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Submitted by Gwynne Dixon on August 21 2009 - 18:52

Eidos and Rocksteady Studios emerge from the Batcave with Arkham Asylum...

Pros
  • Great Story & Characters
  • Well Polished Production
  • Plenty Of Content
Cons
  • Straightforward Puzzles
  • Combat Lacks Depth
  • Not For Stealth Purists

We could fill this intro paragraph with some gumpf about the innumerable awful Batman games that litter the annals of videogame history - can Arkham Asylum buck the trend etc.? We could, but we won't. It will only waste valuable time, so we'll cut right to the chase and tell you that Batman: Arkham Asylum isn't one of these games. Even if we expand the search to all superhero games, we're struggling to think of a title in recent times that comes close to the level of quality exhibited here by Rocksteady Studios and Eidos.

At its heart, Arkham Asylum is a hack 'n slash game, which is a genre that has two fundamental gameplay tenets at its core: puzzles and combat. Put another way, poor hack 'n slashers usually fall down on at least one of these two areas, if not both. Great hack 'n slash titles, on the other hand, excel at both (i.e. God of War). The curious thing about Arkham Asylum is that combat and puzzles are not where it excels. It's not that there's anything wrong with either one - both gameplay devices are thoroughly competent throughout - It's just that they're not the elements that shine through.

It's All In The Details

Instead, aspects of the game such as its story, characters, hidden items, inventory, and set-pieces are what set it apart from the rest. Other hack 'n slash titles will often gloss over features like these, treating them as little more than padding, but Arkham Asylum embraces them. As a result, well observed touches are poured all over the periphery of this game, raising it from an above average title to one that lies somewhere on the border between very good and superb.

Some of the boss battles, for example, are nothing short of excellent. Certain embargos forbid us from telling you about the very best examples of this in the game (which is a good thing, as it would be one hell of a spoiler), but suffice to say that the gameplay and story twists that Rocksteady Studios throws at the gamer through these sections are inspired - they're right up there with Psycho Mantis' tricks in the first Metal Gear Solid game.

Other set-pieces that particularly stand out are the stealth sections in Arkham Asylum. Our fears at the preview stage were that these sections might suffer from two-dimensional AI and overly rigid principles, such as Batman's ability to disappear from the enemy's sight simply by mounting a gargoyle statue. Having played through the game, we can now say that although the principles are rigid, this is by no means a bad thing. It's actually what makes the experience fun, which may not be for stealth purists but we'll bet good money that most gamers will enjoy it.

It's true that the AI is a little bit plain in the game's stealth portions, but to say that it's broken would be far from the truth. At first, a lack of variation in the stealth dynamics does make the AI's deficiencies painfully obvious, although upgrades made available further down the line remedy this problem. These include the ability to tie up bad guys and leave them hanging from a tether (confusing other enemies in the process), or a sonic Batarang that captures the attention of asylum inmates and let's you lure them into traps. By the end of the game, Batman has all the stealthy tricks to toy with hordes of henchman, which is when the game really takes off in this regard.

In addition to the sonic Batarang, there are a range of other upgradeable gadgets to get to grips with throughout the game, whether it's one that spurts out explosive gel or another that uses a nifty thumbstick mini-game to power-down electrified doors. Each one makes you feel more like The Dark Knight himself, which is perhaps the ultimate aim of a Batman game after all. These gadgets are also pretty useful for uncovering hidden items across Arkham, of which there are literally hundreds, from trophies dished out by The Riddler to mysterious memorial stones for the asylum's founder, Amadeus Arkham.

These items don't merely unlock cursory concept art and stale character bios though, as paying close attention to them uncovers oodles of depth underneath the game's surface. Usually we don't have much time for the way these story branches are dished out in games, via a lump of badly written text that pops up on screen when you uncover a letter or some such. In Arkham Asylum's case though, they're dished out through voice clips, such as records of psychiatric sessions with the game's supervillain inmates or the tragic side story of Amadeus Arkham told from beyond the grave by the founder himself.

All of this serves to immerse gamers in the world further beyond the stunning visual depiction of Arkham itself, which is without doubt the best use of Unreal Engine 3 technology outside of an Epic game. Snappy dialogue for the game's characters is then expertly provided by perfect-for-the-job script writer Paul Dini, while Mark Hamill's role reprisal as The Joker couldn't be more spot-on. It all adds up to a story, characters, and setting that are darker than The Bat himself, which is far more than we could have hoped for (most Batman games veer more towards the corny superhero image, as if they were pictures on the front of a cereal box).

But while all of these supplemental features are far beyond what most games manage to muster, the rudimentary gameplay also flows strongly alongside this and is paced well enough that the game rarely becomes repetitive. Combat is simplistic but manages to avoid the rigmarole of button mashing that the genre is plagued by with the application of a rhythmic system for attacks. A multiplier is ratcheted up with well-timed, chained attacks on the X button or counter attacks on the Y button, while a range of Takedown moves can then be used to finish off an enemy. Upgradeable finishing moves, which can be dished out once a certain amount of chained hits are achieved, then become available as the game progresses.

Simple, But Effective

The combat really is that simple, although widely varied animations that flow well between each attack do make the system feel much more dynamic than it would otherwise have been. In all fairness though, the system is a lot more fitting of Batman's character than one that would have him doing triple-whipspin Batarang attacks by pressing X, X, X, Y, B, as is often the case in lesser hack 'n slash games. Nonetheless, we'd like to have seen more variation in the enemies we faced throughout the game. Rocksteady Studios attempts to up the ante too many times by simply throwing more enemies at you rather than different types that require varying approaches. Beyond the game's basic henchmen, enemies don't get much more varied than a knife or cattle prod wielding bad guy, so a little more spice could've been added by Rocksteady here. Occasional mini-bosses pumped with a drug called Titan do remedy this problem to a degree in the game's later stages though.

Puzzle solving is then dealt with through the game's Detective Mode, which is initiated with the left bumper and casts an X-ray style filter over the environment. Through this filter, gamers can pickup everything from DNA and fingerprint trails left by supervillains and those they have kidnapped, to electronic panels that can be fiddled with to open doors or kick-start ventilator shaft fans. With that in mind, we've got to say that we haven't seen the plot device of a ventilator shaft being hammered to quite such an extent since the Alien movies. Batman is invariably locked out of pretty much everywhere in Arkham Asylum and asks with almost comical repetition when this happens, "There must be another way in, there always is." Could that be a ventilator shaft by chance? Almost invariably in this game's case, yes.

Puzzles rarely move beyond this level of challenge and whenever you do get stuck in a section, it's usually just because you've failed to notice the interactive object emblazoned in orange through the Detective Mode filter. Arkham Asylum isn't the sort of game that'll amaze you with brainteasers and tricky environmental challenges in the way that games such as the Price of Persia trilogy, God of War series, and Lara Croft's various adventures manage. However, like all Arkham Asylum's other features, these puzzles are interspersed well enough with different types of gameplay to keep the pace ticking along and avoid a brain numbingly repetitive experience.

The single-player campaign's length clocks in far beyond the 10 hour mark and will likely take around 15 hours for most gamers to play through. In addition to this, the sheer volume of items dotted around the game world and the various ways to get at them (it's almost reminiscent of LEGO: Batman in this way), make multiple play-throughs more appealing than most other games. Once all of that's done and dusted, a Challenge mode with online leaderboards then extends Arkham Asylum's impressive lifecycle, making it a more than worthy purchase.

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  • Graphics: 93%
     
  • Sound: 92%
     
  • Gameplay: 87%
     
  • Originality: 88%
     
  • Longevity: 84%
     
Overall Score: 8/10
Batman: Arkham Asylum is by far and away the best hack 'n slash game so far this year and, judging by the list of games still to come before Christmas, it'll more than likely retain that accolade at the end of the year as well. More importantly though, it triumphs where most other superhero games and other types of licensed action games fail: it makes you feel like the lead character. It makes you feel like The Batman.

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By: Anonymous

Added:Fri 01st Oct 2010 23:59, Post No: 43

ive got no idea how the batman universe goes and i bought the game coz i thought it would be good 
but little things like swinging from gargoyle to gargoyle without the henchman not being able to hear him swing considering they are moving about in absolute silence.


By: SegaBoy

Added:Fri 25th Jun 2010 15:01, Post No: 42

I don't think it's bad, but it's certainly not 'as' good as some people made it out to be.  Probably the best Batman since the 1986 Speccy classic.


User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Fri 25th Jun 2010 14:06, Post No: 41

this game is rubbish. yea it looks good, but im 4 hours in and im bored of its clunky controls nad pressing X all day. Maybe i just don't like Batman.


User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Fri 02nd Oct 2009 04:05, Post No: 40

This game is not a 'Hack and Slash.' I will admit, the controls can be repatative at times; however, trying to use different combos and different abilities to defeat your enimies is part of the fun. Using the Explosive Gel was one of my favorite ways to knock out some of the unsuspecting henchmen. Also many of the reviewers are saying that the detective mode and the riddles are destracting, I beg to differ. In my opinion, the Riddler's Challage was a great addition to the game. It allows one to test their knowledge of the Batman universe. I personally loved them. This game was phenominal, especially for a 'fanboy' such as myself. 9/10


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By: Anonymous

Added:Sat 19th Sep 2009 00:24, Post No: 39

how do you find the bat cave ? where is it?

 


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By: Anonymous

Added:Sat 12th Sep 2009 19:26, Post No: 38

To post number 32 obiviously you have not really played the game if you think just pushing the same buttons over will get you past hard mode.  I mean the control scheme is simple, but use it to the full extent is kind of hard.  If you play normal or easy then you use the same [#@!?] over and over, but if you play hard you pretty much have to use most of batman ablities and use you brain more to defeat the baddies.  I mean yes the bosses were kind of repeative, and i was kind of expecting more villians seeing how this is arkham asylum, and you didn't get to drive the batmobile.  And the biggest disappointment no joker on the 360 :(, but overall it was good game and good story i would have gaven it a 8 1/2


By: Arc1991

Added:Sat 12th Sep 2009 09:26, Post No: 37

woops =| soz bout tha people, it sed it didnt send =S 


By: Arc1991

Added:Sat 12th Sep 2009 09:25, Post No: 36

 

jesus christ, whats happend to this site in 2 weeks =| nearly every anom has took a dose of retard juice =| 

arkham asylum is just a game yet u all tlk about it like its a god! yeh its a good game, but as most games, its took things people have done and just made it better =S along with adding a few new features to stealth based games. 

at the end of the day a review is someones opinion, y dont u try and review a game and give it a ten? im telling ya, ull get a loadsa comments how its shud be a 8-9 =)

 


By: Arc1991

Added:Sat 12th Sep 2009 09:25, Post No: 35

Jesus christ, whats happend to this site in 2 weeks =| nearly every anom has took a dose of retard juice =| 

 

arkham asylum is just a game yet u all tlk about it like its a god! yeh its a good game, but as most games, its took things people have done and just made it better =S along with adding a few new features to stealth based games. 

at the end of the day a review is someones opinion, y dont u try and review a game and give it a ten? im telling ya, ull get a loadsa comments how its shud be a 8-9 =)

By: Arc1991

Added:Sat 12th Sep 2009 09:23, Post No: 34

Jesus christ, whats happend to this site in 2 weeks =| nearly every anom has took a dose of retard juice =| 

 

arkham asylum is just a game yet u all tlk about it like its a god! yeh its a good game, but as most games, its took things people have done and just made it better =S along with adding a few new features to stealth based games. 

 

at the end of the day a reveiw is someones opinion, y dont u review it, give it a ten, and see how many people start harrasin ya cause im tellin ya, not everyone will be happy with that =)


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