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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