doctor_kaz's Batman: Arkham Asylum (PC) review

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Sets a standard for this genre that might never be matched.

Once you play Batman: Arkham Asylum, you will wonder why it took this long to get a great Batman game. Arkham Asylum forever destroys any excuses that bad Batman games may have made. This excellent experience has everything going for it – awesome presentation, great gameplay, and the sense that you are the brilliant badass depicted in the comics and the recent Christopher Nolan movies. Even if you don't care about Batman and you are just an aficionado of good games, you owe it to yourself to play through this masterpiece and experience everything that it has to offer. If you are a Batman fan, then you have been waiting your whole life for a game like this.

Batman's incredible graphics suck you in immediately. Watching the opening cut scene, you might ask yourself "The whole game can't look this amazing, can it?" Answer – "Yes, it can." Batman: Arkham Asylum looks incredible from beginning to end. The title belt for "Greatest graphics" usually changes hands about once per year and it now belongs to this game. Like the other Unreal Engine 3 games on the PC, (Mass Effect, Gears of War, etc), it sports a high level of fidelity and realism in lighting and textures. It takes them to a new level, surpassing even the Mass Effect series when it comes to how attractive the characters are. Batman, The Joker, the warden, Harley Quinn, the other criminals – I can't overemphasize how fantastic they look. Unlike lots of other games with this engine though, it has superb art direction and great variety instead of an endless sea of brown and gray. Arkham Asylum breaks out the bright colors for all of the arch villains. Since this game takes place on a giant prison campus, it does have a few plain areas, but even those look good. Even the more mundane areas have something that distinguishes them, like some graffiti or a piece of artwork on the wall. On top of those, there are a few great expansive outdoor areas.

Arkham Asylum looks just as good in motion as it does in screenshots. Batman has a cool "detective vision" mode that turns the world in front of him into a big X-Ray screen. Enemies and important clues stand out, and little details show up like a heart rate monitor for NPCs. Animations for all of Batman's actions, especially beating up bad guys, look terrific. The game has a series of great punches and martial arts moves that are animated as impressively as those in any fighting game. It simply never pulls you out of the experience. Even little details like a flock of screeching bats that flies by with every menu screen are fun to watch.

The superb presentation carries over into all of the game's audio as well. The music seems inspired by the score from the Nolan movies and sounds like it during the action sequences. Lots of good voice actors lend their talent to the game's various characters, and pretty much all of the voiceover is top notch. Special credit goes to the actress for Harley Quinn and especially Mark Hamil (yes that Mark Hamil) as The Joker. His performances as the purple-suited white-faced maniac is one of the best voice acting jobs ever in video games. His crazy dialog will leave you with no doubt about what a sadistic genius he is. He occasionally comes on over the prison's PA system, either taunting your or chiding his goons for being unable to defeat you.

Batman: Arkham Asylum's gameplay falls into a lot of different categories. The inmates have taken over the asylum. As Batman, it is your job to go from place to place, thwarting the bad guys' plans and knocking lots of thugs out in the meantime. The Riddler has also hidden a bunch of secrets that you can find to unlock criminal profiles and some back story. It can all best be described as an adventure game with lots of fighting, stealth, and exploration elements, with a little bit of RPG thrown in for good measure. Batman is great at everything, which is saying a lot, since stealth is a really hard thing to get right.

You encounter a lot of thugs in your travels. Sometimes, they have guns and you will have to carefully take them out one by one. Other times, they will just be carrying bats or knives, and you can just walk into the middle of the group and beat the snot out of them. When you have to be stealthy, you have all sorts of tools and abilities at your disposal. With detective vision, you can see enemies through walls and floors, and thereby formulate a plan to take out one guy without being seen by the others. You can sneak up behind bad guys and knock them out with a quick punch. You can knock them down with your batarang and you can knock them out by placing explosives somewhere. Best of all, you can climb all over the place, hiding up high because the bad guys are too dumb to look up. From there, you can drop down, snatch a guy, and escape while the other goons erupt into a panic trying to figure out where you went. You can also knock a guy down across the room by doing a flying kick. There is a great sense of space in the game even though the levels aren't huge. You can fully use your environments to outsmart and hide from your enemies. The AI is an asset to the game as well.

When stealth is not an option, you are more than capable of holding your own with your fists and feet. Batman has a huge array of combos, blocks, and special moves that you execute mostly with just a couple of keys and buttons. It looks a lot more complicated than it is. You point in the direction you want to go and kick or punch with the left mouse button. When a thug is about to attack, you can block and counter his blow with the right button. Stringing together long combos increases the experience that you receive from combat. It is both fun and easy to get these going. After dispatching of one enemy, Batman smartly leaps or back flips to another one nearby, as long as you are pointed at somebody. You can take down five or six guys in moments with a dazzling martial arts display. You can also use your experience to unlock more moves, like picking up and throwing a guy. Playing as Batman feels exactly like it should – as if you are a total badass. You can survive the first half of the game with just simple mouse clicking, but once enemies start to show up with tougher weapons, you will need more finesse. The game takes a little too long to take off the training wheels and give you some challenging fights. If the game has a significant flaw, this would probably be it.

The gameplay flows seamlessly from one mode of gameplay to another as you explore your environments. The Arkham Asylum is a huge campus with multiple large buildings to climb and crawl through. It is a semi open-ended game in that not all of the game is open to you at first, but you can generally revisit any area you want later. In addition, you can tackle some of the side items at your leisure. It won't make you forget Grand

Theft Auto anytime soon, and that is because the game errs well on the side of quality instead of quantity. In that respect, it bucks the recent trend in the gaming industry of open-ended games getting bigger and bigger, but more generic and boring. Ultimately, there is sufficient content in the game to make you feel as if you have gotten your money's worth.

Batman is like a Godsend for hungry gamers who have been frustrated by years and years of bad licensed games – especially bad Batman games. It is one of the most surprisingly good games ever made and it goes beyond being just competent when it comes to all of its gameplay elements. Action, fighting, puzzle-solving, and stealth are all well done, and integrated perfectly into the Batman world. Arkham Asylum was one of the best if not the best game to come out in 2009, and it gets a "must play" recommendation from me, regardless of your love of Batman or your preference for gaming genre.

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