Past Entertainment

For the week of 9/7/09

Photos copyright Warner Bros., RockSteady, Edios and DC.

Toggled Review

'Batman: Arkham Asylum' beats up mediocre superhero games

By Cozmic

The last great superhero game I played was Spiderman for the Playstation, a game developed by Neversoft before they screwed up Tony Hawk and then started churning out abysmally bad games with the words Guitar and Hero and some random number or variation of saying sellout on the cover. Granted, since those heady old days of nine years ago there has been a slew of superhero games I never played, and supposedly Marvel Ultimate Alliance was fine in multiplayer (but to be fair, so is watching paint dry if you do it right), but nevertheless, we seem to be long overdue a great game starring a dude in a mask, or cape, or both and sporting an awesome utility belt, right?

Enter Rocksteady Studios, a British studio of game developers, who seem to have arrived from the shadows to prove to us that the Batman is the coolest superhero ever. And with Paul Dini writing the script, and voice actors from the original Batman animated series reappearing, they certainly seem off to a great start.

Arkham Asylum can best be described as a sort of stealth-metroidvania-brawler, which not only sounds weird, but also highly awesome. And in a way, the game is. Batman beats the snot out of groups of unarmed enemies using the easy and fun to use freeflow combat system centered around atwo or three buttons and a good sense of timing, he sneaks up on unsuspecting (hopefully) armed villains in the “silent predator” portion and he gets new gadgets to gain access to new areas of Arkham Island.

Arkham Island, famous home of Arkham Asylum, where, since every single foe Batman seems to face is a loon, is incarcerated. Well, minus the Joker (Mark Hamill), although Batman has rectified the problem before the game has even started. However, as these things go, nothing is easily predictable when it comes to the Joker, who pretty soon runs the entire place, leaving the Dark Knight to take care of the situation.

With Paul Dini, who seems to be somewhat of a legend in Batman circles, at the helm, the storyline is delightfully screwed up and quite entertaining to follow, and the worst voice-actor in the game felt like Kevin Conroy, Batman himself. And this merely because sometimes his lines seem a bit too delayed. It should be noted one wants to punch Harley Quinn whenever she opens her mouth, however.

Arkham Asylum is filled with cool and neat little details, like interview tapes strewn everywhere BioShock style, a riddle for every room and a bunch of trophies, and the occasional hints of all the villains that one does not face in the game, as well as a chance to find out about the “Spirit of Arkham”, leading to some true detective work. And while all of this goes on, Batman's cape is all aflutter and the Gothic style of Arkham is nicely supplanted by awesome nightmare landscapes as soon as Scarecrow shows up.

Of course, every game has its drawbacks, Arkham Asylum included. Chief among these are the incredibly frustrating moments when you are sneaking up on people and they spot you, proceeding to turn Batman into Swiss cheese. While you are standing behind a rock wall and realistically there is no way they could be that accurate, or, you know, shoot through the wall like that. Considering just HOW infuriating and glaringly obvious this is, one feels a very strong urge to rage-quit.
The fact that Batman: Arkham Asylum, during it's 10-hour playthrough, basically throws three or maybe four things at you to do is another element. When you are not beating up unarmed dudes, you are sneaking up on armed dudes, and then you find a cigarette or something to use as a lead to find the next place to beat up unarmed dudes or sneak up on unarmed dudes. Also, Batman is never, ever allowed to use a door, having instead to find ways around, apparently.
Of course, there are a few changes to this, the enemies sometimes change shape, and when one plays the game bit by bit rather than in one long sitting, these shouldn't feel as repetitive as it might seem.

All in all, the few, albeit sometimes rather big, flaws in Arkham Asylum are weighed up for by the combat being fluent and fun, sneaking being an instant gratification when you do it well (Batman does not sneak past his enemies. He sneaks up on them!) and the general Batman feel being fantastic, because Rock Steady really did manage to get The Goddamn Batman in their game, in the screwy comic way, while maintaining a great storyline that feels more than appropriate for the rating. Arkham Asylum is fun, good looking and easily the best superhero game since Spiderman climbed a few walls and kicked things off trains.

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