Review: Batman – Arkham Asylum (Xbox 360)

arkham cover

Arkham Asylum – an institute as iconic to the Batman Universe as Bruce Wayne himself. We are presented with a huge, foreboding establishment. It looks quite frankly stunning! :- scary, old, and everything else you would want it to be.

Once inside the gates, you find a world that, yes, may be built in the same way as interiors are in every single video game – namely create one gargoyle, for example, and just stick copies of that one gargoyle in as many places as is necessary – but it doesn’t matter.

As you progress throughout the asylum, the environments change, partly due to where you happen to be, but also partly to reflect where you are up to in the story. It may be a copy and paste job, but this is only noticeable if you really look for it. In general, the developers have done a solid job of hiding the cracks and presenting incredible locations to swing and sneak around in.

The beauty doesn’t stop there. They are are a talented bunch of artists at Rocksteady, and we discover just how good they are when we hit upon the character design.

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Whether it be the incredibly menacing Scarecrow, complete with syringes for finger nails, or Harley Quinn, resplendent and sexy in her slutty nurse outfit, the bad guys of Gotham have never looked so good.

Add to the mix that a good chunk of the voicing for characters throughout the game is provided by the voice actors from the animated series, and we find that these are some of the most convincing interpretations of these characters ever presented outside of paper and ink.

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“Well, you look nervous. Is it the scars? You want to know how I got ‘em?”

So what about the storyline, I hear you ask. Look, this is a videogame based on a comic book hero. The basic premise is standard comic-book fare, and as such, you have to take everything in your stride. Try to analyse too much and the whole thing falls apart in a cloud of disbelief.

Upon his return to incarceration at the aforementioned asylum, Mr Joker escapes and releases everyone, included the currently housed super-psychopaths. Immediately they set about putting a plan into action that is what we come to expect; grand plans leading to the amusement of the Joker, and the demise of the Bat-sapien.

Thankfully, the fabric of the story is woven a little finer, and with much greater aplomb than you would expect.

The game-play sits like a cross between a 3d version of Final Fight, Metal Gear Solid and a Sherlock Holmes Novel. And this is exactly how it should be. Batman, and indeed other super-heroes, aren’t just about the explosions and the fighting. Batman, even in this game, is often referred to as the master sleuth, and this is an aspect that is often criminally ignored.

The very nature of Batman means that he must stick to the shadows ,and thankfully Rocksteady have finally done justice to the source material. So, during game-play, you will be zipping around from gargoyle to gargoyle, crawling through air ducts, scanning the environment for clues and, yes, beating the crap out of multitudes thugs . The balance is just right. Enter a new room, find a high spot, and survey the room, planning how best to proceed. But what really sets this game apart is the freedom it grants you.

For example, there is a section where you enter a room. In the centre of the room is a small enclosed office. You could jump down from the ceiling, fists flailing, and hope the element of surprise will enable you to take all the guards out before the good doctor cowering in the corner is shot. Or, you could sneak around the exterior, spraying your explosive gel onto walls, before igniting them simultaneously, ensuring the resulting blast will take down the bad guys all in one go.

Set pieces are there, intricately spliced into proceedings so as not to disrupt anything. Instead of the usual boss battle that games of this ilk present, namely at the end of a particular area, B:AA springs them on you out of the blue. Your first real encounter is with the Scarecrow, and you have no idea, until he is, well, inside your head. He strikes just as you enter the morgue, and what ensues is one of the creepiest moments in video game history as you try to examine the room. The next 10 to 15 minutes are truly memorable, and as outstanding a set piece as I have ever experienced in a game.

As you progress, the challenges become more intricate, and the storyline a little deeper, ensuring that you keep your wits about you at all times.
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The Unreal 3 engine is put to fine use, once again, and helps drive a stunning looking game, whilst only occasional throwing out a touch of clipping now and then.

“I think you and I are destined to do this forever.”

The extras really shine through as well. During the course of the game, full character bio’s present themselves to you, and whilst exploring you will find audio recordings. These, when listened to, turn out to be psychiatric interviews with some of Arkhams’ more notorious residents. Wildly entertaining and informative, I suggest you take the time to listen to them.

There is no multiplayer on offer here. What we get instead is a series of challenges. Split into two separate styles, the player – using everything carried over from the single player experience – must either fight through wave after wave of increasingly difficult minions by way of leather clad fist, or stick to the shadows, stealthing your way from takedown to takedown. It is a wonderful addition, and the inclusion of online leaderboards means you can compare your efforts with your buddies.

Closing Comments

The beautiful thing about this interpretation of the Caped Crusader is that it has masses of appeal to different people. From the die-hards to the casuals, the stealth fans to the beat-em-up nuts, there is something for everyone.

Now I know some of you are wondering whether it’s a buyer or a renter, and I can’t really help you with that. It’s all down to whether this type of game normally stays in your collection for a long time, or if you plan to hammer it for a weekend and never play again. All I can assure you, is that while you are playing it, you will thoroughly enjoy it.

This is the Batman game we have all been waiting for. About time too.

Electro Candy Rating:- 9/10 An essential purchase

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