8 October 2013 | TBJCSKCNRRQTreviews
Don the cowl, and bring them to justice
With a compelling opening that sets the creepy, gritty and bleak tone(with Gothic architecture - tall windows, and gargoyles that you can perch atop, and hang goons from) as you escort The Joker deep into the Arkham facility(which is now a full island, not merely the mansion - albeit that remains part of it), with several stops along the way(such as a doctor checking on him), and you expect that any moment now, he'll break free - he suddenly does, surprising you in spite of the anticipation, takes over, threatens that he'll detonate bombs all over Gotham if anyone approaches the Asylum and has graffiti tagged and a statue of the warden defaced, as you now have to track him down, rescue the hostages taken, fight his army of henchmen - and he may just send some supervillains your way.
Outside of The Killing Joke(which is where the inspiration for his appearance in this comes from) and Ledger, this is the best depiction of him. Hamill, aided by the solid, absurd material(he taunts you, and his goons, as you progress), renders him equally scary and comical - he leaves gift-wrapped, fridge-sized boxes around for you, and you never know where it'll be a bomb, or just a few of the chattering teeth he leaves around. He remains in control, and you are at his mercy. This explains, if doesn't fully excuse, the linearity of this - heightening the isolated, claustrophobic feeling. You can only choose where to go in the hub level of the outside, and when boringly backtracking to gain entry to areas earlier inaccessible. His final plan, while the scope befits the medium, is the one time something in this doesn't fit, as far as motivations go. He is joined by Harley(Sorkin), who's dependent and eerie as ever.
The characters in this are all gotten exactly right. And not everyone will survive the night... making this a tale with repercussions, and while those may be confined to these VG's, it's a notable risk to take. The villains(who all get epic, fitting entrances) are humans grotesquely transformed by tragedy into monsters - you are allowed to delve into their psyche(and their themes are explored) through interview tapes, that, like the story(original, and penned by veteran of the comics, Paul Dini - both ideal; you don't have people comparing it to the work it's adapting or knowing the outcome, and this gets the spirit), have twists, are impeccably paced, and develop the people. This gets right what most licensed ones don't - looking at why it's beloved, and making sure to replicate those elements, with a laser-like focus. Is this the best game ever? No. But in the sub-genre of hero ones, it is. And I retain the right to grant that to one of its sequels, when I get to playing those.
This is a real treat for those already in love with the property, but no matter how little you know about this franchise, you can appreciate this - it's quite self-contained, and actually serves as an introduction that will inspire many potential fans to get into it. It covers a lot of ground, without bogging down with excessive details. The cutscenes(either in-engine or pre-rendered so it never feels out of place) are cool, short, fast-paced and to the point. You get poisoned by Scarecrow, and have to struggle through terrifying, and sometimes quite personal, hallucinations(think Freddy Krueger). There is some Prince of Persia style acrobatics. The main campaign in this single-player(with 3 difficulties) only title(I'm glad they didn't push for multiplayer, or even co-op, if they didn't think they could make it work) is only 10 and a half hours. The replayability lies in unlocking statues, upgrades to improve your abilities, and challenge maps(in the GOTY edition, there are no less than 20!). That last one comes with international leaderboards, to entice you to do well. It does also highlight that there are essentially only two different playing experiences in this.
The first is the free-flow, hard-hitting martial arts. There is a rhythm to it - like in real life. Try to predict their behavior, and react in time. You have four moves: Strike(your attack), Block(stop another's blow and hit them), Stun(prevent one or two from punching) and Evade(any direction - including "at" them, bunny-hopping over them!). Click a button at the right time, directed in the right direction, and it might not even matter if you're not already close enough(you may automatically get close by flipping over there). As long as you don't miss, spend a full second not doing anything, or take damage(you'll heal after battle - no running away!), you'll increase your "combo counter", and once you have enough, you unlock Throw(literally toss one guy into a few others!) and instant Takedowns(the only time that doesn't take so much time that you can be stopped if seen!). There is no spamming. This is easy to learn, yet tough to master. How well you do translates to XP, and as already mentioned, that's vital.
And the other major aspect is stealth. As you can tell, these are the defining traits of Bruce Wayne's alter ego(along with his smarts - those make it in, without providing something hard to accomplish. This is highly creative - you can hide above(glide-kicking from there - yes, your cape always allows slow, or silent, descent), beside(around a corner, grabbing them from there), even below(from grates, travelling unseen - there are vents, as well), enemies. You can attract them with a Sonic Batarang(you can also throw more than one, there's a remote controlled one, and, like with the Bat-Claw which grabs objects, or persons, out of your immediate reach, there's a key to quick-use it... and auto-aim is actually *smart* in this, and aiming is possible when you have the time).
There is a lot of disturbing, violent content in this, and some blood. I recommend this to any fan of Batman, action and/or sneaking. 9/10