Batman: Arkham Asylum Review
Written : Thursday, September 10, 2009
By: Lee Abrahams (GT: jackanape)
Comic book tie-ins and Batman games in particular have always come in for a rough ride. Perhaps it is because the quality of the licence has never really carried over into games, or maybe it is because one of comics most intriguing characters has always just been thrown into generic beat ‘em ups. It is a strange one to be sure, but it looks like we have finally found a title that does Batman justice and, more than that, is able to go toe to toe with some of the best games on the 360. Holy cheesy review intro Batman.
UK based developer, Rocksteady, has delivered a supremely polished end product that would fly off the shelves regardless of the main hero, but the fact you get to be Batman is just the cherry on top of the cake. If you had a checklist beside you whilst playing this game then pretty much every box would be ticked; the story is spot on, the voice work is superb, the graphics suitably impressive and the gameplay is superbly diverse and excellently paced. In case you did not already guess – I am impressed.
Batman has such a rich backstory and history that it would be hard to know where to even begin making such a game, but the choice of Arkham Asylum is a masterstroke. The gameplay and general mechanics may well fit any number of titles but the world the developers have created and the unique foibles that inhabit it are all solid gold Batman. The Asylum is the dumping ground for many of the caped crusader's most twisted foes and as such you can expect to be running into quite a few of them on your travels, not to mention a few helpful allies along the way.
Batman has caught the Joker once again, but is not entirely convinced about his old adversary's motives – cue the Joker taking over the Asylum and Batman being forced to do what he does best; restore order. The brilliant pacing always keeps you guessing and no one is quite what they seem, which is the way things should be for someone with as many trust issues as Bruce Wayne. Not to mention the fact that you stumble across a number of spectacular set pieces that are worth the price of admission alone. It does not hurt that the entire island is so wonderfully portrayed and each of the characters has a unique slant on how you would picture them, from the massive Killer Croc to the outlandish Harley Quinn, every detail has been taken into account. The key to this game is the story and, in no uncertain terms, the voice acting that goes with it. Using key cast members from the animated series is a touch of genius as it makes the characters seem familiar from the off, not to mention the interactive opening scene that sets things up beautifully.
Playing the game is just so satisfying too as you never feel bogged down in one particular genre for too long. There is plenty of combat as you would expect, but also no small amount of ingenious detective work and stealth. The game really shows what it would be like to be in the shoes of Batman as you get to fully utilise all of his skills for the first time. It is only natural that Batman would use stealth to get the drop on his foes, or one of his gadgets to solve a mystery; not to mention the fact that when the going gets tough he is a master of martial arts. The whole experience gels together so well and makes the game an organic Batman experience, rather than one that seems tacked together from the best bits of similar games. You also get a good sense of progression as you start off with a few gadgets and abilities, then gain more through key story events and from gaining experience and levelling up.
Your first introduction to the combat comes instantly as you find yourself squaring off against multiple foes. At first glance the combat system seems alarmingly simplistic with only one button to attack, another to counter and a final one to stun foes, but fighting is surprisingly fluid and deep. Batman reacts just as you would expect him to, delivers meaty attacks to his foes with alarming speed and has the ability to switch between his assailants with ease. Timing plays an important part in the proceedings as you cannot just mash the strike button and expect results. Instead you need to move between your foes and keep them off balance - a stun here, a counter there and then a series of blows to the last man standing before turning back to his groggy companions. It flows extremely well, and you can add new moves, takedowns and even the odd grapple or batarang moves as you level up. The only way to restore health is by earning experience too, which is delayed until the end of each fight, so you have to skilfully clear a room before you can rest on your laurels. The balance of moves and the speed with which they are carried out never seems unfair, and you can soon be stringing together large combos of moves which, in turn, will net you more experience. If I had any kind of gripe about the system it would be that it can take some getting used to and, particularly on the hardest difficulty, can be a touch unforgiving – though it is nothing that a bit of practice would not iron out
Obviously Batman has a range of gadgets at his disposal, such as batarangs for stunning his foes or the trusty grappling hook for getting around. It is the more ingenious devices that deserve more praise though, such as the explosive gel that can be used to open up new areas or set traps for patrolling foes. You can even upgrade it to have a proximity setting so that you can plant it on a wall and wait for an enemy to go by and knock himself out. Every little trick and tool feels like something you would expect Batman to use. The most important device will undoubtedly be your choice of vision modes as at the touch of a button, you can utilise the enhanced vision aspects of the batsuit. This generally resorts to the all encompassing detective mode, which shows you nearby objects of interest, potential enemies (and whether they are armed) plus highlights evidence trails you need to follow. It is a neat system and one that has a number of fun quirks, like showing enemies heartbeats and their mental state. It also means you have a choice to approach each and every encounter in any way you see fit.
As a master tactician you would not expect Batman to take on every foe head on, especially when they start to crop up with guns, so you have other means at your disposal depending on your mood. Batman can stick to the shadows and take down enemies using stealth instead of brawn; you can creep up on foes to silently take them out; or even grapple above them and string them up to cause fear amongst their colleagues. Throw in the aforementioned explosive gel, remote controlled and sonic batarangs plus destructible walls and floors that you can booby trap and you have a wealth of options at your disposal.
Outside of the combat you are free to explore the island, with new areas being opened up as the story progresses. You also have the obnoxious Riddler to contend with as he has scattered puzzles, collectables and joke teeth (I kid you not) around the island and challenged the world's greatest detective to find/solve them all. Luckily this never feels like a chore as the puzzles are often tied into the game itself or provide you with nuggets of information about the characters and situations that crop up. Obviously you are free to do as little or as much as you like but searching every nook and cranny really helps to flesh out the story and enrich your experience.
As the game progresses you will also unlock "Challenge" maps which take on two forms. The straight up combat maps require you to defeat waves of enemies while gaining the highest score possible, which requires you to string together high combo chains and use a variety of moves in order to defeat your foes. Some of the challenge scores are a tough proposition so I would only recommend tackling the maps with a fully kitted out Batman or else risk the humiliation of defeat. The predator maps are, in my opinion, a lot more fun. As you have to take out foes in a variety of creative ways in order to succeed and you will have to rely on tactics rather than brute force here. As with the Riddler quests these challenges are entirely optional but certainly help you get to grips with advanced combat and tactics. While the collectables and challenge modes do add something extra to the game, you are still not looking at any more than twenty hours to do everything, which seems a tad on the short side but really is not when you consider the overall experience.
Quite easily the weakest aspect of the game, but not enough to make you hate it or anything, are the achievements. It is quite a bizarre mix as you can see a few of them had a bit of fun and thought behind them, like surprising a goon with another one that you strung up, while the rest seem alarmingly bland. Far too many of them are linked to the Riddler collectables and challenge mini-games for one thing, when these points could have easily been broken down into individual quests and tasks. As it is, you will probably only struggle on some of the combo achievements and the tougher challenges for the 100% task. The list is not terrible by any means and is a very attainable thousand points for most people but I would have loved to see just a bit more imagination.
The is not just the Batman game, or even the superhero game. Instead this is one of the games to own on the 360 this year and it could, and should, overshadow a lot of the higher profile releases that are going to drop in the traditionally busy time up to the festive period. The greatest thing about this game is that you do not even have to like Batman to enjoy the game. It would certainly be a bonus but the gameplay is so well done that anyone should get a kick out of it. The presentation and attention to detail really shine through every facet of the game and I think you would be missing out on something special if you ignored this game.
Superb voice acting from a cast that are more than familiar with their roles. Who would have thought Mark Hamill would make such an amazing Joker? Besides those of us that watched the animated series of course. Kevin Conroy is as equally as fantastic.
A beautiful game to look at and one that has had plenty of care and attention lavished upon it. The environments are wonderfully textured and full of hidden gems should you take the time to stop and look around once in a while.
All of the elements are spot on and the fighting system is as complex as you want to make it. You may have a few issues with the camera at times but it is nothing too troublesome and you will soon get used to handling your viewpoint.
Not only the best Batman game ever made but one of the best games on the 360 at this moment in time, full stop. The developers have aimed to create what can only be described as a realistic Batman simulator and have done a superb job.
A pretty bog standard list and one that lets down the overall polish and imagination of the rest of the game. So much more could have been done but it should at least prove a bit of challenge for most people.
This is certainly not a game for just Batman fans, comic fans or action fans; this is a game that everyone should play and thoroughly enjoy. It looks beautiful, plays like a dream and has a superb mix of action, stealth and detective elements. The combat is intuitive, flexible and surprisingly deep too. Give this game a go and you will not be pleasantly surprise, you will be blown away. As someone that plays and sees a fair few average games, it made a nice change to have a title that I could not wait to have another go at.