Review by Herugrim

Reviewed: 10/02/09

The best Batman, but still room for improvement!

Most people will tell you that there hasn’t been a good batman since the 8-bit era. Whether or not those old side scrolling beat ‘em up style games were actually any good themselves would be largely up to the gamer (personally, I always found them more frustrating then fun). While some decent games for the various animated television shows did come out, none of them really captured the feel of the character, and were really just more beat ‘em ups. Two decades have passed and DC’s biggest seller still hasn’t gotten a good game to his own name. It’s about time he did.

Drawing from many members of the critically acclaimed animated series and basing a story on one of the most popular story arcs from the comics, the game was developed by three companies (Eidos Interactive, Rocksteady Studios, and Warner Bros. Interactive) across at least five countries utilizing about a dozen existing game engines and a significant amount of tweaking, Batfans have finally gotten themselves a decent Batman game.

Sound: With several voice actors from the 90’s animated series reprising their popular roles it’s hard to go wrong in the sound department. The voice acting is good all around, and the sound effects are top notch as well. The music is dark and moody and while not as memorable as the scores from Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film, they do a great job at capturing the feel of the game.

Graphics: Batman has never looked this good! All the characters in the game are terrific updated renditions of their comic book designs. The island Arkham is built on itself oozes with personality and atmosphere, which makes a perfect premise for the conflict between Batman and his archrival the Joker. Even Batman’s appearance changes throughout gameplay. This change is scripted to certain events so it always looks the same. Still, it’s nice to see the Dark Knight’s tights get torn, his cape tattered, and even his facial hair grows. These changes are consistent in cut scenes as well (naturally, since that’s where he gets them) so by the end of the game Batman definitely looks like he’s seen better days.

Story: The most fun for me. The story as you’ve probably seen summarized is about how Batman captures Joker and takes him to the Arkham Asylum, only to find Joker springing another trap using the prison itself. Several of Batman’s old foes join the fray as an elaborate plot is unveiled along the way. The Asylum itself is the perfect setting for a Batman game themed around the Joker, a place he’s come to know as home. Overall the game has a great premise for a typical Batman story involving Joker, with all the great aspects you’d expect. It isn’t anything awe-inspiring, but it definitely meets the highest expectations.

Gameplay: Arkham Asylum features some very dynamic gameplay befitting the Dark Knight. Whether you’re brawling with a group of thugs, stealthily taking them out one by one, using various gadgets to get through otherwise impassable terrain, solving riddles, or using your advanced technology as a detective to track down your quarry. Brawling is done very well. The game advertises a smooth combat system and that’s what it is. The system itself isn’t anything new, but the designers got the timing down just right so the game doesn’t play too slow or too fast. The controls seem awkward at first because they are so different but after you adjust you realize there is a method to the madness. Just as the keys on your keyboard are not arranged in alphabetical order, the controls for the game are designed to maximize a ’user friendly’ status. Somehow those odd controls pull together to form a comprehensive and cohesive experience. For instance, there’s no jump button, but rather batman jumps automatically, saving the gamer the effort of worrying about timing and force. It’s all done for you. Truth is that this game has the best integration of martial arts seen in video gaming yet. The basic formula of being able to attack un multiple directions to fight a group and dynamic counter attacks based on the enemies and direction were already established, the designers here just found a way to make it all flow naturally.

Of course with any game that integrates so many features at once there are bound to be flaws. The stealth system, for instance, is naturally very limited. Batman can incorporate a number of his gadgets to aid him and thanks to a stealth takedown system has a number of different methods to use to clearing out a room. However that’s really the extent of it. Batman can’t interact with the environment a whole lot, restricted only to using crawl spaces and gargoyles to avoid enemy detection. You can’t rely on shadows to conceal your presence, there aren’t any objects you can hide inside, and you can’t disable enemies from a distance without using the explosive gel to set a trap up ahead of time. The stealth mechanics don’t come close to rivaling the likes of Metal Gear Solid or even Splinter Cell. Yet at the same time you are often forced to rely on stealth. This flaw can also naturally be attributed to many of the other attributes. The plat forming, although good for incorporating Batman’s various gadgets, doesn’t compare to plat forming games like Prince of Persia. Even the detective aspects, though unique and interesting, are scarce and very basic. All you do is scan an object and then follow the trail, and you only get to do it a handful of times.

The other major flaw is how the game is very linear overall. When the game wants you to brawl, it sets the thugs up in a circle so that no matter what direction you approach from one of them spots you. It doesn’t provide you with means to distract the group or to strike from the shadows, if forces you into a fist fight. The best you can do is a pre-emptive strike using a gliding kick or a ranged gadget, which at best stuns and disarms some of the thugs. When the game wants you to use stealth, it arms all the thugs with guns, and even stunning them can’t disarm them. Attacking a thug directly means attracting the attention of all the other thugs in a room and while Batman can handle one Gunman, he can’t handle any more than that. In this way the game forces you to either use action or stealth, never having a real choice between the two.

Then of course the game itself is very linear. There aren’t any choices you can make that change the story, and their aren’t any optional missions that can change the outcome of the game. Even the alternate endings only vary in one line of dialog. While the game itself is set up to be dynamic taking place on an island with parts of which you frequently have to revisit in order to progress the story, the choice is only superficial.

To end this section on a positive note, the boss battles are excellent. Each villain has his own style that requires a unique approach to the fight. Many of them aren’t fist fights at all but more like character specific confrontations. This gives each boss their own flavor and helps keep the game fresh.

Replayability: Generally a weaker point for the game. There are a series of challenge modes you can play through if you wish to experiment and test your skills further after beating the game. This is the only way to play with the only unlockable alternate costume which is the Armored Batsuit. This new costume isn’t designed after any existing Batsuit but is entirely original. However even after unlocking it you still can’t use it in story mode. Also it’s the only way to play as the Joker, who has his own set of challenges to play through and his own unique style. Given how generally linear the game is, there isn’t much reason to play through story mode again, unless you just want to experience the story itself again. Downloadable content may fix this later, but it seems unlikely.

Overall, if your looking for a good game to play as Gotham’s Dark Knight, this is it. It is by no means the definitive Batman experience, but it sets the bar for future Batman games. It’s definitely a good start for a new series, hopefully the designers decide to work on and improve the game, rather then scrap it and start from scratch again.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

Product Release: Batman: Arkham Asylum (US, 08/25/09)

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