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Batman: Arkham Asylum

Producer: Warner Bros.
Release Date: August 15, 2009
Platform: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Microsoft Windows
Rating: Teen
Genre: Action/Adventure, Stealth

4 stars

BATMAN ARKHAM ASYLUM — SCROLL TO READ

The Bat Is Back!
Written by Mike Lowther

Finally. A solid superhero game that defies skeptic comic book collectors, unhappy fanboys, and, oh yeah, that thing called gravity. Apart from the usual hack-and-slash-action comic-based game, we are given Batman: Arkham Asylum. But what's so different about this game? What have they done to make this enjoyable and even playable? Well, let's see. Take, for instance, an indie game developer. Endorse it by Warner Brothers, add the Unreal Engine, and toss in a fan-favored superhero with a slew of your dearest villains. Top it off with a rock-hard combat system blended with sweet graphics, and you have yourself a concrete single-player game featuring the famous “Caped Crusader.”

Aside from the usual action/adventure stealth title, Batman: Arkham Asylum takes Metal Gear's stealth approach. Be sneaky, use your slick bat-gadgets, and save innocent civilians to bring justice to a pretty, little section of Gotham City called Arkham Asylum. This infamous prison is home to captured criminals such as Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, and any other repeat offender Batman decides to reel in. As Joker gets sentenced to a lifetime in the institution, he escapes and sets the inmates free.

The game uses the Unreal Engine (Gears of War, Bioshock), combined with a third-person perspective (Resident Evil 4, Dead Space) giving the player free-roam access over the immense world of Arkham Asylum’s property. Though you’ll never leave to dilly-dally though Gotham City, we're still able to appreciate the ominous, gothic vibe that the dark prison promotes. The soundtrack is reminiscent of Hans Zimmer's The Dark Knight score, enhancing the gorgeous environment for an epic adventure. Dialogue is well written, contributed by the original cast of Batman: The Animated Series. Mark Hamill also reprises his eerie, yet comical voice as the role of Joker.

Interestingly enough, the title doesn’t pay much homage to any of the Batman films. Instead, we are handed characters and personalities based on the comics and graphic novels, which illustrate visually stunning graphics and artsy-looking menus. Not many people know (and mind you, I learned this recently) that Batman wasn't originally a badass, buff rectifier with a sweet ride. In the beginning, he was simply a detective, picking locks with cool gadgets in a funny-looking outfit. You still have the cool gadgets and kick criminal rear-end, but strategically use what you're given to make your way through the levels. The game presents a feature called "Detective Mode", where you use a retinal scanner to find breakable walls and special items, similar to the X-Ray visor in the Metroid Prime series. When there's a door to be unlocked, or you become stuck, use Detective Mode to help progress to the next level.

I found my first run through slightly difficult; Batman's walking controls are a bit on the stiff side, though I can imagine what it'd be like schlepping around a 150-pound superhero costume. Also, some showdowns with criminals take multiple attempts. String combos together for a severe beatdown, use your grapple to escape over-enthralled combat, and apply a single button counter attack to reverse a punch, giving a thug a dirty mugging. Your utility belt holds an array of neat gadgets to make your way through the environment. Use a Batarang to flip switches on the other side of the room, and a Batclaw to remove vent panels for a narrow escape. You can also apply these tools on your enemies to trick them, or pull them toward you for a quick beating. Remember, Batman advocates defense and escape, use that to your advantage!

Did I mention you're upgradable? Yes, folks. Fully upgradable. After the XP gauge becomes full, you're awarded an enhancement for various parts of your bat suit. Add an extra layer of armor, or a remote control attachment for your Batarang, and even improve your combat technique. Aside from the main story, you may choose to solve Riddler's Challenge. Each section of the asylum holds a clue as to where each of his 260 collectables is located. Collect these to unlock character bios, and “Challenge Mode” for some extra fighting fun. Downloadable content will also be available for Xbox Live and Playstation Network.

All thoughts considered, Batman: Arkham Asylum is a surprise within itself. It's heavily detailed, yet molds fantastic physics with a well-balanced graphical engine. The replay value is marvelous, acknowledging the vast amount of collectables, hundreds of unlockables, and extra modes of gameplay. This is yet, the coolest Batman game to date, and totally worth the 60 bucks.

For more info go to:
BatmanArkhamAsylum.com

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