Batman: Arkham Asylum Review
An amazing superhero game distinguished by an enjoyable story with some nice stealth action and free flowing melee combat.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is a remarkable game, the delivery of the story and pacing of combat and puzzles is first class. The game features elements of stealth, melee combat, puzzle solving and some simple platforming. The story briefly follows you as Batman who has finally captured the Joker and has taken him to Arkham Asylum. Unfortunately the capture seems to have been all part of the Joker’s plan and he has something more sinister in store and you will need to ensure he doesn’t follow through with it. Of course Askham Asylum is home of some of the worst villains in the Batman universe who aren’t just spectators in this tale. Batman is definitely characterised well by its stealth gameplay, smooth combat animations and the wonderful characterisation of the most recognised of Batman’s enemies. The game takes place on Arkham island and you will travel to various locations in the Asylum to stop Joker before he completes his master plan. As the Bat you will have batarangs, remote explosives, and grapples along with a few other tricks at your disposal to complete your task. You will be able to use detective mode in order to solve puzzles and enhance your vision. The Riddler has placed many puzzles across the island for you to find and you can unlock various weapons and enhancements. One of the best assets of the game however is the story and how it unfolds before the players very eyes.
The great script and pacing are complemented very nicely with the awesome characters from the Batman universe. The characters are so wonderfully voiced and written that it feels amazing to be the Batman in amongst all the action. The story builds upon itself and really manages to feel like an epic comic book type adventure which you are very much in the middle of it. The Joker and Harley Quinn are the main contenders that bring this great game to life. They will be seen on video monitors early on talking to you, making jokes and taunting you throughout the game. These videos are seen less as the game progresses but the commentary remains fairly consistent. In combat scenarios the Joker will often talk about the action as you take out enemies silently. Of course there are some other great characters to be included here. The Scarecrow is used surprisingly well as he uses his chemicals to alter your perception and attempt to destroy you in a series of well presented mind games. Poison Ivy makes a later appearance in the game but maintains a fairly memorable spot in the overall story. There are also quite a few nods to popular villains in the Batman universe, which indicate quite strongly a sequel will be on the way with some of those characters on board. There are some sections of the game where you talk to guards or doctors, these parts seem quite a lot less interesting and don’t fit well with the rest of the outstanding cast of characters. Thankfully not just the story is superb, the stealth action also brings out the very best of Batman as he strikes from the shadows.
Many of the key action areas in the game seem to be focused on stealth tactics. You job is to take out enemies without being seen and doing this one by one is generally quite effective. If you are good enough with your gadgets multiple enemies can be successfully taken out but it’s risky. There is some very smooth combat animation in work, this includes takedowns from gargoyle heads, or incapacitating grunts from behind. Many cases you can position yourself above grunts for a glide kick which proves satisfying throughout the game. You will need to avoid the direct approach and instead use cover or conveniently placed gargoyles to strike when the timing is right. They have almost perfectly captured the striking from the shadows aspect of Batman. The AI will move about, sometimes spreading out, other times grouping together and will be concerned as you take on their friends one by one. They will communicate with each other giving you some indication of their intentions, or fears, but patience results in rewards in these sections. As the game progresses more enemies will have knives or shock sticks, and then later more will have assault rifles which are very dangerous to the bat. To even add more variety to the combat the grunts will have collars on them, once a grunt has been taken out the collars activate a laugh sound a short time later indicating to the rest of the guys that somebody has been taken out. This changes the combat as it progresses but is also useful for setting traps, using your remote explosives to take out more grunts as they come to investigate. Although many of the action sections are stealth orientated there is quite a bit of hand to hand combat spread in between.
The melee combat with Batman is fast, energetic and hard to master. One of the earliest things you will notice is just how well done the combat is, very smooth animations and quite free flowing. The fist combat starts off fairly basic, you’ll be fighting against a few goons with no weapons and only really need to block attacks and attack them back. Soon you will be fighting against enemies with knives and electric batons which brings added danger to the scenarios. This means is you cannot directly block attacks and cannot directly attack them you will need to position yourself via dodging or use something like a batarang or grapple pulls to give yourself an avenue to attack them. You will have various takedown moves and can throw enemies mid combat. Related to the story is the implementation of the very large mutated melee enemies who are often grouped with the normal sized grunts. These guys take on a different role to the others as they charge, hit very hard and throw bodies around. To defeat them you must avoid direct attacks but can also grab hold of their necks and control their heavy swings to do damage to others after you knock them about a bit. This slight change in the pacing actually freshens up the combat. Although tough they pose a nice reward when you dominate them and control their swings to knock out some of the smaller guys. When they are grouped together with many other normal sized grunts you will need to be careful with every move and direct the big enemy charges into groups to help you out. Although I managed to get through the game fairly satisfactorily on normal mode I never felt completely confident in my ability to work the combat without mistakes. Another issue for me was that on the PC the space bar is used many things - running, climbing, dropping, dodging and occasionally it did betray my real intentions. The game also introduces a few other ideas above the standard combat and story telling.
The game isn’t just about combat and a good story; it also distributes Riddler puzzles, detective mode challenges and some simple platforming elements. Platforming in general is mostly about using the grapple to ascend, but there is also gliding with your cape and using a zip line to travel a horizontal distance. It’s not a heavy platforming game, the existing elements feel relatively natural and not a separate sub game. Part of this platforming is also included in the combat, when you are taking out armed guards in the towers or on gargoyles for example, plus floating with your cape from high above the island is pretty cool almost every time you do it. Detective mode is used as part of the story in order to track enemies or friendlies. This basically means you scan an area for a particular chemical, such as alcohol, and then this chemical is highlighted in the world for you to follow. There is nothing incredibly amazing to it; basically it’s just a really clever way to avoid using unnatural arrows and making the breadcrumbs part of the world rather than taking you out of it. The detective mode also shows enemies through walls via x-ray type vision, although this makes normal vision very inferior taking away some of the presentation. Finally the Riddler, who doesn’t actually make an appearance in the game, has left lots of puzzles across the island to find. Maps will reveal their locations but you will be given a list of items in your menu to find or complete. These can range from destroying blabbermouth teeth, lining up question mark symbols, or finding question marks trophies. Finally many of the combat scenarios in the game (both stealth and hand-to-hand) can be repeated via challenge modes outside the story mode. Your goal here is to take out grunts quickly in the case of stealth, or score high combo points when engaging in melee combat. This element would be very enjoyable for those that really feel on top of the combat. Although most of the game is enjoyable there are some situations that recur a little too much.
Repetition is perhaps Batman’s worst enemy in the game and at times they push the limits of how often something can be done before you get sick of it, especially early on. The game tries to minimize the amount of repetition by changing things in subtle ways, or giving you access to new gadgets. Apart from the storyline the gameplay can be quite formulaic at times with no real surprises to the standard stealth gameplay. There is some backtracking throughout the world; you will go into some locations more than once or twice. The combat scenarios and the detective tricks seem to be most repeated among other things. Very early on the vent system is almost abused, you’ll be in and out or more vents than you can count. Essentially they are just means of getting to other locations because doors have been locked shut but the process of actually opening a vent can get occasionally tiring. Thankfully the latter half of the game these vents become much more optional alternative routes or places for Riddler to hide his question marks. This is also paired with a few early tasks that are repeated for no real reason and it felt almost like padding. In fact once you get passed the first scarecrow mind game the game seems to start picking up. Even though the story and dialog is generally great at times it is brought down a notch or two when the characters repeat the exact same line just 10 seconds previously. Recording a variety of lines would probably have made the whole presentation almost perfect. The little tricks they implement to minimize obvious repetitive sequences will be enough for many, but most should notice similarities.
Batman: Arkham Asylum does an excellent job representing the Batman universe and the villains in it with some outstanding voice work. It also manages to implement a wonderfully colourful story that will give everybody a few chuckles. The stealth action and hand to hand combat are both satisfying and distributed nicely throughout the Asylum with good pacing in between. The main villain boss fights aren’t too long and generally aren’t complex or demanding physically. Dream sequences with Scarecrow are nicely done and immediately bring variety to the world you are in. The story seems to continually improve as it reaches the climax with a fairly satisfying conclusion that should leave people smiling just because they were a part of it. It’s clear that a sequel to this game will be fast tracked with some more famous villains from the universe that were hinted at through the game. There are really only a few minor issues with repetition which does seem to decrease in the second half of the game. Batman Askham Aslyum is very much worth picking up, the game will keep you interested from start to finish. The presentation through sound and visuals is clearly first class and it’s certainly one title you shouldn’t ignore this year.