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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.