Yeah, I know it’s a little late, but I wasn’t so sure about Batman: Arkham Asylum from initial video game screenshots and videos. The character designs seemed a little chucky to me and, with such chunky character designs, the gameplay and controls couldn’t be good, could they? I mean, how many bad Batman games have there been, including the most recent, Dark Tomorrow, a game most people don’t even remember, much less actually played.
In fact, in recent years, the only Batman games I enjoyed are Batman: Vengeance and Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu, both of which were based on the animated Bruce Timm Batuniverse. But after reviews starting rolling in on Arkham Asylum, saying how excellent the game was and how it was probably the best comic book video game of all time, I knew I had to at least give it a try. Thankfully, both Xbox Live and Playstation Network released a demo of the game, which I loved. I was recently given the game as a gift and, after a couple of (very long) playing sessions, finished it in short order. What did I think about it? Did it live up to the hype?
My full review of the serious house on serious Earth after the jump!
First things first, Arkham Asylum ROCKS. While Batman: Vengeance will probably always hold a place in my heart as the most enjoyable Batman game of all time, Arkham Asylum is certainly the best based on the actual comic book universe. Not only that, it’s definitely the best made and most polished comic book game I’ve ever played. The level of detail and intricate work is absolutely astonishing, and there is no truer experience of “being Batman” than you’re going to get here.
You play as Batman (duh) as he brings the Joker to Arkham after another one of Joker’s failed attempts to do something awful. However, as Batman suspects, capturing Joker was a bit too easy, and his suspicions are confirmed true when the Joker springs his trap. With the help of his loyal Harley Quinn, he’s taken over Arkham and released many of its more colorful inmates, including Killer Croc, Poison Ivy, Mr. Zsasz, and the Scarecrow. Batman has to traverse through Arkham Island, taking down the escaped rogues and stopping the Joker’s newest plan.
From the very beginning, you’ll fall in love with the universe of this game – it feels right. Gotham is dark and gritty, Arkham is creepy, and it’s obvious this is a serious place. Helping set the mood are Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and Arleen Sorkin at Batman, The Joker, and Harley Quinn, respectively. There simply are no better voices for these characters, and I wish some of the other animated series voices had made their way into the game. Most of the villains are well enough – Ivy, Croc, the Scarecrow, but Commissioner Gordon’s voice is just off. It didn’t feel right to me at a single point in the game.
The clunky designs are still there, but it’s primarily Batman’s design that suffers the most. His costume looks huge, but thankfully that doesn’t matter. He sounds like Batman and, even more importantly, moves like Batman. You spend the majority of the game not running into rooms and kicking faces, but lurking in the shadows, climbing through vents, and hanging from gargoyles, taking criminals out quietly and stealthily. However, when push comes to shove, and necks must be punched, Bats moves with a speed like we’ve never seen him move in a video game before. This is the Batman I’m used to seeing in my funnybook pages, brought to life and given to me to control.
This is Batman and truly one of the best superhero games ever, but it’s not without its faults. They aren’t many, but they aren’t small either. Starting off with the easiest to fix in the upcoming sequel, one thing that is absolutely a must in the sequel is the ability to select levels. Sure, the game may play like one seemless experience, but so does Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, and that still manages to break up into chapter points (and there are many places Arkham can too) that allow you to replay your favorite scene whenever you want. Another welcome edition would be the ability to watch video game movies again after you’ve unlocked them – sure there’s Youtube, but having the ability to watch the cut scenes seems like a pretty easy addition to make that would allow gamers to show off their efforts.
The biggest detraction from this game is also its biggest advantage – Detective Mode. Detective Mode makes this game. It is the feature on which this game either works or doesn’t, and it truly is done amazingly. While in Detective Mode, gamers are given the advantage that you would expect Batman to really have. You can see criminals around corners, tell their heart condition (if they’re calm or nervous), and find hidden objects that you wouldn’t be able to see with the naked eye. The only problem? You’ll play, at minimum, 70% of the game in this mode. That’s 70% of a game that you’re going to spend looking at everything through, essentially, night vision goggles. So much of the excellent graphic work is lost because you’re pretty much not going to see any of it. Not unless you pause to actually take off Detective Mode and view the scenery before moving on to the next scene. Again, you need that Detective Mode to get through the game, but you lose so much of the work the designers made by playing the game with it. After all, how can Batman hide in the shadows when you can’t even tell what’s a shadow because everything is blue?
However, I have to say that Arkham Asylum is easily one of the best video games this year, and definitely one of the best comic book games of all time. Highly recommended, whether you’re a comic fan or not!