New, Used, Abused: Batman-Arkham Asylum

Batman has been around forever now, firstly in his comic book form where he was frequented by blatant propoganda and “POW”, “SPLAT”, and various other onomatopoeia, to the current day, where he somehow starred in a couple of really good movies (Or the first anyway, second one was pretty much Heath Ledger).

Now, games that are based around recent movie franchises or based around the movies themselves are usually not that terrific. You get some absolute golden stuff like Butcher Bay or Spiderman 2, but mostly they just fail because they often try to coincide with the movie too much rather than actually developing good gameplay or a story that isn’t just the movie retold.

Arkham Asylum is defying the odds, in that it’s actually a good game. Not just a decent game, but a well thought out story with fun gameplay elements, all rather consistent with the typical image of Batman, sort of a cross between classic saturday morning batman, and new movie “I eat gravel instead of cereal” Batman.

The game starts off with Batman driving the Joker back to Arkham Asylum (Basically where the Batman villains get locked up before they break out again, usually more than once, which is pretty impressive because it’s a sodding island with one bridge). You have a slightly slow entrance that establishes several characters, as well as some important plot lines that become more important later.

The story is mainly driven by actions from the Joker, Harley Quinn, and company, but occasionally they try to throw you off the scent, where your detective vision mode comes in handy. Detective vision is technology that lets batman see various elements invisible to the naked eye, such as tobacco traces, fingerprints, and other things in order to track people to their hiding spots. It also lets you see enemies through walls, shows if they have a gun, and can tell you if they’re scared, calm, unconscious, dead. It’s practically a straight upgrade to human eyes, the only problem is that it kind of gets boring not being able to see the impressive environments around you.

The gameplay in Batman is very solid in both its main aspects of fighting and stealth. While it’s normally difficult to pull of a seemless transition between the two, somehow they pull it off rather well. This is aided by the various gadgets batman unlocks through the game, which increase mobility, combat efficiency, and some are just plain fun, like the proxy explosive gel you can put near bodies and will explode automatically when an enemy gets too close.

The hand to hand fighting is really exceptional. In my (slightly limited) experience of fighting games, most of the time you can basically keep attacking the enemies until they fall over. While this is fun for a little while, it does get boring quickly because all the fights in the game feel the same.
Batman shines because it’s always making you adapt how you fight with different enemies, different unlockable weapons and techniques, and has this flowing combat system, which means you get more experience from chain combos, which are pulled off by consistently being in combat with no more than 2 seconds between actions, avoiding all enemy attacks. It also pulls the difficulty curve up at a well crafted pace, meaning you never get too bored or hit a brick wall because you can’t seem to hurt the bastards.
As a personal testament to the quality of the hand to hand fighting, I spent a lot of time after the game was finished in Challenge mode, trying to get better scores on the fighting challenges because it’s just so much fun.

The stealth combat is less impressive, though still rather solid. You basically sneak around a large room with a bunch of enemies walking around with firearms, and have to take them all down, using the gargoyles on the ceiling as escape tools.
Where this shines is the environmental interaction you can pull off, e.g. you can blow up walls to knock out henchmen with the rubble, string them up on gargoyles, pull enemies over railings off ledges, all the while picking off enemies that are distracted by your Bat-toys you can unlock through the game.
The main problem is though the enemies aren’t particularly good at seeing you, even when you’re hanging directly over henchmen, directly breathing down their neck, they don’t seem to notice. It does make it easier, but there could be another way of making the stealth sections doable without the henchmen having a collective IQ of 4.

Because Batman is pretty consistent in his character it takes his enemies to really define him and the story, and Mark Hamill does a terrific Job of portraying the Joker as a Wacky, Insane Genius who is constantly in communication with the entire island, changing between playing with batman and playing with his own henchmen.
This results in some absolute golden lines, which are ever-changing throughout the game as you progress and his plans begin to take fruition. There’s some appearances from classic characters like Bane, Poision Ivy, Killer Croc, and some truly excellent sections as Batman is under the effect of Scarecrow’s fear gas. Every character is rich in detail and well voiced.

There’s also a metagame where batman has to find solutions to clues the Riddler has left around the island, taking pictures of the solution to get extra character info and maps for the Challenge mode. It also relates to a lot of characters that, while not having a pivotal role in the game, are still present in some way, such as the Frozen cell of Dr Freeze, or the Goggles of Catwoman, creating a feeling of an enormous universe you’re only scratching the surface in Arkham.

In short, Batman- Arkham Asylum is a terrific game, and can recommend it to practically anyone, as  I’m convinced that there’s probably no one in the world that doesn’t like Batman.

Note: I was intending to start putting pictures on my blog, but I don’t have any handy and uninstalled the game yesterday. Next time!

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