Ignore the “comic book nerd” vibe, this is one seriously awesome game.
Superhero games, especially ones based on their comic book sources, have often not been great. It’s all very well making a game that will please a select group of virgin teenagers but nothing will ever come of it and normal gamers won’t give a crap. Batman: Arkham Asylum takes directly from the comic book version of Batman, so it has nothing to do with the awesome Christian Bale films, and, thank Christ, it has nothing to do with the Val Kilmer and George Clooney era of films either. Paul Dini, who writes many of the original Batman comics actually penned the script for this game so its influence is purely comic book based and has returned Batman to its original source. Wiping the slate clean and starting again is often a good way to go, so does this Dark Knight game give the Batman experience that fans will be expecting? In Batman: Arkham Asylum you of course play Batman, in a third person perspective and the game opens with Batman, having just captured the Joker, speeding towards Arkham Asylum to incarcerate the laughing lunatic once more. It turns out the Joker attacked Gotham’s Mayor’s office but was foiled by Batman, albeit suspiciously easily. Added to this fact is that many inmates of Gotham’s Blackgate Prison have been moved to Arkham temporarily due to a fire, many inmates of which are part of Joker’s crew. It all of course seems all to convenient and Batman knows this, fearing the Joker is up to something. However, Arkham is the largest most inescapable, heavily armed, super secure asylum for the nuts ever, how could he escape? Even though Batman escorts him almost all the way to his cell, the minute he is left alone in the hands of the guards, the Joker escapes with the help of Harley Quin and, having bribed one of the most senior guards previously, ends up taking over the Asylum, releasing all the inmates and killing anyone wearing a uniform. The Asylum can’t be reinforced as Joker promises to detonate a load of secret bombs hidden round Gotham if anyone is seen entering or leaving the island. It turns out the Joker is after a secret chemical called Titan that was being researched by medical staff in Arkham, for use as a biological weapon. Titan has the same effect on people as the chemical used on Bane, only much more potent and longer lasting, and Joker intends to create his own Titan army from the inmates of Arkham, and dump the waste products into the Gotham river reeking unknown havoc on the city’s inhabitants. Batman, single handed, must stop the clown at all costs, fighting through the many members of his crew, helping surviving guards and doctors, finding the Titan chemical and finding a cure. He must also be weary that all the most dangerous psychos in Arkham, Bane, Poison Ivy, Harley Quin, Zsasz, Scarecrow, Killer Croc to name a few, are all here and are free, or could be freed at any point, and Batman is the first name on their hit list. He is basically in for one hell of a night.
Arkham Asylum is one of those games that doesn’t necessarily excel in one particular area, but manages to be an excellent all rounder in just about every aspect of it. Most predominantly and most obviously though, this game is an almost perfect mix of action/combat and stealth:
Firstly the combat. I am taken aback by just how good the combat system is in Arkham Asylum. It is unbelievably good. Like all the greatest combat systems it is simple, easy to get to grips with the basics, looks fantastic, flows super smoothly, but will require some serious skill to master. You simply attack by hitting the square button, and counter by using the triangle button. That will get you through the game on “easy” and “normal”. The skill comes from the timing of these buttons and using directional input to pick out targets. You have to anticipate when to strike, how many times to strike, and pre-determine attacks to tie in your counter. Although I am in no way a “fighter”, I imagine this is not too far off what professional fighting (Boxing, UFC etc) is like. This enables you to string combos together which is the key to victory, as if you string enough together you can perform savage unblockable finishing moves and throws. This generally involves snapping bones and lobbing thugs into other thugs knocking them out. You can also throw “Batarangs” to slow enemies down mid-fight, and on several occasions you will have to battle a Titan, a giant oversized thug who you can jump on the back of, after dealing some punishment to its mountainous frame, and use to batter the normal peons all over the place. The smoothness and fluidity is outstanding when fighting 20 muscle bound thugs at the same time, and manages to be hugely satisfying, seriously good fun to play and totally glitch free. It constantly moves between slow motion and normal speed throughout the fight as well which is a really nice touch, and it gives you a movie style view when the final crunching blow is made. It is seriously one of the best combat systems I have played so far on my PS3.
Now the stealth. Only about half the game is spent exchanging fists with Joker’s henchmen as the rest of the time you will be taking out guys silently. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not on a par with the “Metal Gear” games, as it is far simpler, but as with the combat it still works very well. Stealth attacks will nearly always have to be performed against guys with guns, and, unless it’s on easy, guns will kill Batman very quickly, so the key is to not be spotted. Batman, fortunately is highly skilled in such things. You can take enemies out from behind silently by crouching, sneaking up behind them and choke holding them for a minute. You can also use air vents to sneak around terrain and suss out who to take out next, and most importantly, you can use gargoyles. These are what they are, but Batman uses them to swing between and get around silently and unseen. You can hang down from them and when a thug walks under you, swing down, grab them and leave them strung up and helpless. Rather annoyingly this attracts a lot of attention but you need only to swing to a few other gargoyles and the henchmen will lose track of you. There’s also a myriad of other things you can do, such as swing between most things unseen, hang from ledges, glide using your cape and of course knocking people down with Batarangs. Batman is a very capable chap and it is hugely enjoyable stalking armed thugs from the rafters and watching them gradually getting more scared as you swoop in for the takedown.
There’s lots of kit to find and upgrading to do. The game starts off fairly simply, with Batman having just a Batarang and his fists. But of course the further you progress the more experience points you will gather, by beating up people and finding things, which unlocks upgrades. This will enable Batman to perform finishing moves, throws, give him harder armour, the ability to throw three Batarangs at once and all the usual stuff. Upgrades to the combos are essential as you have to string hits together to perform the mightier moves, and there are upgrades to allow you to perform them quicker. You can also upgrade Batman’s tools and kit, which is where Bruce Wayne shows himself to be a veritable human Swiss army knife. You will find various bat based tools throughout the game, such as Batclaws, a sort of grappling hook used for pulling off vents and things, explosive gel, used for blasting through weak walls, a scanner, used for short circuiting fences and gates, and a very handy alternative grappling device, used for traversing large gaps in the landscape. Most of this stuff will be used to overcome an obstacle that previously could not be solved and it just adds to good pacing and never lets things go stale. Firing a Batclaw at a thug on a lookout tower and pulling him off is rather good fun to say the least and all tools are way more versatile than you might at first think, plus they can all be upgraded to make them even handier. Finally, I must mention the excellent detective mode. By hitting L2, Batman can use this perspective which basically darkens everything and highlights only things that can be moved, broken, swung on to, and generally are of use to you. There are also several points where you will have to follow a trail, finger prints etc, to find out where to go next or for viewing a room full of armed thugs from the ceiling and it is essential then. It is, again, a simple but generally very well thought out tool that should be used frequently.
There is a hell of a lot of things to keep you playing. Although the story is pretty linear, despite the fact you get free roam of Arkham island, there is so much stuff to find and seek out. Mainly, you have the Riddlers puzzles and trophies to find. There is 250 of them scattered all over the island and will either need to be found or scanned, using detective mode, to uncover them. Despite how big Arkham island is that is a hell of a lot to uncover, and nearly all are hidden away and require some serious investigation to uncover. Then there is the Arkham Asylum Warden’s transcripts again scattered in a load of secret places, which reveal how and why the Asylum was founded, and then you have all the interview tapes which give interesting conversations between the most infamous inmates and their therapists at Arkham. If you are a fan of the comics you will be playing this for weeks and loving all of the unlockable content. If your not a fan, but just want to experience fighting and taking down people stealthily, the best part of the game, no problem. There are many challenges to unlock that will involve having to take down wave after wave of thugs, or stealth kill a room full or armed henchmen, getting more unlockable challenges the faster you do them and the less damage you take. If you just want to quickly beat the crap out of some thugs or see how high a combo string you can get then these are excellent. If you like the comics or have to complete every game to 100%, you will be trawling through Arkham Asylum for weeks.
The encounters with Scarecrow are fantastic. For those not in the know, Scarecrow is one of Batman’s nemesis’, who is a deranged doctor who wears a scary mask and pumps his victims with “fear gas” which makes them hallucinate violently and eventually go mad as a result. Batman’s iron will and ultimate coolness stops him from losing his marbles completely but he still gets affected, and the crazy acid trips he goes on are awesome. Firstly they slip seamlessly into the game, and you really won’t notice Scarecrow is near until normal stuff around you in the level starts to go really weird. Cockroaches will swarm from the walls in their thousands, it will start raining, even though you are indoors, the wind will pick up, Batman will encounter his dead parents lying on the floor, in body bags, you will turn into the Joker or Scarecrow when lightning flashes, and then you will be sucked into Scarecrows world. This is an immensely creepy level, each time you encounter him, where the game turns into a sort of side scrolling platformer, with Scarecrow, huge and satanic, suspended in the back ground. You basically have to make it to the end of the level without being spotted, which is accidently stepping into the pale orange light coming from his eyes as he scans the dark level for Batman. It is like going on the most evil of drug induced mind trips and it’s easily a highlight of the game.
It’s a stunning looking game. Of course there’s lots of awesome looking games on today’s mighty consoles, and having recently played God of War III I can see the competition is extremely high. What is interesting about Arkham Asylum is that it still manages to be fantastic looking and cross two platforms. Play other games that are on the Xbox and PS3, such as Bayonetta, and you will notice they often struggle to be on both. Batman doesn’t, and in HD it really is a good looking game. The most impressive thing has to be the character animations. On lots of other pretty recent games this is often a tough one to pull off but they really are amazing. They manage to move and flex like a real person, but still maintain that comic book-esque look about them. Batman is particularly well defined having every bit of stubble, eye and facial movement enhanced perfectly and even his cape flows realistically and smoothly when reacting to his movements. The cut scenes are identical to the gameplay in quality and the level detail of the Asylum itself is immensely high. It really is flawless and one of the best looking games on the PS3.
The boss fights are a little unimpressive. There is not a lot to criticise here, but one thing that did play on my mind was how unspectacular the boss fights are. It’s probably the fault of the industry as everything these days has to have epically huge boss fights, but the ones in Batman are a bit tame. Killer croc is a particularly intimidating enemy but he is defeated so easily, by simply lobbing batarangs at his electrified collar and them making him fall down a hole. Poison Ivy is probably the most impressive boss fight, as she puts herself into a massive flower, but again its over a bit too easily and, lets face it, it’s a flower! The game seems to prefer throwing many normal enemies at you whilst dealing with a boss, rather than a proper boss fight, a good example of which is your final duke out with the Joker at the end. You don’t really fight him directly at all, instead you have to fight 3 big waves of normal henchmen. Don’t get me wrong, they are not a walk over and having to dodge a charging titan whilst fighting off 20 thugs is pretty tough, and it is still pretty good fun as you get to use the excellent combat system, but I cant deny they are a bit easy and a bit subdued.
You don’t get to keep any of your upgrades and there is nothing really, other than the satisfaction of victory, to reward you if you play again. I will always have a criticism of games that don’t allow you to keep anything hard earned during gameplay, the upgrades in Batman being one of them. As is always the case with such things, you can’t keep everything as it will interfere with the story, allow you to go to places you shouldn’t in context, etc and all the good stuff you only get to use for the last third of the game or so. I’ve earned it, and I want to keep it basically. Plus even if you do unlock everything you only get one decent bit of kit, which is an armoured Batman costume, but you can only use it in the challenge mode, not the story. So that’s a bit useless, and everything else is just character bios, literature or trophies. They offer relatively interesting information on the characters, but it only really appeals to fans, and if you are a fan you probably know it all already. So despite the huge amount to unlock, it really only offers self satisfaction as a reward for completion.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is easily one of the best games I have played so far on my PS3. It really is good and I know next to nothing about the comics. It’s just such a flawless game with so little to find fault with. The combat is truly excellent, so smooth, so satisfying, so awesome to look at, as is the stealth tactics of taking down armed guards silently. It’s simple but works well. By doing these two forms of attack you will use an arsenal of gizmos and gadgets, all of which unique, very handy and upgradable. It really has captured the comic book world of Batman as well and it looks fantastic. There are many things to find that will unlock further character info and trophies and expand the otherwise linear game further. There are a few things to whinge and gripe about, the boss fights, for example, are a bit tame, and rewards for completion are pretty slim or pointless, but the whole experience is so much fun you really wont care. If you have not played this yet, you are missing out.CA.
Is it user-friendly/easy to get into? – 9.0
Very simple to get started, and it generally eases you in gently to everything.
Is the story any good? – 8.0
It’s a little predictable and convenient, but does exactly what it’s supposed to do.
How does it look? – 9.5
It’s a fantastic looking game, especially considering it crosses two platforms. Character animation and level detail stand out.
How does it sound? – 9.5
All background music and sound effects are excellent. The thudding of fists against skulls is sickeningly satisfying. Voice acting is borderline perfection, Mark Hamills Joker is absolutely spot on.
Is it good to play? – 9.0
Free flowing combat works so very well, easy to get into, satisfying to master. Stalking armed thugs silently also works well, as does unloading Batman’s arsenal of gadgets. Boss battles are a little underwhelming, but you really won’t care.
When will I get bored? – 8.0
Potentially you can lose months of your life doing this, as there is the sizeable main story, and hundreds of Riddler puzzles, secrets, character bios and trophies to unlock. Then there is challenge mode for those that simply want to beat up henchmen and stalk armed thugs. But you don’t get to keep any upgrades, if you’re not a comic book fan the unlockables won’t mean much to you, and if you are, you will probably know them all already.
OVERALL – 9.0
Review created by C. Armstrong.