The general consensus among gamers is that movie- and comic book-based games do not measure up to their primary counterparts. Poor titles are littered all throughout video game history, such as Transformers The Game and Iron Man: The Video Game. Thankfully, Batman: Arkham Asylum is not among them. It is one of those games that occasionally comes along and offers up new hope that games based on a movie license or comic book license can indeed be good.
Perhaps one of the reasons Arkham Asylum succeeds is because it does not replicate the plot of any of the Batman movies. This is one of the key ingredients to the quality of the game. One of the big reasons movie-based games fail these days is because they try too hard to follow the movie’s script and end up failing miserably due to plot constraints.
In Batman: Arkham Asylum, we find Batman transporting The Joker to the penitentiary island for lockup after he was easily captured. Upon entry farther into the depths of the prison, The Joker escapes custody and takes over the island with the help of Harley Quinn and a veritable horde of henchmen. What ensues is a nightlong adventure where Batman is tasked with figuring out just what Joker is up to.
Along the ride, Batman will encounter old foes working with (and not necessarily with) The Joker in bringing Batman down. While The Joker may be planning something for the city of Gotham or his own criminal enterprises, he also has plans and traps setup for the Dark Knight to inflict pain and bring him down. What comes as a result is a thoroughly enjoyable game with a great unique plot.
When you begin the game, Batman only has a batarang at his disposal. In the early goings, Batman must rely on only this and his physical prowess to proceed. In fact, the first event involving Batman that you can control is a fight with several of Joker’s thugs. Fighting thugs is relatively simple: you press X. You can perform a great variety of attacks using only the attack button in the game.
Combos are strung together by attacking one foe them seamlessly attacking another foe without missing a beat. When you’re surrounded by four henchmen this is a relatively easy thing to do, but as the numbers and armaments of the henchmen increase, it becomes increasingly difficult to do so. Your attacks are complemented by other moves, such as a counterattack move that you perform right before a henchman attacks you, as well as a cape spin that stuns enemies.
Henchmen don’t stay unarmed forever, and eventually you will be forced to rely on stealth tactics to bring a group of them down. What, were you expecting the Dark Knight to suddenly deploy firearms in his quest to bring down criminals? No, Batman never deploys any lethal weapons. You must use the environment and hiding places in order to bring armed henchmen down without being seen and shot.
In fact, the occasions when stealth is necessary to proceed are some of the most fun in the game. Sure, everybody enjoys a good button mashing game, which happens very often when you’re fighting groups of thugs. But the stealth sequences are very rewarding when you’ve figured out how to subdue ten armed henchmen in a vast room with different air ducts and gargoyles placed throughout.
As the game progresses you’ll gain access to WayneTech. WayneTech upgrades help beef up Batman’s suit against attacks or allow him to use his tools and gadgets in enhanced ways to allow him to progress easier. Some upgrades allow Batman to throw multiple batarangs at once while others turn his explosive gel into a type of proximity mine that will explode and temporarily incapacitate a henchman as he walks by.
WayneTech upgrades become accessible as Batman “levels up.” Batman doesn’t truly level up to say, Level 10, as the game progresses. There are no numbered levels, but once Batman accumulates enough experience then he can select a new upgrade to apply to himself and his gadgets. Experience is earned by defeating thugs, progressing the storyline and solving The Riddler’s clues.
Along with WayneTech upgrades you can earn, as the story progresses Batman will acquire additional gadgets to make life easier. For example, at one point in the game Batman gains the ability to use a high frequency emitting device that can effectively overload a security system’s encryption mechanism and disable it. While this item is not acquired early on, you can travel back to places on the island you’ve visited before and use it to access areas that were inaccessible before.
This plays right into The Riddler’s clues and hidden items. The Riddler, that devious so-and-so, has left a variety of riddles and hidden trophies throughout the island in an attempt to prove his intellectual superiority over Batman. He figures Batman cannot possibly solve all of the riddles and find all of the trophies. Actually, The Riddler is also keeping track of other items he did not place on the island: patient interview tapes, mysterious coded messages and The Joker’s chattering teeth.
Solving The Riddler’s challenges is not required but helps you progress easier by giving you experience points for the WayneTech upgrades. Additionally, The Riddler’s challenges expose you to much of the history and lore of the Dark Knight than you may know. It is a great exercise in exploring Batman’s past and present that really adds a great deal of depth to the game.
While the great plot, great gameplay and good depth provide a very enjoyable experience, it would all go for naught if the game’s presentation weren’t very strong. Thankfully, this is not the case. The entire presentation of Arkham Aslyum is excellent. The visuals are deep and moody as you might expect from a Batman property. The sound effects and music fit the visuals very well.
The voice actors cast in the game also add to the value of the presentation. Mark Hamill voices The Joker and performs very well, as does Kevin Conroy voicing the Dark Knight. The voice actors do not seem like an afterthought and are a very strong part of the game’s presentation. Not only do the voice actors do an excellent job, but the way the henchmen grow more and more afraid as Batman picks more and more of them off is very satisfying. All in all, the way the different presentation elements are tied together is very effective and satisfying.
Once you’ve finished the main storyline, you can try your hand at some of the brawls and stealth sequences in a challenge mode. The challenge mode is a nice add-on that allows you to test your mettle in perfection during melees or to achieve certain stealthy parameters as you take out a room full of armed henchmen. The challenges are set in environments and situations that you encounter throughout the game, so they don’t feel quite so tacked-on when compared to the main storyline. Additionally, you can compare your scores and performance on the challenges to your friends and the Batman: Arkham Asylum player population in general.
There’s not much to gripe about in the game, save for some of Batman’s foes that you don’t actually get to face during the game. Some of Batman’s villains make an appearance throughout the game but you never get to actually face that villain in combat or in any intellectual manner. This leaves us feeling a little unfulfilled in those cases.
If you’re looking for a great licensed game with melees, stealth, intellectual puzzles and more, then Batman: Arkham Asylum is for you. The richness of the experience and depth of the game have a lot to offer just about anybody, fans of Batman or not. If you don’t already have this game and want to add a solid title to your collection, then you can’t go wrong with the Dark Knight’s latest game.
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