Countdown to ‘The Dark Knight Rises’: Part 7 of 11 – “Batman: Arkham Asylum” Video Game
If you missed it here is Part 1 of 11: Introduction to Batman “The Gift”
And here is Part 2 of 11: A look Back at Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’
And Part 3: ‘Batman Returns’
And Part 4: ‘Batman Forever’
And Part 5 ‘Batman and Robin’
Last week’s part 6: ‘Batman: The Animated Series’
I wouldn’t say that I have an addictive personality as I sadly can quit things at almost any point in time. I have instant remorse, of course, and regret even contemplating stopping at all. My biggest issue, rather, is I can be talked into being interested in anything. I have way too many things that interest me and am constantly adding to it. It’s why I cursed my brother when he brought up baseball cards to me after ditching the hobby sixteen years ago. Instead, I spent a week on eBay buying several individual cards I never thought I even needed to know existed a week prior. Another hobby I had at one point in time and was doing just fine after signing the separation papers several years ago was playing video games. The last system I bought purely to play video games was a Sega Genesis (which I coincidentally re-bought a couple of years ago to continue playing games, but really to relive part of my youth). I owned an XBOX, but I won it through a Taco Bell contest that was rigged in the favor of my two friends and me. I bought my PS3 purely to watch Blu-rays. However, I flirted with my old flame by buying a three-pack of the “Grand Theft Auto 3”-related titles and helped myself to an absolute must-own in the form of “The Simpsons Game” (I finished “The Simpsons Game” and got probably about 40% through one of the GTA titles and just stopped). This is why I quit things. I have too many interests on my plate to keep them all going to satisfaction. However, when I thought about how I wanted to immerse myself in Batmedia, the thought of picking up the two latest Batman video game titles leapt immediately to mind.
“Batman: Arkham City” had just come out to great hype and fanfare, so the natural starting point for someone to jump into that world would be to pick up a copy. That’s why I ventured two years into the past and picked up “Batman: Arkham Asylum.” Because I’m cheap. I fired myself up reading reviews which I had ignored just twenty-four months ago. The resounding claim seemed to be that the game made you feel what it was like to actually be Batman. Thinking back to the time I donned a cape around the house (last weekend was a blast), this was a dream that I couldn’t wait to realize.
I had downloaded the playable demo randomly when the game was initially released. The controls were simple to grasp and I enjoyed grappling from gargoyle statue to gargoyle statue, silently repelling down to take out my enemies. There was a lot of patience involved on my part and seeing the condition of the enemies go from “calm” to “nervous” to “paranoid” once they discovered their cohorts’ lifeless bodies was highly amusing. Of course it didn’t entice me to buy the game back then (remember, “too many interests” and “cheap” are the phrases that define me), but I was happy to find out that aspect comes up numerous times in the full-fledged version.
This isn’t really meant to be a review of the game, but rather how the experience of playing helps to put me in the middle of Batmania as the countdown to the release of “The Dark Knight Rises” continues.
The storyline is relatively simple. Batman has just arrested the Joker, whom he suspects of somehow wanting to be caught. Once inside Gotham’s notorious prison, Joker seizes control, leaving it up to Batman to tap into his inner Alonzo Harris and snatch it back, taking every villain in Gotham with him.
Aside from the aforementioned “hanging from the rafters” elements of the game, which I loved, there were two other sequences that stood out to me. The first sequence is one that recurs I believe three times throughout the game. You (as Batman) are caught up in the storyline of searching for Joker when you notice something amiss. You find a dead Commissioner Gordon, stunned that the game would dare killing off a central character before you truly have a chance to save him or you walk down a seemingly endless corridor and you suddenly have less control of where you’re walking. The walls start caving in and the floor dissipates around you. Your darkest fears are tapped into and you’re forced to relive the moment that turned your heart forever cold and steered you toward justice and vengeance. You realize you’re in the clutches of Scarecrow.
These Scarecrow sequences are fantastic. It truly jars you from the beat-‘em-up, problem-solving style of the game to this point and forces you to recognize the environment that you’re in. These scenes are almost straight from “Batman: The Animated Series,” but there’s a haunting aspect to them in the game. Scarecrow represents a Freddy Krueger-like figure, complete with a sharp-nailed glove, lording over the nightmarish dreamscapes he’s used to penetrate Batman’s mind.
Scarecrow’s environments separate themselves from the game in style and control, more like twisted mini-games than anything else. The camera shifts from a third-person behind-the-back viewpoint to a sidescroller more akin to “Super Mario Bros.” This tonal difference is a fun shakeup of the rest of the game and makes you truly feel one with Batman’s mind.
The other sequence in the game that leaps to the forefront of my mind comes toward the end. Prior to your showdown with Joker, you need to grapple with Poison Ivy. Outside of the Uma Thurman-played character in Batman Forever, I’ve always felt that Poison Ivy had been a particularly sexy-looking villain (just watch those “Batman: The Animated Series” episodes). The game certainly didn’t disappoint on that front, but it was the lead-up to the confrontation that I found truly engaging.
Once Batman finishes his last task prior to traveling to the section of the asylum Poison Ivy has carved out for herself, a bunch of Venus flytrap-like plants are scattered about the premises. As you near them, a violent orb rises out of the plant and attempts to sting you. You can knock these orbs away with a quick flick of your Batarang, but you can kill them when in close by plunging your fist right into the middle of the plant and tearing out its guts. And when you do this, Poison Ivy gets PISSED. Her voice comes booming through the speakers like that of a vengeful God, threatening you and your life after each stealing of a plant’s existence. Poison Ivy feels the death of a plant in her soul and she gets more and more riled up about it after you eliminate each one. Every subsequent time she threatens you, it gets a little nastier and you can’t help but have a surge of adrenaline coursing through your veins as you get closer and closer to coming face-to-face with your accuser, all but assuring you don’t take a bathroom break anytime soon. You knew you were hurting her, you loved that she was upset about it and you knew she was next.
That was undoubtedly the climax of the game for me. I’ve read some reviews poo-pooing the final battle with a ‘roided-up Joker as something too comical that it felt out of place, but I don’t necessarily buy into that. I think the letdown of the finale is that it wasn’t built up like the showdown with Poison Ivy.
Once completed, you’re given the opportunity to play through some levels as Joker and that’s a fun little gimmick for a while. Perhaps the fact that I was essentially terrible playing as the Clown Prince of Crime had something to do with my only minor enthusiasm for the feature, but I still think it’s a cool inclusion. Joker has a gun with one bullet in it and he has a couple of chattering teeth bombs that are pretty handy, but he mainly gets through with kicks and punches, just as Batman does. Thinking about that reminds me of that Batman figure I had all those years ago and how much of that kind of fighting existed in the ’60s TV show. It would obviously be a very different game, but what if they decided to make a ‘60s TV show mod of this game? Batman favors the gray-and-blue suit worn by Adam West and each punch and kick is met with a big “Zok” or “Blam” across the screen. Like the playing-as-Joker mode, it’d probably get old in a hurry, so let’s pretend like I never came up with the idea in the first place.
The fact that I made it through the entire game should tell you something about how I feel about it. It’s a strong testament to a product that I had only a fleeting interest in that I would see it through to completion. A word of warning to those that aren’t like me and do have addictive personalities, if you pick up this game, you might find yourself saying this.
Next week: The Asylum gets its own zip code in “Batman: Arkham City.” You can imagine how Batman takes this news.