Game Review: Arkham Asylum

Batman: Arkham Asylum
9.2 of 10
Platform: Windows
Developer: Rocksteady
Publisher: Eidos Interactive

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I never really cared when they announced that a new Batman game was being developed, even though I'm a huge bat fan. It's because I try to steer away from popular superhero games as much as possible. Most of these games -developed without an ounce of love or passion- usually rate from mediocre to really bad. I suppose that's the kind of result expected from milking a franchise. But there are exceptions, of course. I did enjoy X-Men Legends 2: Rise of Apocalypse and Marvel Ultimate Alliance. So after giving the demo a go, I made another exception and bought Batman: Arkham Asylum. It turned out to be a pretty sweet game.

The game opens up with a nice cinematic of Batman escorting The Joker back to the Arkham Asylum -after he attacked the City Mayor's office- for incarceration and psych treatment. But as soon as they arrived, The Joker manages to free himself from his guards and took over the entire asylum. With the aid of Harley Quinn and other inmates, The Joker now holds a number of hostages inside the facility, as well as trapping Batman within.

The Dark Knight.

Since the storyline is co-written by Paul Dini (who also produced and wrote the highly praised Batman: The Animated Series), you'll be happy to know that the game is as solid, dark and adult as Batman can get. While it may not be as grand and mature as The Dark Knight or Arkham Asylum (the graphic novel which I thought the game was based on), the game isn't Adam West's Batman either. There are a lot of violence and foul language present in this game. So even with the cape and cowl, the game doesn't feel campy from beginning to end.

Graphics and Sounds
The visuals is another factor that drives the game's dark and mature atmosphere. The developers did a pretty good job with Arkham Asylum's art direction, depicting it well as a part grand and part creepy place. The character designs are also great. Batman's suit is probably one of the highlights as it takes on a more damaged appearance as the game progresses. But my favorite eye candies would have to be the ladies, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, with their criminally sexy attire that shows most of their anatomy.

The newer, sexier version of Harley Quinn.

The audio in this game is also masterfully done. The voice overs, especially, are my favorites since voice actors like Kevin Conroy (Batman) and Mark Hamill (The Joker) from Batman: The Animated Series are here to reprise their roles. The score isn't bad as well, and it even has the epic feel that reminded me of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. The combat sounds are also very crispy and crunchy. So there's no need of a huge "BAM!" or "KAPOW" caption popping on the screen every time Batman's fist connects to his opponents lower jaw.

Speaking of breaking jaws, there are two types of combat in Arkham Asylum. The first one is a straight-forward approach, in which you beat every goon in melee. The second is a stealthy approach, in which you deal with silent takedowns from behind or inverted takedowns from up top. While the melee combat is exciting and adrenaline pumping, I prefer the stealthier approach. It's just satisfying, and very Batman-like, to swoop down from the roofs, give some goon a glide kick, then disappear back to the roofs and watch as the other goons wet their pants in fear.

Throwing Batarangs at Bane and Joker's goons.

Besides his combat prowess, Batman also have an array of cool toys, ranging from grapple gun to explosive sprays, and you get to play with all of them. However, you only get the standard Batarang and grapple gun at the start of the game. Other gadgets will be unlocked as you go further along in the game. These items, along with your Batsuit and combat skills, can also be upgraded using the XP earned from beating down goons. Upgrades vary from incresing your suit's toughness, improving your gadgets, or learning a new attack.

Another part of the gameplay is called The Riddler's Challenge. It's an exploration part of the game that plays out like an easter egg hunt, in which you need to find hidden items using The Riddler's clues given to you. You can choose not to take the challenge since it doesn't affect the main game. But finding these hidden items, which varies from trophies and invisible question marks, is really fun. Plus, it will also earn you some XP and unlocks character biographies, inmate interviews and challenge rooms.

Batclaw, my new shiny toy and I can't stop admiring it.

If the story mode and exploration isn't enough to keep you occupied, you can also get yourself inside one of the challenge rooms to sweat things out. Challenge rooms are closed environments levels that were taken from the story mode. So you're basically just revisiting these levels, and replaying the fight between Joker's goons. However, doing these challenges will earn you a score, a rank on the leaderboard and achievement points on Microsoft's LIVE network. While this isn't my cup of tea, I know a lot of gamers who wants to put their name out there as the top dog will enjoy these challenges for hours.

The Batman franchise have always been at the forefront of re-imagining superheroes, scooping them out from the cradle and putting them in an adult world. The Dark Knight Returns brought mature themes into superhero comic books, Batman: The Animated Series put some seriousness into cartoons and The Dark Knight brought in as much realism into superhero films. Batman: Arkham Asylum is no exception to this since it also made a superhero game much more adult-oriented. It is also a well-made game, from its combat to voice-overs. It's a good thing I tried it out, or else I would've missed out on one of this year's best games.

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gillboard said...

love this game!!!