Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Look to the Past: Games of the Years 2009 - Batman Arkham Asylum


Batman: Arkham Asylum (PS3, Xbox 360)

The Joker's arrest has gone terribly awry. Mad, depraved inmates are roaming the grimy halls of Arkham Asylum. The security officers are all but nonexistent; most of them are dead. There's a sinister, evil plot behind these dark events, and the Joker himself is orchestrating it all, viewing the wanton murders and ghastly sights as a twisted joke for his own perverse pleasure. There's only one silver lining in this horrible mess: Batman is here.

Take that concept and mold it into the most awesome video game you possibly can; that's Batman: Arkham Asylum. The tone was dark and grim, dripping with minute details and creepy atmosphere, and you were placed directly into the role of the Dark Knight. Arkham Asylum's crowning achievement was its ability to make you feel just like Batman. The outstanding animation for the fight sequences had him delivering hard-hitting punches and vaulting around the enemies like a pro, always in command and always looking ridiculously cool. The free-flowing hand-to-hand combat was unbelievably fluid, and a daunting pack of criminals could be brought to their knees without Batman ever missing a beat or breaking a combo. The stealth mechanics allowed you to execute sneak attacks and mess with the enemy thugs' minds, slowly panicking them to the state of terror. Moving beyond the frustrations of most stealth games, Arkham Asylum made escape fully possible once spotted, and duking it out was usually an option as well, but creeping through the shadows and taking out minions one by one was supremely satisfying. These two elements blended together perfectly, all wrapped around an enthralling and immersive plot that felt like a blockbuster action film in which you got to be the hero. My jaw dropped during the opening interactive cutscene, and I didn't pick it up again until the credits rolled.

"Come on, boys. He's just one man! One man dressed like a lunatic and armed to the teeth! Hehehehehehe! Go get him!"
-The Joker speaking to his men via the PA system.

The setting went a long way to securing Arkham Asylum a place in the history books. The Joker's hilarious and sadistic remarks spoken over the PA system never became stale, and each inmate was well-acted and convincingly insane. Alone and against impossible odds, Batman had to maneuver every inch of the island and use every trick in his book to survive, which made everything all the more amusing for the maniacal Joker. The brave superhero was set up for failure every step of the way, but always he forged ahead without complaint, saving victims and beating down foes. This dynamic between the two central characters made everyone else seem like pawns in a horrible game of chess, except that Batman's side consisted of only one knight, and it had achieved both mental and physical perfection. Such tense struggle between good and evil, the sane and the insane, was the perfect story to be told in the madhouse known as Arkham Asylum, and it won't be forgotten any time soon. Of course, I missed out on some of the more popular games from 2009 such as Assassin's Creed II, Resident Evil 5, blah blah blah and etcetera. I think I've made it clear that I can't always play all of the newer games due to time and price restraints. However, I did get a chance to spend some quality time with games like Mario & Luigi 3: Bowser's Inside Story, Dragon Age: Origins, Demon's Souls, Halo: ODST, and (of special note) Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. And let me tell you, I spent very long and tortured amount of time deciding between this final option and Arkham Asylum. Every time I came to a decision, I would change my mind and start over again, continuing the endless cycle in my indecisive mind. But in the end, it was Arkham Asylum's sheer originality that takes away the final prize of this Look to the Past, for it sprang seemingly from nowhere and forged an eye-opening new path of its own. Never before had I felt more like I truly was the main character of the game; Arkham Asylum nailed Batman, and that is a feat to be proud of.

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