Well, fall is nearing us once again and best season for video games is upon us. As I did last year, I'll be reviewing a number of games to prepare my readers, (and myself), for the upcoming sequels and since I've had this comic book theme going on I decided to review something that ties into it. As I'm sure all my fellow hardcore gamers know, finding a really good superhero game is nearly impossible. What usually ends up happening is that the game is playable but ultimately nothing special. However, in 2009, the gaming company Eidos, a group with almost nothing to their name came out with what is now considered to be the best superhero game ever made. And today that is what we are going to look at. This is The Illusive One's Review of Batman: Arkham Asylum.
The story starts when Batman takes The Joker to Arkham Asylum, (once again, when are they going to learn that that place can't hold him!?), who breaks free of his captors and takes over the Asylum, releasing all the criminals from their cells and causing anarchy to reign over Arkham Island. Now it's up to Batman to take down The Joker, reestablish control over the island and prevent him from exacting an unknown plan.
On the positive side, the concept of The Joker taking over Arkham is a great one. Granted, it has been used before but never to such an extent. The Jokers ultimate plan, I actually thought was pretty cool and was not what I was expecting at all. On the other hand it kind of seemed a little to cartoonish. Like it was something that belonged in the 90s animated series but was just too extreme for it. For what it was, however, the plot worked but I never felt it was anything special.
This is where the game really shined as far as superhero games go. The combat was excellent, the use of stealth was great, the boss fights were memorable and it kept you on your toes. Along with the usual combat and stealth sequences, you also got these sequences where Batman actually has to battle hallucinations brought upon by Scarecrow's gas.
The graphic were likewise really good and the looks for the characters were great, paying tribute to previous renditions but also staying original. Characters like Killer Crock were extremely intimidating, Scarecrow was shit yourself scary and others like Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy were...well let’s just say that there is a lot of fan boy service with them. There was also a healthy collection of weapons you could obtain and upgrade and it will keep any Batman fan satisfied.
Where this game really succeeded however, was in the general atmosphere. Throughout the game the developers kept this forbearing mood up that full of tension you could cut with a knife. When entering each area of the game, you have no idea if you are going to be attacked, greeted with welcome, or if nothing would happen at all. Of all the battles, movements, dialog and scenes in this game, I think my favorite is actually the opening scene where The Joker is being taken into the Asylum and it's just the characters talking and the staff of Arkham taking precautions around The Joker, showing just how much they fear him. It probably lasts about five minutes and could have been cut down but that's why I liked it so much. It was just them talking and allowed for a lot of atmosphere and tension to settle in on the player. It all around went into making a very memorable Batman experience.
There are a few faults with the system, however. For example, the stealth options seemed to be a bit limited. Ventilation shafts constantly appear and make traveling around enemies easier and these stone gargoyles constantly appear, giving you cheap ways to take out your opponents and it irked me. And finally, the final boss fight was disappointing. I won't say who it was with, but suffice to say it's a bit of a letdown.
All around I think the good outweighed the bad in the gameplay department. Was it anything special? No, but it was fun, wasn't repetitive, it was creative, and, best of all, was true to the source material.
Now, because this is a Batman game you would think that the characters and voice acting would be great. But I have to admit it was hit and miss throughout the game. Voice actor Kevin Conroy, who also did the voice of Batman in the 90s animated series and The Justice League did a decent job reprising his role but it was a very casual performance. Mark Hamill as The Joker on the other hand was just fantastic. His dialog was great, the way the lines were spoke were great and his demented actions were great and to be honest I think that this is my favorite Joker of all time. You also had great new looks and voice acting for Scarecrow and Killer Crock who both looked shit your pants scary. There are also tapes you find throughout the island which contain interviews with said villains and these tape, while short, actually add layers of depth to the characters that you wouldn't have received if you just played through the game and made the characters much more three dimensional. You also had a few good supporting characters like Aaron Cash and Oracle, (Barbra Gordon after the Joker shot her in the spine in The Killing Joke).
Like I said, though, the characters could be hit or miss and some of the lines were really bad and hokey. For example, the guy who voiced Jim Gordon was just terrible. That all I can say about it. He was just terrible. Warden Quincy Sharp was likewise terrible and was incredibly clichéd in a stuck up way and was just the snootiest character I think I've ever seen in a video game.
For as much as the Batman fan boys probably got hard for this rendition of Harley Quinn, I could not help but think that she was annoying as shit! Her voice was annoying, her lines were annoying and her actions were annoying! She was just annoying! Then there were other villain characters like Bane and Poison Ivy. This rendition of Bane, I'm disappointed to say, wasn't much better than the Joel Schumacher Batman and Robin version. He was just an unintelligent brute who liked to crush things. That's it and it was really disappointing. With that aside, it was obvious that this character was just put in as a boss fight as was Poison Ivy and that annoyed the crap out of me.
In the end, the characters were hit or miss. When they were good, they were really good, but when they were bad they were really bad and it's kind of up to the individual to decide if the experience was positive or negative for them. For me, these problems didn't ruin the all around experience of the game but they did annoy me.
I think the best way to sum this entire review up is to say that it's nothing special. I mean, for a superhero video game it's fantastic but as video game in general it's just good. The plot was a tad over the top, especially when following on the heels of The Dark Knight but it still worked. The all around gameplay was nothing fantastic but it wasn't bad either and it worked for what it was. And finally the characters tended to be hit or miss throughout the game. When they were good, they were fantastic but when they were bad they just sucked. But it is a game I would recommend to any gamer and Batman fan. It's not a waste of time by any means, is very fun and extremely enjoyable
So what's next for this series? Well, Batman: Arkham City is due for release on the 18th of October, and from what I know about it, it actually looks like it will clean up a lot of the issues I had with this game. Their seems to be a few more free roam options as well as several side missions, you’ll actually get to play as Catwoman and Bane is going to be an ally of Batman’s so hopefully this will redeem this version, (to those of you who are unaware, Bane was often an ally of Batman’s as much as a villain throughout the comics). However my expectations aren't through the roof. My honest guess is that it will be better than this game and if you liked it you'll probably like Arkham City but I don't think that it will be able to hold up in the long term. Let's just hope I 'm wrong in this regard. So until next time this is The Illusive One sighing off.