Review: Batman: Arkham Asylum
There's a certain attraction about super hero games that you just can't keep away from I'd say. Those skeptical thought of it as nothing more than another failure, and you can't blame any of them. Enter Arkham Asylum, a highly anticipated, completely new title that isn't adapted from a movie or TV series. Does it set the bar high for comic book titles or is it just another title not worth caring about?
- Worth The Time?Yes, every cent and second spent.
- Things LovedThe excellent gameplay, you really feel like Batman, the stunning atmosphere, the fantastic graphics, great use of the source material and villains, the setting is awesome, some truly memorable sequences.
- Things HatedThe investigation element wasn't fully explored, the main villains are unfortunately held back by the cliched plot and confusing main objective of the Joker.
- RecommendationThis a must-have title, to all Batman fans and gamers who have been longing to see a comic book super hero given due justice. At any cost, don't miss this game.
- Name: Batman: Arkham Asylum
- Genre: Third Person Stealth Action
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: N/A
- Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
- Developer: Rocksteady Studios
- Publisher: Eidos Interactive, Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment
- Price: R350 (PC), R550 (PS3, 360)
- Reviewed On: PS3
The game starts with Batman having apprehended the Joker, seemingly without struggle, and is on his way towards the mental institution, Arkham Asylum. Upon arriving at Arkham, the player gains control of Batman, who doesn’t trust Joker’s confusing surrender, and is then tasked to follow the security guards escorting the Joker towards his cell. This introduction, where you’re introduced to the Arkham institution, Joker’s madness and the various characters is spectacularly well done and is a very exciting beginning to the game. Soon after, you’re delivered the bad news, as you reach a point where Batman isn’t allowed to proceed, due to Arkham regulations, which leaves Joker alone with one security guard and an Arkham doctor. As expected, Joker breaks free, unleashing his trap, releasing all of the Arkham inmates and taking control of the entire institution, with the help of Harley Quinn, leaving Batman trapped inside with the madmen.
Batman sets off in search of the Joker, attempting to put a stop to him and his insane plans as well as stop the free Arkham inmates and Gotham villains. However this is where the problem kicks in. With such an explosive and provocative beginning, you’re immediately hooked into the story. This makes it all the more disappointing when the story doesn’t live up to its premise. Initially, you’re excited to discover Joker’s plans and the reasoning for him giving Batman such hell, but as is typical of many games these days, you’re told things in a ‘by the way’ manner which decreases the value of the main plot. Considering that it’s the Joker involved, you would have expected something twisted, but when you discover his true goal you can’t help but feel disappointed. In the end, because of Joker’s cliched and silly main objective, he fails to drive the main plot forward and this ultimately cripples his character. Eventually you will stop caring about the story and be more interested in the gameplay, which fortunately is very good. That said, the Joker himself as well as the other characters and villains (aside from Joker you’ll encounter Commissioner Gordon, Mr. Zsasz, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Killer Croc, Bane, The Riddler and Scarecrow) are excellently done, voiced over superbly and fit the game perfectly. The characters, especially the villains, Joker in particular, are truly brilliant, in their performances, attitudes and actions. It’s just their full potential is held back by the frequent lame dialogue and the cliched plot.
The Arkham setting is a great premise to the game, but unfortunately it’s not fully realised. The atmosphere and manner in which the backstory is told, is heavily inspired by Bioshock. At times the game tries to imitate Bioshock with its dark, claustrophobic and unnerving atmosphere and performs amazingly on many occasions. However it’s not entirely consistent as there are sections in the game that are quiet, brightly lit, devoid of music or atmosphere – and these sections don’t give you the feel that you’re in an Asylum full of the insane and murderous, which dampens the experience. Make no mistake though, this is an adult game as it has a number of creepy moments, people die continuously, there’s some vulgar language thrown in and there is tons of violence. Throughout the game you’ll discover five-part audio logs of patient-to-psycho interviews, again reminiscent of Bioshock, character bios and other pieces of info to contribute to the backstory, and these are great as they add value to both the story and characters.
The game is played from a third person perspective and there are three main components that make up the gameplay, namely combat, stealth and exploration. The game will task you with exploring the Arkham grounds in order to complete a linear set of objectives and progress through the story. Throughout the game you’re going to do a lot of backtracking, map-checking and some puzzle sections. These puzzle sections are areas where Batman is required to use his detective skills to pick up a trail (bloodstains, fingerprints and such) in order to follow a character of importance. However while these moments are interesting the first few times, they’re repeated a number of times throughout the game and eventually become annoying. They just start to feel lacklustre after a while and in all honesty the game could have made better use of the investigation element, such as problem solving or CSI-type quizzes to reach an answer instead of repeatedly being tasked with following a trail.
Since the Joker has all the Arkham inmates under his control, very often you’ll often find yourself inevitably encountering small armies of thugs and inmates who all hate you, outnumber you and want you dead, and this is where the “free-flow” combat system comes into play. The combat system is quite basic to learn, as the entirety of it is based on four buttons: strike, evade, reverse and stun. The game camera will zoom out during combat, similarly to Assassin’s Creed, giving you a clear view of the enemies surrounding you, allowing you to fight against enemies in a 360 degree radius by moving in the direction you want to attack. The combat system is really great and it’s exhilarating to take on ten guys at once, chaining together combos, takedowns and reversals. However it’s challenging to master, because you’ll soon learn that button mashing can only get you so far, as you’ll have to learn to rely on counter attacks, timing and evasion to win, especially once the enemies begin assaulting you in large groups and start using knives, guns and stun batons later on in the game.
From the outset the combat sounds to be repetitive (with only one attack button and no button combinations for advanced moves) and sometimes it can be, but it’s definitely a great deal of fun and really is one of the highlights of the game. The combat flows together seamlessly, while still managing to capture the intensity of a chaotic brawl. As you indulge in combat, landing strikes, reversals and takedowns on your enemy, a combat meter on the top left of the screen will build. The meter continues to climb while you land blows, but will reset if you take a hit or miss an attack. It probably sounds easy, but you’ll soon learn that a fair amount of skill is required to maintain a consistent climb in your combo meter or carry out large combos. At the end of a fight, you’re rewarded with experience points, even more if you achieved a high combo. Gain enough XP and you’ll be able to upgrade Batman in various areas, such as increased health, more damage and special takedown moves, powered up baterangs or completely new or improved gadgets. It does take a fair amount of experience to ‘level up’, so you should be careful as to which upgrades you purchase. This system, while simple, introduces a nice sense of character progression throughout the game. The XP gained also regenerates lost health, but it’s not a very good system when taking into account that you only receive the XP after a fight, which can be quite irritating when you’re involved in a forced battle on low hp.
The stealth aspect of the game comes in the form of ‘Invisible Predator’ sections. These are moments in the game where you’re required to strike from the shadows and avoid being seen, and ultimately these are amongst the best parts in the game, as they’re the moments where you truly feel like Batman. These sections come into play either when you’ve got to take out a room full of patrolling enemies who aren’t aware you’re there or when there’s a need for the ‘death by discover’ mechanic, where you being seen results in a game over. In these sections you’ll be required to observe your enemies using the detective mode, which fills the screen in a dark blue light, highlighting enemies, their weapons and objects of interest. How you go about these parts is entirely up to you, as you’ll have access to all of Batman’s stealth abilities and gadgets. You can sneak up behind enemies and take them out with a strangle hold, glide kick and take down lone enemies, hide out on top of and hang enemies from gargoyles, use the grappling hook to get to a good vantage points, set up lethal traps with explosive gel – and there is such a welcome variety in how you go about these sections that really makes them stand out in the overall game. And these sections only become increasingly tense, exciting and challenging when the opposition start equipping themselves with machine guns that can drain Batman’s health bar in seconds.
There’s plenty to explore on Arkham island and the incentive to do so, aside from sight seeing, would be to complete the 240 Riddler Challenges. For starters, there are large amounts of Riddler trophies to collect, which unlock extras in the game and give you bonus XP, but some of these you can only collect once you’ve gotten some of the later gadgets, so you’d have to do some backtracking. There are also many areas in the game that will have a ‘riddle’ attached to them. See, when entering these areas the Riddler will present the player with a riddle, leaving it up to you to find the answer and scan it using the detective mode analysing tool. There are various other forms of challenges to engage in, such as locating the ‘Arkham Chronicles’ logs, which provide information on the Arkham background story, and the collection of the audio logs. All of these, along with some others, make up the 240 Riddler Challenges, which is a nice distraction from the main path. Since there isn’t an “aftermath” once you’ve completed the game (it loads up just before the final battle), you’re either going to have to complete these challenges before the end or return to earlier areas once you’ve finished.
Completing the main story should take you about 10 hours on average, without attempting the Riddler challenges. The good news is that once finishing the main story, there are 16 challenge rooms for you to engage in. These challenges task you with various activities such as fighting it out in a room full of enemies or Invisible Predator stealth sections and they’re quite enjoyable to partake in when considering that there are medals to earn, achievements or trophies to unlock and online leaderboards to follow. You’ll need to be quite experienced with the game in order to achieve high scores or acquire some of the medals, which means that, if you’re determined, these challenge rooms can really lengthen the time you’ll spend playing this game. While they might sound shallow and uninteresting, the combat system and Invisible Predator gameplay really make these very entertaining to go through.
Graphically, Arkham Asylum is really great. The environments and Arkham rooms are excellently detailed, ultimately doing both the theme and mood of the game justice. Character models, specifically referring to the main cast, are intricately and amazingly well detailed. The downside is that the game does suffer from numerous graphical glitches, such as clipping issues (e.g Batman’s cape going through his leg) but these are relatively minor. The enemy AI, for the most part, is quite good but can be extremely stupid sometimes when they’re not equipped with guns, as you can practically hang around just above ground level and they’ll stand there unable to do anything. On a technical level, the game is overall solid, with the exception of the rather odd sound bug in the game. When you’re facing a character that’s talking, you’ll hear it perfectly, but the minute you rotate your camera in the opposite direction the sound will fade away as if it were in the distance, despite the fact that you’re still right in front of it. It can really become annoying when you’re trying to hear some of the characters, mainly Joker, resulting in you having to rely on the subtitles.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is overall a fantastic game. This is the Batman game we’ve been waiting for and it’s most definitely the greatest comic book super hero game ever made. While the game does suffer from some noticeable flaws, the gameplay is simply awesome, allowing you to truly feel as though you are the Dark Knight himself. Whether you enjoy action, stealth or Batman, you will love this. If you like all three of them, well, let’s just leave it at that. Batman: Arkham Asylum is really one of the best games of 2009 and you owe it to yourself to try it out, because it’s an experience you wouldn’t want to miss.