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Batman: Arkham Asylum – Review

Can you believe that only 5 years ago, WB games and other publishing studios weren’t trying to scam people out of their money? At least not in the way that has notoriously taken firm root since. The first of the Arkham games has, get this, only TWO suits for Batman. Unlike the sequels to follow, you won’t find any option to spend out the ass for alternate costumes! Crazy, I know. It was a simpler time. A wholesome time; with proper moral values. I give this game 10/10. *gazes blankly yet fondly at nothing in particular*  … oh shit. Wait. I actually have to critique this game. Well, I guess it was a good thing then to start off with something good about it being an older title. Because as I’ve found out, when looking back at games retrospectively, it is difficult to find the same level of enjoyment from elements that got better in quality as the series went forward. Kind of like Emma Watson’s looks in those dreadful Harry Potter movies. (Getting all the HP fans out of here now) After playing through the game again, I was slightly taken aback by how much my memory of the game was tinted in rose. The game isn’t bad by any means, but the series definitely improved from here. Yes, naysayers, Arkham Origins is better than this.You, the Batman, have just caught the Joker for the umpteenth time and have brought him back to Arkham Asylum. The game has you stroll through the immensely dense security process, as you accompany the purple-wearing clown prince while the opening credits appear on screen.  The Joker is currently restrained to an upright gurney, and multiple guards armed with riot gear and automatic weapons line the hallways, as you would expect.  Then the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen happens. Once they reach the first area with rudimentary cell blocks, (not even the kind you would want to put a psychopath of this magnitude either, mind you) for no good reason whatsoever, Joker is transitioned out of his Hannibal Lector restraints and put in handcuffs, and the guards around him have been reduced to two, unarmored, mall cop types and a doctor… Needless to say, I was unimpressed when Joker beat them up and got away. In fact, I kind of rooted for him a little bit, considering how he exposed how incompetent the security was. Batman is literally within eyeshot of him, yet Joker is able to pull a Dr. Robotnik and run away. The entire reason this game even happens had me face palming so hard it left a crater. (Lazy writing is not commendable, Rocksteady!) But if you’ve witnessed the incredibly ludicrous ending of this game, then you’re already aware of the questionable narrative. The main plot functions as a flimsy excuse to have Batman beating up bad dudes (who all have the same 3 voices) and crawling through all the vents of a facility so dilapidated, it’s a small miracle such an unsanitary sanitarium hasn’t been demolished yet. (I guess they wanted their asylum to have a spooky vibe in case something like this game happened.) At any rate, this is no Batman: Year One or Dark Knight; just something campy to get things going. The story of Arkham Asylum isn’t the only component reeling from the effects of dubious decision making. The series might have taken a few too many liberties with the character design in this one. Central pillars like Batman and Joker feel tonally right, and I liked Killer Croc’s monumental, foreboding presence which worked well with his level’s unique, anxiety inducing jump scares. Poison Ivy is kind of ridiculous, (am I really supposed to believe that a teensy blouse and a piece of lettuce was the uniform assigned to her by a mental institution??) but overall she’s alright. In fact, most of the characters who were left intact are all just fine and dandy. However… the other weenies who call Arkham home are pretty stupid. Harley Quinn looks like a trashy, 10 dollar Tijuana hooker wearing boots that would have looked terrible even in the early 2000’s. Bane is an even bigger, dumber version of the meathead Joel Schumacher made him into. And Scarecrow… is just a mess. I actually used to be fine with his 2spooky4me redesign until I really thought about it for five seconds and realized he got turned into a knock-off Freddy Krueger, right down to the nightmarish dream sequences Batman must escape from. Seriously, what is with that glove? Did he watch Nightmare on Elm Street and get inspired? Why does he need four needles attached to his hand? Wouldn’t just the one do fine? Is he really going to be doing any poking with that pinky finger needle? How did he get that glove anyhow? Was it on him when he was captured or did he make it from needles there? In that case, why is there fear serum in it? Wouldn’t they have emptied that out? Or did he concoct that too somehow? How could he have made that intricate device in the hour or so that he was free? Also, why does he have a gas mask on if he uses a fluid to induce fear in this universe? Wouldn’t gas be a smarter way of doing it anyway, since you wouldn’t have to be in arm’s reach to affect people? Is he a fighter now? Is that like some sort of gauntlet? Does he honestly think Batman wouldn’t be able to stop a guy who is basically fighting with one hand? Does his obsession with fear now include transmitting diseases to the people he pokes? Why are so many nerds dressing up like him on Google Images? I’m going to stop now before the lack of logic makes me go insane, too. At least his levels are mildly clever, and are an interesting diversion from the main game. That’s what really matters, right?Wow, all this nit-picking made me neglect the majority of what this game is about. Y’know, in case that part has sort of slipped under your radar in the past 5 years., it’s about you being a bad ass in a cape, who has spider sense (?), and is really good at giving roundhouse kicks.  I will say this, though. The “freeflow” combat system, the one that kicked off this style of aggressive, multiple enemy fighting in games (which everyone already seems to have forgotten started here for some reason) is actually somewhat unreliable in the first entry. Too often I’d find myself in a rhythm, enjoying my role as the head chef at the All You Can Eat Knuckle Sandwiches Buffet, and suddenly see my 40+ hit combos implode because Batman decided to punch next to the guy I wanted him to, as if swinging for the jaw of the baddie’s invisible BFF. The game has no visual targeting or aiming system when it comes to melee combat, so your combos are always at the mercy of the game’s internal aiming. When it works perfectly, and you’re mixing in special moves and batarangs and all that jazz, it’s exactly that: perfect. But every now and then, Batman says “fuck you, I’m a pacifist now,” and that is absolutely infuriating in the Challenge mode. I don’t know what it is about Challenge modes in games, but they always seem to reveal the biggest problems with the game. In order to get the 3 Bat rating, it’s imperative that Bats gets big combos. And some of those missions are already harder than a priest at Altar Boy Con 2015, so it’s not fun when the secret, ever-present enemy making things unintentionally difficult is a wonky targeting system. Collectibles are the fat, sweaty imps of game design. Sometimes they’re necessary, other times they’re not. Sometimes they add a fun diversion to the main game, other times you’re left questioning why the hell they were even put into the game. I like to think that Arkham Asylum’s Riddler trophies and “riddles” are more good than bad. The riddles are generally just a game of eye spy, and the collectibles are mostly dependent on whether you have the right gadget to get them, but it works well in tandem with the Metroid-esque levels the game employs. Returning to previous locations with new items (implying Batman packs unprepared in the Arkham-verse…) means getting that one green question mark that evaded you earlier and the reward of de-cluttering the map. Despite having already solved all the riddles back in 2009, I still found it worth going ahead and getting the 100%. The only problem though is that you shouldn’t expect to get anything out of it. The game’s final prize for solving all of Riddler’s crap (when did he have the time to do this, by the way?) is literally a 1940’s styled radio broadcast in which you can hear the Riddler’s hideout getting raided by the police. Yep, not even a cutscene. It’s not very good either. It plays out like a novice foley artist trying to pass a sound design class or something. You can almost see the Riddler shaking his fist at the meddling Batman, it’s so cornball. For a second, I half thought Chester Cheetah was going to show up, because that finale was DANGEROUSLY CHEESY.Arkham Asylum is what we in the biz call a “juicy contradiction.” Where “we”  refers to myself, and “biz” refers to narcotics smuggling. Stupid jokes aside, my terminology still stands. The game has a lot of personality and doesn’t feel at all like it’s ripping off other successful titles. It’s originality, structure and excellent handling of an existing IP does enough to rank it amongst the best comic book based videogames ever made. Everyone’s already heard all of that from a million and one other review sites, though. The truth is that the game has its fair share of flaws that ought to have been smoothed out. As well as the ones I already mentioned, other minor problems include, but are not limited to, some muddy textures, architecture that makes no sense (like one room that batman must enter in via a grate, even though the room looks like a normal office with paper work and everything), and the fact that 9 out of 10 NPCs look like rubber dolls outside of the hi-res cutscenes. These are things that became more noticeable after having played the sequels that fixed and added on new features that made this game seem very rudimentary by comparison. Definitely still worth playing even if you’re only casually aware of Batman comics. Not quite the 10 out of 10 I gave it earlier, but the game still gets more things right than it gets wrong.

Obligatory Number at the End: 8/10

Footnote: This is a thing that exists.