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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Review: Batman: Arkham Asylum

Current mood: Monophobic, antagonistic

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Note: This review is a lot shorter than most of my others, partly due to the fact there's less of a story to discuss, partly because everyone tells me my reviews are too long and partly due to pure laziness. Also, this review contains swearing and one analogy that will make most men wince and shuffle about uncomfortably for a bit.

I never really got into Batman as a child. That's nothing against him, I never really got into any superheroes, as far as I can remember, the idea of a bloke swinging around in his pants never really excited me in the way it does for pretty much everyone else and quite honestly I was more into Pokemon and The Simpsons. You know, things in which the events couldn't summarised with the phrase, "And then *insert name* punches the bad guy." I say that as a sort of blanket statement to hang over the rest of what I'm about to say, like how racists always say "I'm not racist..." before they start being racist, to show that there is no bias towards the Batman mythos in this review and that I'm judging it solely on its merits as a game, it could have been a squirrel or Mark Commode out there punching things and it would still have been a pretty damn good game.

The story is, from what I can gather from my limited knowledge of comic book writing, fairly standard fare for this sort of thing, villians are doing bad things, Batman needs to stop them. There's really nothing more I can say about the plot, that's literally it, Joker wants to create a race of genetically mutated freaks and Batman doesn't want him to do that so sets about punching things until Joker stops. I don't know if this is his normal persona or anything but Joker's character deserves a special mention, he was the only one who kept me genuinely entertained throughout the course of the game. Obviously Batman's personality is about as lively as a used teabag, the other enemies are too busy being dicks to care about being funny or interesting and Harley Quinn's voice started to feel like a cheese grater to the scrotum after a while but Joker was genuinely amusing, witty and shockingly optimistic as Batman punched his way through his hordes, easily my favourite character from this game.

I have to give some praise to the settings and general atmosphere of the game. I don't know if this is a standard thing for Batman but the game aims for a dark, gothic feel and it pulls it off pretty well for the most part and suits the tone of the story, lending itself in particular to the nightmare sequences with the Scarecrow (the Morgue room was a particular favourite, pulling off creepy horror better in one room than SH: Homecoming could in a whole game) as these sequences would have seemed horribly out of place if Batman had just been punching things in a normal city or a water park, for example.

You may have picked up on my intentional overuse of the word "punch" and its grammatical variations. Yes, a lot of this game is focused on melee combat. There's one button to punch and one to block/counter, which is a lot simpler than I was expecting but it works a lot better than any overcomplicated combo system. It does get fairly repetitive later on but it's never detrimental to the experience and it's fun more often than not. I'd like to say more about that or get some humour out of it but what more can you really say about punching?

The other main aspect, and also my favourite aspect of the game, is the stealth sections. Basically, you're plonked into a room with increasing numbers of heavily armed guards and you need to take them out one by one. Now, I'm a big fan of stealth games, and I've honestly never seen the genre done better than it is here. One thing that makes it work so well, and you think this would have been obvious but Tenchu, MGS, Sly Raccoon and Splinter Cell have somehow missed this, is the fact that stealth is mandatory. In all of the other games listed, if you're spotted then a fight begins, which you usually win before moving onto the next area with nary a bruise. Here, there are 7 guys with assault rifles, you're in a spandex jumpsuit, do the math(s). The increasing difficulty of these sections, from having your vantage points rigged with dynamite to the guards wearing collars that scream when they die, is very well done and it made me look forward to these sections just to see what they'd throw at me next, these are the parts that will keep me coming back to this game in the future, no doubt.

And so we move from the 21 year old Russian supermodel of the stealth sections to the lonely overweight lady who smells of cat food and sadness of the boss fights. Since every other reviewer and person who's played this game has already universally condemned the boss fights, I feel mean for picking on them but sometimes everyone at school hates the weird fat kid for a reason and I have to say that I'm siding with the bullies on this one. The first boss fight should have clued me in, a hulking great beast of a thing that Joker unleashes on you which proceeds to die on its own, without even being punched, the cheek! From there, most of the fights consist of either attacking weak spots or dodging so the "boss" runs into a wall. Not even joking. 

Not only that, they pull the monumental dick move of making you fight legions of generic henchmen during the boss fight. Now, back in my day, a boss fight was one on one, a true test of strength, skill and punching, whoever won was the better man, no questions asked. Arkham Asylum seems to dislike petty notions like honour and manhood in favour of the Chav school of fighting technique, that being that if shit's not going well, just ring up your mates, to the point where I expected Ivy to whip out a Nokia and bring the lads round to shank me. It's fucking irritating trying to aim that pissing Batarang at the hulking behemoth du jour anyway without generic tough guys A through Q threatening to "stomp on my face."

The final boss was a particularly wet and sticky cockslap, after spending the entire game building Joker up I was anticipating an epic war of titans. After pulling him off a building and... wait for it... punching him (!!!) 3 times I thought, "Right, that's the shitty preliminary bit done, let's get to the real fi... what, that's it!?" You couldn't get a worse anti-climax if your girlfriend/hooker (in my case) forced a screwdriver into your bellend at the point of orgasm. It's sad to see a game fail so fucking horribly in this respect when it succeeds in pretty much every other area but hey, nobody's perfect, right? It does everything else so well that it's hard to hold it against them, I'm pretty sure that we all have a lot of albums we love with at least 1 rubbish filler song on, right?

Overall: A fantastic game, if you can tolerate 10 minutes of shittiness for every couple of hours of darkly hilarious stealthy excellence. Recommended!
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