August 26, 2009

Batman: Arkham Asylum: First Impressions

Shawn Lebert Says Among all the mediocre titles the Batman has mustered this past decade, he still remains as one of the most, if not the best, iconic superheroes to be written into comic book history. We still love him no matter all the lackadaisical arrivals on the past three-odd generation consoles. Thinking back, the last suitable and satisfying Batman game experience was perhaps Batman Returns for the Super Nintendo. It was indeed side-scrolling madness, a relatively fun beat-em-up, quite similar to the formula that Super Teenage Mutant Turtles was so fond of using. And for a movie-related gaming title, it was enjoyable.

Hold on tight, as we soar a whopping 17-some years later. Seventeen. We are finally graced with a title that speaks independent from all other Batman titles. Batman: Arkham Asylum for the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 arrives, reinventing and capturing the Batman universe. Quite noticeably, Arkham Asylum roots from the comic source material with crafted inspiration by Tim Sale and Jeph Loeb – real fine artistic style and visual homage to classic Batman graphic novels such as THE LONG HALLOWEEN – as this new title sets stone in a pre-existing, well-developed universe, but performs naturally.

The production value for the title right off feels deep and priceless, given that there was a specific tone that needed to be established and well done for it to be acceptable. Even though it’s a Teen rated game, Arkham Asylum manages to capture mature audiences. Its dark and spooky dimension fits perfectly within the established mythos of the Caped Crusader and becomes an instant attention-grabber moments into the introduction.

The graphics speak for itself, reminiscent of near Gears of War 2 finesse without everything having to blow up. The world feels right at home in the Batman world as the Batmobile screeches to life and roars through the macabre city streets. As the graphics are intense, we’re able to sense the emotion on the characters faces, as their animations are intensely written on their brows; it’s quite amazing. Even Batman looks creepy sometimes when he has to deal with his arch-nemesis.

The gameplay is simple and fun so far. Navigating through the big corridors of Arkham Asylum is intriguing, given the level of detail on its surroundings. The lighting of the game is an important aspect and creates a dynamic interior. As you venture from place to place, you do feel claustrophobic in its chilling atmosphere, and soon enough you have to deal with psychotic inmates who have conveniently broken out.

The combat is actually addicting. You man-handle all of your opponents with your bare fists, and since Batman takes care of the mess non-lethally, you tend to have a ton of men sprawled all over. The animations in the fights are pretty exciting and the intertwining of counter-attacks makes the fighting sequences smooth and real, just like being the master martial artist himself. There’s a little icon telling you when a certain opponent is about to send Batman a punch or two, and if you’re attentive to your surroundings while performing a combo on someone, you can dodge and counter on someone else right away. The last hit is quite devastating as time goes into slow-mo to reveal that final smash into an enemy, sending him into a nice long nap on the steel flooring.

A new feature for the game is Detective Mode, as you become the master of investigating, in order to dig for clues on where you should travel next or simply hunting for the hidden goods. The area goes to a monotone palette of color, making locations transparent. Unsure of what’s around the corner? Switch on Detective Mode. This isn’t just for investigation, of course, Batman has a wide arsenal, as he too is a science genius. Man, this guy knows everything. Use this mode to seek out temperatures within the area or even detect an individual’s heart rate or their emotional state. It’s incredible how detailed the Detective Mode is because they’ve added more elements than you even need, but the developers kept them in there because Batman is just a badass at needing to know the details.

The voice acting steals from Batman: The Animated Series from the 90s, which comprises of Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as the infamous Joker. Just like the series, the voice acting is thrilling and totally natural – it’s as if these guys have been in the biz for years .. oh wait. They are the perfect voices for these characters and will forever be remembered and loved, as you all believe that already. (BTAS 4 Life)

So far, Batman Arkham Asylum is a top-notch A+ title that everyone should play, whether or not you’re a hardcore Bat geek. If you love games, don’t miss out on this. If you’re neither, I don’t know why you’re reading this. Stay tuned for the full review in the coming week, only at The Goozex Report. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some riddles I need to solve.