Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Review: Batman Arkham Asylum (PS3)

Well, I bought my PS3 + accessories almost two years ago, and still haven't gotten around to finishing even one game. A recent bout of sinusitis left me stuck at home, however, so I finally got around to Batman: Arkham Asylum, which I started quite a while back with the game set on Easy. I was going to wait to finish the game before writing a review, but I've found myself stuck on the last boss battle (maybe if my sinusitis cleared I'll feel better and be able to finish it at last). Needless to say, I don't think finishing the game at this point would change my opinion of it.

The short summary is that this is an amazing game. If all video games were like this maybe I should play more of them. The plot revolves around Joke, who's taken over Arkham Asylum and set it up as a trap for Batman. Batman attempts to unravels the Joker's plot and takes down his henchmen and allies. The start of the game is beautifully rendered, but that's not the best part. The best part comes when the game hands over control to you and you didn't even realize it, because the game looks identical to the cinematic opening movie! Ok, that's not the best part. The best part comes when you enter a room full of Joker's goons, and you have to start taking them down one at a time, stealthily. Nothing quite makes you feel like you're the Batman, as when you take down a goon quietly, and the rest of the gang starts getting scared and worried because they can't see you. The game does a great job of having you walk into a room full of thugs and thinking like Batman: There's 10 of them and 1 of me. I've got them outnumbered.

The game's not all punch and kicks, however. There's quite a few puzzles to be solved, though most of them are fairly straightforward, and some of them clearly just "turn on detective mode and let's get on with the punching." This is a good thing, because it doesn't feel very super-hero-like to get stuck on a puzzle that Batman should have solved in just a minute or two. You do get a fair number of great gadgets. Some of them are a lot of fun, like the bat-claw, which lets you get around in all sorts of high places. The exploration set-pieces are also well done. At one point, I ended up on top of a tall building overlooking Gotham, and took a moment just to view the scenery. Yes, the rendering is that good, and it's that pretty. The confinement of the locale to just Arkham Asylum is brilliant: it means that you don't spend your time just going from place to place, but instead can just get on the story if that's what you want, but it's also big enough to have lots of corners and crannies so if you really want to go spelunking and dig up every one of the Riddler's puzzles and secret-spots, you can.

Finally, the psychological set-pieces are actually a little scary. The first time you're stuck in one of Scarecrow's drug-induced dream-sequences, you get a quick glimpse into Bruce Wayne's psychosis. The unfortunate part of that is that these sequences lead to a mini-mario type game play, which is a bit out of character, but does work as part of the story if you squint just a little.

The low points? Killer Croc's hideout turns out to be frustrating and repetitious. Sometimes, the real-life mario'ing just seems a little annoying, and if you fall a bit, you keep thinking to yourself, Batman doesn't ever do this. But these are minor nits compared to the game as a whole. Even if you never play video games, if you like Batman as a character, this is definitely worth your time. Highly recommended.
P.S. One day later, I finished the story part of the games, and it hasn't changed my opinion. The game is just a heck of a lot of fun.
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