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Systems – PC, PS3, Xbox 360 (PS3 Version Reviewed)

Publisher – Eidos, Warner Bros. Interactive, DC Entertainment

Developer – Rocksteady Studios

Genre – Action/Adventure

Superhero games have a long lineage of sucking badly, and continue to do so. But from the shadows of Gotham City comes Batman to save the day. Batman: Arkham Asylum is everything you would want from a Batman game and everything you would want from an action game combined in one. Making Batman not just a superstar of films and comics, but now of video games.

The game starts of with Batman capturing the Joker and taking him to Arkham Asylum, the place where all of the thugs and villains Batman has defeated over the years get checked into. After you get separated from the Joker he promptly escapes, while locking everyone inside Arkham and at the same time letting all of the thugs and villains out. And all of them want a piece of Batman. It’s a dark and desperate story of probably Batman’s toughest night ever and it shows as throughout the game your costume gets torn to pieces.

The visuals are beautiful, easily some of the best seen this generation as they create a dark and disturbing place in Arkham. And the audio is no slouch either. The dialog comes to life with help from the voice actors, most of them from the animated Batman cartoon series, with standouts being Mark Hamill as the Joker and Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn.

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The careful attention to back story is also great, with the Riddler showing up to give you puzzles that unlock new character profiles which will be extremely useful for anyone who only knows Batman from the recent films. Also there’s many audio recordings which reveal more about the villains which brought a very Bioshock-esque feel to the game. Overall the attention to detail and incredible atmosphere of the game is probably the best I’ve seen since last year’s GOTY Dead Space.

With this amazing setting also comes 3 distinct aspects of the gameplay. The first being the melee combat is a very simple single-button combat system for attacking, dodging, and defending. What makes the melee combat so satisfying is just how smoothly the combat flows together. Using these simple commands to make each fight seem like a unique and challenging experience.

The second is the stealth system which is very empowering. Batman apparently still doesn’t have bullet-proof armor, so when thugs with guns start showing up to ruin your day Batman has to take the fight in the shadows. The game almost turns into a puzzle game, where you’ll have a room of thugs that you can take out in a myriad of different ways. From grabbing them while hanging off a gargoyle, to stunning them with a batarang then getting in close and knocking them out. It all gets more and more satisfying with the more gadgets you get.

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When leads me to the final aspect of gameplay, the exploration and gadgets. The game is a pseudo-Open World where you can explore the grounds of Arkham at your pleasure, but to get to certain places you’ll have to use your gadgets to open the way. As the game goes on Batman will acquire new gadgets to open vents, or blow up weak walls. It’s very much like how a Metroidvania game would progress which was something I wasn’t expecting out of a Batman game, but works very well.

All of these systems are tied together with an experience and upgrade system. You gain experience from beating up punks, solving riddles, finding collectibles, and more which you can then spend on upgrades for Batman.  It ain’t no Mass Effect, but the upgrades are well-worth having and make the game way more interesting. These upgrades include throwing multiple batarangs, unlocking new combo’s for melee combat, upgrading your health, and much more.

There are some rotten spots to this game however. Super villain’s have always been a strong and important part of the Batman franchise, but unfortunately most of the boss battles are very bland and boring compared to the rest of the game. It’s pretty disappointing to be fighting an awesome super villain like Bane or Killer Croc, and finding yourself bored out of your mind. Even the final showdown at the end of the game is a disappointment.

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There’s one major exception which I would like to mention. In various parts of the game you’ll face off against Scarecrow, and the way he effects Batman, and finally battles him is amazing and almost scary. That’s all I would really like to mention as I don’t want to spoil the experience for you folks. But it’s easily something to chalk up there as one of the greatest experiences of 2009.

Another major turn-off is Detective vision, in this mode you can see enemies through walls and allows you to see important objects easier. The issue here is the same I had with Halo 3: ODST, that you’ll probably spend most of your time in Detective mode as it’s incredibly useful and there’s no real reason why you should turn it off, expect, you know, the game looks amazing and seeing red skeletons walking around really can break the atmosphere  for the player.

After you finish the lengthy single-player campaign there are a bunch of challenge levels for you to go through, of both the brawler and stealth variety that can be entertaining for a while. But ultimately they just couldn’t keep my interest without the story driving me. Important note for PS3 owners out there, you folks get the exclusive DLC making the Joker a playable character in challenge mode which is cool as he plays totally different from Batman.

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Batman: Arkham Asylum easily stands above all of the other games this year by being not just a good Batman game, but probably being the best super hero game ever made and one of the best games this year. The graphics are amazing, with a moody atmosphere that rivals the best this generation, with a great story and incredible voice acting from the folks from the Batman animated show. All of this is included with awesome gameplay including fluid combat, empowering stealth sections, and an impressive list of useful gadgets, fun exploration, and clever riddles to solve.

Unfortunately the game can be a bummer due to the fact that most of the game’s boss fights are bland and boring – with exception of the Scarecrow levels – and the incredibly useful Detective mode can really hurt the immersion of the game for players who don’t turn it off often. But don’t let this turn you off the game, it’s an amazing experience for Batman fans and gamers, buy this game and enjoy.


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