Review: Batman: Arkham Asylum
Let’s get this over with: Batman: Arkham Asylum is an amazing game. From the moment it starts, the fact that this is indeed Batman and actually a game worth talking about is clear. Take out all of the Batman characteristics and you’d still have a solid gameplay experience.
The game starts off with Batman taking his adversary Joker to the Arkham Asylum, where the deadliest criminals in Gotham are held. Obviously, Batman thinks something is up, and Joker eventually breaks free and opens the gates for all the criminals to be unleashed on the asylum. And Batman is the only one that can stop all this before it’s too late.
Being Batman, you are well-versed in the arts of combat, stealth and sleuthing. All of these come into play while you chase down The Joker around the Arkham Asylum. Combat has you simply pressing the attack button and you do a bunch of combos until the enemy gets stunned. Enemies can attack you, but you have the ability to reverse their attacks with a simple press of a button. One of the neatest things about the combat is the Free Flow system: at any point during combat, you can direct Batman to attack another nearby enemy just by using the analog stick. Batman will then move to the enemy and start attacking him, but you can’t start doing this until you start to chain up some combos. It’s a lot like Too Human’s gliding mechanic but more thought out. Probably one of the best things about the combat system is just how it all plays out. The controls are simplistic but it’s amazing to watch. There is nothing like seeing Batman beat up a guy, and then counter another enemy’s attack and then move on to the next enemy without it looking blocky. The transition from one move to the next just seems to flow very nicely.
Stealth sequences have Batman taking out armed guards in a closed off area. If there’s one thing that Batman is weak against, it’s guns. So your best bet for these moments is to stay out of sight and take out the enemies one by one. This is where Detective mode comes into play. Once you trigger Detective mode, Batman uses special visors that can detect nearby enemies via x-ray, and objects of interest become highlighted as well. Everything else is rendered with darker colours. Using this mode lets Batman see just where the enemies are and you can plan accordingly. Also to Batman’s advantage are well-placed gargoyle statues lying around above everything. He can grapple onto these statues and slowly wait for enemies to come near him for an inverted take down, which leaves the enemy hanging upside down by a string. Or, if the enemy is in the right range, Batman can use his glide attack which has him jump off the statue and kick the enemy, followed by a stun punch. If at any time an enemy detects Batman, all you have to do is grapple back up the statues and swing between all of them until the enemy loses sight of you. The statues seem to be a bit of a cop-out because of how easy it makes these sequences, but aside from them, you can also hide under crates and crawl through vents to your advantage.
But let’s remember this is Batman, so it’s not Batman who is afraid of the guards; it’s the other way around. As you slowly take out the enemies one by one, they will become more and more aware that you’re in the area. At first they start to buddy up and patrol back to back but soon enough, their numbers will start to die down, which actually causes them to act irrationally. Though it may not happen a lot, the enemies may start shooting around blindly hoping to hit you, or just shoot at each and every noise they hear. It’s at this point that you really feel like Batman, being able to instil fear.
And of course, this can’t be a Batman game without some sleuthing. At certain points in the game, Batman must track down certain people by engaging Detective mode and following their fingerprints, breath, blood or a bunch of other things. Out of all the gameplay mechanics, this is probably the weakest one, but where it starts to shine is when The Riddler comes into play. Riddler has left a bunch of trophies and riddles lying all over Arkham for Batman to discover. Each time you enter an area, a Riddle will appear above Batman. The basic premise is that you have to find an item that corresponds with the Riddle. Once you think you’ve found the answer, you take a picture of it (by holding down the Detective mode button) and you’ll see if you get it right. Although entirely optional, your rewards are bios for characters, unlocking challenges in the Challenge mode and a bunch of other stuff.
The Asylum itself is more than just a facility that holds all of Batman’s old adversaries; it’s an entire island with different sections for different people. There is a bit of a free roam from section to section, but it’s more like Metroid in this sense rather than a Grand Theft Auto. As you venture further and further into the story, Batman will gain more and more gadgets, from his classic Batarang to his Batclaw to something like an explosive sprayer and detonator. Each of these gadgets help Batman open up paths that were closed off to him before. For example, you might use your Batclaw to pull down vents high above you, or the sprayer and detonator to crush down certain walls. Normally, behind each of these areas are Riddler Trophies so it mostly comes down how much you like to collect every little thing in the game.
One thing that this game tries to do is evoke the atmosphere of the Asylum. One way it does this is through the boss battles. Though there might not be many, each of the battles seem well thought out, trying to show you just how scary of a place Arkham Asylum actually is. They play at your fears rather than showing you an enemy and have you trying to beat them with punches. Some people may complain about how few boss fights there are, but each is quite memorable.
Another way the atmosphere is established is the voice acting. If you were a fan of the old Batman cartoon series (not The Batman), then you should be happy to know that both Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill return to play Batman and Joker respectively. Both have played their roles long enough to know exactly how to portray their characters, and really, I couldn’t complain. Though Batman only talks when he’s talked to or he’s giving hints of what to do next, Joker always comes in and steals the show. Mark Hamill’s take on the Joker has always been great and here it seems like they had complete confidence in him to just let him loose. Joker can be heard over the PA system around Arkham Asylum, constantly taunting Batman about his plans or even conversing with him as he takes down his goons during a stealth sequence. Though there were many times that it did seem to be just constant Joker overload, there were too many great moments to get too mad about just how much Joker there is. Aside from these two, Arleen Sorkin even makes a comeback to play the role of Harley Quinn which, in truth should be the only one to play her. Other voice talents play their roles just fine and keep everything in the right atmosphere.
While the story itself is a bit on the less meaty side, there are plenty of moments in the game that are done exceptionally well, from the well thought out design of each boss battle to the great looking cut-scenes. Heck, there are even parts in the game that have you simply pressing forward on the analog stick and are probably some of the most memorable scenes.
I could go on about how the game looks great for running on the Unreal Engine or how the music and sounds add to the atmosphere, but I won’t. Batman: Arkham Asylum didn’t even need to be a Batman game to earn as much praise as it already has. From the strong combat system to the clever uses of all the Batman characters, this game will probably go down as the best licensed game to date.
|Title:||Batman: Arkham Asylum|
|Platforms:||Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360|
|Publishers:||Feral Interactive, Eidos Interactive, WB Games|
|Developers:||Feral Interactive, Rocksteady Studios Ltd|