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Batman: Arkham Asylum Retro Review

Pre-2009, if you mentioned the words “Batman” and “video game” in the same sentence, chances were good that the recipient of the conversation would cringe. Video games just weren’t kind to the poor Caped Crusader, as most of his games were at best mediocre, never taking advantage of the terrific franchise.

Enter Rocksteady Studios, and their
release of Batman: Arkham Asylum on
August 25th 2009, and the perception of Batman video games was forever changed. Finally, Batman caught a
break, and Arkham Asylum was not only
fantastic, but was also game-of-the-year material.

The story begins with Batman
travelling to Arkham Asylum with the Joker tied up in the back of the
Batmobile. Having the Joker as the main antagonist of the game is only natural,
seeing that he is the best Batman
villain of all time, if not the greatest villain in entertainment.

Of course, things go awry when Joker
manages to break free of the guards who are attempting to imprison him. It
should be noted, however, that it seems a bit silly that Joker manages to
overpower two fully-armed guards, but you quickly learn that Joker has numerous
goons helping him from the inside. Joker had planned all along to be transported
to the Asylum, and it’s Batman’s duty to find out why the villain wants to take
it over.

First and foremost, one aspect that
immediately stands out in Arkham Asylum is
the stellar voice acting. The star voice actors from Batman: The Animated Series are all here: Kevin Conroy as Batman,
Mark Hamill as the Joker, and Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn. The high level of
engagement these actors devote to their characters really shows, leaving the
player clamoring for the next cutscene.

However, the banter from non-essential
characters can at times be repetitive, or sometimes unintentionally hilarious
(“Everyone, look! Batman found a way out! He pulled the grate off the wall!”).

The player controls Batman from a
behind-the-back perspective, where Batman is positioned to the left of the
screen. The camera zooms out during action sequences, such as running and
fighting.

Combat itself is deep and satisfying.
The “freeflow” combat system allows the player to either attack, stun, or
counter. A combo system is also in place, whereupon executing the attacks
perfectly, the player gains more experience points. Not to mention Batman’s
extended arsenal of gadgets can be used to take down an enemy. There’s
nothing quite as satisfying as pulling an unsuspecting bad guy over a railing using
the Bat-Claw.

Each new gadget that you collect at
various points in the game opens up many new gameplay opportunities. For
example: Explosive Gel allows you to blow up structural weaknesses, thus
opening new areas to explore, and the Line Launcher lets Batman zipline to
previously unreachable areas. With each new gadget I found, I couldn’t wait to
try it out and see what I could do with it. Every gadget is unique and has a
different function.

Straying off the main path and
exploring Arkham Island can be just as thrilling. The environment is dynamic,
continuously changing as the game progresses. Batman can collect “Riddler
Trophies” or solve “Riddler Challenges,” which unlock bonus content such as
biographies of characters from the Batman
universe.

While there are many Batman characters present in the actual
game itself, it is disappointing to see so many great characters relegated to
only a paragraph of text and a drawing. Shocking is the fact that Robin is a
complete no-show, both in the plot and the bonus content (although, he is
alluded to when the Joker tells Batman, “It’s time for you to get a new
sidekick”). Thankfully, these complaints I have will be addressed in a huge way
in the upcoming Batman: Arkham City.

The villains in the game
provide some great and intense boss fights. You will find yourself battling
Bane, Poison Ivy, and others. However, the last boss is — for the lack of a
better word — so lame that you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Fortunately,
it doesn’t ruin the game as a whole, but I found myself wishing that the
developers had come up with something more creative.

Separate from the main game is the
Challenge Mode. These trials are separated into two categories: Combat and
Predator. The object of the Combat challenges is to gain as high of a score
that you can, chaining combos together on increasingly difficult waves of
enemies.  Predator challenges entail
defeating every enemy within an area in a set time limit. Both challenge
categories can be an addictive pastime.

Batman:
Arkham Asylum

is a great game for a fantastic franchise, and finally does Batman justice in
the video game world. While the intriguing plot and diverse gameplay would make
for a great game as-is, the voice acting and sheer depth that Arkham Asylum provides puts it among the
elite. Based on this first game, expectations are soaring for the sequel, Batman: Arkham City, launching on
October 18. Developer Rocksteady has proven that they understand what a great Batman game should be all about, and Arkham City is posed to fulfill those
high expectations.

Rating
9.0

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