Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Looking back through the scope with Cynical Hunter : Batman Arkham Asylum

To express how I truly feel about Batman Arkham Asylum, and to get the whole game of the month thing going I decided to write a plagiaristic poem.
Gunmen are red
Detective vision is blue
Harley Quinn is fit
 Don’t you think so too?
Wasn’t that fun? Now own with the review.
Batman Arkham Asylum. Where do I start? At the beginning I don’t hear you cry out since this is coming from the past.  Batman AA starts on a dark and stormy night. Batman has brought the Joker to Arkham. As you (as Batman) walk through the corridors of the asylum your ears are burning with little snippets of story bait. Has Batman has won against the harlequin hoodlum. BAM KAPOW CRASH and the Joker has broken loose. So we have the setup to the brilliant story ahead of us. With guest appearances from your favourite villains. This surely promises to be the caped crusaders darkest and finest hour.  
First a little bit of history and context: We’d all waited years for a superhero game that truly delivers on the promise of making us feel like a superhero; there are a few games that made me feel like a one of the all powerful: Spiderman was well realised in Ultimate Spiderman and Spiderman 2. Superman had his dignity pounded over a barrel in his game outings and the X-men just decided to beat the crap out of each other in their games. Batman has had his fair share of video game outings with his first being all the way back in 1986. In recent years Batman got a movie tie in game based on Christopher Nolan’s film Batman Begins. He’s appeared in the DC vs Mortal Kombat and even appeared as a LEGO character in LEGO Batman (if your surprised by that I advise you see a doctor). But none of these gaming outings have ever made me feel like the dark knight.  First announced in 2008 by relatively unknown developer Rocksteady;  Batman Arkham Asylum played its card’s on the table with its first teaser trailer; gone are the camp “holy hotdogs” of Adam West and Joel Schumacher’s pun based crime against humanity that is Batman and Robin. Here we had a game that was faithful to the source material of comics. It’s clear to see elements of comics such as The Killing Joke and Arkham Asylum woven deep into the games DNA. Of course the cartoon show inspired a lot of the game’s character. A lot of voice talent from the cartoon is carried over to the game and it sure helps; with Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) and Kevin Conroy (someone) returning to their roles of the Joker and Batman respectively. Thats the nasty lesson out the way on to the game!
First let’s start with the graphics and ting. Batman AA was made using the Unreal 3 engine, the same one that was used for Mass Effect and Gears of War franchises. It’s hardly surprising then that most of the character models look like they are steroid abusing junkies, but in world of where Killer Croc can exist I think we can overlook that. All Major and named characters look pretty good. In some of the lesser characters such as Guards Cash and Boles the faces look a bit odd, but since I bought the game to look at Batman and the Joker I don’t really mind. The model for Batman looks very good, with the model becoming beaten and battered as the night goes on, which adds to the idea that this is Batman’s worst night every. The environments are great looking with both wide open and indoor areas looking very detailed. As the night progresses the island of Arkham does change with *SPOILERS* huge plants trying to kill you (the Bat-weed killer would be an appreciated gadget.) and all these changes are well realised with previously easy sets of terrain now becoming perilous hazards (the insane inmates being a particular nuisance). All the environments are littered with Riddler challenges, which give you a great reason to explore for little references to Batman characters with visual clues hidden all around. Aside from the wonderful little Batman lore snippets, another role of the Riddler’s challenges is to give you XP to level up your Batman to do all sorts of crazy stuff, which in my world leads us nicely to the next topic.
Combat in Batman AA is sort of divided into two main sections: predator mode and badass bar room brawler mode. Predator mode is the stealth section of the game. When the henchman have guns and a direct “your mumma so fat” approach will end in buckshot in the frontal lobes you go stealth mofo on the bad guys. When entering predator mode it’s usually wise to grapple to handy gargoyle (even the sewers have these) once up on your perch, detective vision is the next wise course. From your vantage point you can survey the area and plot your how to take each of these henchman in the most efficient/badass way. As the game progress the foes you face will become more fiendish, making old tactics useless for instance: putting proximity mines on the gargoyles is clearly the result of a diseased mind. Due to the henchman AI every foray into predator mode is different with some travelling in pairs or running off on their own in fear. The second section of combat is the brilliant ‘Free-flow combat system’ which works with the player to allow you to pull off huge combos (my Record combo is 89) . Combat starts simply with one button punching, another counters and that’s pretty much it to start with, however very quickly you can do special moves with your cape to stun your foes, you can throw them at their chums or simply break their arm and snap their shins in twain. Most of the gadgets you attain during the campaign can be used during combat, while some are more useful than others it can be fun to use the line launcher for to do a flying drop kick right in a henchman’s in the face. By the way if anyone found a way to comatose a baddie using the sequencer gadget I will award you a leg of your meat of your choice.
I don’t think I can go any further without mentioning detective vision. Detective vision was basically Batman’s way of identifying where henchmen are, Riddler challenges, points of interest and more. This mode is your most useful tool and when the game was first released reviews would often say that detective vision was too useful and it was possible to have it on all the time. I personally found DV (I’m tired of typing detective vision) really not to be that much of a problem. I can see how DV could be seen to be a pest but to me it was just another tool designed to help me kick ass.
After you’ve finished the game you can continue travelling around the island to hunt for Riddler trophies or you can do challenge mode which is made up of predator or combat challenges. Each different predator challenge map has certain special objectives that increase your score such as “Beat thug old cold using a shoe” (more realistic examples are available. In combat challenges you score points by building up a massive combo using as many different techniques as possible, in this mode you get the more points for never getting hit by thugs or by keeping the combo up the entire round. Each challenge has an extreme mode that makes things very difficult but very satisfying indeed. By the way anyone who managed to beat ‘Shock and Awe’ on extreme is a Witch and will feel fiery justice in hell.
  Batman Arkham Asylum is my all time favourite superhero game (sorry Ulitmate Spiderman and Prototype) I’ve yet to play Arkham City but from what i’ve read and seen i’m sure it will deliver on my hopes for more Batman goodness.

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