Fast forward to a few days ago, the internet is exploding with insanely positive reviews for Batman. I have to admit I was very surprised, but still skeptical. I thought to myself, "Okay, it's probably just the first decent Batman game. It can't be that great, especially when compared to any non-licensed titles."
Then my brother came home with a new copy of the game. I decided to check it out for myself and see what all the ha-bub was about. The next 48 hours were filled with non-stop stealth, detective work, exploration, and action. I went to bed the first night, and woke up excited to get right back into the action. Safe to say, I'm sold on Batman Arkham Asylum. Here is why...
I am Batman.
If you've ever wanted to know what it's like being Batman, this is the closest your going to get. Rocksteady Studios knocked it out of the park and have suddenly made a name for themselves with this game. After the first hour or so, learning all the basics of Arkham Asylum you are pretty much let loose. You always know where you're supposed to go, but you are also encouraged to mess about. You'll want to check every nook and cranny of your surroundings thanks to the genius inclusion of The Riddler and his hidden trophies/clues. The world they've created is beautiful and fleshed out. It's so rich with story and purpose. You see the simple holding cells, with clues sprinkled about them, letting you imagine who might have lived there. Later you see special containment cells, one of the doors is covered with ice and frost. We all know who's in there, lol. Things like that are all over the place and you can see the passion the developers had for the source material.
This game is beautiful.
I could go on and on about the detail in all of your surroundings, but what's almost as impressive is the character models. Yeah, I still think Batman himself is uglier than I'd like. Personally I would've gone with solid-white eyes, a smoother chin/jaw, and an overall slimmer body. (especially his forearms) But these are minor complaints when you see how intricate each model is. There are times, particularly with the Joker where the lighting hits just right and you could almost forget that it's a videogame and really see a human being with make-up smeared on his face giggling at you.
There's so much history to uncover.
After every encounter with new characters you unlock their bio. I highly suggest you read through each one, because some of them are fascinating and tell you a lot about them and their past, which makes your confrontations with them mean a lot more. You feel like you're inside a fully realized universe, and that Batman has a ton of history with these people. Also along the way you will discover audio recordings with certain patients from Arkham's psych ward. Several of them are super dark, like Killer Crock talking about how humans taste and The Riddler joking about dismembering babies. Lots of twisted stuff, it's awesome. On top of finding all these audio recordings, and The Riddler's trophies, you have a bunch of hidden messages left by Amadeus Arkham, the man who created the Asylum in the first place. In each recording you come closer to learning the dark secrets behind his whole operation. Finding and looking at of this stuff is optional of course, but to me it's just icing on the cake.
The fighting system.
On paper Batman's fighting system sounds pretty shallow, but in action it can get pretty suspenseful and addicting. The majority of your fighting consists of tapping Square, and waiting for an enemy to try to hit you so you quickly tap Triangle to counter. Really, most battles consist of only those two buttons. But sometimes you're taking on upwards of 20 enemies at a time, which means you can rack up a massive combo really quickly, but must also pay attention to what the guys in the back are doing, because they will throw stuff at you or go for a gun. Also you have to be a lot more attentive to when you need to counter. To me the fighting system feels almost like an arcade game of sorts, where you're desperately trying to be perfect at it and get the highest score/combo possible. Once you get the hang of it and try the challenge modes I think you'll see what I mean.
My childhood attachment.
I grew up watching Batman: The Animated Series every Saturday morning. It's a huge part of my childhood, and the reason I know as much about the Batman universe as I do. Paul Dini came back to write the story for Arkham Asylum and it certainly shows. Playing through the game feels like living an episode of the cartoon. Appropriately, everyone who grew up with the show are now adults, and with that we get a much darker story than would've ever been allowed on a children's show. I feel like Batman TAS grew up with me and became the world of Arkham Asylum. Probably the most important part of my nostalgia-boner is the return of Mark Hamill as the Joker and Kevin Conroy as Batman. Heath Ledger blew me away with his portrayal in TDK, but to me "The Joker" is and will always be Mark Hamill. And it's quite a mind-trip hearing their voices again after almost 10 years.
It reminds me of Metal Gear Solid.
This is a comparison that I'm nervous about making considering MGS1 is my favorite game of all time. But check out these similarities.
-One man vs a Rogues Gallery of strange and extremely dangerous villains.
-Much like Psycho Mantis broke the 4th wall with his memory card reading, The Scarecrow does so by messing with not only Batman's head, but with the player's as well. I genuinely thought my PS3 was broken. It scared the crap out of me for second there. That's something that hasn't been done since Eternal Darkness.
-Stealth is always the way to go. In both Metal Gear and Batman, you scope out each room and have to plan every take down, or how to avoid being seen. Batman is a little different considering he can zip line anywhere he pleases, but it can still get pretty intense when if you get spotted you'll be dead in 3 shots or less. Getting through a heavily guarded area without getting spotted is oh so gratifying, and that's MGS101.
-The first Metal Gear Solid took place on Shadow Moses Island, you did a ton of backtracking back and forth but you always knew why you were doing it and it didn't feel forced. Batman takes place on Arkham Island and it's pretty much the same deal, only imagine instead of going all the way back to get a Sniper rifle so you can save Meryl, you have to get back to your Batcave to make a cure before you take on Poison Ivy. Except the environment is often times unrecognizable from all the vines and plants infesting the island. Awesome.
Don't go thinking that this game is perfect.
I know that I've been nothing but positive, but I must warn you I found the ending anticlimactic after all I'd been through. The final boss is weak sauce and felt forced. I also didn't like that every fight with a Titan was almost identical to your fight with Bane. In retrospect it makes Bane seem weak, which sucks.
Bottom line, this game is the Batman fan's dream come true. Production value is through the roof and I cannot recommend it enough if you like Batman at all.
Buy it now. Buy it live.