When many of us gamers hear about a video game coming that’s based off a licensed property, we may initially dismiss it or expect mediocre at best results, but that’s far from the case with Batman Arkham Asylum. This is one of the few times in gaming where you can tell the licensed game was built by true fans with love and knowledge of the source material, and simply not a thrown on gimmick to sell extra copies.
The basic premise of the game is that Batman has caught The Joker after one of his plans seemingly goes awry. Batman then delivers The Joker to the psychiatric hospital named Arkham Asylum, once on the island The Joker takes control of the facility and reveals to Batman that was his plan all along. With Batman trapped on the island with hundreds of thugs and several super-villains the player takes control of Batman and must stop The Joker’s plan. From there the story goes fairly deeper and starts to incorporate other super-villains as well.
The gameplay is broken into different segments. When you’re fighting unarmed thugs the game is a brawler, at times the fighting system can feel a bit too automatic, as if you’re watching Batman fight instead of fighting yourself. This problem mainly rises when you’re fighting two or three guys. Once you start fighting bigger groups of unarmed thugs, which is about 8 to sometimes over 12 enemies at once, the combat system feels a lot more fun and reactive. When you’re going against armed thugs the game is much more stealth dependent and it feels as if you’re a predator stalking its prey. During these segments the game turns from simple brawler to a exercise in tactical awareness, even more so in the later levels where the numbers enemies is higher and you have more gadgets, so therefore more ways, to take them out. This aspect of gameplay is probably its strongest, hunting several armed enemies at once who can kill you in seconds is intense and actually makes it feels like you are "The Bat".
There are also a few instances where you’ll be trapped be in a room and must make quick decisions on how to save hostages and/or yourself, these moments are also intense, but a couple seemed more trial and error to figure out rather than a smart way to escape. There are also plenty of boss battles, some are creative and fun, but most are somewhat repetitive. They usually come down to you memorizing the pattern a boss is doing then striking at the appropriate time. That method of boss battle is sadly standard in gaming, but with the rest of the game being fairly deep and creative, it is a shame that majority of the boss battles couldn’t be too. This problem is further highlighted in the final fight, which leads to a slightly anticlimactic ending.
There are times when platforming becomes important, like when you are trying to traverse certain areas while there’s something hazardous, like electricity or poison below you. The way Batman gets new gadgets and uses them to access new areas of the environment feels very Metroid and helps the old areas from becoming stale, by offering new routes. There is also an upgrade system to the game, but it feels unneeded. With so many different styles of gameplay going on and an interesting story, there’s no need to put in a upgrade system. It feels too "gamey" and doesn't go with the logical progression that the rest of the game follows, believe it or not developers "RPG elements" aren't necessary for every game. We don’t need a carrot dangling in front of us to help motivate us to complete the game, the game being good is already doing that.
Fans of the Batman: Animated Series from the 90’s will be happy to hear that most of the voice actors have returned. Much like that cartoon, the video game’s voice acting is top-notch. There is a notable exception though, for some reason Killer Croc sounds like Adam Sandler in Little Nicky. Also, The Riddler can be slightly annoying. Other than those two, everyone gives a great performance, in The Joker’s case his facial modeling and animation doesn’t really keep up with Mark Hamill’s voice acting, it does a good enough job, but not a great one.
From a technical standpoint the game looks, sounds, and runs well. There’s nothing to complain about, but it’s not setting any benchmarks either. The level design is great though, it makes the game feel very similar to Bioshock. Both games did a great job making you feel like you’re in one giant cohesive environment. It never feels like you go from one level to another, the entire game seems like one level. There are also psychiatric interviews of the super-villains that you can collect and listen to as you play the game, which are similar to the audio journals of Bioshock, but far more interesting.
Much like Bioshock the game is very narrative and event driven, which might cause many gamers to be satisfied with playing the campaign only once. This game is definitely quality over quantity; the campaign lasts about 9 to 11 hours, which might be a sweet spot to some or too short for others to spend $60 on. There’s also a challenge mode, which takes situations out of the game and gives you a score for completing them efficiently. The game modes there are either brawl with unarmed thugs or use your predator skills to swiftly takeout-armed enemies.
Batman: Arkham Asylum will probably be most Batman fans wet dream, it goes deep into the Batman lore while still maintaining varied and majority fun gameplay. Even if you’re not a Batman fan the game is worth experiencing, since it’s fairly rare for a game to actually have an interesting story and challenge you strategically. To say Batman: Arkham Asylum is merely the best comic book licensed game would be selling it short, it’s quite easily the best comic book licensed and superhero game so far.
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