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Arkham Asylum: It’s Batman time

I was at work today, minding my own business and thus proving just how awful of a reporter I am when my boss came into my office and dropped off the most recent page he had been working on.  It was the obit page, also known as the dead page, what with all the people who are on there who have allegedly kicked the bucket.  Sometimes, along with their life histories, we have a picture to go with the brief article.

Today I found myself staring into the face of Ras Al Ghul, brilliant genius and enemy of Batman.  From reading the man’s history, I found no traces that he had dedicated most of his long life to the study of thwarting death with the use of the Lazarus pits, nor any word that he had clashed with the bat often during his wheelings and dealings in the modern world.  This made sense to me since here, in reality, Batman rarely fights with anyone in hand to hand combat at all.

Okay okay I'll write about Batman! Stop looking at me from BEYOND THE GRAVE!!

But still, Al Ghul stared me down, his wide eyed insanity overwhelming my senses.

“Tooooophat,” he called from beyond the aether, making me wonder if he reads Faceplant on a regular basis.  “Whyyyy haven’t you reviewed that sweet Baaaaaaaatmaaaaaaan gaaaaaame yet?”

“Shove it, Al Ghul,” I snapped back at him.  “I’m a pretty busy dude.  Things come up, you know?

Ras Al Ghul didn’t push the issue further.  He didn’t need to.  He just needed to sit there.  On the dead page.  Staring at me.

So, yeah, I guess I’m going to type something up about Batman: Arkham Asylum tonight.

When I first heard word that Arkham Asylum was coming out, I was filled with just about the same level of dread as I was when I heard the announcement of Bioshock 2.  Let’s be honest.  Video games have not been kind to the dark knight.  I was assured that this time the game would be Batman, full and unfiltered, able to do all the things that Batman can do in the endless cartoons, movies and TV shows about him over the years, (except for maybe creating small “biff!”  and “whammo!” sound effect balloons when he punches a dude) but you know that old saying. ” Burn me once, well, that was a pretty dick move on your part.”

Arkham Asylum went above and beyond anything I expected.

THIS is what you get for not wearing a shirt!

The game opens with the everyone’s favorite cowled crime fighter personally escorting the Joker into Arkham Asylum.  The Joker, of course, is a regular at Arkham, and seems to be viewing his recent arrest as a sort of homecoming celebration.  But before the guards can get the clown back in his cell, Joker breaks free and runs off deeper into the asylum, taunting Batman to follow him.

The joker is voiced by Mark Hamill, by the way.  I know a lot of people seem to think Health Ledger is the best Joker money can buy, but for me that pudgy ex-Star Wars hero is the only real Joker.  I guess I’m biased from years of watching the animated cartoon show.

So, in you go, and it’s up to Batman to bring order to a prison that’s slowly going out of control.  Speaking of controls, it’s extremely easy to make Batman do just what you want him to do, which still boggles my mind even to this day.  Anyway, you spend the a lot of the game wandering around the island, dealing with whatever crisis the Joker is throwing at you, and clashing with several of Batman’s worst.  Run ins with the Scarecrow and his fear-juice get a little trippy, and Killer Croc lets you know the score the first time you encounter him.  Namely:  He wants to eat you.  Probably a good idea if you keep that in mind, just in case.

In addition to being one of the craziest criminals of all time, the Joker could really use some Rogaine.

The game is overflowing with references to Batman lore and villains, unlockable as you chase down and scan clues that the Riddler keeps throwing at you from time to time.  Just about any of Batman’s foes are represented here.  Hell, the game even throws a bone to Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb for crying out loud.

Oh, and if you’re not a Batman fan, but for some reason still want to play this game, don’t worry about having to slog through seventy years of Batman comics to understand who these people are and what they want.  The important enemies have audio logs scattered throughout Arkham, giving you some insight into how their minds work, or more importantly, how they’re probably going to try to kill you.

Combat flows smoothly between foes, even if some of the encounters can get a little dicey and repetitive.  Though, my favorite moments are the ones where you’re hiding in a room with a group of goons, slowly picking them off one by one with explosives, gliding kicks, or by tying them up, upside down, just to spark fear in the remaining thugs.  It’s a fantastic feeling watching that last goon just freak out, firing his gun blindly into shadows and screaming at you to show yourself as you calmly plot his fate.

Honestly, the worst part about Arkham Asylum was the plot.  The game does a fantastic job of building up a great mystery around why, exactly, Joker essentially broke back into Arkham, but when you find out why, it was a little disappointing.  Also, the final boss fight, while hilarious, was a little unsatisfying to me for some reason.  It’s not something I can put my finger on, exactly, it just left me wanting more.

Another thing I had trouble with were a couple of “Batman can’t do that” moments.  This didn’t happen often, because


What can't this man do?

as David Willis pointed out in his comic Shortpacked, there’s actually little that Batman can’t do.  These moments are necessary to keep the game moving forward, true, but I find it hard to believe that Batman can actually pick out alcohol residue in the air from a guard who is a known boozer.  Seriously, what?

Also:  The game has some challenge rooms, both for stealth and combat, which are a bit, well, challenging.  No, scratch that, the challenge rooms dive clear past challenging and into the “impossibly infuriatingly difficult” pool.  Which I guess can be a good place to swim if you don’t mind all the blood.  Okay, this metaphor really got away from me at the end.

I’m looking forward to Arkham Asylum 2, slated for release sometime…  later.  Yeah.  Mark Hamill has already signed on for his last romp as the Joker, and if the second game offers us even half as much as we got in the first game, I’ll be one happy gamer.


2 Responses

  1. Nice review. I almost forgot that I owned this game! I liked it, but other games like Dragon Age, Mass Effect 2, and Red Dead kept pushing it down my play list. From what I played of it, the game did a great job of actually making you feel like Batman. I loved flying down from the rafters and drop kicking thugs.

  2. I considered trying to get all the achievements for this game and came reasonably close until I realized that the upper level challenge rooms are FRICKING STUPID. Seriously, to score high enough to get a gold on the later ones, you basically have to keep a combo through all 30 something enemies they throw at you, including the annoying must hit with cape first guy and the also annoying must hit from the back guy. If you punch one of those guys by accident and they block it, your combo dies and your screwed. All that being said I *loved* this game and everybody should play it.

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