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Old 09-01-2009, 01:47 PM   #1
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[PS3/360/PC] - Batman: Arkham Asylum Review

Title: Batman: Arkham Asylum
Platform: PS3/360/PC
Platform Reviewed: PS3
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: Warner Brothers Interactive
MSRP: $49.99, £39.99, €59.99
Writer: Martin 'lost' Perry

Batman: Arkham Asylum Review

The Dark Knight frees himself from the trap of poor videogame translations in glorious fashion in one of this years best games.

Batman has been a lucky fellow as of late. The reboot of his movie adaptations has received almost universal acclaim and although Bruce Wayne may be dead his home town of Gotham is seeing a spike in comic quality. The Bat-cave won't fill itself with trophies though so it's time that he won himself some glittering videogame reviews. Batman: Arkham Asylum does just that and delivers a true-to-source experience with enough originality and panache to put it into the top tier of this year's releases.

It is well overdue after all. I won't dwell on them for too long (it can be a rather painful thing to do so) but Batman has seen some truly terrible games made in his name. They haven't all been bad, I have a soft-spot for the Genesis Batman Returns games, but none have ever really succeeded in putting you inside the Cowl. Rocksteady Studios have stepped up to the challenge and recruited alumni from the Batman Animated Series, perhaps the most lauded Batman product, such as writer Paul Dini and voice actors Mark Hamill (Joker) and Kevin Conroy (Batman) in pursuit of being the greatest Batman game ever made.

Paul Dini's work on the story of the game deserves significant praise in itself. The man currently has a strong rule over the world of Batman comics but has apparently found the time to dedicate himself to a fantastic game narrative. For fans there are obvious influences on show, not to mention the masses of references and clever nods. The graphic novel of the same name has a big impact even if the game is not considered a direct adaptation. The Dark Knight finds himself trapped in Arkham Asylum after falling fowl of a plot set up by his nemesis The Joker. Similarly it is a trip through our heroes' rogue's gallery. Where it diverges is when we find out that the Clown Prince of Crime has a frightful plan to lay Gotham to waste.

That summation might sound like a typical, albeit clever, Batman story but there's more than a simple linear narrative to keep you interested. The developers show daring in the way they handle the possibility that Bats might be insane himself. Powerful scenes involving Scarecrow's fear gas stick out and although I won't spoil them I can promise several 'mouth wide open' moments. It's a heady mix of enemies and psychological mind-games that really is a step above the rest.

It's also a varied mix of gameplay elements and a strong progression structure that make this a game of discovery and exploration that pulls out the best of Batman's character and abilities. If you've played the demo you'll have had a taste of the combat. The developers have named the system 'Freeflow Combat' and it's an apt title. The quality of animation on offer means that our hero flicks between enemies dealing out pain through a combination of direction, offered by the right analog stick, and a button press. You'll send enemies to the ground before performing take-downs to dispatch them outright. Stun attacks join alongside Batarangs and timed power strikes all of which can be upgraded using experience gained throughout the game.

The initial crop of enemies can be dispatched without much skill but as the story deepens so do your encounters. More men will push toward you and give you far less time to perform those crucial take-downs. As such you'll have to get better at your time and situational awareness to maximise your chances of surviving a battle. Moves unlock through the upgrade system but for the majority of the time it's about opportunist fighting. These opportunities aren't all in the form of fist-fights though. You are encouraged to defeat entire rooms of enemies using silent take-downs, and glide-kicks facilitated by the gargoyles scattered around this ageing mad house.

Stealth gaming has become a bit of a pariah as of late thanks to a whole punch of poor games focused entirely on sneaking. Providing you with the option and the ability to retreat, in most situations, makes it a welcome addition to gameplay. Your grapnel gun can be used to zip around areas unnoticed. It also comes into play during the game's platforming. Batman can leap a fair distance but the gun, and eventually a zip-line, often has a much bigger part to play. Chuck this on top of being able to glide around using the infamous cape and you begin to see how Rocksteady have piled up the infamous elements to create a true Batman experience. Perhaps the weakest of these is when, using your 'Detective Vision' which is part x-ray, part chemistry set, to track down characters using their tobacco trail or fingerprints. You can over analyse their inclusion however – they essentially act as a 'golden path' much like Fable II rather than being an attempt at a full CSI simulation. In that function they are successful.

Others have tried to include all of these elements in the past but bland level design has often restricted their use. The construction of Arkham is nothing short of ingenious with each of it's various buildings offering fresh challenges and a multitude of innovative challenges. Throughout your open world journey you'll leap across rooftops, climb through vents, ascend shafts, blast through walls, glide across rocky cliffs – the list goes on and on. Arkham Asylum is a lengthy game for its genre but never one without its surprises and novelties. It achieves this without ever resorting to a contrived Batmobile section but instead by carefully timing how you are rewarded with new equipment.

Rocksteady have used some artistic license when approaching how they model the various characters on show. The likes of Harley Quinn take on a very different look while the Joker himself is an excellent amalgamation of years of variations. Whether traditional or ground-breaking the dark, twisted presentation is delivered a consistently excellent standard. Without slow-down or glitch you'll seamlessly move between enclosed areas to large open areas featuring towering spires and detailed gothic buildings. Batman creators have always been allowed room to experiment but here the staff of Rocksteady have mixed in classic themes alongside inspiration from the most adventurous graphic novels and, without doubt, Nolan's film series.

With the single-player campaign being a decent length it's pleasing to see so much extra content packed in. The Riddler has 240 challenges scattered around the island which range from finding hidden trophies to finding item solutions to Bat-history riddles. A good example would be when the player is told “What does a bird need in the rain?”. Got an idea of the solution? Perhaps something to do with The Penguin? How about his umbrella? It's really good stuff and they hit just the right difficulty level to be entertaining enough to divert you from rushing through the story.

Areas are re-used in combat challenges outside of the main game that challenge your abilities as a 'silent predator'. They provide their own fun and the PlayStation exclusive Joker maps have a very distinctive take on this varied game. The vague faults that you could find in the game are inherited by the Batman concept. Clearly this isn't justification but my recommendation is quite so high because the mass of gameplay elements are woven together by a great story. Great effort has apparently been put into every aspect of the game and, being entirely honest, I'm not sure if the hinted sequel will be an easy one to make. Batman: Arkham Asylum is a magical combination that gives Batman fans and your average gamer a truly fantastic experience. One you won't soon forget.

Score: 5 out of 5


The Good
  • One of Paul Dini's best Batman stories with excellent voice-acting provided by fan favorites.
  • Varied, exciting and innovative levels using a multitude of great gameplay devices.
  • Brilliant presentation and artistic design in a technically accomplished game.
  • Plenty of stand-out moments with a length campaign and a whole bunch of enjoyable extra content.

The Bad
  • You could fall into the trap of button mashing during combat which would lead to a quick death and unsatisfying battles.
  • Finding a Riddler Challenge solution but being unable to get at it because you lack the right tool at that point can be frustrating. Back-tracking is rarely without its own surprises though.

The Ugly
  • With everything being so slick the occasional clipping problem during slo-motions fighting moves sticks out like a sore thumb.
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Old 09-01-2009, 02:02 PM   #2
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Awesome game. Serious GOTY contender as far as I'm concerned.
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Old 09-01-2009, 02:21 PM   #3
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Glad to hear it was worth the wait.
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Old 09-01-2009, 02:23 PM   #4
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Love this game so far. Just got it in on Friday and have only managed to play the first 3 hours or so (up to the North Wing, after the big Bane fight). I can't remember the last time I played an action game that drew me in as much as this one has. Great story, excellent visuals, top-notch voice acting, stellar controls and gameplay--GOTY for me, unless something comes out this Fall that just really knocks my socks off.
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Old 09-01-2009, 02:44 PM   #5
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I bought the game based of its reviews and still didn't see it coming just how good the game was going to be. Rocksteady really shut my license hating mouth up... THIS time.

And the reason it is so good, The Riddler. I had no idea that there would be puzzles in this game, nor the sheer scope of them. Like The Dark Knight movie last year, which was the most disturbing and violent "PG-13" movie I've seen, Arkham Asylum carries the same weight for Teen rated games. Doesnt Ratchet and Clank carry the same rating? hah!
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Old 09-01-2009, 02:49 PM   #6
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My one real knock against this game is the detective vision. No no, it works really well and is incredibly useful... which IS the problem, as I have it on most of the time in fear that I will miss something, so I don't get to see the world as much as I would like in normal vision, since my constant paranoia has me turning on detective vision.
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Old 09-01-2009, 03:48 PM   #7
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My one real knock against this game is the detective vision. No no, it works really well and is incredibly useful... which IS the problem, as I have it on most of the time in fear that I will miss something, so I don't get to see the world as much as I would like in normal vision, since my constant paranoia has me turning on detective vision.
Ha, you actually bring up an excellent point. I find myself switching between the two constantly b/c I don't want to miss anything.
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Old 09-01-2009, 04:56 PM   #8
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My one real knock against this game is the detective vision. No no, it works really well and is incredibly useful... which IS the problem, as I have it on most of the time in fear that I will miss something, so I don't get to see the world as much as I would like in normal vision, since my constant paranoia has me turning on detective vision.
I find myself looking at the whole game in BATMAN(TM) BLUEVISION(R). I'm just always using it.
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Old 09-02-2009, 04:14 AM   #9
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One of the best games this year. I'm almost done with it and the level of polish, combined with smart design decisions really make this game stand out.
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Old 09-02-2009, 06:12 AM   #10
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Loved your review. I played the game, 55% through and it's awesome so far.

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Old 09-02-2009, 06:42 AM   #11
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Finally finished the story last night. Such a fantastic game. Can't wait to finish up all the Riddler challenges.
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Old 09-02-2009, 06:46 AM   #12
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Yup, it's an awesome game, both gameplay & technical wise. Top gfx, sfx, no load times at all, even the automap rules.

Games like that really show what a piece of crap stuff like Fable 2 is with it's loading times from hell, laggy & user-hating interface and useless magic system.

Scarecrow is the shit!
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Old 09-02-2009, 09:08 AM   #13
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Okay, not to be a downer, but I will say this. After the Bane fight, things slow down a LOT. There's way too big a gap between Bane and the next major boss fight. And once you get to the second Scarecrow level, I don't really think of that as a boss fight, per se. Hitting Zsaz with one batarang, Harley with the electrified floors--those didn't really strike me as boss fights proper either. I mean, I guess they were fun, but really, the gameplay gets just a -bit- monotonous with the endless scrubs you have to take down.

I suspect things are about to pick up again (currently at the room you have to sneak through without detected OR attacking a baddie to save the doctors), but last night I kept finding myself saying, "OK--Croc or Ivy is going to be just beyond this next door, right? Right? Nope? Just more hostages and a bomb to defuse? Ok..."
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Old 09-02-2009, 09:44 AM   #14
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Okay, not to be a downer, but I will say this. After the Bane fight, things slow down a LOT. There's way too big a gap between Bane and the next major boss fight. And once you get to the second Scarecrow level, I don't really think of that as a boss fight, per se. Hitting Zsaz with one batarang, Harley with the electrified floors--those didn't really strike me as boss fights proper either. I mean, I guess they were fun, but really, the gameplay gets just a -bit- monotonous with the endless scrubs you have to take down.

I suspect things are about to pick up again (currently at the room you have to sneak through without detected OR attacking a baddie to save the doctors), but last night I kept finding myself saying, "OK--Croc or Ivy is going to be just beyond this next door, right? Right? Nope? Just more hostages and a bomb to defuse? Ok..."
You're insane.

As it pertains to canon though, Batman villains like Harley, Mr. Zsasz, or even Scarecrow aren't exactly tough. Batman, when taking on most villains head on, would DESTROY them. Their strengths are in their actions... not their physical prowess. Bane actually broke Batman's back at one point, so having him be the baddest ass in the game up to your point is not a stretch. This game is totally canon.
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Old 09-02-2009, 11:45 AM   #15
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You're insane.
No argument.

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As it pertains to canon though, Batman villains like Harley, Mr. Zsasz, or even Scarecrow aren't exactly tough. Batman, when taking on most villains head on, would DESTROY them. Their strengths are in their actions... not their physical prowess. Bane actually broke Batman's back at one point, so having him be the baddest ass in the game up to your point is not a stretch. This game is totally canon.
Don't get me wrong--I wasn't in any way complaining about the game not being true to Batman canon (not sure how I came across that way). All I was saying is that, after starting off with a whirlwind leading up to the Bane fight, for me, things seemed to slow down a LOT afterwards. Now I'm sure that could have been by design, with the game transitioning from a "beat the crap out of everything phase" to more "platform puzzler/stealth action" phase, which is fine. But like I said, I kept finding myself EXPECTING something bigger to happen, and then it being sort of anti-climactic when it was just another room with Joker on the vid-screen telling his goons to jump me.

Doesn't change the fact that it's still a fantastic game. And I'm sure the pacing will lead to it being more a 10+ hour game, rather than a 5-8 hour one.
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Old 09-02-2009, 03:49 PM   #16
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I had the same issues with Detective mode, it was kinda annoying seeing everything in a shade of blue

but I utterly enjoyed the game but for some reason I just wouldn't give it a 5/5 even though there is no reason not to, maybe I felt the gameplay was a bit on the repetitive side,. All you ended up doing was hitting X with an added Y+B or X+A for a change
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Old 09-02-2009, 04:02 PM   #17
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I think it only becomes repetitive if you decide to let it be. Sure, you can wade in to every encounter or you can try and be clever about it.

It's a bit of a mystery to me that anybody would find the game repetitive when the variety of challenge on offer throughout the island is so huge.

Each to their own! I think licensed games come up against the same barriers as sequels - familiarity breeds apathy.
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Old 09-02-2009, 04:10 PM   #18
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Beat the game and now going through the challenge levels, which seem hard enough to not be cake but not impossible. JUST the way I like it. I dont want to spend 6 hours on one challenge room.

*edit* Spoke WAY too soon. Fucking shock and awe extreme and its 1 minute time limit, I have yet to even BEAT the room, despite racking up enough points to get 3 medals.

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Old 09-03-2009, 11:13 AM   #19
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http://static.funnyjunk.com/pictures/1250247435826.jpg

indeed
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Old 09-03-2009, 12:11 PM   #20
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There are times when I simply cannot fathom how something such as the above link came to be, just as I can only marvel at the inexplicable joy it provides. Kudos to the Green Knight.
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