[21 September 2009]
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM
PUBLISHER: Eidos Interactive
SYSTEM: Sony PlayStation 3,
also for Microsoft Xbox 360, PC
PRICE: $59.99 ($49.99 for PC)
AGE RATING: Teen
“Batman: Arkham Asylum” isn’t just a great superhero game — it’s a great game, period. It plays largely like a combination of “Metroid Prime” and “Splinter Cell” with an emphasis on stealth and exploration over combat, though there is plenty of fighting.
As the game begins, Batman is returning a handcuffed Joker to Arkham Asylum after an attack on the mayor by the deranged criminal. But the Joker is soon free again, and the asylum is overrun by his army of goons. His own capture was part of a plan to trap Batman on Arkham Island to face an array of his worst enemies, among them Bane, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn and Scarecrow.
The game looks great, and the environment is dark and decrepit — and not just because the game takes place at night. This Arkham and the characters in it feel like “Batman: The Animated Series” by way of Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” not least because several key parts are voiced by actors from the cartoon: Kevin Conroy is Batman, Mark Hamill returns as the Joker, and Arleen Sorkin reprises Harley Quinn. Hamill is in especially fine form, and the new voices are fitting as well.
Batman is in for a long night. The Caped Crusader is underequipped for the job — he starts with his grapple gun, unlimited Batarangs and the scanners in his cowl, which can be calibrated to track clue trails.
He’ll find more of his wonderful toys – such as a claw that can rip out vent grates from a distance, and explosive gel that blasts holes in weak walls — allowing him to bypass obstacles and reach new areas.
As Batman defeats enemies and solves puzzles, he’ll earn experience points that allow him to choose upgrades for his moves and gear.
Batman’s formidable hand-to-hand skills are on full display here; his methods are nonlethal but highly effective. On the ground, he can quickly strike in any direction, counter or leap out of the way of incoming attacks, swing his cape for a stunning blow, and employ various other moves. Some of his tools double as weapons, and he can strike from above to string up his enemies, glide in for kicks and so on.
Regular foes don’t pose much of a threat unless in large numbers, but those with guns can take Batman out quickly if he’s seen. Stealth is best.
The asylum is a sprawling complex with catacombs and several buildings, and Batman will make his way through them all. Each of the game’s rooms is something of a puzzle — for example, in some areas, he’ll have to figure out how to get past poison gas, while in others, he’ll have to defeat a half-dozen goons without being detected to save hostages.