Batman: Arkham Asylum

excellent
key review info
  • Game: Batman: Arkham Asylum
  • Platform: Playstation 3
  • Gamepad support: N/a
  • Reviewed on:
  • Written by:
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Batman has been many things over time. He was the human detective who hanged around with all those superheroes with the awesome powers. He was a dark, torn apart man motivated by the death of his parents to eliminate crime. He was the only man who could take Superman on and win. He was the conscience of a city embraced by crime. Thus, Batman is one of the best known comic heroes and enjoyed several successful big screen outings, with the most recent two movies, directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Cristian Bale, being some of the most popular in history. But can a videogame, with all the restrictions that come with the genre, boil down the complexity of Batman to something accessible, engaging and true to the nature of the character?

Well, Batman: Arkham Asylum delivers on all these three fronts and manages to craft a single player experience that puts Batman, his enemies and the location of the Asylum itself front and center while introducing and building upon simple gameplay mechanics, but combining and evolving as the game progresses.

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The wonders of push ups

Intensive fighting

Story

It's all pretty simple on the surface, very comic book like. The Joker is again captured, a bit too easily, and Batman delivers him to Arkham for safe keeping. The villain manages to escape, taking Commissioner Gordon with him as hostage, and Batman needs to wade through the ample grounds of the Asylum, gloomy and gothic, battling escaped convicts, taking on old foes like Killer Croc and Zsasz, following the trail of clues (he's a detective, remember?) and putting together the puzzle of what the Joker is trying to do. The final step is, as always, stopping him in his tracks and moving him into Arkham Asylum once turned to the medical authorities. There are some interesting questions asked in the game, involving the nature of evil, how far someone can go to cure it and how capable society is of dealing with the issues presented by the existence of a generic Other, an embodiment of everything that normality is not.

Rocksteady, the developer, managed not to overcomplicate the narrative. There are clearly defined goals, well portrayed enemies and good use of the Batman mythology, from the villains presented as psychiatric patients in found interview tapes to the way the story of the place itself and its first warden is uncovered through mysterious symbols that are found throughout the game. It manages to strike a balance normally hard to get: on the one hand, it makes it easy enough for those who only know Batman from the two recent movies to get deeper into his universe, on the other hand, it recreates content that true fans have known for some time in loving fashion and with some personal touches. It's a solid story-telling experience perfectly supporting the gameplay while not becoming the main reason to actually play the game.

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Stalking the prey

Funny nut

Gameplay

Batman seems to dance when knocking enemies off their feet, delivering crushing downward blows or jumping over them only to then take their legs out from under them. His grace remains fully in place as he runs around the scenery, grapples up to a ledge, sails down on his bat wings before landing right behind an unsuspecting enemy that he then silently chokes to move forward. The open areas of the Arkham Asylum complex are a perfect arena for the Bat to display his fighting skills and the game manages to clearly show the player how efficient, quick and soundless he can be. The narrow corridors are not so well suited for grace, but the combat remains fluid and satisfying. The most interesting are the larger indoor areas, those that have multiple levels and those weirdly out of place yet somehow appropriate gargoyles. On them, Batman can both hide from gun carrying baddies and plan his attack while surveying the area in Detective Mode. Gliding with a kick or doing an inverted take down (which practically means tying down an enemy and placing them on the said gargoyle) are superbly animated and conceptually integrated with the Batman persona.
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Fluidity
Cannon fodder


Batman: Arkham Asylum builds on a set of simple concepts: strong fighting mechanics, based on countering the enemies and chaining combos, simple slinging from place to place with the grapple, gadgets that enable specialized strategies, like breaking down some walls and moving obstacles around. They are all very solid and offer an array of tactics, which can be employed against the bad guys inhabiting Arkham and to overcome environmental challenges. Don't make the mistake of underestimating the enemies, a few armed ones can take Batman out pretty quickly, especially in close quarters. Still, a little bit of planning and some well placed batarangs can disable some of them and allow the player to move on for the kill.

If there are gameplay elements that could have been done better, then the platforming sections related to the Scarecrow are the most obvious. It's pretty interesting the first time around although defeating him with the Bat sign does not make a lot of sense but the second time around, it seems like just a way of extending the game time. The boss battles can also be a little irritating, mostly because of the repetition needed to take them out but it's nothing major. Rocksteady might also want to think about how it zones its areas in a potential sequel as impassable force fields tend to become annoying, especially considering the technical prowess of Batman. Other than that, it's graceful, complex, straight forward and engaging. I just wish the enemies were more different, not only when talking about the weapons they carry and how they attack, but in the way they look. The game makes it seem like all the inmates were locked up for 20 years doing push ups and crunches.

Graphics and sound

The game looks very good on the PlayStation 3. There are enough greys and blacks to deliver the dark atmosphere of the Batman universe and there are enough patches of crazy color, from the green of Poison Ivy to the red of the Joker and the bright lights, to make it anything but monotone. The Detective Mode, which covers the world with a blue hue, also looks excellent and the only complaint is that it's so well done that I found myself spending significant portions of the game without looking at the “real” game world.

But the good looks of Arkham Asylum on the PlayStation 3 pale when compared to the way the game looks on the PC, with full PhysX support and an Nvidia video card. There are subtle touches, like the movement of the cape and the ruffling of leaves, which manage to bring it all to life and playing the game is like watching a complex Batman movie. If your PC has an Nvidia card powerful enough, ditch the PS3 and load up Batman: Arkham Asylum on the PC. For a taste of what the PC can offer get the PC demo of the game from Softpedia.

The sounds are a big surprise. The ambient ones are well suited, with Batman moving without a sound and punches sounding admirably meaty when they come into contact with an enemy. But the developers merit a special mention for the dialog. The biggest number of main characters in videogames, when they have a voice (see the case of the good Doctor in Half Life), tend to blabber around about stuff, talking to enemies about their plans, to side kicks about others and often to the player, indirectly. Batman, true to his nature, is curt, quick in communicating essentials and never revealing too much emotion. The Joker and even Harley Quinn express their fear through long monologues threatening “the Bat” but most of the time, Batman's response is a simple “That will not happen” or something along those lines. The solidity of the game shows in these small minutiae. And, of course, the voice work, witch hinges on people like Kevin Conroy as Batman, Mark Hamill as The Joker and Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn (all of them worked on Batman: The Animated Series), is top notch.

Conclusion

A lot of purists were asking whether a superhero videogame could be delivered without dumbing down the subject matter so that a wide audience gets what it's about. Batman: Arkham Asylum clearly shows that story, setting, mechanics and atmosphere can be combined to show off characters, create tension, offer opportunities for combat and exploration while also staying true to what the main character and his villains are all about.

I'm not one of those people who know everything about the Batman universe, the characters or the Asylum itself, so I found the need to hunt down all those unlockables, from interview tapes to Riddler signs, a bit distracting. But whether you know everything about Batman or nothing at all, the game will definitely draw you in with its beautiful dark graphics, showy brawls and coherent story. Get it if you love Batman, brawlers, stealth kills or collectibles, Batman: Arkham Asylum is a truly well put together videogaming experience.
story 8
gameplay 9
concept 9
graphics 10
audio 10
multiplayer 0
final rating 9
Editor's review
excellent
 

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