We’re nearly at the end of my fantastic tales of the Xbox. At least until I find some other cheap games, or people point me toward other titles that sound like things I’d actually like. Today I’m gonna speak about a little game called Batman: Arkham Asylum.
Arkham is like a love letter to everyone who ever watched the Batman cartoon from the 90s. It’s also an example of how licensed properties don’t have to be steaming piles if you take the time to give a shit.
I had heard a lot about Arkham over the last however many years since it came out, but I’ve always hated the games Eidos has made. So, I assumed that this was just people liking shit for no understandable reason, just like Tomb Raider. Still, the fact that Batman is voiced by Kevin Conroy, and the Joker by Mark Hamill was enough to move my hand when I saw it in a clearance bin.
It deserved every word of praise I ever heard. Pretty much from the second you turn the game on you ARE the Batman from the cartoon. Virtually every surface allows you to grapple on to it and every enemy folds like paper when confronted with your bat punches. Which is not to say you’re invincible, or the game is easy. I struggled with certain parts of the game, but I always felt like it was ME letting Batman down and not the other way around. I could almost hear him saying “You have my strength & abilities at your disposal and you still can’t take out 20 thugs at once? TRAIN HARDER!”
As expected the voice acting was spectacular… at least when it was carried out by original animated cast members. Everybody else was all over the map. One voice in particular stands out as a poor casting choice though. That choice is Tom Kane. Now he is, by no means, a bad actor. The problem is that his voice is too cartoony and strong for a lot of things. Or rather one of the voices he uses is. He’s the voice of the narrator in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which works. He’s also the voice of one of the starship commanders, with the same voice, which doesn’t work. He sounds unnatural when he uses that voice and it sounds just as wrong when he uses it in Arkham. He is by far the most glaring mistake made in the game. I suppose one could argue that as a subjective error too…
Anyway, pretty much everything else in the game is done well. The weakest thing is probably the fighting mechanic, but even then it’s still pretty easy to get the hang of. For the most part taking out thugs silently is the best way to go, so when you’re forced to take out a horde of villains with your fists it can be a little jarring. In game there’s only a few points where you absolutely HAVE to do this. Luckily the designers put in a challenge mode where you can just practice beating the shit out of people. You can practice all the other stuff too, but you’ll have way more reason to learn that in game.
The Riddler leaves a bunch of stuff scattered around the island for you to find, which I thought would be a chore to deal with, but it turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the game. He taunts you from time to time over your headset, so it sort of feels like he’s your wingman in a twisted way. Basically he forces you to take notice of all the little touches that relate the game to the larger Batman mythos. Stuff like the cells of famous villains you don’t face this time, for example. Some of them are pretty obscure, at least to most people. I could hardly believe they had a character profile for Maxie Zeus.
For me, the best, and hardest to make happen, takedown was the inverted one. Basically you hang a bad guy from a gargoyle, like Batman is wont to do. It can only happen in a few places, but it’s a lot of fun. You can string up a chump, then swing away and wait for other chumps to come look. When they get there you can wing a batarang at the rope and drop the dude on them.
At one point you start experiencing the effects of Johnathan Crane’s fear toxin, and go on a crazy trip into Batman’s psyche. Which is an excuse to play some goofy platforming levels, but the lead in to them is pretty awesome.
Anyway, i got interrupted while writing this and have completely lost my train of though. If I come up with anything else I just have to relate I’ll ad it in later.