Saturday, February 27, 2010

Game Review: "Batman-Arkham Asylum"

When I was young, I used to collect many different comics- X-Men, Superman, Silver Surfer, Spider-man, etc. Even though Batman didn't have the awesome superpowers the other heroes had, his use of technology, trained skills & the dark mood of the comics has made him one of the timeless comic brands.

Compelling Batman graphic novels like "Killing Joke" & "Dark Knight Returns" changed my perceptions of comic book stories as a kid & of the Batman character specifically. Heroes weren't necessarily morally righteous 'good guys' with clear moral boundaries.

In the spirit of this more complex view of the world of superheroes, Batman: Arkham Asylum delivers an experience as close to being the Dark Knight as technically possible. It is simply an outstanding game that captures every aspect of the twisted world of Batman & his villains.

The game trailer gives a good visual summary of the game:

I actually finished the game a few weeks ago, but I've been occasionally playing the dozen Challenge Mission levels that are unlocked. These are short levels where you either have to rack up points by beating up waves of enemies, or stealth missions where you have to defeat all the enemies & complete ambush objectives without being detected.

There are so many cool features in this game I don't even know where to start. The graphics are perfectly detailed & provide the dark mood you would expect to surround Batman while he's trapped in a old asylum full of evil lunatics.

The game fully covers all of Batman's abilities: physical superiority, intellectual detective work, & technological prowess. The way these are employed & work together really make you feel like a superhero- despite the very human vulnerability to gunfire that is ever present, which often forces you to stay in the shadows.

The most useful feature is Batman's 'Detective Vision' that allows you to basically switch on enhanced X-ray view of your surroundings. You can see the skeletal outlines of enemies through walls & obstacles, allowing you to create a preemptive strategy for how to take out enemies so you can proceed.

As you go through the game, you get all kinds of awesome gadgets. These are not only for offense, like different batarangs. There are also devices that allow you to reveal & explore parts of the extensive Arkham Island that were previously inaccessible.

Being Batman himself is awesome, but the familiar villains encountered often steal the show & make this game the roller coaster experience that it is. The Joker is voiced by Mark Hamill, aka Luke Skywalker, like he is in the TV cartoons. This might seem a weird choice, but he is absolutely perfect.

The appearance of the game's many arch-villains are all actually perfect, in my opinion. The Joker though, is exactly how I would envision him, unlike the horrible 'disheveled hobo' appearance of Heath Ledger's Joker in "Batman: The Dark Knight" movie. Jack Nicholson & Heath Ledger's movie Joker characters both sucked.

Besides The Clown Prince of Evil, the other characters are also evil & deranged almost to the point of being intimidating. Fighting the enormous Bane, running frantically through the sewers to escape from Killer Croc, & trying to take out Ivy 's gigantic botanical assault are all crazy. There are also tons of references to other villains not shown, like The Penguin, hidden around the island. The villain that is a really surprising factor in the game, though, is The Scarecrow.

Scarecrow actually affects Batman's mind
, leading to several separate hallucinatory segments that uncover hidden horrors from the haunting memories of Bruce Wayne/Batman. Scarecrow himself then appears in a purely psychological realm as a menacing giant scanning the evil dreamscape for you.

This game is so great on so many levels that I can't say enough to praise it. It has to played to be appreciated, although the video gives a sense of the experience. There is endless amount of satisfaction to be gained from taking out your enemies directly and by stealth, finding all of the Riddlers scattered clues, & exploring the richly detailed island w/ its famed asylum as you hunt down the Joker.

This game is a giant among ever-improving superhero games, while not being tied to an existing movie franchise. In that respect, it is allowed to stand on its own as a unique telling of the Batman legend.

• The Monkey Buddha's official rating: 9.0

Uh-oh, looks like Batman: Arkham Asylum 2 is already coming.

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