Sunday, September 20, 2009

Review: Batman - Arkham Asylum

Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009)
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Platform: PlayStation 3
Purchase Date: GameFly Rental

If there was one game that garnered so much media attention and admiration this year, it would be Batman: Arkham Asylum. With the kind of hype this game was able to accumulate, there was no way the game would flop commercially even if the game ended up being bad, especially with the release of its ridiculously priced (and packaged) collector's edition. My experience with the game's demo across all platforms was great but how does the final product fare in the end?

Howling at the moon. Wait, that's not something that a bat would do.

In case you haven't heard, BAA pits Batman against (hardly) the entire denizens of Arkham Asylum. This occured when the Joker manages to take over the whole facility with the help of his personal lady in waiting, Harley Quinn, trapping Batman and even Inspector Gordon within the asylum grounds. It is up to Batman to regain control of the asylum while defeating the Joker as well as a number of other super villains who are either intentionally or accidentally released from their holding cells. The storyline is definitely one of the game's strongest assets because it manages to maintain a high level of interest throughout the adventure. It will surely keep you on your toes with its clever surprises and serious tone. Another successful element in this game is the brooding atmosphere. Just like the rest of Gotham, Arkham Asylum is Gothic in its architectures with striking stone sculptures both inside its dilapidated buildings and its forgotten outdoor gardens. Batman is able to use hidden vents and tunnels to navigate between rooms and buildings - this provides a sort of a secret world that only Batman is privy of, adding to the already thick atmosphere of mystery and allure that envelope the game. Graphically, the game looks very attractive even though some of the redesigns of the villains are a little bit disappointing. There visuals are polished with a game camera that is smart enough to zoom in and out depending on your current situation. As good looking as this version is, it is still a step below the Personal Computer version that offers both larger textures and higher resolutions.

Now you know what it means to be one of those creatures in Dead Space.

The gameplay here consists of 3 major components: action, stealth, and detective sleuth-work. The game has one of the best brawler mechanics ever devised even though it mostly comprised of attack and counter-attack button entries. It's certainly more fun than the stealth sections that will have you picking off the Joker's goons one by one using the surrounding environment to hide you from them. These sections are less successful because the A.I. of your enemies are quite dumb. The detective part of the gameplay involves using a "detective mode" vision to enable Batman to see through walls as well as analyze a variety of different clues to locate different individuals of importance. Batman is also being encouraged by the Riddler to solve an overwhelming number of riddles, hidden trophies, and interview tapes while taking care of his main concern - as if he really has time for petite puzzle solving. For the most part, this hodge-podge of gameplay variation works since you will never run out of things to do until you get to the end of the game. The only problem with BAA is its longevity. Unless you like your achievements or trophies, there is very little reason to play it game again but it would be great to revisit it perhaps in the future after you have forgotten about the game. Besides the story mode which I will again reiterate is very fun to play through - at least until you reach the lazy, unfathomable climax - there is also a mission mode that you can tackle and this is pretty much just a variation of scored action and stealth gameplay divided into different stages, each with its own online leaderboard. There are character trophies to unlock too but just like those in Resident Evil 5, you will get bored staring at them after your first viewing. What game developers really need to do with these 3D trophies is to allow us to have a virtual room where we can re-arrange them or change their poses - something more interactive than just merely gawking at them.

Successful eaves dropping sessions reveal that even dirty thugs live regular lives.

Is this the best Batman game ever made? No. I still like Sunsoft's Batman on the Nintendo Entertainment System better but it does set the definitive standard for future superhero games. This game is just like Christopher Nolan's first foray into his Batman film-making. Just like Batman Begins, BAA shows incredible maturity and potential in its many shining moments of brilliance but just like that movie, the ending simply doesn't work thus ruining what could have been utter perfection. With a little bit of work, I can see a sequel far greater than what this game could possibly offer us in its current form. I have no doubt that Rocksteady Studios will deliver on its promise the next time around.

RATING: 4 out of 5


Blake said...

I admit, that I will hunt down a trophy if I believe it can be done without devoting my entire life to doing one thing over and over.

But when you do get to the end of Batman and whether you have or haven't gotten all the extra stuff. Try the game again on HARD.

It won't be stupid hard to the point that it's no fun. Its very challenging and added a new level enjoyment to the game for me.

The indicators on the enemies that warned you when they were punching so you could counter are now gone, forcing you to really watch your enemies movements.

I must say that I had a great time playing the game on Hard and recommend playing the game on that setting after you beat the regular game. Trust me, it will be a whole new experience.

I totally agree with the extra content. I to enjoyed the 3D models, but making them interactive is a great idea.

I look forward to Arkham Asylum 2, Batman welcomes Robin,lol

Loner Gamer said...

You do love your trophies I noticed :) At the beginning, I started playing the game on Hard mode but then I realized that the mode was made for those who have finished the game the first time because it expects you to be very familiar with the combat system. Thus I restarted the game on Normal. I thought that it was really cool that on Hard, the game took away the cheap counter indicator but I always feel that it's a lazy design when a developer merely adds hit damage from the opponents and then call the game "Hard". More intelligent enemies would be better. It's truly a bane in modern game design and even well-known developers fall for it.

They most likely provided the "Hard" mode to add replayability for those who are inclined to get all the trophies/achievements in the game. I always admire games with one difficulty mode - whether it ended up being very difficult, very easy, or in between - because it's a sign that a developer cares about presenting the one and only ultimate vision of its game. The only brilliant difficulty-modes ever devised is in Ikaruga. Each difficulty presents a unique gameplay mechanics and each feels like an entirely different game.

I plan on tackling Hard when I finally pick up this game up for the PC just so that I can see the whole thing again in all of its true visual glory than anything else.