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Batman: Arkham Asylum
Score: 100%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Eidos/WBIE
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Adventure/ Third Person Shooter

Graphics & Sound:
Batman: Arkham Asylum does what very few comic book license-based videogames have done to date... a good job.

While some of the characters were created specifically for Batman: Arkham Asylum and the look (and costumes) of some of the pre-existing characters were created specifically for this game, all of the character models were painstakingly detailed and they looked "right." In fact, as you play through the game, you will unlock a special gallery where you can view the models ("Character Trophies") close-up and rotate them around to inspect them in detail. In addition, there are "files" on the various characters, available in-game and giving pertinent information on the character's background and stats, including their first appearance in the DC universe.

The bad girls (super bad girls?) in Arkham Asylum have been given more sexy outfits for the occasion, with Harley Quinn sporting a school-girlish nurse outfit with a miniskirt up to there, a neckline down to there and, of course, her signature color scheme. Poison Ivy is also very seductively attired, with a small pair of panties, a tight Arkham shirt with a single button closing it and vines giving the feeling of stockings... sort of.

Batman, himself, seems to be an amalgam of various previous Batman renditions. The suit is grey and black, but has a high-tech look not too far different from the recent movies. The utility belt is present and nearly as pronounced as the campy TV series, but with a more high-tech look and in a grey, rather than a bright yellow. Somehow, this makes it work. Who knew. At any rate, you shouldn't get too attached to your spiffy bat-duds, since, as the game progresses, your Batsuit takes quite a beating and, before it's all over, you'll end up with some rips in that cape of yours... and worse.

For the fans out there, Batman: Arkham Asylum has a lot of references to Gotham's baddies that don't otherwise appear in the game, such as finding Calendar Man's (empty) cell or finding Mr. Freeze's (frozen over) cell in solitary confinement. There are various enemies that you will either find references to or encounter in some fashion; as would be expected if Batman were to find himself in the middle of Arkham Asylum.

The other side of the "Graphics and Sound" coin is, of course, Sound - which is handled well in Arkham Asylum. Music is moody, pensive and cinematic, yet not -from- a specific Batman movie. The voicework is extremely well done, with many of the voices being played by the same actors/actresses as the Batman Animated Series, including Kevin Conroy as Batman, Mark Hamill as the Joker and Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn. With these voice actors reprising their roles, (as J.R. Nip put it) the voices just "sound right."

I love comic books. I love superheroes. While Spider-Man is my all-time favorite and I am more of a Marvel man than a DC guy, I have always liked Batman. From the comic books to the campy TV series to the various movies, I eat it up. That made me really want Batman: Arkham Asylum to be a good game. However, anyone who has played any videogames based on comic books since around 1970 or so know that quite often these licenses are abused or not used, to pass off uncreative, unoriginal and uninspired gameplay and to sell many more units than the game should sell if it had to rely on playability alone. Sometimes, these games take too much liberty with the license. Other times, the games seem more like they started off as another title and characters were swapped in order to allow the use of the license to sell more dreck. Occasionally, games are shipped in a nearly unplayable condition, all with hopes that the kiddies would buy up the copies based on the license and then, I suppose, would get distracted halfway through the first level and lose interest in the game before they realized that the collision detection or other basic videogame element didn't work. Despite my desire to play a good Batman game, the history of licensed titles gave me every cause to fear for the worst.

Luckily, I am quite happy to report that Batman: Arkham Asylum not only completely blows away the possible expectations I had for a videogame based on a comic license, but actually performs as a top contender among games that don't have a well known license to act as a crutch. Arkham Asylum is a genuinely great game. I found myself running to a fellow comic book lover (who, by the way is a DC-guy) to tell him how great Batman: Arkham Asylum is one day, only to go back to report that I was wrong - it is awesome - after I had progressed a bit more in the story.

So, what, exactly, do you do in the game? I'm glad you asked. The main thrust of the game is that you are locked down in Arkham Asylum when the Joker has managed to stage a coup and has taken control of the asylum. He's threatening to blow up bombs all over Gotham City if anyone attempts to get on... or off... Arkham Island. This leaves cleaning up the mess to you. This leaves you playing, first and foremost, a third person melee game. The inmates may find knives or guns, but you're Batman... which means you've got to pummel them into unconsciousness. Well, you can also use some of your various "wonderful toys" that Batman is so well known for, from Batarangs to the Bat Grappling hook and even the wondrous device that inspired the Joker (as played by Jack Nicholson) to ask where Batman gets his wonderful toys in the 1989 Batman movie. C'mon... you know the one I'm talking about...

While your main job is trying to catch up with the Joker by plowing through the run-of-the-mill psychos that he's released to slow you down, you'll also have to deal with the likes of Killer Croc, Victor Zsasz, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, and Bane, among others. Scarecrow, in particular, plays an important (and recurring) part in your adventures, as he manages to get you hopped up on his nightmare gas a few times, leading to some very trippy platformer levels that have you pitted against a ten-story version of the Scarecrow... if he so much as sees you, it's nighty-knight.

Meanwhile, the Riddler has left you a slew of riddles to solve and hidden trophies to find, which (if you're up to the challenge) can lead to some Tomb Raider-esque puzzles and spelunking in the asylum and elsewhere on Arkham Island. I find myself searching around for these riddles when someone's life is hanging in the balance, hoping that despite the apparent urgency of getting to the next location, I actually have time to poke around a bit. Usually this works out fine; there aren't a lot of timed events in Batman: Arkham Asylum and the few that are there are usually easily recognized.

Okay, take a deep breath. Hold it. Now let it out, slowly.

Could you do that? If so, you'll want to use that technique to help make your way through Batman: Arkham Asylum. There are several times in the game where there is a palpable feeling of urgency. This can lead you to run headlong into trouble, hoping to rely on Batman's stamina to get you through the fights. Well, Bane might be able to get away with tactics like that, but Batman uses his wits - and his gadgets - to his advantage and you should look to do the same when playing Batman: Arkham Asylum. There are some very cool methods of clearing out the baddies, such as perching on a gargoyle above them and sliding down, scooping them up and dropping them, hanging from the gargoyle in what the game calls an "Inverted Takedown." This is a cool-looking move which not only takes out one baddie, but can be used to frighten other baddies in the area, which is a generally good idea, as a frightened bad guy is more prone to slip up. Be warned, however: this move also can alert prisoners to your location, so you'll want to sneak off to a safer perch after performing an Inverted Takedown or other attack that might give you away.

Right from the outset, you can choose from three different difficulty settings. If you expect you're going to have a hard time of it, you may wish to start in the easiest setting. As you progress, you will be able to buy upgrades. Think carefully about your options when upgrading; if you keep dying, you may want to upgrade your armor. If you want to increase your ability to do more elaborate strategy in your attacks, you might want to upgrade various weapons to achieve these ends.

If you want to practice your fighting skills, the Challenge mode is a good way to do just that. As you progress through the various areas on Arkham Island, the corresponding Challenge mode areas become unlocked. In the Challenge mode levels, you face an increasing number of enemies and you are attempting to achieve a high score for fighting quickly and efficiently and building combos. Your scores in this mode will be compared with others scores online in Leaderboards.

Game Mechanics:
Batman: Arkham Asylum is a joy to play and features some familiar elements from several great games, used because they reinforce the Batman license, not in spite of it, and accented with some cool features and gadgetry which really helps to "sell" the Batman in Batman: Arkham Asylum. The one feature that springs to mind is the "Detective Mode" - an alternate view that can be turned on/off at will (well, except in story-driven animations). In this Detective Mode, you can see enemies (X-ray style) through multiple walls, determine what their heart-rate is, and locate forensic evidence, such as fingerprints or DNA evidence and then use these to track people down. The graphical depiction of Arkham Asylum was beautiful when I saw it, but I spent most of my time in Detective Mode.

If you prefer the Joker to Batman, PS3 owners will be dancing with the devil in the pale moonlight, because there is a free DLC download that lets you play as the Joker in the Challenge modes. Another Free DLC for Arkham Asylum owners is a Batcave Outpost for PlayStation Home. Now you can complement that snazzy penthouse you have with the ultimate accessory: a Batcave. It features the Batmobile and Batwing from the game, as well as several gadgets from the game in display cases. (You can look, but you can't touch.) The part I found cool is that it is still a personal space that you can furnish as you see fit, so feel free to make your Batcave Feng Shui.

One interesting aspect of Batman: Arkham Asylum are the special features outside of the game. If you look under the movie tab in the PS3's menu (instead of the game tab), you will find behind-the-scene features and Arkham Asylum trailers - all in Blu-ray quality. I haven't seen a Blu-ray game use the other content types, but I am happy to see these features being used. I look forward to seeing more games follow Batman: Arkham Asylum's lead and provide video content or, perhaps, songs from the soundtrack on the Blu-ray disc.

Another aspect of Batman: Arkham Asylum that is worth mentioning is... the love. It is evident that the people who worked on Arkham Asylum cared about Batman; they weren't simply trying to build a game they can slap a license on. In my opinion (as of September 15th, 2009), Batman: Arkham Asylum is the best comic-book videogame ever made. If you even remotely like Batman, you should pick up Batman: Arkham Asylum.

-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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