Review by zenandi

""I'm Batman""

First of all, I am a Batman fan. Maybe not really hardcore, but definitely a Batman fan. Secondly, as a consequence of that, note the score I've given it -- a nine, almost perfect.

And why am I pointing these two points out? Because I am going to proceed to first badmouth it... Just so you know, that at the end of the day, I am not bashing this game at all...

First of all, this is most definitely NOT a revolutionary game in the way that, say, Metal Gear Solid defined a genre, or as (the old) Resident Evil defined another. It IS, however, easily the best Batman game ever. As a game in general though, Batman's late to the party and he's bringing almost nothing new to the table...

Second thing, this game isn't really very hard or challenging.

Now there are games out there like Ninja Gaiden 2, which on its Hard mode is damn near impossible for all but the most devoted; then there are games out there that are extremely challenging but not nearly as intense (or as cheap, as some might say...) -- Devil May Cry 4 Comes to mind. And then there's Batman: AA. This game isn't even in the same neighbourhood as far as the main game's hardest difficulty is concerned.

And thirdly, on hindsight (i.e. a second playthrough), this game do many things wrong as far as replayability is concerned. For starters, despite the facade of an entire Arkham Asylum to explore, you still basically go from point A to point B, in exactly one way, without really having to do much thinking or problem solving in between... Make no mistakes -- this is well and truly an action game at heart.. And then, there's the fact that Challenge Mode aside, the main campaign has zero replay value. The 'riddles' they throw in there would have helped, except then they put a map in plain sight to turn those into 'fetch-quest'-esque chores. There is no new game plus, and so, as yet for the 360, no reason to revisit the main quest again after you beat it.

In short, while technically competent and flawless, this game is decidedly linear, repetitive on the second time through, and clearly meant for the casual.

What really makes Batman: Arkham Asylum then is the Batman prefix -- a 70-year old comic book hero, now also spanning six hollywood movies and four different actors. A timeless icon that has now finally made his mark on video games.

And it is the 'Batman' portion of it that Rocksteady has firmly got right.

In short, Batman: Arkham Asylum is a work of art and a true Batman experience. From the voice acting to the sprawling grounds of Arkham island, everything is meant to make Batman's world come to life.

Batman himself looks great, and as a nice touch, his batsuit visibly deteriorates as the rigours of this night catches up to him -- a tear in the cape there, a ripped shirt there. And apart from an overly rigid walking animation, Batman animates very well for the most parts.

You go through the game as if you're going through a gallery of Batman's lunatic adversaries -- waiting with anticipation to see which villain is going to show up next. There's Joker of course, who is the main antagonist (and his lovely sidekick), and a few others, but there are nods everywhere to villains not in the game

The story is standard comic book/cartoon fare, but engaging nonetheless, delivered variously through cutscences, intercoms, and in-game conversations.

Of course, to imply that Rocksteady did an 'average' job is to grossly insult them. No, by any standards, they have done superbly well. The game plays superbly, sounds great, and you won't have much legitimate technical complaint that you can throw at them without being accused of trying to split hairs.

Two things in particular stand out:

Their trademarked Freeflow Combat system is a joy to play. Whilst relatively straightforward and simple, the sheer fluidity with which you fight and the sheer awesomeness of Batman while you fight makes it one of the most enjoyable brawling experiences you're likely to have in any game.

The other side of the coin -- the Predator situations, which are rooms in which you need to utilize stealth and stealth takedowns to clear them out, aren't exactly difficult especially when using Batman's formidable gadgets and tools, but EXTREMELY enjoyable -- and perhaps that is the whole point: to feel as if you're firmly in control, as if you're Batman... That is, if you take your time to really mess around with your options and their heads. When you have them jumping at shadows, shooting at the slightest environmental noise, and practically BEGGING Batman to just leave them alone -- that's when you really feel like "I'm Batman."

Other than that, the pacing of the game is solid. You're never bogged down too long with something before something new comes along -- whether its the appearance of a new enemy, a new toy to play with, a new Predator situation, or *rubs hands with glee* another mass brawl. And as a bonus, there is an additional special platforming portion which, unfortunately should not be gone into too deeply lest it spoils a surprise in the game.

Additionally, there is the Challenge Mode, which will be where most of the replayability comes in. Challenge Mode is basically the equivalent of Resident Evil 5's Mercenaries mode, and its stages are even laid out in the same way. In this case, You can pick either a Combat or a Predator Mission, and you must fulfill all three criterias -- which is simply total points scored in Combat -- to pick up all three bat medals. In a way, Challenge Mode showcases Batman's abilities even better than the story itself -- Freeflow Combat is even better than the main game, because here the odds against you are much tougher, there are more punching bags, and you can simply have instant fun as and when you like. You're also almost certainly going to learn a lot more take-down tricks in the Predator challenges that never even crossed your mind in the first place. Challenge mode will impress you by showing you even more of what you never thought of even trying to do in the main game, although paradoxically, it gives you even less reason to revisit the main game, because it simply will not push you as hard, even on the Hard difficulty.

Unfortunately, the "World's Greatest Detective" part of Batman's CV isn't fleshed out at all well. And that probably would be the one biggest complaint you can have -- that everything's waaay too straightforward, especially with the spoon-feeding tool called the Detective Vision. However, that might be splitting hairs in a game already as satisfying as this.

In conclusion, as negatively as I've started my review, you cannot accuse Eidos or Rocksteady of exploiting the Batman license. As many failed attempt in the past have testified, the license does not make a good game without a good game actually being there in the first place. And if nothing else, Batman: Arkham Asylum is a superb showcase for the Caped Crusader.

Whilst not exactly challenging, it is definitely fun, and it is definitely Batman. If you're a Batman fan, this one's definitely for you.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 10/01/09

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

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