Batman: Arkham Asylum (videogame review)

Warning: this review contains a seismic amount of fanboy gushing. Those easily sickened would be better off elsewhere. You have been warned.

Holy Batman Begins! It’s a genuinely actually really good videogame starring the Dark Knight! Superman aside, it’s hard to think of a superhero property with a worse reputation where shitty videogame tie-ins are concerned. Not since the Nintendo’s Batman Returns has there been a decent Batman game. DC vs Mortal Kombat made Batboob look good, but that was a team beat em’ up as opposed to a proper Batman game, and he was hidden amongst the JLA anyway, so it wasn’t even his game.

So hopes were high for Rocksteady’s Arkham Asylum. Indeed, this Batfan/gamer hasn’t awaited a computer game so eagerly since last year’s GTA4. £40 is a lot of money to spend on a game… but Arkham Asylum is worth every penny.

The action kicks off with Batman delivering the Joker back to the titular Arkham Asylum after yet another bout of criminal escapades. In a semi-playable cutscene, you follow the Joker through Arkham as the guards take him down to his cell. And then obviously, inevitably, the Clown Prince of Crime breaks free. Soon, to coin a cliché, the inmates are running the asylum. Joker, Harley Quinn, Killer Croc, Bane and numerous others are all out to get you. What’s a Dark Knight to do?

Well, there are two main sides to the gameplay; Splinter Cell/Metal Gear Solid style sneaking about; and an arcade style beat em’ up component, which is both incredibly easy and incredibly fun to use. There’s one button to ‘strike’, one to ‘counter’, and one to ‘stun’ (largely unused, save for the more awkward enemies, who wield knives and electric baton things). While it’s a simplistic system, it works well, and takes practice – simply hammering ‘strike’ or ‘counter’ won’t get you anywhere – it’s all about the timing.

The stealth sections are a lot harder to pull off, but infinitely cool-looking when done right. Since Bats is pretty much powerless against gun-toting enemies, you have to either take them from behind (nudge nudge, wink wink, oh fuck off) or drop down on them with a nicely powerful kick to the face. These bits can be a pain in the ass, but are supremely satisfying when carried out well.

A third aspect to the gameplay has you solving riddles. The Riddler doesn’t properly appear in the game, but is more or less constantly in touch with you throughout, asking you to solve silly little puzzles like “finding Zsasz’s work” and working out whether Tommy Elliot (that’s ‘Hush’, as dedicated Bat-fans will know) ever worked at Arkham. It’s an interesting diversion, and solving the riddles unlocks a number of sharply illustrated character profiles and ‘models’.

The graphics are as good as you could ever want - particularly the character models. You’ll spend ages just circling Batman with the camera; so faithfully and impressively is he captured. Likewise, the voice acting is top notch. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprise their roles as Batman and the Joker from the Animated Series. It adds further authenticity to the proceedings.

For those of you that think Arkham Asylum has no place on a horror website, think again. Some parts of the game are actually underwear-drenchingy scary. This is one game that really earns its ‘15’ certificate.

What else? Well, there’s the gadgets, the detective vision… the cameos by less famous Arkham residents. There’s an unlockable armoured Batsuit – Arkham Asylum is packed with fanboy Bat-spunk inducing little features. In terms of geek wish-fulfilment, Arkham Asylum beats the recent Ghostbusters into the ground and buries it alongside Jason Todd.

On the flipside of the Bat-coin, there are one or two minor niggles. The plot has a slight tendency to wander into videogame-cliché territory, and the boss battles are pretty generic and uninspired. On a geekier note, I’d have liked to see a much larger range of baddies – I wanted Two-Face damn it!!! But it’s hard to make digs at a game of this quality.

The rating?


Best Batman game. Ever.

3 comments:

  1. "Hi:

    Two things

    1) I’d like your permission to (re)print your article on ‘Torchwood’for our website

    2) I was hoping we could use your ‘scribing’ talent for our website.

    The Best Shows Youre Not Watching (dot) com [all one word]
    ‘Torchwood’one of our featured shows. We’re hoping to round up a few people who can occasionally contribute perspective (via an article/blog) on the shows – maybe a recent episode, future direction, plot shortcomings etc.

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    Thanks

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  2. Excellent, yeah... I checked out your site and would love to get involved. Feel free to use the 'Torchwood' review. Hit me up at porkhead@blueyonder.co.uk if you wanna chat further.

    Cheers

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sooooooo good. I'm gonna have to go back and play this one again soon. I've never been a big gamer -- well, at least not since I was a teenager, many moons ago -- and could probably count on my hands the hours I've spent playing my son's system over the past 3 or 4 years. That said, I always have to buy these gams because I'm a lifelong Batman nerd.

    What did you think of ARKHAM CITY? I loved it too, but for some reason was just a tad disappointed. Not that there was *anything* wrong with the story/art/etc itself, as it was undoubtedly awesome, but I think I was a little let-down because because I expected it to last longer than it did. When it was suddenly over, I was thinking I was only about halfway through the story!

    Have you got the new game yet? ORIGINS, I think it's called?


    J.N.
    http://www.james-newman.com

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