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Review: Batman: Arkham Asylum

John Funk | 1 Sep 2009 13:00
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Instead, taking out gun-wielding foes requires patience and forethought - I'll put explosive paste here, detonate it when the guy walks past it, then Batarang his buddy which should give me enough time to drop down and choke the third one into unconsciousness - as you creep past your foes and pick them off one by one. It's incredibly intense, and occasionally frustrating, but oh-so-rewarding when you finally pull it off.

Setting the game inside the literal Rogues' Gallery of Gotham means that Joker isn't the only foe Batman will face, and each of his supervillain opponents brings something new to the table. One might try and fault the game for trying to do too much, but it's hard to argue that when it does so much well. It has awesome button-mashing action, strategic predatory stealth combat, moments of genuine suspense - waiting for your foe to pop out from the water while creeping around Arkham's sewers - and sequences of surreal mind-screwing horror that would make Hideo Kojima himself proud.

The game is bolstered by the voice work of the Batman: The Animated Series cast - with Mark Hamill stealing the show as the lethally insane Joker, swerving between cackling hysterics and chilling threats in the space of a sentence. It's a middling-length game; a first playthrough may run ten to twelve hours depending on skill (though in the style of Metroid and Castlevania, there are tons of upgrades and challenges to find hidden around Arkham) but the story is so expertly paced that it keeps you engrossed as you continue unearthing facets of the Joker's plan - or was it all just a ploy to match wits with his timeless foe?

Arkham Asylum's flaws are few and far between, but stand out all the more because the game is otherwise so well-made. After a well-choreographed fistfight, it's jarring to see an unconscious foe slide through Batman's character model, and many of the Riddler's puzzles seem to not so much involve critical thinking and deductive reasoning as they do just going through the area with a fine-toothed comb and looking at everything. Two of the game's strengths even seem to conflict with each other: Detective Mode is very handy and intuitive to use, but the game's superb atmosphere and style are severely diminished when you're looking at the world through a blue filter. But these are just nitpicks, and while there are certainly nits to pick, they don't significantly detract from how stellar the rest of the game is.

People are holding up Arkham Asylum as the first great superhero game in quite some time, but you know what? It's not. To call it "a great Batman game" or "a great superhero game" would actually be doing it a disservice, because Batman: Arkham Asylum is a great game, period.

Bottom Line: Beautifully brutal combat and suspenseful stealth action support a gorgeously cinematic and oppressively atmospheric venture through the chaos of Arkham Asylum. For the fans, it's got a great story with some of the most beloved characters in the series, bolstered by a fantastic voice cast. For everyone else, it's just one hell of a good game.

Recommendation: Batman fans should under no circumstances miss Arkham Asylum. Everyone else should still give it a rental at the very least.

Score:

*John Funk would like to note that this was an expletive, not a verb. Bruce Wayne will have to buy dinner first.

This review was based off of the Xbox 360 version of the game.

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