Game Reviews
Batman: Arkham Asylum Review

With great power comes great responsibility. For years the Batman license has gone from development studio to development studio, disappointing with each new title and each new announcement. Any sensible gamer or even a passerby would’ve dismissed this at first glance. A common response, but you’d be dead wrong and so would I. I don’t know where these guys came from, Rocksteady, but they won’t be soon forgotten by me. In the chaos of crappy movie tie ins and comic book cash ins, they swept in and brought a title worth believing in. Like the Dark Knight himself, they proved it is possible to take something and put care and time into it and yield fantastic results. More importantly they reminded us why Batman is the greatest super hero without super powers. Capturing the ethereal super natural qualities of Gotham’s finest, Batman: Arkham Asylum takes us into a world we’d never knew existed in a way we’d only imagined.

Another routine run for the World’s Greatest Detective. He’s subdued arch-nemesis The Joker and is en route back to Arkham Asylum to return him to his cell. What happens next is Batman’s worst nightmare come to life. All the inmates present in the asylum are set loose. The Joker’s aim is unknown at first, but this much is certain – he has everything under his control. Throughout the duration of this 12-16 hour epic you’ll encounter an endless roster of henchman, several super villains as well as a some mind bending sequences to rival the best laid mind traps of modern entertainment. The experience is unique, the content is gritty, and the hero is iconic. What’s more to ask for? Oh yeah, I forgot people actually want to play a good game too. For anyone who played the demo and loved it, go buy this game. It builds upon everything that you enjoyed in its short 10 minute romp and expands on the combat and stealth mechanics. If you liked it there’s more in store. For everyone else that needs convincing, read on.

This is as calm as you'll see The Joker throughout the game.

I’m pretty sure Rocksteady’s main goal was to make you feel like you were Batman. This idea has been encoded into every facet of the game design. Batman from the combat, to the stealth, to the gadgets and puzzles; it’s all designed to make you feel formidable in this hazardous environment. Things that might seem to require more involvement in other games are handled with a bit more delicacy. This makes things simpler, but it manages to level things out in other areas. Ultimately you get gameplay that is challenging, not frustrating. I wouldn’t want to play a Batman game where I was afraid of a gaggle of henchmen. The way things are now allow you to experiment more with as little grief as possible. For me this made me enjoy the game more and allowed me to become immersed in the world.

This is the kind of stealth I like.

The biggest complaint I seem to hear from those who played the demo is the combat. It being too easy or simple. Yes, it was very easy in the demo. Very simple too. But when you start encountering different types of enemies such as those who block your every attack and carry stun batons, you’ll be juggling so many enemies at once you’ll start to eat those words. Luckily as the game’s difficulty ramps you’re given access to new moves such as the take downs and throws. Increasing your combat multiplier allows you to access these at your whim, but lose it and it’s back to square one. The combat can seem one button at times. It plays almost like Geometry Wars when you’re just spinning around a room beating the stuffing out of dudes. But it really is like Geometry Wars at times. That’s a very simple game in theory, but I’ve never heard anyone call it easy. If you want an added challenge, put the game on hard mode and your counter indicator goes bye bye.

The Batarang will become your Robin in this game.

The bosses are a double edged sword for the main part. Your first boss fight is really every boss fight with the exclusion of two more during the duration of the game. For fair warning, I’ll advise you to skip the rest of this paragraph if you’re anal about your spoilers. Your first boss fight is with Bane. If you don’t like it the first time you won’t like it later. Being able to use the Batarang on the hulking hobo at the flick of a wrist, then dashing out of harm’s way while he takes down a few of the Joker’s goons is a blast. The game slows down at the perfect opportunity for you to see some cool stuff unfold before your eyes. The Joker’s goons injected with a powerful steroid act the same way as Bane, with the exception that you can ride them to knock down their own fellow henchmen. The game will throw two of these at you at a time as well as waves of henchmen, so you will be constantly on your toes to juggle the action and dodge charging clowns.

The Joker is all you need to decide which platform to play this on.

The stealth in this game works a little differently. It is pretty forgiving. You don’t have a level of awareness like Splinter Cell or Metal Gear Solid. Your enemies either see you or they don’t. Crouching and remaining behind an enemy will ensure that you’re never seen. This is helpful when you have to take out a central target before eliminating armed guards. Just running down and picking a fight will always get you killed. Swinging from gargoyles will give a good opportunity to take down straggling enemies, but you will need to focus on diversion tactics to get them alone. There are no set patterns for their movements which keeps things fresh. I’m not usually a big fan of stealth games at all. I’d rather be fighting, so this game balanced it out in a very smart way. Usually when I have the option or ability to kill everyone in the room it makes no sense to sneak around. This game made the stealth fun by allowing you to be a predator. You’re still defeating your enemies, just in a different way. You will never sneak around an enemy and not have the opportunity to incapacitate them. This game believes in defense through offense.

"Are those six inch serrated teeth or are you just happy to see me?"

In most games progression is pretty linear as far as your items and skill advancement are concerned. This game takes a mixture of both. It has the Metroid type equipment reveal having Batman get a new gadget when the situation presents itself. I guess he wouldn’t want to carry 200lbs of excess gear if he could avoid it. There are some items that you unlock through the game’s experience upgrade system. Most of the time this is in the form of an upgrade for your existing gear, but more often than not you’ll be getting your gear through story progression. Usually when this happens you’ll have a good opportunity to make use of this new gadget right off the bat (no pun intended). Afterwords it’s easy to see how you could apply the tool in places you might have overlooked before. Backtracking is definitely encouraged in this game outside of objectives.

Arguably Batman’s most useful, and conversely annoying gadget is his cowl. In this game, he can see through walls to identify armed assailants, hostages, items, you name it. This makes it enormously helpful when trying to find out where your enemies are, as well as hidden goodies, but that’s just the problem. When this mode of vision is so beneficial you’ll forget to turn it off, or just won’t see the reason to. Hence your vision through most of the game will be X-Ray. An oversight by the developers or a failure of a noobish gamer – your call. But having some sort of timer or recharge time would’ve definitely balanced this out well. It’s just a shame that you often times miss out on some of the cool visuals of this game inadvertently or otherwise.

The only trees Batman hugs are Poison Ivy's...wait that pun made no sense.

This game is definitely inspired by some other adventure games. Most influential I’d say would have to be Bioshock. There are several moments in the game that are as memorable as key scenes from the underwater epic. The Arkham Chronicles from Amadeus Arkham and interview tapes from doctors at the asylum are similar to the tapes hidden around Rapture but they are not quite as effective. The key reason being that they only provide minor distraction isn’t that they are poorly performed, but that Arkham is only interesting for its housing of Batman’s super villains. To be honest the place itself isn’t all that great. Everyone coming into this experience brings in their own expectations of what Arkham is and what the villains are like, so naturally the game’s writers’ vision just might not actively portray what the audience was attune to. But not everyone was interested in all this anyway, they came to see Batman whoop ass.

As far as performances go, instead of Andrew Ryan, you are tuned into the menacingly hilarious voice of Mark Hamill reprising his role as The Joker. Kevin Conroy is Batman. If you remember the cartoon, or even if you didn’t, his performance will be completely authentic. Harley Quinn’s actress Arleen Sorkin also returns, and for the most part the other actors perform well although with considerably less screen time. Batman and Joker have perfect chemistry as they’ve been doing it for so long. Not just as actors, but as characters. Franchise favorites finding themselves akin to a new medium. It’s worth mentioning that Paul Dini had no small part in creating the story in this, but even though he is a considerable writer, the story doesn’t take as much precedent as you might expect. The Joker’s overarching scheme is simple at best, and the most interesting aspects such as seeing how he made his connections in doing this are lost. Another gripe for me would be that there really are so few cutscenes in the game. The ones shown look great, but there are so few points in the game that break character. This was confusing to me in the game’s check point system because it saves once you exit or enter a new area or door. I would shut the game off after what I considered a big battle or event, only to have to redo it. So word to the wise, that’s how it works.

Arkham's worst lay out the welcome mat for Gotham's finest.

Once you finish the game you can go around and find other collectibles and solve the Riddler’s riddles. These I find really interesting such, but like everything else not so much challenging. Some are harder than others, but I think they were designed so that everyone could solve them without too much grief. I don’t recommend a strategy guide or even going to Gamefaqs as this is something that will extend your playtime and you may find enjoyable doing on your own. Batman’s entire appearance degrades over the course of the game. It would have been nice to gain a fresh suit at some point, especially once you’ve saved the asylum. The lack of a new game+ also annoyed me, but all your collectibles carry over to a new game so you get that at least. I plan on doing another run through this after this review actually. So it goes to show if you have some free time and like comics there’s a no brainer on what game you should be buying next.

Challenge mode I have mixed impressions on. It’s everything I liked from the game, but when it breaks the context of moving the game forward I don’t really seem as engaged. Same with games like Mirror’s Edge and so forth where there were trial modes. If it breaks the main progression I don’t mesh with it. I’ve been playing it for the Joker, and he’s worth owning the PS3 version for if you have both consoles. Provides a bit of variety, but ultimately he has similar move set and controls. But if you have both consoles, pick the PS3 version as there’s no online play and they look identical. I see myself playing the Challenge mode more, but I’m still more motivated to finish collecting puzzles and doing another play through.

Really, there’s a lot to love in this. There were moments where I saw how the game could be improved, mainly enemy placement in a more intimidating or challenging fashion. Sometimes the asylum is barren and deserted giving you free range to explore but feeling a bit underused. I had a hard time seeing this as my GOTY at first, but it’s slowly won me over. It’s not by a wide margin however. It’s a great game, but it’s not perfect. I can understand why you might not like it as much. But no other game has immersed me as their main character as well this year. And there’s really no denying that there’s no character I love more. This game makes you Batman. You probably have Batman complaining about some things being too easy at times, and he’s right. He’s the goddamn Batman. If it’s too tough for him, it’s too tough for you, simple as that. It does excite me to see Rocksteady do a sequel built upon what they’ve done here. It could go in some amazing places. Now that they’ve got all the hard stuff out of the way, they should be able to have some fun just exploring what more they can do.

Check out Hollowman and mine’s impressions on the game in our Audio Review. - Buy Video Games for Consoles and PC - From Japan, Korea and other Regions