What do you get when you take a ½ cup of Zelda, throw in a dash of Metal Gear Solid, and then a whole crap ton of Awesome? That’s right kids, you get Batman: Arkham Asylum.
If you’ve played the Demo of the game, you obviously know the lead in of the story line. Without dropping any big spoilers… Batman brings Gotham’s most notorious criminal back to the asylum. Unfortunately for Bats, The Joker manages to “escape” once inside.
Obviously, Batman isn’t going to stand for such tomfoolery as the prison and it’s many inhabitants break free. So, he decides that it’s time to break some faces (but not kill anyone, of course).
Once you get into the game, you get your first “training session” where a handful of baddies decide they want to take on the legend. At first, I found myself button mashing and doing alright. However, the real key to combat in this game is all about timing. Insane button mashing will only lead you into sucker punches and broken combos.
The “FreeFlow(tm) Combat System” isn’t really anything new in my opinion. However, it works wonderfully in this game and you really feel like the Batman in the comics and [good] movies. You have a variety of options to render incapacitation upon your foes. When facing gangs, everything is comes down to timing of attacks versus dodging and countering your opponents. The system even allows you to work a few of Batman’s “wonderful toys” into your combos, such as the Batarang and a grapple gun.
A lot of the game relies on stealth though. Sometimes within the story you must take down foes completely undetected or something bad will happen to a hostage. Most of the time, however, you are just playing for survival. Batman can take quite a beating, but he can’t take more than a few bullets. When faced with multiple armed opponents, you have little choice but to take them out one by one without being seen.
In order to stay under the radar, you have quite a few options at your disposal. You can use your grapple gun to hide in the rafters of rooms or silently stalk your prey through vents and floor paneling. When above your opponent, you have several different attacks from flying leaps with a boot to the face to pulling them up to you with your grapple gun and hanging them from the ceiling. Alternatively, you can pull the old Solid Snake and choke out your opponent from behind.
The game also features a leveling system, in which you gain experience by defeating opponents or solving riddles (more on this below). When you level up, you have the option of picking new combat moves, better armor, and upgrades to various pieces of your equipment like the Batarang or explosive gel. Some of the upgrades were interesting such as proximity explosives, but it felt like some of the combat & stealth moves you should have had from the beginning of the game.
The game features several bosses through out the game. Unfortunately, most of them were pretty lack luster and didn’t even feel like a “level ending fight.” Most were uninspired and a two in particular featured actual combat (one that I was actually looking forward to was nothing more than a cutscene). However, the Scarecrow fights are very interesting and give you a look back into Batman’s past (I guess this is for you really cool people who know nothing about Batman).
The Storyline is pretty cut and dry, but the immersion more than makes up for it. There’s a few light plot twists, but what really shines is this game is the pure talent of Mark Hamill as The Joker. He will frequently taunt you, as well as the criminals guarding various areas. He gave me quite a few OMGLOL moments during the course of the game.
After beating the game, the game becomes free roam in which you can run around the now almost empty asylum and solve The Riddler’s riddles which he hid among the asylum. A good majority of them are ‘hidden packages’ similar to GTA. Others require you to find certain things in the area via clues you are provided then scan them. This might be a gun on the wall or a certain painting. The most annoying though are question marks which are hidden within most maps. This requires you to find the bottom half of the question mark and line it up with the top half (always located below or above you). It doesn’t sound very difficult, but due to your ability to only take full strides rather than inch along and some poor camera angles, it can make some of these riddles frustrating, even after you’ve found them.
The good news is that finding these riddles usually gets pretty easy since you find maps in game which provide you with a general location of each riddle. They’re almost impossible to miss.
Also, there are 2 major types of challenge maps which are required for a “100% completion.” These are either a straight up brawl (Combat) or a stealth type (Predator) missions. In the later you are put into an area and tasked to take down a number of armed opponents without being seen. In Combat you are put into an area with several opponents to face off against in a brawl fest. The number of people you must fight increases with each round. The predator maps are pretty easy for the most part. However, combat maps require you to score insane combos in order to pass the level.
Arkham Asylum is an insanely fun game that will definitely be a contender for Game of the Year. It will face up against some tough competition later in the year, but so far, it has my vote.
Batman: Arkham Asylum was released on August 25th, 2009 for the Xbox 360 and Playstation3.
It will later be released for PC on September 15th, 2009.