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Licensed games are a sorry lot, generally speaking. Maybe it’s because they are often rushed out the door to coincide with a movie release. Perhaps it’s due to the second- or third-rate studios that often churn them out. Whatever the reason, they show a history of suckage that dates back to E.T. on the Atari 2600 and continues today with titles like Avatar. Every once in a long while, though, a real gem squeaks through this gauntlet of trash and surprises everyone with its quality – Batman: Arkham Asylum is one such game.

In my opinion, previous Batman titles have made the error of trying to please everyone.  They would have combat interspersed with vehicle sequences interspersed with puzzles.  Rarely did they focus on what makes Batman truly great: he flat out kicks a lot of ass.  Developer Rocksteady put together a smooth, combo-heavy combat engine with a huge amount of variety to highlight Batman’s bad-assery.  You’ll Batarang fools into oblivion, yank dudes off ledges with your Batclaw, and deliver many slow-motion finishers. Let’s face it, you just can’t go wrong with a slow-motion kick to the face.

BatmanAA

More important than the stellar combat engine is the overall feel of the game.  This is the first time in a Batman title that I thought “holy crap I’m really Batman.”  This is especially apparent in how Batman is able to move around and through stages. There are a myriad of escape routes and hiding spots including vents to crawl through, rafters to drop from, and even floor panels where you can lie in wait.  If things get really dicey, you can always grapple yourself out of trouble.  Some of the most fun I had with the game involved testing my ability to freak out the enemies as I slowly picked them off one by one.  Essentially, you can do everything you’d want to do as Batman.  Sneaking around, scaring the crap out of your enemies, and then beating them into submission.  The best part is that this mix of stealth and brutal combat never seems to get old.  I could play Batman: AA forever.

Above all else, Batman: Arkham Asylum delivers exactly what I’d want in a Batman experience. It has a beautifully rendered, gritty world, tight and varied gameplay, an excellent storyline, top-notch voice talent from Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill and a good amount of replayability.  It isn’t a perfect game, however.  I had occasional issues with the camera (as in most third-person action games) and found the final boss battle lacking in terms of the Batman/Joker mythos.  Still, this is the most excited I’ve been about a licensed game since perhaps Goldeneye, and that’s saying a lot (the OLD one, not the one on the way!)  For those reasons and more I give Batman: Arkham Asylum my highest possible recommendation.  You owe it to yourself to play this game.

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