Getting caught up on good games always gives me a great feeling, and not just because I only spent 20 bucks on Arkham Asylum with all the DLC included and the "Play as Joker" mode for challenge maps... but that always helps. Since I'm several years behind it may come at no surprise to many of you that this is a damn fantastic game where you play as Batman and regularly take on mobs of prisoners and kick their asses.
With Arkham City coming out in the near future, I thought I would get caught up with the PS3 version of the game because I wanted to play as Mark Hamill and beat up security guards. I mean, play as the Joker.
Batman: Arkham Asylum (Metal Gear Batman: The Game)
There's really no getting around it. This game is basically Batman and Metal Gear Solid combined to perfection. You spend the entirety of the game exploring Arkham Asylum on an island you can't leave because the Joker has taken over. They even have a moment in the game where the Scarecrow screws with your game Psycho Mantis style. You even have radio contact with an ally who feeds you information. The major difference is that you're Batman and the sneaking has less to do with survival and more to do with picking off enemies one by one until they're all terrified of you. Making this easier is a whole list of gadgets and batarangs you've come to expect of things involving Batman.
Also, I was born in the eighties so I got to know and love Batman: The Animated Series. Seeing the major voice talent come back to do a well made video game almost makes it too good to be true. But it works so well.
Take On Twenty Dudes at Once
To be fair, there are only a few moments in the game where you actually face twenty guys at once, but the combat works so well that large groups are the most fun to take down. Basic combat uses the four face buttons. Square is a good ol' fashioned punch, Triangle is a counter move that is critical when an enemy can't wait his turn, X is used to jump over enemies if things get too hairy, and Circle stuns enemies with a cape flourish that allows you to lay into them. How you target enemies works by simply pushing the control stick in the direction of an unfriendly. Complementing this is quick taps of the shoulder button that toss batarangs or grapple enemies with grappling hooks. You can get pretty creative with it. But the main draw is keeping a combo going without getting hit, that let's you toss guys around or take them down with a one-hit-KO.
I admit getting used to this took me awhile. But as soon as I adjusted, crowds of enemies were like face punching buffets rather than intimidating mobs. And that's how it should be, because you play as Batman. The only time you really have to watch out is when guys have assault rifles or sniper rifles. Guns kill Batman pretty quick. Mobs of prisoners also change this up with Stun Batons and knives that make attacking them head on useless. Every move is important, and you will use them.
The Other Stuff a Batman Does
The other two parts of this game involve investigation modes where you find a critical clue and then track it around the island and sections where you sneak around a room full of guys with assault rifles and take them down. I didn't find it as enjoyable as combat, but that's really a minor complaint. It does mix things up and keep it fresh as you chase the Joker around Arkham. The "Sneaking around a Room" reminds me most of Metal Gear Solid except you can't shoot guys from across the room if you have a clear shot. Batarangs really only knock guys down, and if you aren't quick they'll get right back up. Still, placing explosive gel and blowing floors and walls out from under unsuspecting goons is a lot of fun. Not to mention using gargoyles to zip around a room as enemies fire blindly into the ceiling. Hearing them panic is a lot of fun. Of course, once they're on to you, they also like to buddy up and watch each others backs. There's definitely some finesse to it.
The Weakest Part
The one thing I had the most problem with in Arkham Asylum is that this game doesn't really know how to do boss battles. I'm not the kind of guy to demand boss battles in every game, but I often find them to be the best part of an adventure. Considering Batman has a whole gallery of crazy characters like Scarecrow, Clayface, and the Joker, it was a little disappointing that you never go toe-to-toe with them like you do with random enemies. The closest you get to a real boss fight is Poison Ivy and that was fine. The rest (even someone as intimidating as Bane) is reduced to playing the part of the matador as you make them charge headlong into a wall so they're stunned, and then attack them repeatedly. How do they make these fights harder? A mob of lesser enemies jump in.
Of course, they get a little creative when it comes to fights with Scarecrow and Killer Croc. Killer Croc's "fight" doesn't work so well for tension or difficulty. The boss battles aren't enough to ruin this game, but it does stand out considering how well everything else works. The last fight with the Joker, while crazy, doesn't really make much use out of what he's become at the time.
Play as Mark Hamill, Beat Guys Up
In the grand scheme of things, the ability to play as the Joker in challenge maps on the PS3 is a minor deal. He's a little harder to play as considering he doesn't get health upgrades and has less gadgets than Batman... but it's the Joker. Voiced by Mark Hamill. And he's so entertaining to watch. All of his moves are appropriately silly what with a salute that turns into a karate chop to the neck and poking guards in the eyes as a takedown. Not to mention his brutality has some great swings from harmlessly kicking a guy in the nuts to snapping a guard's neck after beating him in the head- repeatedly. He also has a ridiculously over sized revolver (with one shot, reloaded between rounds) and is the one time in Arkham Asylum where you can just shoot a guy dead. And the laughing... I love Mark Hamill's Joker laugh. And you get plenty of that, often brought on by takedowns or chattering teeth stuffed with explosives.
By the time I had unlocked all the Challenge maps I was ready for a game where you play as the Joker and just terrorize people with his low tech insanity. Maybe a mode where you free roam Arkham Asylum attack guards would work better? Probably not. It reminds me of something I heard a long time ago where someone proposed making a GTA style game where you play as the Joker. Six stars calls in Batman. Or something. Playing as Joker is a lot of fun, that's all.
The Last Laugh
On an somewhat subjective note, I didn't really care for much for the enemy character design. With the exception of the lanky Joker, everyone looks kinda chunky in this game. Even Scarecrow looks pretty ripped from what I can remember, and his whole shtick is an average guy who uses biological warfare to get what he wants. The character bio screen probably made this stick out the most, because it has much better art of Batman and his enemies. Of course, this has more to do with the engine the game was made with and I'm sure you can only do so much. I don't want to make a huge deal out of it, because the game was fun enough that I quickly got over it. Not to mention I was a big fan of the Animated Series. Even with the voice talent from that show, this is just another take on Batman including character design and tone.
Either way, I had a lot of fun and I'm excited for Arkham City. Initially it sounds kind of crazy they'd just change part of Gotham into a penal colony... but hey. It's Batman.