Jul 14, 2010

[Games] Batman: Arkham Asylum (PS3)

Batman: Arkham Asylum (PS3)As much as movies based on video games tend to be stinkers at the box office, games based on comic books are a mixed bag that tends to lean towards the dark side. Let's face it - the linear progression path of most games means that in the beginning, your heroic characters aren't very super. Typically it isn't until later stages that you start feeling like the hero you're supposed to be, and by the it's almost over.

In recent years there have been improvements made to the genre, leading to more creative games that do their best to capture the feel of the super part of superhero. For example, the Ultimate Alliance game franchise has gotten a lot better at making you feel like you're actually a hero given a more balanced power system and the availability of recharge modules. Really, it's just not the same when you don't have regular access to your powers.

So what do you do when the character doesn't have actual "powers" from a strict definiton sense. What do you when the hero is just a man in a suit? This is an enigma that has puzzled game designers time and time again over the years leading to a horrible host of Batman games that hardly deliver. Thus it's been an amazing turn of events that nerds at Rocksteady Studios actually manage to come out with a superhero game that wasn't just good but in fact be the best superhero game we've seen in years.

Batman: Arkham Asylym (PS3) is a third person action-adventure game that puts you in control of the Batman himself. While he may not seem cool since he can't fly or shoot laser beams out of his eyes, this game does a stellar job of reminding everyone why Batman remains to be one of the most kickass characters in all of comic book history.

The game's story is a rather compelling one - in an elaborate scheme, the apprehension of the Joker turns out to be part of his plans to take over Arkham Asylum. A freak fire at a nearbby prison recently led to the relocation of many lesser criminals to Arkham - goons who turned out to be mainly associates in the employ of the Clown Prince of Crime himself. Together with Harley Quinn, the Joker and his forces start taking the various parts of Arkham one-by-one and it's up to Batman to try and stop his plans and prevent the Joker from fulfilling his plans.

The game's look and feel is definitely dark and gritty, as is suitable to the Batman universe. However the particular animation style adopted here has pretty much everyone looking like they're a villain including the police officers and guards littered around the compound. The villains look even more menacing, with the Joker particularly well-crafted to generate a nightmare or two.

The best part of the game (as it should be) is the combat engine itself. The controls are fairly simple to start with and Batman naturally goes into various combats and complex fighting sequences even if you only mash a single button over and over again. So from the very start of the game, it really feels like you're controlling the world's greatest close combat fighter. As you increase in level, you get to unlock more complex maneuvers and higher damage combos, leading to more and more creative gameplay.

But it's not all about fighting - the game has a healthy stealth component to it to given it is after all Batman. You can skulk in the shadows, leap from one overhanging gargoyle to another and even creep up on goons and silently incapacitate them less than 4 feet from the next guy. This part of the game presents a much-needed challenge to thing and it acts as a constant reminder that Batman isn't exactly effective when the villains have semi-automatic weapons. Thus it is left to the player to think of a more strategic way to take out armed goons one at a time with as minimal risk to oneself.

As much as the story is a good one, the game does allow for a lot of exploration. Plus the scavenger hunt side-quest presented by the Riddler is a great excuse to try new things while exploring the map all for the benefit of more experience points. That's not counting the added fun of using his different gadgets, seeing things as Batman using his detective mode and a variety of other nuances to the game.

We were lucky enough to pick up the Game of the Year edition, which includes additional challenge maps and best of all a pretty nifty 3D mode. As if the Joker wasn't scary enough, seeing him enhanced by 3D is every more disturbing. The 3D effect nicely complements the game and gives it the added benefit of depth, but it does get a bit dizzying after a while and thus it becomes necessary to take frequent breaks or revert to the standard mode.

And lastly there's the character acting, which was nicely familiar given the decision to tap the talents associated with Batman: the Animated Series. That means the gruff Kevin Conroy as Batman, Mark Hamill as Joker and Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn. The rest of the characters for the more frontline villains and forces of good are pretty skilled although the guards do seem a tad flat at times.

Batman: Arkham Asylum is a surprising lesson in how superhero games should be made and also acts as the long-awaited fulfillment of our universal desire for a good Batman game. It gets 5 hidden Riddler trophies out of a possible 5.

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