Also on: Xbox 360
Console Played on: PlayStation 3
Release Date: Friday August 28th 2009
Age Rating: BBFC 15, PEGI 16
To say most superhero games are dire would be an understatement. So may studios have churned out awful games over the past number of years, Spiderman 3, Hellboy: The Science of Evil and Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer to name but a few, but now comes a game from Rocksteady which promises to right those wrongs. Could Batman: Arkham Asylum be the game to right those wrongs?
Arkham Asylum begins with you as the Dark Knight is escorting the the games main antognist, the psychotic Joker, back to Arkham, but as always, he has a trick up his sleeve and takes control of the asylum, letting his goons run riot, with Batman left the task of securing the island.
The setting of the game is beautifully realised, with almost a BioShock feel lingering around with huge amounts of detail packed into every area and an eerie feel around the place, you really do feel like you’ve entered the madhouse. Graphically it is excellent with the Unreal engine performing wonderfully, even if some characters like a little shiny.
The gameplay is varied and is to a high quality, with the combat really feeling organic and seamless, much like Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed. The Freeflow system is initially simple and easy to master, enabling players to get a real grip for the game. Although only utilising two buttons on the controller, the combat is varied throughout the game with combos to unlock. Initial henchmen are straightforward to combat, but as you progress you’ll come across goons with knives and other weapons, requiring the use of more cunning tactics such as stunning them with your cape.
Whilst the face-to-face combat is excellent, it’s the stealth that is truly satisfying. Being Batman, you obviously cannot kill anyone, but that doesn’t stop you from taking down Joker’s men in style. Grappling up to gargoyles with a tap of the L2 button takes you out of sight. A click of the O button makes Batman hang upside down and wait for his prey, and with a jab of ▲ the Bat will swoop down and string the goons up by their feet. By the time the other guards come to investigate, you’re long gone.
The stealth becomes more challenging later in the game, but becomes more rewarding, as when you take out one man from a group of many, it spooks the rest. They gang up together, making it hard to pick them off silently, with some even taking pop shots at the roof out of fear. These sections slow the pace of the game down, but offer great satisfaction to take out all the guards without ever being seen.
As well as being highly skilled in combat, Batman is also, to quote the Joker, “the world’s greatest detective” so Arkham Asylum will take breaks from the action to allow you to explore. Unfortunately, these sections aren’t up to the same standard as the action, as they are quite simple and require little thought, but they are seamlessly integrated into the game so the simplicity of them are somewhat masked.
Backtracking is encouraged throughout the game. Initially, you’ll find certain areas inaccessible, but as you advance through the story you unlock new gadgets that allow you to come back and get past these obstacles.
Along with the main story, there are three separate minor stories taking place at the same time, both of which add to the longevity of the game. One of these pits you against the twisted mind of Mr. Edward Nigma, a.k.a. The Riddler, who has placed trophies throughout the asylum for Batman to find, and poses riddles to you through different sections of map, some of which do require a good bit of thought to solve. There are 240 in total if you fancy doing them all.
A second story is that of the Spirit of Arkham, which in itself is very interesting. There is also the spread throughout the game various interview tapes with the main patients of Arkham, filling you in on their back story, a bit like the recordings you find throughout Rapture in BioShock.
Boss fights in general are relatively solid but could have been so much more when juxtaposed against other parts of the game, as most have a set routine in them of do something and then attack, fall back and repeat, but such is the quality of the game they never feel poor.
Arkham also has some nice nods to characters not in the game, as you’ll find cells belonging to notorious inmates such as Mr. Freeze. The game also has a ‘Hideo Kojima moment’ during it too, but the less said about it the better, as it’s very well done.
Batman: Arkham Asylum ranks as not one of the best superhero games ever made, but the best. Whilst Spiderman 2 was excellent, this is just on another level, it’s a great game in its own right.
Quality is a word I’ll stress about Batman: AA, it feels lovingly created from start to finish, and a sequel would be welcomed by all, especially with how the story ends too, on top of the many villains not featured.
Final Thoughts: Arkham Asylum a delight to play, you really do feel like you are Batman. If you haven’t already picked up this game, I urge you to do so, it’s one of the best games you’ll play this year.
Story: 9 - Crafted by Emmy Award-winning Batman writer Paul Dini, it feels every inch a Batman story, compelling and brilliant, it’s a joy to play through. Cut-scenes are first-class.
Gameplay: 9 – The fighting is simple to master with a progressive learning curve. Stealth works well, pity some of the boss fights let the side down here. The challenge rooms are excellent to practise your skills, and the Joker content on the PS3 adds some diversity to the mix.
Graphics: 10 – Nothing to complain of here, the game looks stunning, sporting some of the best visuals on PS3. I encountered the odd bit of texture pop-in, but they are a minor flaw.
Sound: 9 – Musical score is excellent, ‘feels’ like Batman. Voice acting is truly wonderful, Mark Hamill’s Joker is genuinely sounds mad, whilst Batman’s voice is spot-on, none of the overly gruff nonsense that Christian Bale did in The Dark Knight.
Overall: 9 – One of the finest games this year.