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Batman: Arkham Asylum review

by on August 24, 2009
 
Game: Batman: Arkham Asylum

Developer: Rocksteady Studios

Publisher: Eidos Interactive

Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC (reviewed on Xbox 360)

STORY: The story of Batman: Arkham Asylum is mature and gritty, it takes what is great about the Batman world and finally brings it to the world of videogames. The games starts out with Batman escorting the Joker into Arkham Asylum and is rather suspicious about the whole situation as the Joker was apprehended rather easily. It soon becomes apparent that the Dark Knight was right to be suspicious as a few minutes after entering the Asylum the Joker (with help from Harley Quinn) breaks free and takes control of the place. It becomes clear that the Clown Prince had planned this takeover well beforehand due to his recent attack on Blackgate Prison there are many convicts being transferred into Arkham upon his arrival. Needless to say, his plan involves using these goons to solidify his control of the Asylum. After taking control, the Joker locks down Arkham completely with Batman, Commissioner Gordon and many of the staff still inside. He has also sent a message to Gotham that if anyone tries to enter the Asylum he will set off bombs all over the city. It is down to Batman (with the help from a few friends) to save the day and find out what exactly the Joker is up to while also fending off villains such as Harley Quinn, Killer Croc, Bane and Poison Ivy.

It certainly sounds like your typical comic book story and for the most part it is but it is the execution of it that is superb. It just works on so many levels, comic book fan or not this is  a story that everyone can and hopefully will appreciate. It is not too much of a surprise really that the story is so good though as Paul Dini (the man behind the Batman animated series and detective comics) had a hand in writing the script for the game. I would even go as far to say the story is so good that it wouldn’t be out of place in a Chris Nolan Batman movie, yup it is that good. It is mature, gritty and involving. all things which should be expected from something Batman related.

GRAPHICS: Rocksteady have built the game using the Unreal Engine 3 and, unlike most developers, they have used it well. Much like the story the game has a mature/gritty look to it, which really ties in well with the Batman world from the comics. The development team have done a fantastic job recreating the madhouse that is Arkham Asylum, it looks just how you would probably imagine it. The character models for each character are also really good. They do look slightly bulky/muscular and plastic at times but this is a minor negative as on the whole the game really does look fantastic. Special mention must go to the wonderful Batman character model which actually shows signs of wear and tear as you progress though the game. You will see scratches on his face and rips in his cape, minor details in the overall scheme of things but a nice touch nonetheless.

SOUND: Another area where Arkham Asylum shines ever so brightly, mostly down to the wonderful voice acting of the main characters. Once again the development team has remained true to the Batman universe and brought in many of the actors from the animated series to provide voices for certain characters. Most notably, Kevin Conroy once again returns to voice Batman and Mark Hamill brilliantly provides the vocals for the Joker. Hamill’s voice work really brings the Joker character to life and in turn makes the gameplay experience that more “authentic”. Sadly the original Batman theme tune doesn’t make it into the game (licensing issues maybe?) but this doesn’t turn out to be a huge issue as the music in the game is pretty much spot on anyway. The “main theme” actually sounds a little like the one from the most recent Batman movies.

GAMEPLAY: The gameplay mechanics of Arkham Asylum break down into three aspects, hand-to-hand combat, stealth and exploration. The hand-to-hand combat starts off with just a few moves at your disposal but then as you gain XP (more on that later) you can acquire new moves. For example you can unlock a throw move which can be pulled off in a certain situation. At first glance the the hand-to-hand seems a little too simple but once you get a few hours into the game you realise it actually has some hidden depth. Basically it is simple to use but difficult to master.

The stealth combat is where the game truly shines for me, it’s brilliant. During these sections you truly feel like you are the Dark Knight himself. The focus is on being a “predator” and using the gadgets (more on these later too) at Batman’s disposal. A simple press of the LB button takes you into “detective mode”, the screen changes and you are given information about the area you are in aswell as every single person in it. You will know if an enemy is armed or unarmed and what sort of state (nervous, terrified and so on) they are in. All this information lets you plan your attacks on the enemy with the greatest amount of efficiency, although sometimes things can go wrong! In these sections the enemies are usually armed so it is always best to stay out of sight; Batman is human after all! The most effective way of taking out goons is by swinging from gargoyle statues and surprisingly enough there are alot of them littered around the Asylum. It is a great feeling swinging from one point to another while you stalk your enemies, watching their every move. You can take them out in a variety of ways but my favourite method has to be the trademark inverted takedown. It never gets tiring seeing one of Joker’s goons crapping themselves when they see one of their own hanging underneath a gargoyle as result of one of your actions. Slight word of warning, the first few stealth sections ease you into the mechanics but soon enough they do become rather challenging. In later areas you really do have to plan how you are going to go about taking out the goons. The increased challenge doesn’t just mean an increase in the number of goons either, other very interesting factors (which I won’t reveal) also come into play!

As mentioned earlier there is also a decent amount of exploration to do in Arkham Asylum. The mechanics that form the basis of this are solid and more importantly quite fun too. Some might be shocked to learn that Batman can’t really jump (minor gripe) but if you hold down A while nearing a gap (much like Assassin’s Creed) he will “auto” jump instead it. As you jump if you hold A, Batman’s cape expands and he glides down to his destination, it looks rather awesome. The grappling is what forms the main part of the exploration though and it is perfectly executed. Seriously it is actually perfect, I had not one issue with it throughout the course of the game.

The game also has a basic XP system which allows you to upgrade Batman’s abilities and gadgets. All of the major abilities are only available once you have unlocked them via the XP system but never fear you will probably gain most of them as you play through normally. I didn’t do much “XP hunting” and ended up with 16 out of the 20 upgrades. All of the gadgets (barring one or two) are unlocked as you progress through the story, no need to acquire them via the XP system. However you can upgrade the gadgets functions via the system, for instance you can upgrade your Batarang to a double or triple Batarang. You may be wondering how you gain XP though? Simple, by taking out enemies and finding collectables. Now these collectables are something rather special too, they are called Riddler’s challenges. Yes that’s right folks, Mr Edward Nigma makes a guest appearance (not in person though, just his voice is present) in the game. The challenges break down into collecting his question mark trophies scattered around the Asylum and solving certain riddles. The riddles are a fantastic inclusion, they don’t put too much strain on the old noggin but certainly are fun to solve. Solving them involves some light Batman knowledge and some decent searching skills. If that wasn’t enough there are also patient interview tapes placed around Arkham and they are well worth listening to if you want to really know just how crazy some of the villians in the Batman universe are.

That is all you probably need to know about the gameplay aspect of the Arkham Asylum but (believe it or not) there is so much more I could actually talk about. The boss battles, the random comments from the Joker over the Asylum microphones; there are so many little details that make up the gameplay experience. Talking of experiences, there are a few certain gameplay sections which I would really love talk about but if I do I think I would be ruining the experience for anyone who hasn’t played the game yet. What I will say though is that these sections involve a rather overlooked Batman villian and are superbly designed. The folks at Rocksteady have clearly done some lateral-outisde the box-thinking and as a result pulled off something truly brilliant. Trust me, you won’t see these sections coming and when they do you will be confused but that confusion will soon turn to sheer delight. I literally cannot praise these gameplay sections enough. I just hope everyone enjoys them as much as I did!

LONGEVITY: The story mode will last you about 10-12 hours on the normal difficulty, add another hour or two to that number if you want to spend time completing all of the Riddler’s challenges. The story mode is definitely worth replaying though, just to witness the awesomeness again! Apart from that the game also consists of “brawler” and stealth challenge rooms (read our impressions here) with online leaderboards which should keep you going for a while if you really enjoyed the both styles of combat.

VERDICT: I do not have enough superlatives to describe this game but I will go ahead and try anyway! Here goes…..Batman: Arkham Asylum is superb, a must play title. Not just a great comic book game, a great game full stop.

Score: 9/10