zymase's Batman: Arkham Asylum (PlayStation 3) review

Dark and excellent, Arkham Asylum captures the essense of Batman.

 

From Eidos and Rocksteady studios comes the best Batman game ever made.   This may initially seem like a backhanded compliment considering the poor quality of most Batman (or even DC Comics) licensed games to date, but Batman: Arkham Asylum is an absolute must-play title.

Arkham Asylum applies the Batman license to gameplay elements pulled from a variety of sources, and it ties them together very well.   Many have compared Arkham to Bioshock, which is fitting.   Throughout the game, reel-to-reel tape cases can be found, with interviews of Arkham’s notorious inmates, which provide backstory for Arkham’s plot and round out the cast of characters somewhat.   The game’s layout and exploratory nature also owe a significant amount to the Metroid series of games, echoing Super Metroid in the backtracking that can be done once new gadgets and upgrades are acquired or unlocked, and to Metroid Prime for the game’s Detective Mode, which highlights accessible areas for use with gadgets, as well as near-object scanning to solve many of the game’s puzzles.   Blending well with this is a stealth aspect of the game, reminiscent of the Splinter Cell series, where enemies are best avoided or lured rather than fought outright.

From Batman: The Animated Series, Kevin Conroy returns as Batman and Mark Hamill as Joker, and both are stellar standouts in the game’s voice acting.   Conroy’s level and stoic Batman has always been a natural and perfect fit, and Hamill’s delivery and grasp on Joker’s dangerous lunacy may be remembered as the other highlight of Hamill’s career.

Many of the boss fights come across as underwhelming, with one noteworthy exception against two titan opponents.   Villains who have been enormous nuisances in the Batman canon here come up nearly lifeless, and where you might expect a huge, set piece boss fight, there is only a small brawl with a difficulty barely above that of normal Joker henchmen.   Most disappointing is the use of a cutscene to dispose of the villain who has been the largest, most menacing pain in Batman’s back.

The game’s combat is a free-flowing style allowing Batman to attack with a variety of physics-based moves.   At first this combat seems shallow, and while it eventually only develops as the sense of timing improves, it works well in the confines of the larger game.  

Available outside the story mode is challenge mode.   Beat-em-up round-based combat is the focus of half the challenges, pitting Batman (or Joker, in the PS3 version) against a growing handful of opponents.   Stringing together combinations boosts the round score, and scores can be posted to online leaderboards for bragging rights or evidence for intervention.  

The real meat of challenge mode is the predator missions, where guards must be isolated and neutralized.   Each map rewards you for  using specific takedowns based on technique or location, and many of these are takedowns you may not have used or even known about in the story mode, which provides as valid a reason as any for a second or third playthrough.

This game is as addictive as it is well-made, and between completing the story on three difficulty settings, and collecting and solving all of Riddler’s challenges, there is something to come back to once finished.   For the quality of what’s on offer in Batman: Arkham Asylum, this is an easy game to recommend purchasing.

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