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Published on September 21st, 2009 | by Stephen Colfer

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Batman: Arkham Asylum Review

BAM!

There’s four henchmen below me, three armed and one with a pipe. They’re close together and calm. No chance of knocking three out before one pulls the trigger and the batsuit is far from bullet proof. The un-armed man leaves the group, getting board. He walks underneath a stone gargoyle the same gargoyle I happen to be perched upon. I drop and suddenly he’s strung upside down hanging from the statue. That’s one. His companions rush towards him while one stays behind frantically looking for the bat.  But he’s too late, I’m two feet away from gliding feet first into the back of his neck. That’s two. The two remaining henchmen stand back to back but they’re afraid. Pulse rates are averaging at 140bpm when I emerge from the floor grates between them, a swift punch to the back of the neck forces the first to drop his gun, the others gets two followed by a boot to the face knocking him unconscious. That’s three. The first has recovered, he grabs his gun and spins to greet a batarang to the face. That’s four. I AM BATMAN.

First of all “Batman: Arkham Asylum” works, which is a huge relief for myself and the millions of Batman fans who had the horrible feeling that it all looked too good to be true. Here’s the story, Batman has caught the Joker again, he throws him in Arkham Asylum again, turns out the Joker planned it all along and has taken over the Asylum and set free all the villains it contains. Batman must stop him. It all works for a very simple reason; it knows exactly what it wants to be.

It’s very clear that somebody sat down and asked “What exactly is Batman?” They then took “He’s a very human, very venerable hero who refuses to kill” along with all the other answers and figured out how to make that fun. There are essentially three types of game play in Arkham Asylum: Action, Stealth and “Metroid” like detective moments. Any segment where you fight unarmed enemies falls under action. Batman has four general fighting actions which you must combine depending on how many enemies and more importantly what type they are. Though it at first seems simple the real fun comes when fighting over ten enemies some of which must first be stunned or jumped over all the while countering attacks from the others. Although most of these sections can be completed without too much thought it never feels like the game is making things artificially easy. Say by pulling Assassin’s Creed’s frankly lazy trick of having the enemies only attack one at a time. Batman’s movements are animated more flawlessly than any other game I’ve ever seen. No matter what position an enemies kicking leg may be Batman seems to be able to block it from any angle himself, if you go back to your old games after this they’ll certainly look a lot jerkier.

The stealth segments are where the fun really lies. If even just one of your enemies has a gun then it’s going to take more than some punching combos to take them out. Sure the game teases you by letting you try if you should choose to but bullets are very much bullets, anymore than two seconds of fire and the Dark Knight will certainly fall. It’s here batman’s gadgets really start to come in handy. As the game expands and you upgrade your gear more and more options become available, a horizontal zip line and proximity explosives being my two favourites. The game balances these upgrades by adding more enemies and less hiding places making sure that it never gets easy but always remains fun. To complete these segments you must really think like Batman, anyone who’s read pretty much any of the comics will actually find Bruce Wayne’s internal monologues useful to planning out taking enemies down. When you fail in this game it’s never annoying, there is always something you should have done but didn’t and it’s nothing but satisfying to have another go even if there was only one henchmen left.

Then there’s the detective work which is less searching the environment for clues and more letting your built in detective vision do the work for you. These serve as pointers from one area to the next and successfully keep you moving even if the pace is a little slowed. Though the game follows a liner path you are allowed to free roam anywhere you can reach on the island. Progression follows the Metroid way of thinking, new gadgets allow you to backtrack and open that locked door you thought inaccessible near the start. The Island is beautifully designed, the history of Arkham is present at all times and should you be attentive enough to go looking subtle hints to the wider Batman universe are all around you. An entire list of Riddler Challenges where you are given clues which lead you to everything from staff rosters to villain lairs exist solely to point these out.

Flaws are few thankfully, the Boss fights never really involve more than throwing a batarang at the right moment to stun then beat the shite out of >insert monstrous villain name here< Also don’t bother attempting the non obvious Riddler challenges until you’ve collected all the gadgets. Some areas near the beginning require items from the end or else the riddle is impossible to solve. To be honest though neither these nor any other little problems here and there are anything to get worked up about. There are so many wonderful things that make it all come together. The story would make an awful comic book yet makes a great video game, it’s great to see a writer realise this and take advantage of it. Mark Hamil steals the show as the voice behind the Joker. Often times you’ll catch yourself hanging around monitors just to hear what he’s saying. On several occasions Scarecrows fear gas sends you into twisted “Eternal Darkness” like moments all of which have an excellent pay off. The inverted take-down really will have you saying “I’m Batman” every time and Robin is absolutely nowhere to be seen.

But what really makes Arkham Asylum work for me is that it’s about Action AND Stealth not Action OR Stealth. Far too many games such as “Far Cry 2” and Assassins Creed” have tried to allow a choice between both at anytime. The fact is that if rushing in on an explosion fuelled, loud and gun blazing rage is a legitimate strategy then the bad guys must be really dumb and the player more so should they waste their time taking the stealth approach. Arkham Asylum has the guts to punish the player who trys to drop kick an armed man. Sure it might sound cool but do you know what’s infinitely cooler and satisfying? “I’M BATMAN!”

Please oh please make “Batman: Gotham City” next.


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About the Author

Stephen Colfer plays video games. He is the Editor of www.chronicreload.com as well as well as host of the Chronic Reload and Chronic Rant Podcasts. He also does film, theatre and stand up comedy all of which you can read about through @stephenpip on twitter.



8 Responses to Batman: Arkham Asylum Review

  1. Cleared this over the weekend – kickass game. Highly recommend it. The combat is fantastic in the way it flows from one guy to another.

    (btw – typo in para 1 – I assure it’s “bored” not “board”) (feel free to delete the spelling correction from the comment)

  2. Yup, great review of a great game. I love it too. Definitely the best Batman game I’ve played.

    The review in Edge magazine has to be the best one though. The rest of us gush about how great it is but they pointed out that the fights can get repetitive and are simplistic (just the one action button, and one to block) but that’s what I like about it. I *hate* button mashing trying to get the right combo to do an overhead flip underarm punch to the head.

    Now I’ll stop or I’ll want to get cracking on the game again.

  3. Niall says:

    Great review. It manages to sum up most of my experience with this version of the Dark Knight. I utterly enjoy playing this game in the dark with the 5.1 turned up to the max. The visuals are sublime, with a particular highlight being the facial animation of the characters, specifically the Joker. Zooming in on his face whilst he is taunting Batman reveals tiny nuances and facial twitches which just go to enhance the experience. The sound is also magnificent with a eerie tone and fantastic score.

    There are some flaws however, mostly that the game is a little too fond of hand-holding. You could play the entirety of the game in ‘Detective mode’ which would make things a lot easier but takes from the visual feast of the regular game-play. Most villains are far to easy to beat and the fighting does get button-bashy. The game-play is very linear for a modern game compared with the likes of GTA 4, but it is necessary for the advancement of the story. The cinematic opening, while incredible to watch, runs for a little too long also, particularly given the fact that you have the ability to control Batman but all you can essentially do is point him in the right direction.

    Despite these it is still the best comic-book game ever and a truly great action-adventure. You’d have to be bat-shit crazy not to like it.

  4. Great review, Unbelievable game 🙂

  5. Cheers guys! When I started playing I was concerned about the whole “press a button, watch batman do something cool” but once you realise fighting is all about how to take enemies down rather than if you’ll take them down suddenly it opens up a whole new world. I never even mentioned the challenge maps some of which are far more difficult than the actual game itself. In fact I’d really recommend Hard mode (something I normally don’t) as its the only time you’ll really have to use some of the more advanced unlockable moves you pick up through the game.

    I’m actually all for linear gameplay as most of the games we call “non-linear” are simply liner games with an open world in between the story. Sometimes you just can’t legitimately tell a story when the player can simply leave whenever he likes. Really it depends on what kind of game you’re trying to make. Fallout 3 works well as a non-linear game as the player completely shapes their own character while Niko Belic from GTAIV will still always have to be the bad guy regardless of what he does when not in a mission. Meaning the game treats it’s biggest feature as non-canon.

    As for the opening cinematic, at the very least it’s interactive and actually serves a purpose in an excellent Scarecrow fear toxin moment later in the game. It’s also not a full blown cut scene. A modern gaming habit that’s right up there with “press X to not die” on my list of things to kill.

    Great to hear your impressions. Though I am indeed very much in love with the game I can see why it would drive some people mad. I’d love to hear from someone who hated it! A friend of a friend returned it after 2 hours…

  6. Raging I still havn’t gotten this! Stupid Leaving Cert….it just looks like such an amazing game. Also as it’s the PS3 version I’ll be getting, I can’t wait to play as the Joker!

  7. zack sawyer says:

    /smack 😀

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