Batman: Arkham Asylum
Developer: Rocksteady
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1
Words By:

It is almost expected that games that use licensed material will be disappointing. The reasons for this could be anything from business pressure to release something to coincide with another event like a new movie release to laziness on the part of the developer who banks on the quality source material to gloss over disappointing gameplay.

It hurts even more if you personally like the original source material. Batman has so much source material to dip into and while some of it is dross (as with everything) there’s a lot of good stuff that could be mined for game potential. However, given the bad reputation of licensed games why be excited over a Batman game when it may be a load of codswallop like any number of other licensed games that have come before it?

This is why playing Arkham Asylum feels like a relief. It is a very good game.

The game opens on Batman delivering a handcuffed Joker to the titular asylum after he’d given himself up without a struggle. Unsurprisingly, it’s a gloriously sprung trap and Batman finds himself stuck in the asylum battling gangs of newly freed residents, naturally with the Joker in charge and acting as ringleader.

The majority of the game is spent wandering around the different parts of the dark and moody asylum. This is not an open world game as the plot events drive you from location to location, but that’s not a criticism. The feeling of Batman’s movements being controlled by the Joker fits in to the story. Despite spending some time retracing your steps as you progress through the story, different routes open up as XP (eXperience Points) is earned via combat and through the discovery of various items, which in turn means more gadgets and upgrades become available for Batman to use, like something as simple as acquiring upgraded body armour, or explosive gel to blow holes in fragile walls, or a Cryptographic Sequencer to get through previously closed security barriers. Interactive elements of the environment are a lot easier to spot by using a handy feature available from the very beginning of the game; Batman’s Detective Vision. It alters the view of the world so everything appears as though viewed through a Heads-Up Display. All interactive features glow orange, enemies can be seen through walls like animated x-ray images, and other plot-derived MacGuffins like being able to scan a room for someone’s fingerprints as a clue to where to go next appear. A minor complaint about this is that it is easy to leave Detective Vision on as it shows important things in the areas, but by doing so you can miss a lot of the pretty scenery.

While you don't have the freedom to explore wherever you wish, there are opportunities to investigate areas you have already visited to discover various items (trophies that the Riddler has hidden for you, or countless other puzzles that he’s laid for you) that earn valuable XP or find Arkham inmate interview tapes to provide a bit of background to some of the baddies you are up against and more information about the dark past of Arkham. It's another example of how the game sympathetically uses the large amount of available source material to great effect.

Combat in the game has been cleverly executed. It manages to evoke the feelings of comic hero fighting, but balance that with the vulnerability of being just one guy (albeit a tough one with lots of gadgets). There’s a single button used to thump the opposition; X. Early on in the game it is possible to win through just by hammering X for all you are worth and marvelling at the brutal techniques Batman uses to dispatch goons.

Just like the movies (and unlike the real world) the goons are polite enough to attack one at a time. A small lightning blot halo icon appears over the assailant’s head warning you of their intention to clobber, allowing you just enough time to get out of the way or press Y to counter in a typically brutal way. The game rewards technique variety and chaining together series of combinations with experience points bonuses, which as previously mentioned provides a way of buying vital gadgets and upgrades.

Another regular occurence in the gameplay involves Batman being outnumbered by a gang of Joker’s goons armed with guns, where piling in gung-ho will demonstrate Batman’s relative vulnerability compared to most superheroes as he easily gets mown down by gunfire. Picking off goons one by one is as much a test of patience and observation as anything else. Batman can seek refuge on handy stone gargoyles above the armed bad guys to plan ways of dispatching each one stealthily. It’s fun trying out different tactics like distracting one with a Batarang then swooping down to grab another and hanging him up by his ankles from a gargoyle! As the game progresses more and more imaginative and fun methods of luring and dispatching bad guys become available. Batman never kills bad guys and only restrains them or knocks them unconscious—albeit occasionally with an accompanying broken arm or leg.

Once the story mode is over, various challenge modes become available involving sneaking around hunting The Joker's goons or having endurance mode fights with streams of bad guys. Playing these modes and going through the game trying to find the remaining hidden tokens does increase the longevity beyond the story end credits significantly.

Stylistically the game is brilliant. The voice acting is excellent, the mood is dark and gloomy, and there are many little touches that show that an extra bit of polish has been added. For example, when Batman uses explosive gel he sprays it in the shape of a bat, and turns his head away as it blows up, or when Batman's costume starts to look torn and tattered during the course of his stay at Arkham, making him really look as though he’s been through the wars, or how the last goon in an area to be hunted down after all his buddies have dispatched gets spooked and begins to panic, and starts taking shots in random directions when thinks he hears something. There are many other neat touches that shouldn't be mentioned here for fear of ruining any surprises in a game that really deserves to be played.

In summary, rather than falling into the trap of so many cartoon/comic/movie licensed games where it is assumed that the game is simply a licensed material delivery system, developers Rocksteady have produced something that could stand out as a good game without Batman splashed all over it, and they have used the Batman canon to make it even better. It's very very good.


Best Bits

- Excellent use of the licence
- Stylistically excellent
- Possibly the best Joker yet, Nicholson and Ledger included
- Fun “simple to learn, hard to master” combat
- Getting to hang baddies upside down
Worst Bits

- Detective mode can make you miss pretty scenery


by: Jason Rainbird

Batman: Arkham Asylum -
The Bradygames Signature Series Guide
Publisher: Bradygames
RRP: £12.99
Words By:

Make no mistake, Batman: Arkham Asylum is a great game. Not only is it the best adaptation of a comic book character yet, but it is also jam packed full of secrets and Gotham’s most prolific criminals to combat. All of this makes the Bradygames, Batman: Arkham Asylum game guide, the perfect compendium to help you bring order to the night of chaos The Joker has laid on for The Dark Knight.

   

The core of the book obviously covers the main story mode and provides detailed maps and strategies to walk you through every level in the game; Arkham Island, The Mansion, The Penitentiary, Medical etc. Gameplay offers elements of stealth and combat and the guide shows how to tackle both as well as those all important boss battles and how to get the available upgrades and so on. And once the story mode is complete, the guide will assist with the very tough challenge modes.

The book is beautifully presented and offers a comprehensive guide to completing the game, whether it be on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. For 100% completists, everything is there to ensure none of The Riddler’s secrets are left undiscovered, from the riddles and trophies to the Joker’s teeth. They’re all there with a written description of their location as well as detailed on a map for the specific level. There is even a section for the Spirit of Arkham, should you want to uncover the mystery – surely a necessity for ‘the world’s greatest detective’!

   

Finally, with a universe as rich as Batman and so many arch enemies under one roof, the book offers detail on character bios and their backgrounds – which is great for those not over-familiar with all of Batman’s foes and allies. It certainly adds to the experience and provides depth when you come across them in the game.

Rest assured, just attempting to find all 240 of The Riddler’s secrets could drive you to distraction, and that alone makes this guide very useful indeed.

click to visit Bradygames website

by: Indie

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