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Batman: Arkham Asylum (PS3) Review

‘Note to self, need to order more henchmen.  Good ones, this time!’

If you listen to our little podcast, you may be aware that we (and by ‘we’ I mean ‘Keats’) have rather been looking forward to this new Batman game.  We’ve discussed the demo and rather liked it.  But does the full game live up to the praise it’s been getting?

The beginning of the game sees Batman transporting The Joker to the asylum on Arkham Island, having apprehended him recently.  However, Batman feels that Joker gave himself up too easily, and suspects he’s up to something.  Sure enough, his suspicions come true as the Joker subdues his guards and you find out that, to coin a phrase, the inmates are now running the asylum.  Your job, as Batman, is to hunt the Joker down and bring him to justice.

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Arkham Asylum is a third person action game developed by Rocksteady and published by Eidos, and was made using the most recent version of the Unreal Engine.   Graphically, this game is right up there with the best looking games of the current generation.  The environments create a lot of atmosphere, from the tall, imposing building of Arkham to the intricately detailed interiors.  Some of the little things, such as Batman’s costume getting slightly torn as you progress, are a nice touch.  As you climb up to the highest peaks of the island, you get a breathtaking view of the bright lights of Gotham City in the night.  There’s some great contrasts as well, from the dark and gritty interior of the medical facility, to the brightly coloured hues of the Joker.

The character modelling can be a mixed bag.  The likes of Batman and Commissioner Gordon look a little bit odd with their slightly large heads and shortish arms.  But then, you have the likes of Poison Ivy, who is very realistic looking.  Well, as realistic as can be expected for a woman/plant hybrid, anyway.

Possibly the greatest thing about Arkham Asylum is the sound.  The music is very atmospheric, and can really build up the tension when you are exploring the island.  It manages to be subtle, and yet simultaneously quite powerful and ominous, without ever being overbearing.  It really captures the essence of Batman perfectly.

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In addition to the superb music, the voice acting in this game is absolutely brilliant.  Arkham features a lot of the voices from the Batman animated TV series from the mid 90s, and while they were good in that series, they really ramped it up for this game.  Mark Hamill’s Joker in particular is truly excellent, switching from corny jokes and seeming cheeriness to chilling madness without a hiccup.  The way Joker talks to you over the PA system and through the various monitors and TVs as you make your way around the facility make you feel quite oppressed, as though you can’t so much as wipe your nose without The Joker knowing about it.

Between the actual story voices and the various ‘interview tapes’ scattered around the place, Rocksteady have made a fantastic job of building the characters up.  You get insights into the terrifying mindset of Zsasz, and how Harley Quinn came to work at Arkham Asylum and eventually become enamoured with The Joker.  This all adds to the terifficly written storyline through the game, where you can never be totally sure what strange and crazy things are going to happen next in Arkham.  But as brilliant as the character of The Joker is with Hamill’s voice acting, the show is truly stolen by the bizzare and creepy events that occur whenever The Scarecrow is nearby.

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So, how does it play?  Pretty darn good, actually.  This game excels at making you feel as though you aren’t just playing as Batman, but you ARE Batman.  There are essentially three major areas to the main game.  These are the free flow combat, the stealthy ‘predator’ type sections, and of course, detective mode.  The free flow combat is pure Batman, even going back to the old Adam West TV series that some of you younger pups might not remember.  Although there are no ‘Bifs’ and ‘Pows’, obviously.  You can take down a group of goons with punchs, flips, throws and take-downs.  You use your cape to stun knife wielding henchmen and then jump behind them and crack them in the back of the head, knocking them out cold.

The predator sections are probably the most fun part of the game.  You encounter a room of armed foes, and you have to use the environment and your array of gadgets to take them all out without being seen.  This is where the game truly shines, as there are so many different ways you can clear these rooms.  You can glide kick off the gargoyles littered around the rooftops, for example.  Perhaps you might be on one side of the room and see a goon moving along a walkway on the opposite side, so you grab them with your Batclaw, pull them over the ledge and off the walkway and watch them fall to their doom.  Then you can put some explosive gel on his body, and when his pals come to check on him, you can detonate it and knock them out as well.  You might find yourself tackling a room several times, just to see how many different ways you can defeat Joker’s henchmen.

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The detective mode, which seemed a little gimmicky in the demo, actually becomes a hugely invaluable tool in the full game.  Apart from seeing how many armed guards there are and trying to find wall vents and gargoyles, you can seal off crime scenes and track various DNA and scents to find out where you need to go next.  A trail even appears on your map screen so you can see where you’ve been.

The story mode is a good length, and will take up around 12 hours of your gaming time.  And once you’ve cleared that, the challenge rooms and the Riddler’s puzzles will ensure you have reasons to come back to the game, although there’s no real reason to start the story mode from scratch, save for achievements and maybe to experience the story once more.  But there is a wealth of content on your disc.

So far, so excellent.  Fantastic graphics, atmospheric soundtrack, tremendous voice acting, great gameplay.  This game has a lot going for it.  I really wanted to give this game a 10/10, but there are a couple of things that prevent me from doing that.

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First off, Riddler stuff aside, the game isn’t particularly difficult.  I played through on Normal without much struggle.  Also, apart from the Scarecrow, the boss battles aren’t all that memorable.  This is especially noticeable towards the end of the game, where the last couple of boss battles involve you fighting off a couple of Titan enhanced goons, and all could be beaten in the same way.  Also, after all the build up, the final battle with the Joker is somewhat short lived and anticlimactic.

Final Thoughts
Arkham Asylum is a Bat-fan’s wet dream.  Rocksteady have gone through the Batman mythos and pulled out as much as they could, creating what is the essential interactive Batman experience.  But even if you’re not a fan of Batman, this is a fantastically fun and brilliantly designed action game that you simply must experience.  It may even make a fan out of you.  This is more than just a great Batman game, this is a great game in it’s own right.

Find this and other PS3 reviews at Test Freaks

About Mike Jones

Mike Jones
Mike is Brutal Gamer's Indie Editor. He has been playing video games since the early 90s and is fond of racing games, puzzlers and MMOs. Typing /played while in WoW makes him cry, but not enough to stop him playing some more.

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