We all go a little crazy sometimes…
Gotham City’s justice system is remarkably empathetic. There are few justice systems that would house mass-murdering criminals such as the Joker and believe that instead of incarceration in Blackgate prison, they should be treated in Arkham Asylum. Once at Arkham, however, it might be difficult determining just who are the doctors and who are the patients. Both the Scarecrow and Harley Quinn were once doctors, after all, but even the lesser-known costumed nutjobs in Arkham are dangerous. Calendar Man, anyone? I’m sure that housing all these deviants together in one place seemed like a good idea at the time. Not to worry, though. When everything goes inevitably wrong, it just might be time to call in your slightly deranged human weapon disguised as a bat to clean the place out.
[image1]Being the mayor of Gotham must come with a lot of headaches, but being a reporter must be a lot of fun…
It has been said that the reason that Batman has been successful throughout the years is not so much do to the caped crusader himself. To many, it is the villains that make Batman better that the rest. While many superheroes have but one or two main enemies, the Batman has faced hundreds. Batman: Arkham Asylum is the first Batman game to take this truism to heart and, by doing so, is the best Batman game ever.
How many of the rogue’s gallery do you get to face? I’m not telling you. A good Batman story is told by using a known setting, a master villain, and a diabolical plan that uncovers slowly with the prerequisite twists and turns. This recipe includes the titular asylum, a nutty guy called the Joker and the release of all his henchmen who were transferred to the island due to a fire at Blackgate. The Joker also has released several other, more permanent residents of the Asylum who all have their reasons to take down the Bat. From fighting overpowered tanks to taking mind-bending trips, the writers pulled out all the stops.
For the Batphiles out there, they’ll be pleased to know that Batman: Arkham Asylum takes most of its cues from both the comic and Batman: The Animated Series. They even used Paul Dini, the writer of most of the cartoon episodes among numerous Batman comics, to write the plot for the game. The touch of someone who knows and loves Batman is obvious right from the start. For the hardcore fans, the designers incorporated various Riddler challenges that dig deep into the Batman mythos. Find the clues and unlock bios and interview taps with characters throughout Batman’s history.
[image2]Given the fantastic writing, one might be concerned that they didn’t focus on gameplay or graphics. Never fear. The graphics for the game are eerily beautiful. Though there is the occasional collision detection issue, the world of Arkham is brought to life in high detail. The character design is superb with fantastic re-imaginings of some classic characters. When you die, expect whichever villain you’re currently facing to taunt you. Even the smallest details aren’t ignored, from the clues the Riddler leaves around to the scrapes and tears on Batman’s costume. And when you’re having the kind of day that Batman is having, you’d be lucky to escape with only some scrapes.
With all the pretty wrappings, Batman: Arkham Asylum is an action brawler with some covert combat gameplay that Solid Snake would enjoy. Batman is a trained martial artist and certified weapon of mass destruction, and this is the first game where you really feel that. Though there should have been a few more ways to take down foes silently, taking on ten guys at once is an acrobatic breeze when you get the combo system down. Pay attention to the guys with the guns, however, as even the Batman isn’t bulletproof. Combat becomes a ballet of disarming and disabling the inmates in some of the most fluid combat seen in video games. Again, in a nod to the Batfans, the Batman does not kill.
However, this leads to the one major drawback to the game: Detective Mode. Batman uses some sort of X-ray technology to discover clues and determine enemy locations and armaments. While fun and very well-done, the player will find themselves playing most of the game in Detective Mode. If they hadn’t made the game so beautiful, you might not mind playing all the time in Detective Mode, but there are times you almost have to force yourself to turn it off just to see the artistry of the world they’ve created.
The artistry didn’t just stop with the visual, either. In truth, there is only one voice for the Joker. Both Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger did fantastic interpretations of the Joker, but only one actor has successfully captured the modern version of the comic character. From his giddy personality to his high pitched laughter, Mark Hamill is the only person any Batman game or cartoon should use. That’s right, Luke Skywalker is the best Joker ever (watch Batman: Mask of the Phantasm if you don’t believe me). For that matter, all the voice acting from the animated series was phenomenal, and they brought nearly everyone they could for the game. It especially makes a difference with characters like Harley Quinn, who was originally created for the cartoon and only later became one of the most popular villains in the comic.
[image3]Both the 360 and PS3 versions are nearly identical. However, Sony and Microsoft can’t have that – otherwise what would the fanboys complain about? So, in the spirit of unfairness, the PS3 features exclusive challenge levels you can play as the Joker. While its neat to fight as the Joker, these “challenges” have no plot and are just a “kill-all-the-enemies-in-time” type mode. While the mode is fun and it gives some exclusivity to PS3 owners that they don’t always get, 360 owners should not feel left out in any way.
It should be noted that while this game is rated ‘T’ for Teen, so parents should take a look before getting this game. This game is very dark, with multiple executions and bodies set up in a grisly tableau. Though much of the actual violence takes place off-screen, what you do see is ample enough to allow your imagination to fill in the rest. If Batman wasn’t the main character, this game would be rated an ‘M’.
With fantastic voice acting, gorgeous graphics, and a well-written plot, what else could you want from a game? Great for hardcore Batmaniacs as well as gamers looking for a solid action/adventure game, I’m happy to declare Batman: Arkham Asylum as the best Batman game ever.