Batman Delivers a Gliding Kick to the Superhero Genre
Batman Arkham Asylum is another amazing game I ignored upon it's original release. I did play the demo prior to its release but didn't think much of it. However, after seeing the game get such high praise all over the internet, I decided to give it another go once the Game of the Year Edition came around. To fully appreciate the main protagonist, I decided to watch every Batman movie ever, a decision which seemed to be successful in enhancing the experience for me. Seeing Batman turn from Michael Keaton to Val Kilmer to Christian Bale and then to his most badass form as the cartoon inspired - although a tad too muscular - Batman, made him seem like the only real Batman and perfectly fitting for a game that has such a cartoonish combat. Given the history of comic book movies and games, the story of Arkham Asylum is surprisingly well thought out with its twisted characters and a twisted - and twist laden - plot revolving around the idea of Joker getting caught on purpose to take over the Arkham Asylum.
Fighting in Arkham Asylum reminds me of that Dark Knight movie scene where Batman is kicking the shit out of fake Batmen's asses in a very brutal yet non-lethal kind of way. The exaggerated sound effects and combo-heavy, fast-paced ass-whopping make Arkham's combat some of the most fun and addicting gameplay I've experienced in recent years. Even though at first it may seem like you just tap one button to do all those moves, which is very fun on its own, but Batman actually has 9 special moves he can pull off during a combo, and the more variety you have in your combos, the more points you'll get. The experience points can be used to upgrade weapons and armor. Another side of combat is the stealth takedowns, which offer a number of ways for Batman to dispose of unwanted henchmen. Batman can glide in the air using his cape to deliver a powerful kick on an enemy, crawl under the surface of the floor using some sort of air duct thing and jump out for a quick takedown, hang from a gargoyle to lift an unsuspecting enemy up and hanging from it or just use a very basic means of sneaking behind someone and strangling them unconscious. In addition, there are various gadgets that can be used for stealth takedowns.
During my first play through, I didn't use some of the gadgets at all, because I'd already found effective ways of dealing with every situation in the game. But after beating all challenge rooms of the game, I found more reason to get creative with the entire gadgetry, and also I was much better at keeping up my combo when I went trough the game on hard difficulty, which made it more challenging to do counter attacks and made the NPCs smarter and thus less prone to Batman's most basic moves. One gadget I did use a lot, way too much, during the play through was the detective mode. Detective mode turns everything into glowing dark blue and lets you see through walls to scan for enemies and see key objects more effortlessly. It's kind of a shame how much you want/need to use the detective mode because you'll miss all the hard work the developers put into the environments. Batman does have a handful of gadgets at his disposal though, such as Batclaw, Batarang, Explosive Gel, Frequency Scanner and Line Launcher. The Batclaw allows Batman to escape the scene onto gargoyles or ledges when detected, or he can shoot them at enemies or certain walls to pull them down. Walls can also be brought down using explosive gel, but you can also use these walls to knock out enemies. With Batarangs Batman can knock down enemies for a short time or hit switches to access new areas. After you've upgraded your Batarang to the max, you'll get Triple Batarangs and Sonic Batarangs, the latter of which can knock out enemies with some sort of electromagnetic explosion. Line Launcher and Frequency Scanner are only used for getting to places that would otherwise be inaccessible, but the Scanner also lets you defuse bombs and the Line Launcher can be used to kick enemies in the face.
Overall, the game looks really good, but I did notice that some pre-rendered cutscenes show some pixellation. I only ran into one occasion of a serious frame-rate drop, but apart from that the game ran really smoothly, even when there were dozens of enemies on the same screen. Some of the character models look really ugly, with some really weird eyes, but especially Batman and the villains look amazing. You might notice Batman getting sweatier in the face after a lot of action and also his suit will suffer some damage and remain that way until the end of the game. However, his suit doesn't get torn randomly, but only the specific areas after specific moments in the story. The entire game takes place in a mental institution on an island. But it seems like a completely different kind of hospital/institution I've seen in movies. The mental institution in Arkham Island isn't covered in blocky buildings with white walls, but instead it has a very dark, gothic look with heavily decorated facilities.
The game has a bunch of collectibles, at least 240 of them to give an idea, including Joker's Teeth which are usually marking the correct path in the game's story, Riddler trophies, patient interview tapes and riddles. The Riddler gives hints to these riddles, which usually require you to either scan a certain object or find two parts of a question mark graffiti and align them so that they look intact. Finding these collectibles and progressing through the story unlock trivial information about various characters of Gotham City. I'm generally not interested in collecting stuff in games, because they usually are scattered all over the place in a way that the only reasonable way of finding them all would be to use a map or a guide. But Arkham Asylum handles things differently in that there's more variation to the types of collectibles, there's more of them, and you can find secrets maps lying around on desktops and such. So the game kind of has a built-in guide for finding all of that stuff, but instead of showing you the exact location, you're being teased with a floating question mark on the map that shows where the secret is within a specific area.
I'm not one to complain about small issues in an otherwise excellent game, but there were some issues I had with the camera while walking, and sometimes it was frustrating when you sneak up on an enemy to strangle him while another enemy can spend the entire duration of the strangling animation shooting at you in the face. But in the long run the camera issue didn't haunt me through the whole experience, and I guess I had that enemy fire coming when I wasn't careful enough when sneaking around a room full of enemies. Even with some other small issues in mind, the game is still very deserving of a perfect 5/5 because the whole package is very carefully thought out and executed. Even though I finished the game twice and achieved the platinum trophy, I still didn't feel like I'd had enough of the game.