This is something new I’m trying on my blog, where I review a game or movie that has been out for a while. I’m going to start with Batman: Arkham Asylum, which I just purchased off PSN last week (on sale!).
Batman: Arkham Asylum is the first game in Rocksteady’s trilogy featuring the Dark Knight. The game starts with Batman taking the Joker prisoner, and the two arrive at Arkham Asylum, a prison currently holding many of the Joker’s goons. He soon flips the tables and takes over the joint with the help of Harley Quinn, and kidnaps Commissioner Gordon. Batman must spring into action to save the day and stop the Joker’s plans.
A lot of the strength in Arkham Asylum’s storytelling comes from its cast of characters. Obviously, the Dark Knight is the star here, voiced with brilliance by Kevin Conroy. He’s calm under pressure, and can handle whatever trick Joker throws at him. The Joker, played by Mark Hamill, is also excellent. Insane and loony, the Joker works with many other classic Batman villains in his attempt to take over the island. You’ll meet Bane, Killer Croc, The Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, and many more.
The good thing about all of these villains is that it keeps the story from ever getting too stale. Around the corner, there’s a new villain to be found, and Batman must stop whatever they are cooking up. It keeps you on your toes and keeps you hooked. The one criticism I have about the game being structured this way is in its mission layout. Arkham Asylum is semi open-world, meaning that you can explore the island freely, but some areas are restricted until you finish a mission. The missions mainly come down to: enter a building, track a scent/fingerprint, take down the boss. It gets repetitive after a while, which is a shame. The bosses, too, are unremarkable. Simple pattern solving gets monotonous and dull, and some drag on far too long.
Arkham Asylum is played third-person, as you control Batman and maneuver him around the island. You have a lot of gadgets at your disposal to aid you in exploration and puzzle solving. The batclaw lets you grab onto things and pull them down, explosive gel lets you blow up weak walls, and the line launcher allows Batman to cross horizontal gaps. These gadgets are fun to use and are utilized in clever ways.
Using what is called “detective vision”, the Dark Knight can see through walls, track enemy movements, and find hidden secrets. You can see how many foes are in the next room, or even see how the guard is feeling at the time. It makes getting around and planning your moves a lot easier. On the exploration side, the Riddler has hidden hundreds of riddles and challenges around the island. These range from small question-mark trophies to solving riddles within the many buildings around Arkham Asylum. These allow for some excellent replay value, considering that sometimes you might not have the right gadget, and must come back later.
Besides problem solving and exploring the island, you’ll be punching a lot of the Joker’s goons and villains. Combat boils down to an easy system; one button attacks, the other counters. This allows you to string together long combos and dish out some powerful attacks. Whenever you see a flash above an enemy’s head, you can quickly counter it before getting hurt. A lot of new techniques are thrown into the mix here and there, and soon you must also stun guys first or jump over and attack from the rear. Continuously throwing in new enemies forces you to reconsider strategies and change tactics often.
Batman isn’t always about attack head-on, though, and sometimes you’ll be thrown into a room with seven guys armed with machine guns, in which attacking head-on would lead to death. Luckily, you’ve got a lot of stealth mechanics to work with to make the job easier. First, Batman can swing across gargoyles suspended above the room, to give him the height advantage on his enemies. From here you can survey the room and plan your attack, taking down guys one by one. You can hang from the ceiling and string up the bad guys, or glide down below and silently eliminate them. The freedom of choice you’re given during these confrontations is a nice bonus and allows for some cool planning in how to best get the job done.
Once you’ve finished the main quest, there is a challenge mode to tackle. Here, you play through combat and predator maps, where you’re literally tossed into a room with a bunch of guys and must take them down. You get rewards for stringing together combos and utilizing your gadgets during combat. Predator maps are stealth-based, where you must eliminate all the guards while fulfilling certain goals. These are a lot of fun, and offer great incentive, as the top scores are displayed on online leaderboards.
Arkham Asylum looks pretty good graphically. The island setting of the game lends for some dark visuals, where you might not be able to see anything, but the environment as a whole looks great. Characters, however, not so much. Audio doesn’t sync well with what they are saying, and besides from Batman and the villains, the secondary cast looks awful. The soundtrack is great, offering loud environmental sounds and tense action tunes. The soundtrack reminds me of Nolan’s films, which is a great touch.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is a great action-adventure game. The plot keeps you interested and the combat and puzzles are fun and engaging. Besides some inconsistent missions and dated visuals, Rocksteady has set the stage for what already is an excellent franchise, and I’m excited to see what they cook up for Arkham Origins.