows the classic Arkham Asylum storyline. The Joker had escaped Arkham Asylum some weeks before the start of the game and we open to a speeding Batmobile ferrying the Clown Prince back to his padded cell. Batman remarks to the Commissioner how the Joker really just gave up and he doesn’t like it – seems his detective sense was on point as at that same moment the Joker breaks free and announces that he is in control of Arkham. He proves this by locking down the island with the help of Harley. Batman is going to have to play the Joker’s latest game if he wants to keep the surviving employees, the Commissioner and himself alive long enough to get out of Arkham. It’s a good thing The Dark Knight is always ready for just about anything. Best described by a remark the Joker makes to his goons, “He just ONE MAN – one man dressed like a lunatic and armed to the teeth…GO GET HIM!” With writers from “Batman – The Animated Series” and a top notch story to sample from, this was one aspect of the game that pretty much could not have come up short.
To put it bluntly, the graphics are stunning. The graphics are so nice that while this game was in development, I thought it was going to be crap. I said to people “They are putting a huge focus on graphics; the gameplay is going to be terrible;” I am so proud to report that I was wrong, but I will touch on that later. At the opening menu, you get an up close view of our hero and his costume and you can also access unlockable trophies – all of which show the beautifully rendered cast of characters (you can stop staring at Harley and Ivy now). Traversing the island is seamless and the closest thing to a load screen is waiting for the doors to open. The only actual load screens are when you start the game and when you restart after dying. When you reach high points in the game, you cannot help but look around at the scenery sometimes (and you should be looking for landmarks like Wayne Tower, hint hint). Rocksteady Studios has a bright future ahead of them if this is the worst they can do. Bink Video did their usual bang-up job on the cutscenes with the only gripe people can make being the terrible lip syncing during in-game or cutscene speech. While the game is extremely pretty to look at, there are some ugly points. Getting the snot beaten out of me in the combat challenge rooms I became very familiar with both the start and game over screens for the fights. Having to watch the screen render itself made for some nasty images. Seeing an otherwise amazing back shot of Ivy in Arkham attire is nearly ruined having to watch that rear end de-pixel and anti-alias. Graphical flaws in the game are only momentary, but they are sadly apparent throughout the adventure. I thought it was the fact that I was playing a console version, but I have seen the same issues on the PC (which is without surprise the most beautiful of the versions). We also have to look at the camera in this game which was good for the most part, but far from perfect. During the main game I have to say the camera did not bother me. At times it did have some trouble with personal space for a third person game. The few times the game goes into first person mode the camera is excellent. However, the problems once again pop up when we go to the challenge mode. The predator challenges were fine with the camera, but even when you finish those quickly they play much slower than the combat challenges. During said challenges the camera can be tougher to beat than all of the enemies put together. Having to make angle corrections is neither fun nor easy when a guy with a bat or gun is right of screen and about to clobber you. Let’s not even talk about the times it decides spin around you like the Flash. I am ready for the groans, but I have got to say that it sometimes drove me batty.
MUSIC/SOUND EFFECTS/VOICE ACTING
Either I finished this game too quickly or I waited too long to purchase surround sound; either way I am kicking myself for having to hear this game through only two speakers. The sound effects were spectacular, especially in the combat rooms where you get to hear each and every punch, kick, gunshot and especially every bone breaking. The more vicious and defensive you are, the more you will appreciate the sound effects and the voice work. Speaking of voices, all I have to say are Mark Hamill, Kevin Conroy and Arleen Sorkin, better known as The Joker, Batman and Harley Quinn, respectively. Once again, talents from the incredible Batman cartoon from the 90s lend their voices to their animated roles. The former Jedi Knight sold more than half the copies the moment you heard that trademark laugh. Kevin Conroy is arguably the best Batman ever and he’s never even worn the costume on screen. Same goes for Hamill and the Joker. The original music for the game was composed by Ron Fish, who maybe none of you recognize, but if you enjoyed the score of god of war II, the PSP Chains of Olympus title or you are looking forward to god of war III, then you’ll want to give this man a freakin’ cookie for the work he put into this game. I could not say anything bad about this part of the audio of the game if you paid me.
Right here, right now, give AA the irony award of the year. The game manages to give you an incredible experience, with a good deal of innovation for a Batman game, but with absolutely no originality to speak of. I will say that you cannot call this game a button masher in terms of combat because if you just button mash, you will die often. The combat plays similar to games like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon for the Xbox, where you have to fight, dodge and counter ad nauseam. You sort of have to play a little rock/paper/scissors with your enemies when you have to fight a bunch at once. Maybe I got so much satisfaction out of it because this is how Batman really fights. Even in the recent Dark Knight movie, you see a lot of blocking and countering, but you see this in a ton of other games also. Batman hides in the shadows to silently pick off armed enemies one by one and he uses his detective vision, a very cool feature he’s built into his cowl to see way past his normal field of vision. Both of these have been used in recent Spider-Man games. Even the remote control batarang is reminiscent of shooting arrows and bombs in Heavenly Sword. The thing is that Rocksteady took all of these elements from mediocre games and combined them to make something great. Making inmates freak out in the predator rooms is truly fun as is putting the extreme hurt on the bums in the combat challenge rooms. One recommendation I have for people playing this for the first time is to try the silent predator challenges before playing the story mode. The reason I say this is because the challenges offer very little noticeable spoiler material and the predator challenges teach you very creative takedown methods that you will not learn during story mode. The biggest beef that I have with the game is that the boss battles could have been much more challenging, but I do not think anyone was too mad at the lack of original gameplay in AA. As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
REPLAY VALUE/TROPHY & ACHIEVEMENT HUNTING
Story mode is a solid, single player adventure that you will want to go all the way through in one sitting. You will find yourself playing for hours and saying “I played for that long?” just because the game does not feel stale as you progress. Ten hours should have you wrapping things up and there will be very little reason to play through again unless you chose to not play on hard. For the achievement and trophy whores, set the game to hard on your first play through and there will only be two awards that you can possibly miss. I don’t like posting spoilers so all I will say is that if you do everything that Batman would do, you will not miss anything. Challenge mode is the evil arch nemesis of the trophy hunter. None of the levels are especially difficult to beat, but getting all three of those bat medals on each stage will drive you to drink and mistreat small children. The challenge rooms have leaderboards and the competitive will go try to climb the ranks by tooth and claw. Predator rooms are all about achieving three specific goals while taking out the armed guards faster than the other guy. The combat rooms are about being creative as you mash an inmates’ face in. The larger and more varied your combo, the more points you get and the higher your rank. The current 48 achievements apply only to the content on the actual disc. The pre-order “Dem Bones” Scarecrow map, the currently PS3 exclusive Joker challenge maps and the “Insane Night” and “Prey In The Darkness” free DLC challenge maps are not needed to get 1000pts/Platinum trophy. They are worth your time and definitely add-ons that make the $60 price tag more acceptable. Free content is free content, but it is especially appreciated when it is good content and it adds to the “off the shelf” life of your game. One should not that like the “Play as the Joker” content, the Prey In The Darkness DLC is also currently PS3 exclusive if you live in North America (available for 360 outside of N.A.). Right now the PS3 is the system to own this game on if you have the option.
Unless you absolutely hate Batman in general, you should own this game and even if you do you should still at least be playing this game. There is very little to say about it that is negative. Solid graphics and a solid framerate with gameplay that was properly put together like a Frankenstein monster from other games. It does have the occasional graphical faux pas and the camera can be frustrating at times, but it is nothing that is going to make you stop playing. Considering the lack of originality in games in general, more games should follow this formula.