Game Review – Batman: Arkhum Asylum

First, let me say that if you have not yet added this title to your collection, or, at the very least, you have not yet played the game or the demo, SHAME ON YOU!

“Why,” you may ask?

Because this game is really, really fun. Because the story is engaging from beginning to end. Because Joker is amusing every time he gets on the PA system. Because Harley Quinn is quite fine in her new uniform…

Why should you play this game?

Because you get to BE Batman.

I wrote a quickie review last week on A Tokin 4 Your Thoughts; read it for the short, to-the-point assessment of the game. If you want my final thoughts on the overall experience, read on, my friends:

The opening cinematic sets the stage for the whole adventure. In fact, the opening is more than just a cinematic, you (as Batman) actually escort Joker into the bowels of Intensive Treatment at Arkhum – as in you get to play this part. This is definitely a great way to get the show rolling as you are immediately thrust into the shoes of the Dark Knight; you see what he sees and feel the same sense of uneasiness as you watch the guards restrain the Joker and wheel him into the Asylum, with Joker bantering carelessly all along the way. When the action heats up with Jokers escape, you are suddenly getting your first taste of Bat-ninja awesome and you will realize how thrilling each encounter will be.

So, on to combat. The “Free-Flow” system works very well. It is extremely simple in design; each face button is a simple action – attack, counter, stun, and dodge (double tap) – that can be chained repeatedly between multiple enemies, resulting in massive hit chains. That is, assuming your timing is good and you don’t get hit in the midst of your combo. On paper and in simple observation, this seems rather easy to do. In practice, however, stringing long combos is actually challenging. I’m still struggling to break a 40+ chain, but I can certainly say my skills are drastically improved from my first night with the sticks. I have much respect to those that can pull 100+ chains – it ain’t easy, but it’s very doable.

Then there’s “Predator Mode,” a situational form of combat that is entered whenever a room is guarded by a group of armed thugs. These rooms are often quite large and include various places for Batman to hide in the shadows and do his ninja thing –  gargoyles, ventilation shafts, railings, and recessed floors. You can use any of these spots to your advantage and there is never any time limit; you can take as much time as you like to clear these rooms, so be sure to take time out to grapple to a gargoyle and assess the situation and plan your attacks. As Batman, you have an assortment of gadgets at your disposal throughout the game, and you can acquire upgrades to some of these gadgets (as well as your suit and fighting skills) as you gain experience points (by fighting and solving Riddler’s challenges). Again, if the Bat can do it, you can probably do it in this game: inverted takedowns, silent takedowns, corner takedowns, batarangs to any part of an enemy’s body, grapple enemies over railings, pull enemies over railings from below… Every animation is fluid and brutal, and in direct combat, the Batman’s moveset is varied and seamless – from action to action, target to target.

Outside of combat, however, Batman is a little stiff. He’s not clunky thankfully, so his rigid movement won’t hinder you though it may at times annoy you a little, just because it kind of looks awkward when he runs and it looks like George Clooney running in front of the bat-signal at the end of Batman and Robin.

Arkhum Island is brilliantly rendered in this game. Each section, every building, looks as though it were truly real. I got the sense that these buildings all have seen better days, and that there was a rich history behind each one. Some locations are obviously older than others, with retrofits and remodeling evident and secret and forgotten rooms and passages hiding behind walls and under floors. Each building also believably serves its purpose: the Medical facility has a surgery wing and a complete morgue, the penitentiary has several levels of lock-down, and other buildings on the campus have logical rooms and offices. Each area is distinctly unique, but the collective whole is also very unified. This by far the first, fully realized depiction of Arkhum Asylum, and I’m sure it will be the basis for any future depictions in the comics and on screen.

With such an expansive island to be stranded on in the middle of the most disastrous prison riot ever, Batman’s gonna have to do some exploring. Luckily, he already has – there’s a Batcave on the island – and he’s more than willing to do more. You will have to in order to make your way to action set-piece to action set-piece as Harley has taken full control of security, and you will find doors locked and electrified often as she and Joker direct you where they want you to go. However, generally speaking, once you reach the surface for the first time and acquire the explosive gel, the whole island opens up to you and the game really gets good.

Exploration makes this game viable for extensive replay as much as the combat (the reason for the excellent and addictive challenge maps), as the Riddler has planted 240 challenges about the entire island for you to find, collect, and or solve. These challenges include trophies, audio recording, Arkhum history tablets, and environmental riddles. You’ll know when you are in a room with a riddle to solve because Riddler, being the genius he is, has hacked into your cowl’s communications array, and he will recite his challenge to you as you enter the room. The “Detective Mode” vision feature will make solving Riddler’s puzzles easier, but you still have to BE the detective and solve the puzzle. And some of the challenges are indeed very clever.

I won’t touch on the story or the superb voice acting, as I did that in my mini review. However, I will reflect on the ending (don’t worry, NO SPOILERS HERE): Simply put, it’s a Batman ending.  Bruce is up all night taking on more than just Joker, Quinn, and the Jokerz from Blackgate. He tangos with every major villain in his rouges gallery that would be in Arkhum at any given time (Ivy, Croc, Bane, Scarecrow) and comes out tired as hell, and looking like he got thrown through a wall by the Hulk a few times (cause he was if you remember the trailers, and yes, I mean literally looks this way – his suit and face take damage as you let him get damaged). And honestly, many of the encounters The Knight faces are downright creepy (this is NOT Batman: The Animated Series despite the voice cast) The feeling of having put a stop to another of Joker’s many schemes is befittingly underplayed just as the Caped Crusader himself would want. After all, this is all just a another night’s work for him. Very satisfying, indeed…

So far, I’ve done nothing but rave about this title. It deserves the praise, believe me (or don’t, play the thing, and find out for yourself). There are some issues I have with it. First, the stiffness I mentioned earlier. Secondly, of all the character trophies and character bios you can unlock by completing Riddler’s puzzles, I feel that a few noteworthy characters were wrongfully omitted – Robin and Batgirl in particular. I’m glad that they make absolutely no appearance and are not at all mentioned during the course of the game (it would be too crowed otherwise), but I feel that the inclusion of some of the Bat’s C and D list rouges over two of his closest allies is a bit sad (I mean, Batman has two bios, one as Batman and one as Bruce). Also, there is no New Game+ feature. Loading a completed game save file starts you just before the final fight, with no aftermath to fight through. This is fine in that you can finish Riddler’s challenges if you didn’t do it in the first play-through, but I would have liked some extra content to be made available specifically for the story mode (you unlock one new costume for Batman to use in Challenge Mode upon completing the story mode once).

That last gripe can be fixed with downloadable content, there are certainly way more clever nods to Batman’s rouge’s gallery than I can mention here (including great nods to Ras, Catwoman, Two-Face, and Clayface) and, overall, my complaints are meager in comparison to the game overall. No, Arkhum Asylum does not really do anything innovative or cutting-edge, but it does do what it does very well and finely-tuned. Without a doubt, this game can become The Dark Knight of comic/superhero games as TDK is to the same genre of movies. It is by far the best Batman title ever, and is the best comic/superhero game out right now.



1 Response to “Game Review – Batman: Arkhum Asylum”

  1. March 22, 2012 at 11:37 am

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