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Batman: Arkham Asylum - 360 - Review

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Posted by: Steven Hopper

Review Rating 9.5 Amazing

They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Well, for Batman fans (Batfans?), the road to heartbreak is paved with lousy video-game adaptations of the Caped Crusader. While they've ranged from sort of "Ok" (Batman: Vengeance) to flat-out garbage (Batman: Dark Tomorrow), we have yet to be treated to a great interpretation of our favorite costumed hero. That is, until now. Against insurmountable odds, the Dark Knight has finally gotten a great game based on him. Not only is Batman: Arkham Asylum the best Batman game ever, it's arguably the greatest superhero game ever to launch on consoles. Batman: Arkham Asylum fires on all cylinders, nailing all of the elements that make Batman great, from his combat proficiency and his detective skills to his stable of awesome villains, and compiling them into a game that is not only fun to play, but presents a fantastic story that any fan of the comic books will love. If you're a fan of Batman, or of action games in general, then Batman: Arkham Asylum is definitely worth a look.

In Batman: Arkham Asylum, the hero has just captured his arch villain, the Joker, and is in transit with him to the titular institution for the criminally insane. However, no sooner does the hero let him out of his sight does the Clown Prince of Crime bust free from his guards and, with the help of his always trusty sidekick Harley Quinn, begin wreaking mayhem on Arkham, taking control of it and releasing some of Batman's worst foes in an effort to break him down. Batman must them embark on a mission to restore order to Arkham and put the Joker in his place.

Batman: Arkham Asylum gets all of the elements right, beginning with combat. The game's Freeform combat system is a blast. It's easy to get into; one face button for strikes, another for combos, another for dodging, and another for stun attacks. Seems simple enough, and it is, meaning that you don't have to be an action game expert to get into it. However, as easy to grasp as the combat system is, it's still very rewarding. Pointing the thumbstick in the direction of foe causes Batman to change his attack immediately, either striking a different foe or countering an attack from another side. The end result is very fluid and feels excellently implemented, and gamers from all experiences should be easily stringing together visceral skull-cracking combos in no time.

However, there are times when you'll encounter armed foes and brute force might not be the best approach. For these moments, the game has a separate stealth combat system, which makes for some of the best and most accurate Batman moments (Batmoments? Ok, I'll stop that) in the game. You'll have to employ your grappling hook to stick to the ceilings, planning your attack from above. You'll isolate your enemies, and when the moment is right, you'll pounce, gliding down for a glide kick and knocking them out, hanging upside down and snatching them, sneaking up behind them for a silent takedown, there are several possibilities. These moments in the game were crucial to really capturing the essence of Batman and just what makes him such a terrifying force to criminals, and the game pulls it off effortlessly.

Of course, it wouldn't be Batman without those wonderful toys. Luckily, Arkham Asylum has several different gadgets that Batman can employ during the game, ranging from combat-centric items like Batarangs, objects like the Bat-claw and Explosive Gel that help you open up hidden areas, to those that hinge on his skills as a detective. Your detective view allows you to see enemies through walls, visualizing their positions, whether or not their armed, or even see what their heartbeat is and emotional state. Are they calmly guarding their post, or are they rattled by your ominous presence? The detective mode is a great way to find that out.

The Detective Mode is also quite helpful in finding the game's hidden items. There are many different objects and puzzles hidden throughout the game, placed by The Riddler, who while not present in the game per se, taunts you via your closed circuit communications device by giving you riddles to solve throughout Arkham. You'll be able to find Riddler Trophies by investigating areas as you come to them, as well as taped interviews with some of Arkham's more high-profile residents. The Riddler Challenges, however, are the coolest piece of this puzzle. Instead of being just a customary fetch quest, the Riddler Challenges are actual riddles that the player must solve by exploring the game's environments, scanning objects that would solve said riddle. Solving these riddles unlocks bios on the related characters, which gives you some background on them. These riddles are great Easter eggs for fans of the comic books, as they range from tidbits from well-known Batman villains to some downright esoteric ones. Whatever the case may be, they are very compelling and add a lot to the game's longevity, and will be something that fans of the comic will definitely want to do.

Another unlockable feature as you play are the challenge maps. You'll be able to unlock a total of sixteen of these maps, which can be pretty tough, but very fun given the game's stylish and rewarding combat system. These challenges allow you to compare scores with other Batpugilists (Ok, last one, I promise) via leaderboards, which is a nice touch to the otherwise single-player experience.

And speaking of Batman villains, the game does a phenomenal job of representing them. The game features several from the comics, including the Joker and Harley Quinn, and also Bane, Killer Croc, Poison Ivy, and Scarecrow to name a few. Each of them has been re-imagined to fit with the game's overall darker and more mature look, and boast some phenomenal art direction. The game does an excellent job of utilizing each of them to their fullest potential, and the game's Scarecrow sequence is one of the creepiest/coolest sequences I've seen in a game in a long time and totally nails the character in an innovative way.

There are a few gripes to be had in Arkham Asylum, albeit however minor. For starters, there's no HUD map on the screen, which would be a huge help considering you'll be doing quite a bit of backtracking as you move through the asylum's different areas and constantly pressing select to see your map feels like a chore. Additionally, it would've been nice to see more villains from Batman's cadre of enemies, since Killer Croc and Bane both seem to fit the same mold, as far as gameplay is concerned. However, these are awfully small issues compared to the overall picture, which is a phenomenal Batman game from start to finish.

Graphically, the game makes fine use of the Unreal Engine 3. While the engine seems to be used in more and more games these days and has lost some of its Gears of War luster, the technology does a more than ample job of handling the game's visual design, which more than takes the cake. The art direction is fantastic, with lush environments (Arkham is a fully realized place that could actually serve as an asylum as presented), and great character models.

The sound is another awesome part of the game. The music draws obvious inspiration from James Newton-Howard and Hans Zimmer's work on The Dark Knight, which is great and adds a whole new level to the game's great atmosphere, but the real winner here is the voicework. Mark Hamill's Joker is the best its ever been, trumping even his fine work on Batman: The Animated Series, effectively capturing the character's manic inflections while mixing in some more disturbing elements in line with the game's darker tone. Kevin Conroy's Batman is also here in fine form, and the supporting cast of villains and comrades is also very well acted.

Batman: Arkham Asylum is an excellent game, not only by virtue of being the best Batman game ever and a great action game, but by being a well-designed and thought-out piece of fiction that adds to the Batman mythos. If you're at all interested in Batman, then this title comes with a wholehearted recommendation.

Review Scoring Details for Batman: Arkham Asylum

Gameplay: 9.5
There is not a single-element of the Batman that this game doesn't nail, from the gadgets to the atmosphere and the combat. The action is thrilling and varied, and even the fetch quests are compelling.

Graphics: 9.5
The game makes fine use of the Unreal Engine 3, with great lighting effects and details, but the art direction is fantastic.

Sound: 9.5
Excellent music adds to the overall atmosphere, and the voicework is some of the best I've heard in a videogame.

Difficulty: Medium

Concept: 9.5
A great story and even better re-imaginings of the characters and villains, Batman: Arkham Asylum is the first example of a videogame actually adding to the overall mythos of the comic book on which its based.

Overall: 9.5
If you are at all a fan of Batman, then there is no reason why you shouldn't buy this game.

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