Batman: Arkham Asylum

It's probably not safe to admit, particularly on the internet, but, secretly, everyone enjoys dressing up in a good cape and taking the fight to criminals around the world. When you find yourself with an idiotic driver just inches from your rear bumper, risking death simply through impatience, there's got to be an overwhelming desire to spring from the car, cape in full flow, and whisk the reckless criminal off to another dimension where they can cause road rage as much as they wish, without causing harm to the more thoughtful people on this planet. This sort of ability would be fantastic, but simply securing an appropriate cape is only half the problem. Without any supernatural ability, people are reliant on improved policing to solve these issues, and media such as films and games to act out this fantasy themselves. Sadly, entries from the gaming industry have been somewhat lacklustre over the years, but this summer, the Playstation 3 has seen two great adaptations: Ghostbusters, and now arguably an even stronger candidate, Batman: Arkham Asylum. This long-winded, highly-irrelevant introduction is intended to highlight that this game is an extremely rare occurance, and should in no way be written off as "probably another rubbish comic book/film adaptation".

Batman: Arkham Asylum

Unsurprisingly, players take on the role of the pointy-eared, black-caped, investigator extraordinaire, whose disguise is only slightly more convincing than that of Superman's extravagant camouflage: glasses. When The Joker gives in a little too easily, mastermind Batman is swiftly lured into Arkham Asylum,. Bat's red-lipped nemesis is put behind bars, precisely where the naughty prankster wishes to be, with Batman now neatly positioned in a trap, ready for an exciting evening fighting super criminals, solving puzzles and, in theory, facing his worst fears. Owls, probably. The agenda is set for an entertaining night, perhaps explaining why Batman still has his pants showing on the outside.

Once stranded in Arkham Asylum, players are greeted with the chance to try out Batman's combat system, a major focus in this largely action-based game. The setup is fairly easy and accessible for novice players, but possesses impressive depth that experienced gamers will enjoy greatly. Beginning with just an attack and counter button, players can punch away in fist fights, while remaining watchful for goons ready to take a swipe, and swiftly change to a counter move as an enemy punch gets within range. By moving between members in a group of goons, punching and countering as necessary, players can begin to create combos that result in experience point rewards. Combo creation is where the real fun starts though, as players soon discover that the batarang can play a role mid-combo, as well as jumps, rolls, finishing moves and other interlinking attacks that allow combos to extend in excess of 40 moves as Batman plows through massive groups of henchmen. The key ingredient is the careful learning curve that enables players of all abilities to get something useful from the system.

Batman: Arkham Asylum

When not in combat though, there's still plenty to do. Once a room is cleared of pesky goons, the caped crossdresser may need to investigate crimescenes to decipher the whereabouts of a hostage or criminal. Using the investigation mode in Batman's visor, players can search for clues, like tobacco from a particular pipe, for example, which will generate a trail to follow. There's nothing particularly complicated about it, but it blends with the gameplay nicely and keeps each objective flowing into the next. The visor is also useful when taking on a room full of henchmen, primarily because their locations are revealed through walls, but also because armed guards are marked clearly in red, highlighting the danger they present. Though Batman may be a superhero, possessing skill and knowledge well-beyond that of the average human, his abilities are largely based in reality, and even with an array of gadgets at his disposal, facing down a wall of weapons fire, pretending to be The One, simply isn't possible. Instead, Batman utilizes stealth, one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game. Using a grapple line, Batman can take to the rafters, perching on gargoyles and balancing on pillars, stalking his prey below. To avoid direct confrontation, Batman can bungee down, grab an unsuspecting victim and leave them dangling from the ceiling, taking them out of action. Moving carefully, players can clear an entire room of villains without ever being seen.

It's the balance of gameplay styles that makes Arkham Asylum so enjoyable to play. The combat never becomes a chore, the stealth never grows old, and there's always something interesting to explore. Out in the main grounds of the asylum, there's always a tower or building that looks just a little too tempting and, although there are some (fairly logical) restrictions on where you can jump or climb to, the most interesting places are usually reachable with a few carefully placed grapples. This leads to some spectacular views over Gotham City and will undoubtedly encourage players to leap into the skies and glide down towards the aslyum floor. It's a fantastic feeling scything through the air, particularly when there's a target below, completely oblivious to your presence.

Perhaps the only significant disappoint in the gameplay department are the boss battles. While the majority of the game sets new standards for the genre, pushing the frontiers of achievement, the boss battles resemble the painful, monotonous slogs of twenty years ago. Bosses tend to have a pattern that is firmly established near the beginning of the fight. From this point onwards, players are required to repeat a particular tactic over and over, hoping that the enemy health bar will be depleted first. Next to boss fights like The End in Metal Gear Solid 3, the battles seem entirely uninspiring and do little to augment the game. If the encounters were briefer, with a little more variation, then there'd be little to fault Batman's playability. Even so, it's good to see some excellent bat villains making an appearance, with Poison Ivy, Bane, Killer Croc and more taking a poke at the airborne rodent.

Batman: Arkham Asylum

The visuals are largely without flaw too, with Arkham Asylum superbly realized. Similar to Bioshock's Rapture, the setting itself is almost a character in the game. Admittedly Arkham Asylum never quite matches the atmosphere and personality of Rapture, but still provides more inspiration than most modern-day game settings. Set at night, a light fog (not the kind designed to cover draw-distance weaknesses) covers a few parts of the ground, while shafts of moonlight illuminate other areas to superb effect. The mood inside contrasts that of the external areas, with a more mechnical, worn feeling. Every corridor echoes with the voices and actions of those previously trapped inside, and the tiniest details, including books, lamps and leaflets usually tell a story of their own or, at the very least, complete the atmospheric setting. It's arguable that some corridors and items are a little repetitive, but only in a way that makes architectural sense, and even these are usually broken up by magnificent libraries, mansions or statues.

The character models are a bit of a mix, with Batman, The Joker and other main characters looking absolutely superb, while the more generic henchmen look a little plastic with somewhat odd eyes. Also, it would appear that most of the inhabitants of the asylum are related, since you'll swiftly see every character model, with little variation attempted. That shouldn't take too much away from the superb main characters though. Batman looks incredible, and his appearance changes as the game progresses, with tears and scratches in his suit that reflect the battles throughout the night. Many gamers will no doubt appreciate Poison Ivy's skimpy outfit, though all the villains look fantastic. The voices for each are also excellent, with Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill and Arleen Sorkin reprising their roles as Batman, The Joker and Harley Quinn respectively. The dialogue between the main characters is excellent, and keeps the story flowing nicely. Mark Hamill as The Joker is particularly superb, thanks to the numerous mildly insane, but highly amusing lines he's able to spout throughout the game.

Batman: Arkham Asylum

It's not just the voicework that's of a high standard though, with decent sound effects and an excellent score also providing very effective ingredients. The music is never invasive, but continues to match the pace and emotion of the game, accentuating all the important moments perfectly and continually matching the mood of every setting. The effects are somewhat less subtle, but this simply generates a more authentic comic-book feel, with meaty thuds and crunches the name of the game. There are also some more light-hearted effects, designed to match some surprise gifts from The Joker himself, which provide enjoyable variety.

There's so much more that could be said about Batman: Arkham Asylum, but it's probably better to simply suggest trying it yourself. There's a good deal to try out, with the main plot augmented by challenge rooms, equipped with online rankings, and PS3-exclusive Joker options. On top of that there are numerous in-game collectibles, riddles to solve (conceived by, well, guess) and trophies to aim for. By the time players have achieved a 100% rating, an enjoyable 20 or more hours could easily have been invested in the game. Despite the minor flaws with the lack of variety in boss fights and a slightly weak detective mode, there's a huge amount to enjoy in the game, and it's one of the best titles so far this year. If you were convinced that there'd never be a good comic-book adaptation on a console, then let Batman: Arkham Asylum show you that miracles are possible. Even with your pants on the outside.

Game details

Game logo

Publisher:

Eidos Interactive

Developer:

Rocksteady Studios

Players:

1

Online:

Rankings

Release:

2009-08-28

Trophies:

48

Review summary

Gameplay:

Enjoyable combat and good variety throughout

Graphics:

Moody and effective, plus Batman looks ace

Sound:

Superb voicework, meaty effects and atmospheric music

Lastability:

Challenges and riddles add great replay value

9.1

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