Arkham Asylum ReviewAugust 31, 2009
The story is based around the capture and return of the Joker (voiced by Mark Hamill.) to Arkham Asylum. Batman (Voiced by Kevin Conroy.) accompanies him through the halls of Arkham during the opening credits. Once they reach a checkpoint the guards inform Batman that they have it all under control and he can’t enter. Reluctantly, The Batman sits back and watches the guards take him away. It isn’t too long before Joker makes his move. Knocking out the guards and making it passed the high security gates with the help if Harley Quinn (Voiced by Arleen Sorkin.) who has already stealthfully taken control of Arkham. This is where the game begins.
You control Batman… Duh. Using the left stuck to move about and the right to swivel the camera. The camera. Which can be problematic sometimes in 3rd Person shooters works flawlessly in this game. There where no issues moving the camera or having the camera being blocked or stuck behind something. The X (or A on 360) is used to run and interact with people and objects. Square (X on 360) is attack, Circle (B) causes you to throw your cap around and stun enemies and Triangle (Y) is used to counter an act from enemies. Left bumper aims whatever wonderful toy you have equipped while the right bumper fires said toy. Right shoulder ducks and left shoulder Is an alternate view that I feel is used far too much during the game called “Detective Mode” in Detective Mode, your view turns a blue color and enemies become X-ray images, are become color coded based on there level of risk. (Red being that they have a gun and will shoot you in the face!.) This view also reveals the Riddlers hidden question marks that are hidden through the game that are required to view in order to solve some of his riddles. Also revealed with the view are grates that can be opened, weak walls that can be blowed up. And objects that can be moved or taken.. The direction pad is used to select from 8 different gadgets you can use to help you through the game.
The controls work perfectly well and after you’ve played a bit feel more than natural. You’ll get use to throwing a triple batarang while glide kicking a 4th enemy only to shoot back up to a gargoyle without hesitation.
Graphically the game is top notch. While some texture buffering is noticeable when first booting the game. It’s in line with nearly every other Unreal Engine based game and only seems to happen upon initial boot. There is very subtle slowdown in some areas. Nearly unnoticeable. What makes the graphics so amazing isn’t just the technical mumbo jumbo. But the amazing art direction, style. And painstaking attention to detail they put into every aspect of the game. You’ll zoom in on pictures sitting on someones desk and see there wife and kids. Look at there paper work and see there hand writing. Fog fills the air in some low level areas. Arkham truly feels alive. Even after beating the game and having the while island to yourself. It feels like a living place. That is very hard to do. And when it’s done right it can bring a “good” into an unforgettable one. Character texture work is breath taking. All those screen shots you’ve seen and the ones I’m posting here are exactly what the game looks like in action. Animation is fluid and natural looking. The ragdoll physics. Which usually end up looking silly. Don’t look bad here. Still not fantastic. But far better than most games that use it. One small ding in the graphics department would be lip syncing. Doesn’t quite look right. Mouths don’t move enough to look like there saying the words that you hear. Small issue really.
The design of everything is so much different than any other batman move/show/.. Anything. They where really allowed a lot of lenience with the direction they wanted to go. And it pays off beautifully. It’s fun to see what all your old favorite look like in this game. It’s far darker than other iterations. To give you a hint. Riddler tells a joke involving mutilating a baby. Yeah..No shit.
The way the world is designed in the game is truly stunning. Every building you step into feels different from the get go, there is never an area where you go. “What building am I in again?” Botanical Garden is full of plants… duh. But it could be easy to make the Penitentiary look like the Intensive Treatment building. But they do a great job of keeping them from feeling similar. You really get a sense that this place has had history.
I did find a few tucked away areas of the map that where almost completely void of texture mapping and lighting. I assume I wasn’t suppose to be able to get to this location. But I did. Most may not try doing this, but I’m the type to try and do something I’m not suppose to. and I got there, and it was odd looking. No texutres, no lighting, just a blocky polygon and I’m standing on it. They could have slapped on some low res texture. *shrug* Maybe because I was playing in a very dark room with the TV brightness jacked ALL the way up (I did that on purpose to see if the dark area was texture mapped.). but.. meh. Who else is going to try that shit?
A final note about the graphical difference between the 360 and Ps3. The 360. As usual. Does look a tiny bit better than the PS3 version. This difference isn’t as big as past comparisons and unless it’s side by side. You won’t tell the difference. Also. For those few with a PS3 version and an HDTV with only 1080i output. Don’t worry. The box says it’s only 720p but if you disable 720p in the display menu. The game will automatically upscale to 1080i.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sound Presentation
Sound is nearly perfect as well. Stepping into a room full of computers causes the hum of power and the buzzing of electronics to fill the room. Leaving the room. You realize that the sound was there before you noticed it. But it’s being muted by the wall between you. That’s a very subtle effect that you don’t even realize because it’s a natural transition. But doing that in a game isn’t easy and shows the amount of detail put into this thing. Music rarely plays. And doesn’t at all after you’ve beaten it. But it allows all the subtle sounds to come through. Wind through the trees, branches creaking, metal clanging against metal from broken supports. As I noted in the graphics section, each building is represented clearly and doesn’t become confusing as to each facility your in. The sound plays a large part of this separation as well. You won’t hear a lot mechanical stuff in the Arkham Mansion, you’ll hear silence, papers lofting through the breeze as you run past them. Lobby music, etc. But move to the Botanical Garden and you’ll here bugs and birds, leaves ruffling and an over abundance of things happening. You can hear that it’s not just a sterile place, it’s alive. These noises reverborate, echo, and mute as you move through stone or metallic halls or go through doors. The sound design team was either keeping up very well with the graphic team or they where setting the bar for what the video side of the studio was gonna have to keep up with. No matter who was leading who, it all ended up coming together amazingly in the A/V area of the game.
Voice acting is just about spot on. Mark Hamill does a perfect job reprising his role as Joker from the Batman cartoon.. and was obviously given a little bit more freedom as he uses more “colorful” language in the game. Same with Harley Quinn and Batman. Although Kevin Conroy’s voicing of Batman sounds a little stiffer than usual. It might just be me, and not hearing his version of Batman in so long. Not saying it’s bad by any means. All other character voices fit there character and sound good doing it. They’re weren’t any that caused me to be removed from the game. It was always engrossing. Well, Killer Croc sounds funny to me.. I dunno, They could have worked his voice a bit better so he sounded like a huge scary Croc guy and not like a guy…trying to sound like a scary croc guy. ya know?
Special note on audio. The difference between 360 and PS3 here is a bit bigger. PS3 users get 7.1 LPCM audio over HDMI. And it sounds great. 360 only has 5.1 Dolby Digital over optical or HDMI as the 360 is not capable of 7.1 audio. Which still sounds great. But if you have a good 7.1 setup you’ll be in for a treat on the PS3!
Gameplay ramps up in perfect pitch in terms of difficulty. Early guys are easy It feels very much like a 3D metroid. Err… Or I guess. A different spin on Metroid Prime. You’ll do a lot of backtracking as you gain new abilities and equipment to uncover new hidden items and get to different parks of the islands 5 internal locations. This method. Like in Metroid Prime. Works well and doesn’t get boring as the farther you progress through the game. The surrounding environment and actual internals of the buildings changes, especially after Poison Ivy escapes and wreaks havoc. Also with how well everything is portayed and how beautifully the game is rendered. It’s not a choir to go back. If just to take in more of the atmosphere
The combat in the game is based around RockSteadys “Freeflow” combat system built for Arkham Asylum and it works very well. What you do is use 3 face buttons on the controller to interact with the enemies around you. and you use the left stick to attack in that direction. When you see little “alert” things above an enemies head, that means he is about to attack you and you should press the “counter button”. This all works very easily and balances on a simple “Button Masher” but never falls into the hoe hum mindlessness that other games fall into.
After going through the story. Which took about 12 hours. The Riddlers riddles and hidden trophies where just as fun to try and solve as the story mode. And because your not constantly being attacked by anyone. You can really take time and think about where things would be. After that. There are many challenge maps involving brute force “take out as many as possible” type play. Or stealthfully taking out a room of armed thugs. These add to the replayability. And if your the lucky who snagged the game on the PS3 you get to play as the Joker. While he plays the same during the combat challenges. Playing him in the stealth maps are different as he has a different arsenal of weapons. Fair more limiting than the Caped Crusader. Meaning using Joker is more challenging.
If I have any negatives to say about the game is that it’s very easy to get “stuck” in Detective Mode viewing. Not because the button is hard to press or it doesn’t react, but because it shows so many hidden things that you can’t see with the naked eye, that staying in Detective Mode is a crutch that you just stay on. They could have added a timer of sorts, like a “battery” that runs down if used too long. this would have been annoying, but would have kept you from wanting to stay in this alternate view through the whole game. Also, the final boss battle was weak. The story building up to it was awesome, and you feel as if your going to have a massive massacre fight for your life and….. if falls flat and ends up being kindof gimmicky. it by no means ruins the experience though, the story is still great and it all pays off. But the actual battle itself is lackluster.
All in all. I was excited about Batman. But was hesitant. While comic book games are getting better. They still stumble once in awhile, and we haven’t had a decent Batman game since.. Well, the SNES release of “The Adventures of Batman and Robin”. There was even an open-world Batman game in development by Pandemic Studio (Creators of Mercenaries, Star Wars:Battlefront 2, and many other good games.) at the same time as this one based on the spectacular Dark Knight movie. It was later canned do to tech limitations and overall lack of time/quality. And the Studio behind this game, Rocksteady, is fairly unknown, with only one other game under there belt as a developer. (Urban Chaos: Riot Response.) and was taking a lot of liberties with the iconic image of the comic. While looking good in screenshot. It was still a little unnerving seeing them change so much. And while the demo was fun. It left me wanting more. But worrying that combat would grow dull quickly. But this is kept in check by slowly requiring you to counter more quickly, introducing thugs with knives, start blocking. And some with guns. Which causes you to evolve in how you deal. It goes from mindless “button mashing” to requiring technique and timing to survive.
I have no qualms in saying this is a candidate for game of the year. It’s that good.
Overall Score: 9.4
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