Review

Batman: Arkham Asylum Review (Xbox360)

Batman has certainly been through a hell of a lot since he first appeared in a comic book 70 years ago. Not only has he had to endure a campy 60s television series that destroyed the characterís dark nature, but heís also been subjected to a brace of hideous Hollywood movies during the latter part of the 90s and a whole raft of forgettable videogame shovelware bearing his name.

What these games failed to realise is that no comic book superhero is darker than Batman with only the 1993 SNES version of Batman Returns coming anywhere close to capturing the true essence of the Caped Crusader. As a character, Batman has limitless potential to provide deeply compelling stories across any medium. The comics are great and most of the movies are great, so why then has there not yet been a videogame that has treated Bats with the respect he so clearly deserves? We honestly donít know the answer, but itís heartening to see that the folks at Rocksteady certainly have a healthy reverence for the source material thatís been so severely lacking from every other Batman game to date.


This is where it all begins Ė after Batman manages to apprehend the Joker, he delivers him to the asylumís front door.
The game's opening sequence sets up the foreboding and oppressive asylum brilliantly, as you follow the Joker whoís slowly wheeled along to the holding cells.

Taking its cue from the bleakly gritty Alan Moore and Frank Miller books, such as The Killing Joke and The Dark Knight Returns respectively, Batman: Arkham Asylum retains the same type of ominously oppressive visual style, drenched in rich detail that brings the titular facility to startling, filth encrusted life. From the very moment you set foot into Arkhamís cells, not only can you almost smell the crazy, but you also get a real feel for the history of the place that has been home to Batmanís greatest apprehended foes for years.

With the Joker restrained in the passenger seat, the game opens with a cut-scene where a breakneck ride in the Batmobile onto the grounds of Arkham Asylum segues into a controllable sequence that has you keeping your eye on the green-haired sociopath as heís strapped to a gurney and slowly wheeled to his cell. Itís a fantastic prelude to the events that follow as the Joker inevitably manages to break free and execute his nefarious plan to seize control of the asylum with the help of the equally psychotic Harley Quinn and an army of insane inmates.

Soon, Batman finds himself fighting alone against the odds as the patients are let loose and the asylumís guards are overwhelmed. The Joker is resolutely in charge throughout the game, popping up on TV screens and over speakers to incessantly taunt you as youíre forced into playing by his twisted rules. Yet, any danger of linearity or repetition as youíre inexorably prodded like a rat in a maze down Arkhamís grimy corridors, is eradicated by a healthy dose of variety that gives Batman numerous absorbing tasks to complete and compelling set pieces to overcome.

Fighting your way through muscle-bound goons accounts for only a portion of the entire game, with Batman also drawing upon his considerable detective skills and expansive cache of gadgetry to solve certain mysteries that crop up during the course of your journey. Early on for instance, a captured guard must be tracked down by following traces of airborne alcohol residue from a discarded whisky bottle to pick up the trail. Batman has a Ďdetective modeí built into his cowl activated by tapping the left trigger. While in detective mode, Batman must scan certain crime scenes for a salient piece of evidence before being able to progress, but for the most part itís primarily used for detecting armed enemies through walls or taking helpful readings from the surrounding environment. Once enabled, you can see your environment outlined in yellow, with unarmed enemies highlighted in blue and armed hostiles picked out in red, which allows you to better formulate a stealthy plan of action as the situation dictates. Batman isnít bulletproof after all; so blundering headlong into a hail of gunfire will quickly send you straight to the big batcave in the sky.

Stealth sections normally involve methodically picking off enemies one by one, and can usually be identified upon entering a room where gargoyles flank the walls. Batman uses these outcropping sculptures to support his weight, using his grapnel gun to zip his way out of sight and safely survey the area below. Scanning hostiles in detective mode shows you their temperament and the weapons theyíre packing. Ideally, you want to make them nervous and irrational, which can be achieved in a variety of ways. Using the environment to your advantage is best though, so you can hang from a ledge waiting for a thug to walk by before leaping up and bouncing his head off the railings. Or perhaps youíd prefer to hang from a gargoyle, grab an enemy from above and hang him upside down by his ankles? Why not then cut the prisoner down as one of his friends unwittingly strolls past to really put the frighteners on them?


The Jokerís a depraved psychotic, who takes great joy in cackling at Batman as he slowly feels his way through the serpentine corridors of Arkham.
Bats is an extremely capable fighter, able to dispatch multiple enemies in one unbroken flurry of bone crunching punches and kicks.

A full repertoire of moves makes playing as Batman an experience thatís not only uniquely satisfying, but also incredibly empowering - exactly as it should be. The Dark Knight is a superhero, and in Arkham Asylum, he actually feels like one, stalking enemies with a predatory prowess befitting of the iconic character. Equally adept at both stealth and close-quarters combat, Bats gives Solid Snake a serious run for his money, able to tear ventilation grills from the walls and shuffle his way through the passages as well as perch up on high and swoop down upon unsuspecting enemies.

Not only is Batman an accomplished martial artist as well as the worldís greatest detective, heís also a dab hand with the utility belt full of gadgets he keeps at his disposal, such as the ubiquitous batarang, the grabbing batclaw and handy spray-on explosive gel that you can use to shatter weak walls. While the batarang has obvious offensive advantages such as the ability to temporarily neutralise and disarm guards, youíll eventually be able to use it to strike multiple targets or link together combos with a quickly thrown projectile between punches and kicks.

In combat, Batman is a versatile badass, dealing out chains of rapid, crushing blows that can be linked into fluid and furious combinations that can take out an entire gang of thugs with ruthless efficiency. You can even anticipate hostile moves and counter them accordingly to maintain an unbroken combo when blue bolts of lightning flash above a bad guyís head, indicating that heís about to attack. Bats can also swing his cape to stun any enemies in the direct vicinity, so if things get too hectic or a maniac rushes you while brandishing a knife, you can create a little space to regroup and initiate another offensive plan.

Every single one of Batmanís abilities is brilliantly implemented, so every single combo, gadget and sneaking manoeuvre is not only incredibly simple to execute, but also genuinely useful in aiding your mission in getting through Arkham Asylum in one piece. Rocksteady has avoided watering-down any of Batmanís moves or gadgetry in their transition from comic book page to videogame, with every dispatched villain earning XP that you can use as currency to purchase enhanced armour, gadget upgrades and additional combo possibilities. Consequently, thereís a great deal of depth in the development of each attribute, with Batman reaching the peak of his skill towards the latter part of the game as you continue to unlock upgrades.

As well as boosting Batmanís abilities, Arkham Asylumís engaging narrative will also keep you utterly hooked throughout, with encounters from a surprising menagerie of villains ranging from the terrifying Scarecrow to the daunting mass of venom-enhanced muscle that is Bane. Each acts as a strikingly different boss battle too, keeping you constantly on your toes as youíre left wondering what might be thrown your way next.


Commissioner Gordon is one of only a few friends that Batman has within the asylum. Youíll find that most of the facilityís guards are either dead or incapacitated.
The grounds of Arkham Asylum are actually far more open than youíd think. Itís not all grim corridors and rusting prison cells, you know.

Weíd be shot if we were to reveal specific details about the numerous boss encounters, but itís enough to say that each one is a genuine surprise with certain villains cropping up unexpectedly throughout the game. For instance, the Riddler makes an unforeseen, if disembodied appearance, issuing tasks through Batmanís earpiece that encourages you to revisit and explore every inch of Arkham for clues, as you try and solve riddles pertaining to certain objects which when located unlock interesting character biographies, character trophies and extra stages for the extra challenge mode.


So, is Arkham Asylum finally the game that Batman deserves then? Yes. Yes it is. And a whole lot more besides. Rewarding and engrossing in equal measure, the entire production reeks of quality from the stellar voice work to the jaw-dropping visuals and intuitive control system. Truly this is the Batman game that everybodyís been waiting for.



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Comments

By Kres (SI Elite) on Aug 21, 2009
Kres
Oh my God, 9.5 hehe. I'm shocked to see such obviously good movie game... Those are rare. Anybody else played it? I didn't, yet
By Richie82 (SI Member) on Aug 21, 2009
Richie82
Honestly, Kres - it's genius. Anyone who even likes Batman just a little bit will absolutely love it.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Aug 21, 2009
herodotus
That's because it's not a movie tie-in. Batman's been around a very long time, and if not for a very green Frank Miller resurrecting him The Batman might have disappeared forever. Knightfall is still the best story ever.
By JamieSI (SI Core) on Aug 21, 2009
JamieSI
The Killing Joke is probably the best Batman comic I've read.

Really looking forward to this game, can't wait to play it, especially after reading your review Richard :)
By Kres (SI Elite) on Aug 21, 2009
Kres
Well I guess I need to check if my X360 is till working. Need to gently vacuum the dust off it.
By BoneArc (SI Elite) on Aug 22, 2009
BoneArc
Kres i played it and its awesome , i cant wait for The Full game on PC
i played the Demo though :D
its rlly Fun and I think that it will be a big hit
By FoolWolf (SI Elite) on Aug 22, 2009
FoolWolf
Well I can both wait and skip the full game for PC - seems they decided to fakk themselves and consumers with SecuROM and 3 installs only - none revokable. If that is truly the case - then this game can take a sail down the brown river of shit for all I care.
By eloqui (SI Core Member) on Aug 25, 2009
eloqui
yeah...I was hoping to play it on 4 machines, but now the dream is gone... sad
:/
BTW, you really ought to throw games in the trash, rather than flush them down the toilet.
By FoolWolf (SI Elite) on Aug 26, 2009
FoolWolf
Who said anything about flushing?
I will go to nearest shitdemon and ask them kindly to throw this junk of teasing shit away onto the river of shit where it can fester with other plagued-by-activation-shit-games.
By JamieSI (SI Core) on Aug 28, 2009
JamieSI
Blame piracy for forcing companies to use SecuROM, don't blame a good game like Batman...
By zroy (SI Core Veteran) on Feb 03, 2010
zroy
I can guarantee that it is an awesome game, it doesn't even need someone who love batman a bit. it's game physics is cool, the hitting the moves everything is quite good. :)