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Batman: Arkham Asylum

Soon, you can purchase Arkham City, the newest episode of the Batman series. In some measure, this makes a review of Arkham Asylum relevant, and on the other hand, this writing was already published on the pages of GameDroid, but it was removed because of technical issues. The article was written about the Game of the Year (GOTY) edition.

In regard of mood Batman: Arkham Asylum is not a Bioshock, and there is nothing new in it, but it’s also a bloody serious action-adventure game based on comics. I even saw a little pinch of Metal Gear Solid (or Splinter Cell, for the matter) in it. “Well, there can’t be any great trouble!” I thought. Let’s see if it’s true or not!

batmancomic 01Who Is Batman?

Batman is the most known superhero ever. He started adventuring in the company of numerous other DC Comics superheroes in the early times of the comics-boom, which means around 1940.

Since Bob Kane dreamed him on paper in 1939, Bruce Wayne/Batman is one of the darkest and most contradictory comic-book hero. Originally, he fought with two handguns like Max Payne (without Bullet Time), and had no moral issues, when he had to make some holes on bad guys. He appeared in detective anthologies, and soon became a fav of the readers by his lack of general heroic attributes – by his dark and grim background, by rising fear in the heart of the opponent, like the embodiment of nightmares of the guilty. (In the beginning, his costume had some scent of cheap rentals, but with time drawers dreamed more and more realist dresses on him.) It’s not everything, of course, because the most important attribute of Batman is not his hardness or scariness but his aspect of being one of the best detectives of all times.

So, the original Batman stories were not about fighting all night long: Sociopath supervillains tried to rise chaos in a corrupt, dark city. Batman solved cases not by fists or in the company of his stretch-costumed pals but alone like a lone wol… bat. And he mostly used his abilities as a detective.

The Darker and Darker Knight

In the time of this grim beginning Batman was a symbol of the human thirst for revenge and justice, and didn’t mind for using anything he could to reach his goals. In the second half of the sixties he came to live by the legendary acting of Adam West in a television series, which might be the most obvious example of camp (it’s a form of self-expression based on bad taste on every areas of art) films. Batman-fever was on, sale rates jumped to the skies, but there was no way to maintain this line for a long time. The original character was not like this, so slowly there came a need for a blood transfusion on the movie screens.

batmanfilm 01The first try of Tim Burton was commendable, it even brought an Academy Award, which is great because comics adaptations were disdained even at that time. Batman was a hardened, clever and dark hero with an unbelievably mad nemesis, Joker (in the astonishing act of Jack Nicholson). The second episode brought no great success, because Burton dropped more into it from his not so healthy imagination, and so Gotham City was like a Halloween background for the Nightmare Before Christmas. (Not to mention the questionable acting work – although Michelle Pfeiffer was unquestionably sexy in her leather dress.)

The other two episodes are not worth to be called serious artworks. In the third one the series was degraded to be a brainless orgy of action, and the fourth one made it simply laughable.

The two episodes of the reboot need no introduction: Both Batman: Begins and The Dark Knight put the series on entirely new foundations. Both of them are promising tries (personally, I don’t like the Begins), even if they miss the detective aspect of the hero in 100 percent (The gadgets of WayneTech overtook this role.)

If we count every existing adaptation (not the games, because they mostly belong to the category of ‘miserable’), maybe the cartoon series from ’92 is the one that shows the most original Batman character. Its Emmy-awarded episodes were written by Paul Dini. His name is on the box of Batman: Arkham Asylum, and it’s worth to know that he was the one who filled the series with more wrought characters and more serious themes.

Connection Between Comics and Game

There is a deceptive similarity between the titles of a comic-book from 1989 and this game. The comic was born from the pen of the legendary Grant Morrison, who – unlike every other Batman-creator in that time – put its story into an entirely psychological frame. We could take a look into the minds of crazies, and everything got such an artful elaboration that rarely presents itself in this genre.

The story of the Arkham Asylum is an act of art in every little detail, speaking about either the story or the drawings. You should take a look at it, if you can. The question is: Was it a good choice to give the same title to the game? It must grow up to the spirit of the original comic-book, even if it’s not an adaptation but an independent story. Luckily, there is a good answer for the question above: The game deserves the honorable title, because it is like an art piece – as the phenomena is more and more common on the computer screens. (May be the settings of Bioshock has similarly hammering and abstract atmosphere – anyway, developers admittedly drew a lot from the visuals of that game.)

 

batman-arkham-asylum 02Here Is a Goodnight Tale, Dear Prisoners. Good Night and Bitter Dreams!

Batman: Arkham Asylum has a full-fledged story, and because it is basically an action game, even an average tale would do for me, accompanied by some great and exciting action. But the creators showed some more ambition: The story is twisted and exciting, dramaturgy is balanced, cutscenes are spread artfully in the surprisingly long action game. Of course, the recipe is the good old one: Take a well functioning superhero and his nemesis with some infamous bad guys on a perfectly insane location.

I tell about the story only in brief, because I don’t wanna spoil your fun:

After doing his usual work, Batman is bound for Arkham Asylum to put his ever-enemy, Joker behind the bars – who knows how many times he did this before. Our hero thinks it strange how easily he caught the clown, but he gets over it. The player takes over the control at the entrance and follows Joker into his second home in an interactive movie. Batman meets well-known faces, for example a huge reptile-faced guy. Yes, he is our old friend, Killer Croc, who tells by various words how he will break the bones of his beater before killing him.

Going further we can hear the comments of Joker about almost everything that he sees, and of course, he also shows his ill humor.

Detective Gordon shows up, gray-haired and wrinkled, as always, working hard. Everything seems OK, but it turns out why Batman caught Joker so easily.

The clown breaks loose from his guards, then his all time henchman, Harley Quinn helps him to escape. The island is closed with Batman on it, and all the supervillains are set free to complete the craziest and most complex scheme that the clown ever planned till now.

So Batman finds himself alone among his arch enemies on a huge and crazed island.

batman villains 01Old Friends

The story is relatively long, and it has a good effect on the cast. Fans of Batman can meet such acquaintances beside Joker and Harley Quinn as Poison Ivy, the above mentioned Killer Croc, Scarecrow, Bane, Zsasz or the Riddler. Batman is alone in the building, but he’s lucky enough to have a helper in the person of the charming (and handicapped) daughter of Detective Gordon, the one-time batgirl, Oracle. The characters are outstandingly alive – and mostly outstandingly crazy –, the ocean of dialogs, notes, tape-recorded interviews raise them above the common bosses we may see in other games. My personal favorites are the interviews with the doctors, which sometimes gave a creepy experience when I listened them in large outside spaces or on the tight, fearful inner corridors. It’s interesting to immerse in the unfolding background stories of criminals whom I disliked before, but listening to the tapes changed my opinion a little. During these interviews Joker has no sentient sentence, the serial killer Zsasz stalked and murdered his doctor, and Poison Ivy did the same. We can get to know some secrets from the past of these villains.

From the View of a Bat

Generally, I talk about appearance later, but in this case I must mention it before the gameplay. I have to tell that this is not an actual game: It was released in 2009 – but we should no complain about it. The appearance and face of the characters are almost perfect, with a little caricature-like suggestion to the comics origins, but with no doubt enough realism. The environment is as fine as it must be, outer spaces are huge but not barren. Inner spaces are also nice, but I could bear some more details. The partly comic-like visuals throw the atmosphere up, because with time it makes a feeling of walking in a demented place – for example, in an asylum directed by crazies? The game is not linear, you can go back to the earlier locations multiple times, which is good in itself, but also these earlier locations can be changed by certain events. Scarecrow’s hallucinogen gas is worth to mention: When it finds a way into Batman’s lungs, the whole world changes, becomes surreal, and instead of brainless opponents he has to fight against his own fears and demons. (Yes, it is the well-known little self-torturing Bruce, but the game accomplishes well in this case too.)

batman-arkham-asylum 01Ultra-Sound

I don’t complain about the sound. The music brings no known Batman-hit, it’s like an average movie’s music, but the dub is the winner, and as you know, the winner takes it all. Luke Skywalker, or Mark Hamill speaks in the name of Joker, and his irony-soaked voice perfectly augments the appearance of the figure. Batman, Harley Quinn and Gordon are also voiced by the actors in the cartoon series.

But I must decry the sound effects: Most of them are above criticism, but there is an annoying mechanical noise at the end of the fights, and the arcade-like effect after the bigger combos is entirely unnecessary and mood-breaking.

They Shoot Bats, Don’t They?

Although I’m mostly glorifying this game (and there is so much more in it!), it is never said to be flawless. A lot of player will cry shame on the relatively simple combat system. In the usual console-superhero control you have to press only a few buttons, but the combos and variations are sightly, and they give opportunity for tactical moves. Also, the character development system is not a unique one: You buy new or stronger moves from experience points. The whole system is oiled, working well, and although there are easy fights in the beginning, the second part of the game brings more difficulties. Yes, combat is a main element of the game, but it becomes no monotonous, because sneaking and investigating are distributed throughout the story with a good eye for proportion.

Because Batman (at last!) is investigating. All right, I know it’s not the first time, because after the second movie there was a Batman Returns adventure game, but in one hand it falls into another category of quality, and on the other hand, does anyone remember it anyway?

Investigation is not too difficult, it’s more like an element of the atmosphere, but it is also functional, and that’s enough for the fun. Batman can measure his environment by multiple modes of sight: He counts the enemy, sees the opponents’ weapons, estimates them. Another time he follows a scent or DNA sample, fingerprints, or for example, pipe tobacco tracks to get to the location or person he looks for. Hiding and the so-characteristic ambushing are also emphasized in the game. You know, in full contact, Batman is almost incapable against opponents with firearms. Outside he flights down from air vents and building tops, inside he uses (for example) high bookshelves to defeat his opponents silently and unseen. The result is panic. Opponents become scared, they move more rapidly and uncoordinated, they shoot at nonexistent targets and their pulse goes up. In this state they are much easier prey, not to mention the player’s little devil that watches all this with a satisfied smile. Joker is always watching the events and as another element of the atmosphere, he also comments them like:

batman villains 03Come on, Bats! Leave ’em alone! For me…? Be your best friend!”

Anywhere you try to hide, you can be sure the clown won’t let you alone. By the time you get to the end, your annoyed feelings may easily grow to hatred (with a few drops of simpathy) – and this comes good in the final showdown.

Batgadgets

In the means of gadgets, Batman brings the usual level. Besides the batarang (or bat-bumerang) a lot of stuff helps him to do his knightly work. There are, for example, the Cryptographic Sequencer to open doors, and the Explosive Gel for breaking down walls. Or, without the need for completeness, the Batwinching Batclawed Bathandgun.

Batman’s costume follows the comics fashion, but it also has an aroma of reality. Brutal muscles are stretching under the hard armor, and there is a rough-looking bat-warboot on his feet. Batman is a brutish man-animal instead of the good-looking playboy – his costume covers an unshaven and mean figure with a scent of testosterone around him. During the story he wears away his costume, which is another good point for the developers, because you feel the hero’s efforts in the craziest adventure of his carrier. Cuts appear with ugly scars under them, the cape becomes ragged, so at the end he looks like Dracula.

Come on boys! He’s just one man! One man dressed like a lunatic and armed to the teeth.”

Seven, As the Sins

This title came into my mind just a moment before but…

And yes, there are seven supervillains! So you have to defeat seven more or less hard-to-kill enemies. Sometimes you can win with one or two touches, and other times you have to facepalm the opponent for long-long minutes. The only thing sure is that you should use your gray matter, because it makes fights easier and can guard your button-pressing fingers from the so-feared tenosynovitis. As we could get used to it in other gradually harder and harder games, the last few villains will be difficult to beat down.

…Together Like Peas and Carrots

As Forest Gump said, but that is another story.

batmancomic 03Say anything, I cling to my opinion, and for me Batman: AA was one of the most complex and longest, so the most noteworthy action game at the end of the first decade of the 21st century. You might kill even 15-20 hours into it, if you wanted to complete everything. During all the action, hiding and investigation Mr. Edward Nigma, alias the Riddler bombs us with riddles, and if you solve them, they can open interesting extras outside of the main gameplay. Notes, pictures, new levels and even new game modes may become available. Perfectionist players can collect every batstuff then go back to the beginning, because serving replayability the developers built in some extras available later in the game. But for me the game was enjoyable enough without these, but I’m proud of that I solved every riddle without any help. (Most of them is simple, but there are a few really hard ones.)

What did I suggest in the title? If the pea is the Batman-franchise, then the carrot is the total impression of the game, including the sum of the realization of all the backgrounds, characters, ideas and everything else coming from the comics. They fit together and I didn’t feel it for a moment that it was created for money only. Batman: AA won’t be a forever classic (our hope is in the Arkham City follow-up), but I put it into the category of little classics without a thought.

Árnyék

BatAA_boxTitle: Batman: Arkham Asylum
Publisher: Eidos Interactive, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Homepage: http://www.facebook.com/batmanarkhamasylum
Style: superhero, action, adventure

What I liked:
Batman is really tough
the characters as they are
surprisingly long and dense
sneaking, rising fear

What I didn’t like:
poor textures here and there
it should be a little harder

5_45

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