Batman: Arkham Asylum

Typically, demos are a representation of the final game.  Arkham Asylum does away with that logic.  While the demo was a limited affair, the latest Batman game is the best of the lot.  In fact, it’s not even the top Batman or comic book game, but a possible contender for game of the year.

The plot is written by one of Batman’s finest writers, Paul Dini (worked on the animated series and writes for Detective Comics).  Although Batman has captured the Joker, Arkham Asylum is more of a revolving door than a confinement center for Gotham’s most wanted.  Joker has planned a trap that he springs at the game’s start.  Most of the game concerns following Joker’s trail and dealing with whatever diversions he throws at.  Some of those “diversions” are other villians and they range from low-level threats (Victor Zsaz) to some of Batman’s most famous (Poison Ivy, Bane, among others).

In addition to the main plot, the Riddler has laid out a series of puzzles around the island.  Only one puzzle is required to be solved but working them out treats the player to additional challenge maps, character bios, trophies and other unlockables.  The player also earns experience for doing so (they also gain EXP from fighting enemies), which can be used to purchase additional upgrades.  These upgrades range from additional fighting moves, more gadgets and body armor (health increase).

The game felt overly long (not a bad thing) the first playthough, but the main story takes about 10-15 hours to complete.  Not bad but certainly hoping for more.  The game makes up for this by being incredibly fun to play.  Combat is excellent and easy, only requiring the use of three buttons to pull off a variety of moves.  Good thing too, because Batman will often be outnumbered and needs the skills to take on a dozen or so people at once.  The game mixes stealth with combat in a way Assassin’s Creed should take notes from.

The challenge modes offer some replay value, as does the hard difficulty.  Hard lives up to its namesake, as enemies are tougher.  Counter icons are missing so the player will have to watch enemy melee/weapon attacks closely, which can be trying in a mob of ten people.  I haven’t played on the higher difficulty too much yet so more thoughts on that later, perhaps.

The music is appropriate for a Batman game (sounding very Elfman-ish) but the real money is on the voice acting.  Quite a few regulars from the animated series return (notably Mark Hamill’s Joker and Kevin Conroy’s Batman).  While it is a treat to hear the familiar voices again, the acting is a tad overrated.  The quality isn’t as great as it was in the cartoon, which can be attested to a different set-up.  In the animated series, all the voice actors were in one room and able to interact with each other.  For this game, each individual was in a studio reading lines by themselves and the monotony can be heard at times.  It’s not enough to make the game bad, horrible or even average, but it is noticeable.

While the graphics are rendered in a realistic fashion, they look a little off at times.  Batman’s character model, while impressive, suffers from Chris Redfield syndrome of having his biceps bigger than his head.  The envirionments look great but some rooms do look the same.  The other quip with the graphics is that a good deal of the game is spent in detective mode, which gives everything a colored tint (typically blue but sometimes purple or other colors).  Detective mode doubles as x-ray vision but also denies the player of enjoying the game’s graphical eye candy.

Still, these minor issues don’t cheapen the game’s entertainment.  Batman: Arkham Asylum is still a wonderful game and does the Dark Knight justice.  Batman has had multiple games over the years and while some were good, none were the true home-run hit Arkham Asylum is.  This is the definitive Batman game and easily recommended, although it might be a bit too cerebral for the run and gun crowd.   Still, if a developer is looking to implement a game with stealth/combat, look to Batman for inspiration.  8.9 out of 10.

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