Batman: Arkham Asylum

October 29, 2009

Yes, I realize this game has been out for a few months now. There were a bunch of games that came out this summer that I felt were worthy of my attention. Unfortunately, I’ve been experiencing a bit of a monetary dry spell due to being unemployed. (Hence this attempt at game review notoriety.) So it took me longer to get my hands on this game than I would have liked. Cut me a little slack. Oh, and as a warning, this review will probably include a few spoilers and assorted rants. Since the game’s been out for a few months that probably won’t bother anyone. But just in case, you’ve been warned.

Now that THAT’S out of the way, I shall begin with an “OMG!!” shouted up to the heavens from the highest peak in Kansas… which just might have to be my neighbor’s F-150. (Kansas is pretty flat. It’d make a better parking lot.)

Batman: Arkham Asylum has got to be the best Batman game I have EVER played! Maybe even the best superhero game I’ve ever played, but don’t quote me on that. It was The game is dark, moody, and atmospheric. The level design, color palettes, music, storyline, and voice acting all combine beautifully to bring us the kind of Batman experience I’ve been longing for since childhood. Remember that dark and moody Batman cartoon on Fox back in the early 90’s? This game has a very similar feel. And, as a matter of fact, some of the same actors from that show return to reprise their roles in this very game. Namely Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker. They both play their parts like they were born for the role and I enjoyed listening to every minute of their performances. Harley Quinn and a few others might also have been voiced by the same people who so perfectly portrayed these characters in the cartoon series, but since Eidos and Rocksteady didn’t see fit to sufficiently credit these individuals, I’m unable to say for certain. I’ll properly express my feelings on actor credit in a little bit.

Believe it or not, but it was posted on the game’s official site (www.batmanarkhamasylum.com) that it even made it into the Guinness Book of  World Records for ‘Most Critically Acclaimed Superhero Game Ever’. Now THAT’S impressive. I’m obviously not alone in my amazement and appreciation of the quality Rocksteady and Eidos were able to deliver.

Arkham Asylum is a completely single player experience, but that’s fine by me. I’ve always thought Robin was a punk anyway. The entire game takes place in the buildings and caverns on Arkham island, but since the missions are varied and interesting you don’t feel the least bit confined. And fear not, there are always plenty of escaped convicts and mental patients running around for you to take out your crime fighting frustrations on. The occasional run ins with The Scarecrow and his fear inducing nerve gas spice things up as well, with their surrealistic events and level construction. In addition to the main campaign there ‘s also a challenge mode who’s maps you can unlock, for when you feel like taking a break from the story to focus on breaking noses. Challenges vary between 4 round beat-em ups to timed stealth missions where the focus is to disable opponents without being seen by doing things like dropping down from a gargoyle and stringing up bad guys by their ankles.

Throughout your quest to bring down the Joker you’ll  face off against classic villains like Poison Ivy, Bane, Killer Croc, Harley Quinn, and of course the Scarecrow. Characters that we’ve all come to know and fear, but love anyway.

There’s a small treasure hunting aspect to the campaign, and if you know me, you know I love me some treasure hunting! Don’t worry though, because unlike games such as GTA: Vice City, with it’s tiny pigeons and complete lack of in-game help, one of the hidden items in each area of Arkham is a map to help you locate the rest of the items in that location. So it’s still more of a fun break from the action, as opposed to a frustrating chore you begrudgingly complete for a few extra gamer points. Along the way you’ll also be able to unlock things like character models so you can marvel at fine work the modelers did, and character bios for the in-game characters as well as some classic Batman villains that weren’t crammed into the game unnecessarily. Thank you Rocksteady for not repeating the mistakes of Joel Schumacher’s 1997 film Batman & Robin. (What a disaster THAT was.)

I was quite pleased with the character animation all around. Whether it be the slick moves you can pull off as you’re beating your foes to a pulp, or the more subtle ones, like the hand and body movements Joker makes while giving one of his many off handed speeches. The extra effort put towards the latter really help you get a feel for just how unstable the guy truly is. As in all things, it’s the small details that really help sell it and make the characters, and the world as a whole, more believable.

The one thing I don’t understand is why, if you have such an amazing cast of voice actors, would you not display/advertise their names more prominently?  Other than a brief, side note-esque mention of Kevin Conroy (Batman) and Mark Hamill (The Joker) on the back of the case there isn’t a list of cast members anywhere on either the manual or even the official site. If you bother to sit through 15-20 minutes of credits you’ll get to see all the voice actors names near the very end for…. MAYBE 5 seconds. I realize that this is how it’s normally done, and if this were any other game or under any other circumstances I probably wouldn’t care. But this is different. We’re talking about freakin’ MARK HAMILL here people! The man is a tv/movie LEGEND! He’s not just a man, he’s an icon! Our generation grew up knowing Mark Hamill as a force-wielding god among men who trains hard and saves that precious galaxy far far away from death, destruction, and enslavement at the hands of a dark emperor. Surely MARK FREAKIN HAMILL’S name deserves more screen time than the French and German branches of Eidos’ marketing team. Who gives a rat’s ass who posted up the ad fliers in Paris or Berlin? He’s freakin MARK HAMILL, and he could snap you in two at a whim. You know the amount of effort you put into considering if you’ll have toast with your eggs and bacon on sunday morning? That’s how much thought and effort it would take for Mark Hamill to snap your soiled carcass like a twig. F^#% the marketing guys.

There you go. An early morning review from a late night gamer. Be sure to leave me a comment to let me know what you thought of my review!

~Penguin

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Ok, no better place to start than with a review of a console’s dashboard framework. And boy is this one going to be a mess. I managed to get myself into the update preview test group and “not impressed” is the nicest way I can describe the mess they’ve made of things. Microsoft has added an inadequate Facebook app, twitter, last.fm, MSN.com news, and the Zune marketplace.

I don’t use twitter, because I’m not interested in minute by minute updates on the lives of others. I’ve seen what it does and how it works online, but I’m unable to comment on it’s 360 counterpart.

The Facebook app HAD potential, but they thinned down the experience to the point that it’s become little more than another form of twitter. You can post status updates and read the updates of your friends, as well as view and comment on pictures of your friends… and that’s about it. There is no game support for you would-be farmers or mobsters out there. You can’t even post notes to your profile. I was unable to even view the group posts from my Halo clan’s group page. That may have something to do with the fact that our group was made private/hidden due to it’s name: TNT or Tea and Tacos. If you play fps games today I’m sure that name needs no explanation.

Last.fm is a nice addition, especially if you’re like me and listen to a genre of music that isn’t represented on your local radio stations. Living in Kansas it’s damn near impossible to hear or buy any new industrial/electronic music. And no, you can’t even find any in Wichita’s local cd stores. The only problem I have with the Last.fm app is that I have a hard time justifying the electric costs of simply listening to music and viewing band pictures on my massive 65″ projection tv. The Last.fm app isn’t something you can run in the background while you’re playing games, so don’t go putting away your mp3 players just yet. Oh, and as a side note, be warned. Depending on what band you happen to be listening to, not all of the pictures you’ll see are safe for children. I saw blood, gore, WW2 pics, and pics from a live concert/S&M show. The last group was DEFINITELY NOT child safe.

The MSN.com news feed is ok if you’re looking to take a break from gaming to catch up on what’s going on in the world beyond your couch. They also have Dilbert animated cartoons and political cartoons from the New Yorker. I didn’t even realize Dilbert was still being made! It was lame and out of touch with reality from it’s inception, so I had just assumed that the artist would have lost his funding YEARS ago. They’re no funnier animated than they were in print, so don’t bother wasting your time.

But the Zune marketplace addition is what really gets me. Why would Microsoft think their gaming community would still be interested in paying for video content on a console that already has support for Netflix’s fast and high quality digital streaming greatness? Doesn’t Microsoft have enough of our money as it is? The part of this disaster that makes me mad is that they integrated the Zune marketplace into our console’s video library section. So now, if you want to view a game video that you’ve already downloaded to your console, you have to wade through a vast pool of uninteresting pay per view filth in order to see it. Now let’s say you’re currently downloading several new videos of potentially great upcoming games like Metro 2033, Assassins Creed 2, and Mass Effect 2. Due to your excitement you click over to your video library so you can view these teaser trailers just as soon as they’ve downloaded. Unfortunately you’ll now have to back out and re-enter your video library each and every time a new video’s download completes because the system won’t recognize it’s there if you don’t. And you’ll have to wait as the app finds your newly downloaded content, because all of the Zune marketplace garbage takes precedence over the things you’re actually interested in seeing. What a lousy addition to an otherwise excellent console.

I put up with the direct marketing on my dashboard, that I’m forced to see every time I turn on the console, because it’s occasionally interesting. But this time they’ve gone too far.

And so it begins…

October 27, 2009

I’m a console gaming lifer out to spread my opinions of the most recent videogames out across the blog-o-sphere for all who are interested. What you’ll find here are passionate, often irreverent commentaries on any game I can get my hands on. (Except anything involving Hanna Montana.)  Put on your fun hats and prepare for a trip into the unknown!