The end of summer is not typically where gamers find AAA titles being released, but this year we have a somewhat of a rarity in the form of Batman Arkham Asylum. UK-based developer Rocksteady has delivered a truly outstanding game easily worthy of Game of the Year consideration. The game opens with Batman bringing the Joker back to his padded cell on at Arkham, and within minutes of the Joker’s arrival he is on the loose and the phrase “the inmates are running the asylum” comes to pass in short order. Those familiar with the fiction it is based on will be happy to know that the best villains in Batman’s rogue’s gallery are here to menace the Caped Crusader as well. Some of these appearances are more memorable than others for certain, but overall each villain is used effectively and makes sense in the overall plot. Perhaps most importantly, those familiar with Batman The Animated Series will be happy to know that Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamil reprise their roles as Batman and the Joker in the game. Hamil’s performance makes playing the game a pure joy, whether its listening to the Joker berate his henchman over the asylum PA, or taunting Batman directly, the Joker is perfectly played.
From a design standpoint it is clear that Rocksteady took great care during this development process. The world of Arkham Asylum is beautifully realized. It is clear from the outset that this is indeed an Unreal Engine game. Everything in the world has a shine and grime that truly makes you feel as though you are in an asylum for the criminally insane. If you’ve played any other Unreal Engine game, Gears of War as a prime example, the character designs here are right from the same mold. Batman could best be described as thick when looking at the character model. The strength and power that the Dark Knight exhibits during combat seems realistic and feels right. I couldn’t help however but to double-take when Batman raises his right hand to his ear a-la-Marcus Fenix in Gears when he uses his radio, but this was more of an irony than an actual complaint. Interestingly enough, in comparison to Batman’s thickness, the Joker is thin and wiry, but no less menacing.
As a third-person action game, having a fun and effective combat system is obviously a priority. Rocksteady has adapted Batman’s martial prowess into a simple to use but difficult to master combat system. At its simplest, mashing the X button (on 360) can dispatch most foes with relative ease. However when the game presents you with multiple enemies, sometimes numbering as many as 20, much more care must be exhibited by the player. The game’s counter system in the hands of a truly skilled player. combined with the rest of Batman’s arsenal of toys like Batarangs and the Batclaw, can result in a situation where Batman dispatches an entire horde of enemies without taking any damage. A combo scoring system is also in play during combat situations and provides batman with experience points for upgrading the Dark Knight’s arsenal, as well as granting the ability to perform special attacks when requisite combo levels are attained. The combat system is not perfect and some could argue that it is too simple, a criticism oft-levied against Assassin’s Creed, but unlike AC I find that Arkham Asylum’s combat holds up much better over the duration of the game.
The other major aspects of Arkham Asylum highlight Batman’s other skills, the first of which is that Batman is truly the world’s greatest detective. Tapping the right bumper at any time will activate Detective Mode which shifts the world into a blue-hued vision mode that highlights various points of interests and other critical information. The other main advantage of Detective Mode is that it allows you to see enemies through walls. This ability can be used to tremendous effect during the games stealth segments. These sections of the game pit Batman against foes armed with automatic weapons and often in situations where detection will cost hostages their lives. These sections are almost more enjoyable than the combat experienced in the rest of the game because of how well designed these segments are. In addition to his combat moves, Batman has an entire repertoire of tricks and toys he can use to take down his foes without them even knowing he is there.
Batman must truly be experienced to be fully appreciated. I mentioned at the beginning of the review that this game should be a Game of the Year contender and I stand by that opinion. However I can almost guarantee that most reviewers will overlook this game when GOY discussions simply because of how backloaded this year is with other blockbuster AAA titles (an issue I will address in a later article). Batman Arkham Asylum is a must buy and easily the best Batman game ever released. The single player story took me around 10 hours to complete, but completionists will easily be able to get another 10-15 hrs of enjoyment out of the game trying finding all of the collectibles in the game as well completing all of the challenge rooms. If you have any doubt about this game I recommend trying the demo for the game which is available on both Xbox Live and Playstation Network. Please feel free to leave comments or ask any other questions about this review