Saturday, September 26, 2009

Welcome to the Asylum

Arkham Asylum is the place where the many super villains of Gotham basically have their second home (or maybe their first). It’s the place where therapists try to cure them – usually to no avail. “Arkham Asylum” is also the subtitle of a new game set in Batman’s universe. And it’s the place where the whole game takes place, too.

I’ve waited for this new game for a long time, ever since I saw the first pictures and the first trailer. Of all the DC heroes, Batman is my favourite. And he makes a great character for a computer game, because he doesn’t have any supernatural powers. (Now, I’ve enjoyed playing “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” a lot – despite the fact that it’s a pretty bloodthirsty game. But then, we’re talking about Wolverine, the guy with the sharp blades protruding from the back of his hands.) But any being with supernatural powers, be it alien, divine or mutant, means thinking around the bent. Wolverine doesn’t have to worry about a few people with MPs … Batman does, despite the protection of his suit. And, as a gamer playing “Arkham Asylum,” so do I.

The Joker is caught – once more – and Batman is taking him back to Arkham. No, that’s not the end of the game, it’s actually the intro sequence. The first thing that came to my mind while watching it was ‘Why the hell is that guy so happy about it?’ This thought was closely followed by ‘Wow, someone really went overboard with the security measures here.’ I soon learned that nobody went overboard with the security measures, of course, since the Joker breaks free and disappears inside the Asylum. No wonder he was in such a great mood – he wanted to get in, after all.

The intro sequence is quite long and partly interactive, even though the interactive part merely is following the guards who take the Joker back inside the Asylum. Still, there are some quite interesting moments, such as the meeting with Killer Croc on the way down (that guy’s huge and has quite some teeth…).

There’s basically three things to do during the game: walk or run through corridors, fight Joker’s henchmen (and various madmen) and solve riddles or problems.

Quite some problems stem from the fact that the Joker controls most of the Asylum, including the intercom (meaning a lot of voice-overs all over Arkham Island). Quite often only an air vent or a gargoyle high up on the wall provide a way onwards. The fighting consists mostly of close-quarter combat (against unarmed enemies) and guerrilla tactics (against armed enemies, as Batman is not bullet-proof). I found the inverted takedown (an upgrade you can buy with experience points gained from winning fights and solving problems) quite useful in these situations. Just get on a gargoyle, wait for an enemy to walk by underneath, drop down, grab him and hang him up by his ankles. Quite useful and terrifies the rest of them.

The riddles are usually create by the Riddler (who else, seriously) and usually quite cryptic. There’s always something in the area, though, which is connected to the riddles. In addition there’s challenges like ‘destroy 5 Joker’s teeth’ (referring to the gadgets always hopping around in the corridors). There’s also Riddler Trophies hidden around (green question marks), tapes with interviews of the various inmates and the Chronicles of Arkham, cryptic messages left behind by the founder of the asylum. They are not necessary to continue the game, of course, but provide additional content and additional experience points.

The controls of the game have been converted quite well (even though I have to admit I prefer the combination of mouse and keyboard to the game controller in this case) – “Batman - Arkham Asylum” is a multiplatform title with the pc-version being the last to come out. Bad for me, as I don’t own an X-Box 360 or PS III. I installed the English version of the game (it’s a multilingual DVD), mostly to get the original voices. You don’t get to hear Mark ‘Luke Skywalker’ Hamill a lot these days – and he gives a great Joker (and has for about 15 years now…). In addition, quite some jokes are only funny in the original language.

I’ve only seen about 30% of the game yet, but I really like it already and I will continue to play until I’m through.

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