Archive for November 8, 2010

Batman: Arkham Asylum Review

The Dark Knight has made some great comics, brilliant films (as well as some crap ones) and even some tasteful underwear, but he’s never made a truly excellent game. In fact, the last good Batman game was based on the film of Batman Returns during the SNES era. Since then, the Caped Crusader has had to make do with terrible games that involve beating up identikit goons and exploring boring grey areas. While Arkham Asylum almost does the exact same thing, it gets away with it simply by having a genuine love for Batman.

Bats has managed to thwart the Joker yet again and is bringing his arch-nemesis back to Arkham. But something feels wrong to the world’s greatest detective – Joker gave up way too easily for Batman’s liking and so the Dark Knight accompanies his prisoner deep into the Asylum itself. That’s when the Joker, aided by Harley Quinn, springs his trap – releasing all the inmates and imprisoning Batman inside the Asylum. Now Batman is forced to battle through his worst enemies, his most terrible nightmares and his darkest hour…

The first thing you’ll notice about this game is that the combat is utterly brilliant. It’s such a deceptively simple system – X to attack, Y to counter, B to stun, A to dodge – but all of Batman’s attacks are context sensitive depending on the position of the enemy. You might unleash a punch, kick, backhand or spinning heel kick, it all depends on where Bats is standing. You don’t have any control over what attacks Batman uses, but you’ll always feel like you’re accessing Bruce Wayne’s unlimited physical prowess.

The second thing that will strike you like a Batarang to the face is how well-written it all is. Arkham Asylum benefits from an excellent script by comic scribe Paul Dini, who gives Batman and Joker some truly cracking dialogue. Additional villains Quinn, Poison Ivy, Killer Croc, Mr Zsasz and Scarecrow make up for their limited screen time with fantastic interview tapes that flesh out their backstory and characters. It allows the player to truly convince themselves that they are actually stepping into a rich tapestry formed by seventy-plus years of comics.

On top of the cracking script is the game’s marvellous voice acting. Head of the class is Mark Hamill as the Joker, a flawless performance that manages to capture everything memorable about the character all at once. Following closely behind is Kevin Conroy’s amazing Batman, who manages to make the character relatable, heroic, sympathetic and never resorts to using Christian Bale’s booming shout. It all adds up to probably the most absorbing and immersive superhero game ever made.

The variety of things that Batman can do is outstanding. You essentially have just two choices: you can fight, or you can sneak. The fun part is choosing exactly how to go about doing this. You could knock out one guy and hide in the shadows, dispatching of his friends as they come to investigate. Or you could drop down from a gargoyle statue, grab a goon and tie him up as a warning to the others. The choices might not be endless, but they’re damn good fun.

You’re also backed up by a sterling soundtrack and wonderful visuals. The gloomy appearance of the island meshes brilliantly with the moody music and the two always go hand in hand to make the experience intense and enjoyable. Batman also has a variety of great gadgets that can be upgraded and improved throughout the game and a fantastic ‘Detective Mode’ visor that enables the player to see hidden objects and the locations of enemies.

While the game isn’t that long (you can breeze through it in around six hours), the staggering amount of things to do and see will keep you coming back for more time and again. In addition to the main game are the special Riddler Challenges, tiny secrets that the Riddler uses to assert his intelligence over Batman. Finding all two hundred and forty of them will unlock additional challenge maps, eight based on combat and eight based on Batman’s stealth abilities. Attempting to beat them all will require an enormous amount of skill and provide a welcome challenge to an already challenging title.

The only real downside to the game is that – Scarecrow aside – the bosses are a bit crap. They all have the same weak point and most of them are identical, just fought in slightly different sized rooms. The three appearances of the Scarecrow are a huge step away, forcing the player to sneak through a hallucinogenic nightmare that is nothing short of amazing. If only the other bosses were a bit more imaginative and relied on more than just one gadget being used over and over.

But, amazingly, that’s the only downside. The rest of the game is fluid and flawless, just like Batman’s combat mechanics. It’s a title that will delight Batman fans as much as any other player and finally the caped crusader has made a truly excellent game. In one single moment, Arkham Asylum has effortlessly managed to become the greatest superhero game in history.

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