Game: "Batman: Arkham Asylum"
System: PlayStation 3
Published by: Eidos
Review: Batman: Arkham Asylum is the best superhero video game ever made. Hands down. Nothing against Marvel's recent Ultimate Alliance series, as they're quite fun as well, but this one is just that good. And it's about time Batman got a decent video game, too. The Batman franchise is rife with possibilities for something like this, but it's sad that it's taken nearly 30 years of video gaming for them to finally get it right.
As most of you are probably aware by now, the Joker has cooked up an elaborate plan that involves (you guessed it) fucking with Batman by releasing the inmates of Arkham Asylum. Oh, there's a little more ambition behind it than that, but I don't want to spoil things too much here. Reprising their roles from Batman: The Animated Series are Mark Hammil (Joker), Kevin Conroy (Batman), and Arleen Sorken (Harley Quinn), which truly brings these characters to life and adds an incredible amount of atmosphere to the game. Plenty of other characters have speaking roles as well (Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, Bane, Killer Croc, Victor Zsasz, The Riddler), and though their voice actors aren't as recognizable as the others, they also do a great job with the roles. Experiencing something as wonderful as this, it's hard to imagine how we ever played games where the dialog was just represented by silent text on the screen.
You have all of Arkham Island and the Asylum's buildings to explore, which is a surprisingly vast amount of space. And given that the Riddler left plenty of hidden clues lying around all over the place for you to find, there's ample reason to use your special Bat-visor's "detective mode", which will have you wanting to check every last nook and cranny in search of trophies that unlock bonus content. It's tempting to just leave detective mode running all the time, as it's very useful, but in doing so you would miss out on much of the game's graphical content, and the graphics in this game are stunning.
The game's combat is ridiculously fun, and extremely easy to get the hang of. One button does almost all of your attacks, one button does counter moves, another dodges and another does a distracting "cape swipe" maneuver. It's easy to kick plenty of ass once you get the hang of the system, and you'll find yourself wading into a sea of twelve guys without pause. However, when the henchmen have guns, they're extremely deadly, and that's when the game's stealth system comes in very useful. You can use air ducts to move around and position yourself behind enemies for a silent takedown, you can grapple up to gargoyles and silently swoop down on them from above, you can lay down explosive gel and wait for an enemy to get too close--there are many different ways to dispatch enemies, and the game really leaves it up to your discretion to choose how best to handle it. Though some situations require you to use stealth to survive, other times you'll find yourself using the stealthy approach simply because you're the goddamned Batman, and it's fun.
Some of the boss fights are a little easy, and some of them are false alarms altogether (the first time you take down Mr. Zsasz is a joke), but they're always entertaining. And sometimes just when you think you've seen the last of a character, they'll pop up again and surprise you. The most visually interesting parts of the game are when you're under the influence of the Scarecrow's fear gas, which cause bizarre hallucinations where Scarecrow is a giant god-like being, and if his Sauron-gaze spots you sneaking around on his level, he will crush you like a bug and it's game over for Batman.
Some of the characters have gotten interesting redesigns--they tried to make Harley a little sexier (which was unnecessary), and they gave Scarecrow a Freddy Krueger syringe glove. I've seen some people online complaining about how that's "ruined" the game, but honestly it makes very little difference. As an avid comic reader, I'm used to seeing different artist's interpretations of these characters, so seeing them sporting slightly different looks here doesn't bother me, as thematically they're all the same, and easily recognizable. After all, you and I don't wear the same clothes every day (at least I hope you don't), so why should we expect comic characters to do the same? Some days the Riddler wears a green suit, and other days he just feels like embarrassingly tight spandex.
As many different villains as they managed to work into this game (many of them with boss fights), no doubt some of you will be disappointed that your favorite villain didn't make it into the game (no Two-Face!). The developers had to draw a line somewhere, but the good news is that nearly every single Batman villain worth half a shit (and even some who aren't) is at least represented in the game in some way. You'll find Harvey Dent and Mr. Freeze's cells. You'll find Ra's al-Ghul's body in the morgue. You'll spot one of Penguin's umbrellas in a glass display case. This really adds to the feel that even though you don't encounter them yourself, these characters were there, which just seems to make the asylum pop with life.
This game is insanely fun and compelling, and there are so many secrets to find, and so many different ways to take out the bad guys that I'd say it has pretty high replay value. And the good news is that the developers have already said they'd love to tell more stories in the Batman universe, so many we'll eventually get a sequel where we'll get to see some of those characters who didn't make a showing here. We can hope. In the meantime, we have this one to enjoy over and over again. This game is the model by which all future superhero games should be designed. It's about as perfect as a video game can be.
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)
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