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Into Arkham Asylum
There is no doubt, Batman: Arkham Asylum is quite simply the best comic book game ever made. The insane, dark and brooding Batman is brought to life beautifully in this third-person action brawler. Liberal doses of stealth and detective work are stirred into the mix. The production values are high and this game is dripping with cinematic style.
The game opens with Batman delivering the Joker back into the embracing arms of Gotham’s dirty little secret, the most overcrowded godforsaken loony bin in existence, the notorious Arkham Asylum. As soon as he gets the space the Joker slips his chains and his plan whips into action. The asylum is out of control, the inmates are loose and the main thing they have in common is that they’d like to kill Batman.
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Making a good game based on a comic book hero hinges on the design. Actually, making a good game of any type hinges on the design but with a character like Batman you have so much material to draw on for the art, characters and back story that the real challenge is to apply the right mechanics. How do you make the player feel like they are the Batman?
Developer Rocksteady Studios managed to come up with a deceptively simple combat system which allows you to chain together satisfying combos. They encourage stealth for many sections of the game because at the end of the day Batman is not superhuman. He is just a well trained, well equipped man and a room full of bad guys with guns will shoot him to death fairly quickly. They also implemented a clever detective mode which you can activate to find clues, scan ahead for bad guys and track people. This combination of mechanics seems to distill Batman’s character and abilities into an intuitive set of controls.
The story unfolds beautifully via a mixture of cut scenes and in game dialogue. You’ll explore the facility from top to bottom before it’s all over and you’ll run into all of Batman’s worst enemies along the way. The tone is murderously dark and, while it doesn’t quite reach the depths of terrifying insanity explored by the graphic novel of the same name, it is satisfyingly gritty and scary.
You’ll spend most of your time sneaking from location to location rescuing people and chasing the bad guys. There are legions of thugs to beat up along the way, sneaky routes and secrets galore to uncover, and new abilities and equipment to unlock. The Riddler has planted 240 riddles for you to solve or discover, there are tapes and files which illuminate the twisted minds of Batman’s worst enemies and the story of Arkham itself is woven into the fabric of the game. Every so often you’ll face one of your big foes in a boss fight. The whole package offers a real blend and variety of gameplay and it is thoroughly engaging from start to finish.
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There is a good amount of gameplay on offer here and Batman: Arkham Asylum should keep you busy for several days. If you take a slow methodical approach and are determined to uncover every last secret then you’ll get plenty from this title. Once the Story Mode is complete you can also have a go at Challenge Mode and see if you can beat up waves of enemies with enough style and speed to earn yourself a place on the leader board. Sadly the PC version lacks the additional Joker pack you get with the PS3 game but there is still plenty of content here to keep you amused.
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When it comes to visual style these guys really nailed that authentic Gotham feel. The characters are beautifully modelled and instantly recognisable. The animations are smooth and fluid, especially for the combo moves as Batman pacifies rooms full of thugs. The menus and icons are perfect. The detective mode allows you to see enemies through walls and highlights areas and items worthy of attention. The stylish use of bats fluttering as they form the name of each new area or flock to you as XP after you pull off an impressive move or make an important discovery is wonderful. The environments are detailed, rich and interactive and the visual effects are excellent.
This is one of the most attractive games I’ve ever played. The cut scenes feel a bit unnecessary because they don’t look much better than the in game action but they are well directed. Batman: Arkham Asylum has a very cinematic feel in general. The slow motion nature of the combat, the close ups on knock out moves or exploding walls, and the camera angles when you hide behind a wall or perch on a gargoyle really add to the style. The fact they have worked in stylish visuals like the warning icon that a thug is about to hit you so you can order your attacks in the most efficient way is very clever. The art is attractive and it backs up the design.
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The superb voice acting is every bit as good as the art. Mark Hamill is the pick of the bunch as he reprises his Joker role from the cartoon. He really is wonderful in the part and his insistent interjections and maniacal laughing set the tone perfectly. There are no weak links in the voice acting department but Batman himself, the Riddler and Harley Quinn all stand out as especially good. All of the dialogue is brilliantly written and it feels authentic. There is something really satisfying about the conversations you eavesdrop and listening to the Joker threatening one of his subordinates is both amusing and chilling.
The sound effects are just right and the musical score adds to the cinematic feel and reminds us of Batman’s recent film outings. This is a high quality production in every department.
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If you got me in a choke hold and forced me to criticise this game then I’d say the console version is better. It was obviously developed with consoles in mind and the game pad makes for a more natural feel. It also looks better on the PS3. It tempts you to use Detective Mode a lot but if you wander around with Detective vision on you miss out on the attractive visuals. Some of the boss fights are slightly disappointing because they employ typical boss fight mechanics. This is especially true of Bane. These minor criticisms are easily drowned out by the quality on show here.
Batman: Arkham Asylum has been developed with a great deal of care and attention. This is as close as you’ll get to donning the cape and fighting super villains. The greatest thing about the game is the fact that you have to think and act like Batman to get the best results. Just writing about it has me itching to play it again. Don’t miss this game.
If you are having trouble with the game then check out these articles.