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September 21, 2009 | by  | in Games |
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Batman: Arkham Asylum

Licensed games have received a bit of a bad rap over the years. These tie-ins with commercial properties often fail to impress and most end up lying in the bottom of bargain bins. But relative newcomer Rocksteady has really surprised me with their take on the Batman franchise, stunned me in fact with how good the game actually is. Batman: Arkham Asylum is that game.

The story is penned by Paul Dini, a producer and writer on the Batman animated series. It starts off with the perfect premise. Batman takes the Joker back to Arkham Asylum after an attack on the mayor of Gotham. Batman can sense something is up, so he goes along with the guards, taking the Joker to the very bowels of the asylum. But of course Batman walked right into his trap, the Joker suddenly breaks free and he and the inmates take over the asylum. Batman is confined to the island where all of the convicts he helped capture over the years now roam free.

The game is not based on any of the movies but on the comics and animated series. The voicework brings back the cast highlighting Kevin Conroy as Batman and a chillingly eerie performance by Mark Hamill as the Joker. There are some pretty spooky scenes I didn’t expect but really add to the gritty feel of the thing. The character models and environments are highly detailed. The Asylum really feels alive and changes appearance over the course of the game. Even Batman certainly looks more roughed up as the night wears on. A lot of the game’s mechanics seem to be taken from other games such as Resident Evil 4’s over-the-shoulder view and Super Metroid’s method of exploration, but Arkham Asylum combines them in such a way that really polishes off the experience.

From start to finish, Batman: Arkham Asylum is an incredible adventure where you can truly become the caped crusader himself. Whether it’s through swooping down on prey from above or using his superior intellect in investigation, bat boy has it made. Switch on detective mode and you can x-ray walls and people, detect how alert enemies are and generally just find things much easier. A unique aspect and possible explanation for the game’s M rating is that you don’t actually kill anyone. We all know Batman doesn’t kill, he has a moral code after all! He will still knock the crap out of you though; leaving everyone that gets in his way unconscious and bound to feel even worse in the morning.

No Batman game would be complete without the dark knight’s arsenal of gadgets. As you level-up you can choose which gadgets or upgrades to purchase. Batman’s batarang is extremely useful for taking down Joker’s thugs from afar. There’s even a remote controlled batarang for those wanting superior precision. Another family favourite is the explosive gel, which will destroy weakened walls and floors, so you can gain access to secret passages or just knock nearby foes to the ground. Batman’s grapple is a quick tap away and will instantly fling him to hard-to-reach places. A real necessity if you’re going to make your way through Arkham Asylum at all.

The close quarters combat is thoroughly exciting even in its simplicity—the real key is racking up the combo meter. Some of the inmates even have the nerve to be fully armed. As Batman is anything but invincible, being a mortal super hero and all, he’s as vulnerable to bullets as you and I. There are certain rooms choc-a-block full of these armed psychos and there’s no chance of survival attacking them head on. So you’ll need to do what Batman does best—hide. High up on the walls are stone gargoyles and Batman can grapple to each one, even swing between them if he so wishes. The neat thing is that the psychos can’t see you up there but you’ll need to be careful, picking off each one by one without alerting the others. There’s a smorgasbord of ways you can choose to do this too. Do you…

a) Hang down and pluck your victim off the ground, stringing him helplessly by his feet?
b) Crouch sneak and grab him from behind, smothering him until he hits a deep slumber?
c) Plant a fiery trap using your explosive gel and detonate it, showering him with rubble?
d) Glide kick down from above, incapacitating him in the process?

The answer … all of them!

If the main missions aren’t enough, you can always hunt around for the Riddler trophies. The island is fully open for you to explore, although some pathways are made inaccessible for the time being. There’s even more stuff to find, such as interview tapes of the main villains as well as character bios and trophies. Believe me, I’ve finished the game and I’m still looking for stuff! Not to mention the challenge modes where you can compete for the best times. On your journey you’ll run into some classic Batman villains: Harley Quinn, Bane, Scarecrow, Killer Croc and Poison Ivy all make an appearance. Not all of them even had a health bar, which was a welcome change from other games, and instead Rocksteady took the innovative approach where you have to deal with each in a different way. It would be great if they did this with all the bosses, old school boss fights can die in a ditch for all I care.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who was ready to brush Batman: Arkham Asylum off as a cheap cash-in. This is a triple A release title and it might even be my game of the year. I hate to be this judgmental, but if you don’t enjoy this game I’d recommend you go ahead right now and check yourself into the nearest asylum, because something is undeniably wrong with you. If you have the deep primal urge to don the black cape I’d say go no further than Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Batman: Arkham Asylum
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3
Genre: Action Adventure

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  1. Bluejam says:

    On the whole I agree with this review. Batman: Arkham Asylum has the look, feel and mood of the mythos. It is very playable, and just free form enough to step beyond the ‘one path only’ movie game mock-ups. Not as free form as something like Fallout 3, but enough that many of the ‘scenes’ can be solved in a variety of approaches.
    Highly enjoyable.

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