Sep 14, 2009

I fooled around with Batman.

It's been well documented. I love Batman. While I'm not the biggest gamer (my XBOX 360 has been gathering dust the last few months) I was giddy with anticipation for Rocksteady Studios' Batman: Arkham Asylum. Unless you count the Revenge of Shinobi, I'd never played a Batman game. I'd heard they were pretty terrible though. Well, I guess I was fortunate then that my first experience playing with Batman was about as good as you can get. Heh, heh. I said "playing with Batman."

All fantasies aside, B: AA kicked so much ass it's ridiculous. I mean, just look at that picture above. Don't take my word for it. It's sold over 2 million copies already and has been given a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as the "Most Critically Acclaimed Superhero Game Ever." So what exactly is so great about B: AA? Oh, I don't know, just about EVERYTHING. Ok, fine. I'll break it down for you.

The entire game takes place on Arkham Island during a massive luny breakout caused by the Joker. That alone is a recipe for awesome sauce. As someone who doesn't play first or third person shooters usually, I was a little worried I might fail miserably at the game. Fortunately it was easy to pick up and relatively easy to master. While the freeflow combat system is great, I never got the hang of keeping the combos going for long enough to get me the really high scores. It doesn't matter though because I could beat up henchman all day long. I can't tell you how satisfying it was to pummel a group of 20+ goons, not to mention the random raving lunatic that could be taken down with a swift choke slam.

Besides Bruce, I mean, brute force, my favorite aspects of Batman's repertoire are his detective skills and gadgets and you really use them to your advantage in B: AA. A detective mode in Batman's cowl allows you to analyze any situation or environment. With it, you receive the status of individuals within range. Are they deceased, unconcious or scared out of their fucking minds? It also let's you know who they bad guys are and which of them are packing heat. Very handy. Detective mode also helps you find alternative routes of entry and secrets you wouldn't otherwise be able to see. I actually found myself keeping detective mode on the majority of the time so I wouldn't miss things but then I'd feel bad and switch back to see the awesome graphics. Of course those were the times I would actually miss something I was looking for.

Sadly, besides cut-scenes, Batman doesn't get to use the Bat-mobile or any of his other vehicles in-game but he does have access to his classic gadgets and more. His Batarangs and grappling hook are standard but you acquire much more as the game develops. Explosive gel is intended to blow up walls but can also be strategically placed to blow up henchmen as well. Upgrades to your tools, gadgets and fighting technique become available as you gain experience. My favorite has to be the ability to do an "inverted takedown." Hanging from a gargoyle, you grab a thug that was unlucky enough to walk below you and leave him hanging from a rope until he passes out. Not only does he scream in terror, he's a prime example left for the other henchmen - don't fuck with the (babysitter) Batman.

If the entire game consisted of rounding up escaped mental patients and henchmen I probably would have gotten bored after a while. Luckily several classic Batman villains star or at least have cameo appearances. The Joker is primarily a voice from the sky until the very end of the game and contrary to popular belief, you do get to play as him on the XBOX, just not how you'd think. Bane and Killer Croc are obvious powerhouses but it's my girls Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy who stand out, if for nothing else than their attire. I'm in love with Harley's pieced together costume although I'm not too fond of Poison Ivy's look but I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to her. I was slightly disappointed that you don't actually fight Harley herself but her antics and love for the Joker are enough for me.

Fighting Killer Croc was one of the most intense portions of the game. I'm a big wimp so it killed me to have an already heart-pounding boss fight made that much scarier by having to move at a snails pace through it. And by the way, I don't recommend stopping in the middle of said fight because your hands are shaking to pick it up on another day. Trying to pick it up when you're out of practice with the controls is awful.

But nothing, I repeat, nothing was as frightening as the king of fear himself - the Scarecrow. I hadn't read much about the game online before playing it so I was completely taken by surprise when Batman started to show signs of succumbing to the fear toxin. Let me tell you, the mind is a beautiful thing. Once I knew what was going on it was like trying to play on acid. It was really trippy, but extremely well-done. And no, you don't get off that easy. The first time might have scared me shitless, the second almost brought me to tears. The third? Well the third violated Batman in ways I never thought possible.

The thing I loved about B: AA the most was how true to Batman it really was. This wasn't tied into a movie or any particular comic, honestly it was closer to the animated series and you can thank writer Paul Dini for that, so it is easily accessible to even the most casual fan. The trifecta of Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill and Arleen Sorkin voicing their familiar characters was the icing on the cake. Hearing Conroy say, "I prefer to work alone" and similar Batman-like lines, had be giggling with fanboy joy. The entire cast did an outstanding job though. Fun fact: Steve Blum, the guy who voiced Killer Croc, voiced Jack Shephard in the bizarre Lost video game, Via Domus. Tasia Valenza, who's no stranger to the DC animated universe, voiced Poison Ivy. Actually, a lot of the voice cast has worked with the DC animation team before, not to mention some Marvel video games as well. Now that is a club I'd love to break into.

Speaking of breaking into. Publishers Eidos proved they are just like the Dark Knight himself - prepared for every eventuality. They've inserted a copyright protection in the game that disables Batman's glide function for illegal downloaders. Read one players complaint and a classic response from Eidos on the subject here. Not that I condone illegal downloads but if you were only going to buy one game this year, make it B: AA. It's fucking amazing.

I really only found one fault with Batman: Arkham Asylum and it's that the end of the game was far too easy. I didn't even die once and for a player such as I, that's saying something. But overall the game was certainly challenging, even on easy. Some of the Riddler's challenges had me obsessing for quite a while. To be honest, I still haven't found two of them. The details overall were phenomenal. As the game progresses, Batman begins to show signs of a 5 o'clock shadow! When you visit Clayface, be sure to pay attention when you turn around. Blink and you'll miss his morphing sound as he changes into his next form. And the game was pretty, oh so pretty. And no, I'm not talking about Bruce's rippling muscles and manly stature. At least not entirely.

14 comments:

Miss Mandy said...

Scarecrow gave me nightmares. Like, for reals.

Luke said...

nice review. still having fun playing through this game a second time, and through some of the challenge rooms.

highfivecomics said...

"As someone who doesn't play first or third person shooters usually,"

Luckily, Batman doesn't shoot! :-P

Mark Hamill Joker ftw!

GeekBoy said...

Sigh. If only I could afford to invest in a 360 or a PS3 right now, so I could play this. I don't trust my computer to handle it, and I'm guessing it wouldn't be as much fun on a PC anyway.

The Nerdy Bird said...

Mandy I know!!!

Thanks Luke. I've only tried a few of the challenges so far. Since most of them involve the combo fighting I'm not very good.

Touche hivefive, touche.

Geekboy, I don't know how anyone plays games like these on computers. It just seems awkward to me for some reason. One day you will play it, I know you will! :)

Talkin Bout Comics said...

Nice review!. I laughed when I read the Adventures in babysitting reference. I wonder how many people get that. Another odd movie quote I alway use is 'I'm right on top of that, Rose' from don't tell mom the babysitter's dead... One should never completely write off babysitter related movies...

I don't own the game yet, but it's hopefully in my future.

Randy said...

Maybe some day I will be able to give this game a try. We don't have a system in this house and with our financial situation, don't think I would want to run the risk of getting addicted to something else. My comics are enough for now.

The game sounds good though.

Your comment about being a Poison Ivy snob intrigued me though. Could you clarify please?

Kirk Warren said...

Great review. Pretty much the same way I feel about it. Easily the best game I've played this year, hell, the last few years.

Oh, you mentioned you didn't die once/it was too easy. Did you try it on hard mode? They remove the 'spider sense' on bad guys to indicate when to do counter moves and 2 or 3 hits from thugs and you die. If you get shot, there's almost no chance you walk away with any health left, too. Finally, you dont get nearly as much health back after fights unless you do really high combos with move variation bonuses, etc.

I played it the first time through on easy and it was, well, really easy and just plain fun to go through that way. Second time around, I'm enjoying the challenge hard is giving me. It's never too difficult, but I've died once or twice and had my share of near deaths this time around.

Oh, and you didn't mention the challenge modes (or I missed it somewhere). Did you give those a try? It's one of my favourite parts fo the game. My friends and I just pass the controller around and take turns one-uping each other and it's so much fun for such a simple addition to the game. Wish I had a PS3 so I could have access to the Joker for those.

One final thing, you mention Eidos as the developer, but they were just the publisher, sort of liek EA or Nintendo are publishers. Rocksteady did the development and Eidos published it. Not really a big deal, but as it's Rocksteady's first game, I thought they deserved the recognition for the work they did.

Heretic said...

Ive heard nothing but good comments about this game. I really need to find someone who owns it so I can play it.

The Nerdy Bird said...

TBC, I'm so glad you got that! I also love the "Right on top of that Rose!" quote and use it often. :)

Randy, I'm a PI snob because she's one of my favorite characters. Most likely because we are redheads. But I'm picky as to how she is dressed/drawn. For example, I don't like it when she's green skinned.

Thanks Kirk! I did die several times (on easy, which is the only way i played) just not during the last boss-fight with Joker. I don't think I'd survive the hard mode at all. I didn't mention the challenge modes. I haven't tried them all yet but the one's I have I'm pretty terrible at. :)

Interesting, I didn't know this was Rocksteady's first. I only mentioned Eidos because that's where the response to the illegal download came from. I will edit them in as publisher instead. Thanks for letting me know!

wita said...

Lol voice acting trivia.

They really nailed Bane.

I know what you mean about switching from detective mode and back again for the graphics! I actually felt guilty keeping it in detective mode for long, because the graphics are soooo gorgeous!

I think they could have really expanded on Harley by actually having a battle with her. They could have gone really crazy there and made it a lot of fun. Oh well, the game was awesome despite my nitpicks. :)

Randy said...

I feel the same way, Jill. I don't like PI with green skin either. I remember when she made her first appearance on Batman the Animated Series in 1992/93 and thinking she looked great as a kind of Disney princess gone bad. Then when it was retooled she all of a sudden had green skin and I didn't like it at all.

Then she started looking that way in the comics. Sigh

Ines said...

i have been a batman fan for quite a long time, and i have been craving this game since i knew ot was coming out, but conveniently, my xbox KASPAZED before i could even buy the game.

argh, this makes want to buy a new xbox just to play it!!

Kirk Warren said...

Actually, I was wrong about it being Rocksteady's first game. It seems it's their second game. They have credits for an Urban Chaos: Riot Response game as their first with Batman as the second.