STAFF REVIEW of Batman: Arkham Asylum (Xbox 360)

Thursday, August 27, 2009.
by Adam Dileva

Batman: Arkham Asylum Box art Everyone knows the caped crusader Batman and his arch nemesis The Joker. Unfortunately in the past, there have been many Batman games that really haven?t brought the true feel and atmosphere of the DC comics? Dark Knight very well. Rocksteady studios brings us a third person action-stealth game starring you as the man himself; the infamous Batman.

Even if you aren?t a huge Batman fan or don?t know an in-depth history of the lore, this should not dissuade you in any way as the game does an ample service of giving you all the information you?ll ever need to get your head wrapped about the environments and characters. There is so much back-story here that it even will give you history on many of Batman?s enemies that aren?t even in the game psychically.

The Arkham Asylum in the title comes from the famous psychiatric hospital that doubles as a jail for the most criminally insane located in Gotham. Located on a secluded island, almost all of Batman?s nemeses has been caught and barred up here at some point.

Obviously Batman and Joker are the most important characters in this story, so there needed some insurance that whoever voiced them would know how to do it and do it properly. All fears were put to rest once Kevin Conroy (Batman) and Mark Hamill (Joker) were signed on for the project. These were the voice actors who played these same roles on the much loved Batman Animated Series. Even Arleen Sorkin was hired to also do her role as Harley Quinn again.

This said; the voice acting in Batman Arkham Asylum easily takes the top rank as the best feature about this game; I seriously never got tired of hearing Joker say his nuances throughout the course of the game. Harley also does an amazing job in her role throughout and should not be down played in any way. The soundtrack to the game fits perfectly with the dark ambient setting and extreme detail has been given to the smallest things such as flickering light bulbs that set the mood incredibly to match the acting.

The whole story takes place in the famous Arkham Asylum and this is where inmates were used as guinea pigs for experiments (though some doctors will argue it was treatment) and many of the secret taped recordings you find throughout give much back-story to even the buildings? area itself.

The story starts off with Batman bringing the Joker in cuffs to Arkham as he was just caught; although all too easily. Batman delivers The Joker to the staff and just when the timing is right and Batman is not near, The Joker breaks free from his shackles and essentially starts a riot by releasing all the inmates from their cells.

Chaos ensues and Batman is left to chase down Joker by himself throughout the huge maze that is the Asylum. It turns out that Joker wanted to be captured and has been planning this trap for months and Batman just sprung it upon himself. It?s an extremely elaborate plan that always keeps the Dark Knight two steps behind Joker as he tries to track him down. As you progress the story becomes much more in-depth and fleshed out when you find Joker?s reasoning, but I?ll leave the spoilers elsewhere as I really did enjoy the tale as a whole.

The story is a completely new and original and was actually written by Paul Dini who is famous for writing the stories for the Batman the Animated Series itself. Because the medium of Arkham Asylum is a video game and not a Saturday morning cartoon, the direction has been taken to a much darker place and a grittier Batman story and cast. While some of the cast from the Animated Series have reprised their roles, this is a very mature themed Batman that follows much more closely to the darker themed graphic novels.

As mentioned before, this game is an action-stealth genre with action being the emphasis. Batman will be using his fists to defeat foes the majority of the time and because this is how most of the combat is done, Rocksteady took notice of how important it is to have controls that are easy enough to pick up but something still challenging to master.
Combat is uncomplicated with ?X? being your attack, ?Y? being counter, and ?B? is Batman?s cape stun move. As you string together attacks, your combo meter fills and if you keep it going you earn a bigger experience bonus which will eventually net you upgrades in your choosing from new attacks, new gadgets and health upgrades.

While you can get away with button mashing, it?s much more rewarding to get the perfect timing and string together your combos with attacks and counters. You feel very powerful when you take down a group of henchmen surrounding you and truly do feel like Batman.

As you progress through the institution, you will happen upon small groups of enemies usually 4 to 8 at a time. As you defeat them, you traverse forward until you meet the next group and finish them off before repeating the process over again. It does feel a little mundane and basic at times, but the pacing between combat, platforming, puzzle solving, and stealth is blended in very well that will make the hours fly by; as you keep wanting to get to the next area.

One reason that many people can relate to Batman is that he has no super powers, he is simply a normal human being that has made himself extremely disciplined and always at the peak of his abilities. Because he has no super powers, Batman relies on his gadgets and detective work and Arkham Asylum gives players many of the Dark Knight?s gadgetry to use on his quest to stop Joker from destroying Gotham.

Batman?s skills usually get overlooked when it comes to his detective abilities and these skills come into play for much of the tale. Sometimes you?ll scan an area for clues of where to go next, or following the trail of someone?s fingerprints.

The other part of the game is the stealth and detective work that is used from Batman?s gadgets. As the game begins you only have access to your simple Batarang and your Zipline to grapple onto higher ledges. As you progress you will come across more of Batman?s tools to make hunting Joker much easier.

As you Zipline up to higher areas (usually gargoyles) along the wall, enemies will not be able to see you unless they watched you zip to it. This is where much of the stealth gameplay comes in, as you can do an inverted takedown should someone walk underneath you and hang them upside down to take them out. One issue I had with Ziplining was that when you are caught and have enemies shooting at you, getting away was simply too easy; as you swing from one gargoyle to the next, it only took 2 or 3 swings for them to completely lose track of me which felt a little too unrealistic.

When sneaking up behind someone and doing a stealth takedown just won?t work, this is where the Gadgets come into play. The first is your Batarang, but eventually you can unlock a Multi-Batarang which will eventually let you lock onto 3 targets at once and knock them all down so you can swoop in and finish them off. You?ll also eventually have a remote control Batarang at your disposal that can be moved anywhere you want in a first person view once thrown; this makes hitting those far away enemies very simple when you can?t normally lock on.

Explosive Gel is another gadget you will be using for a good portion of the later half that is able to be sprayed onto any surface and then remotely detonated. If this is sprayed on a weak or cracked wall, it will completely blow a hole through it. Setting traps with Gel is always good fun as you can lure in inmates into your trap and then watch them fly in the explosion.

The Caped Crusader?s Batclaw will allow him to hook onto gates and yank it down so that he can then Zipline up with ease. Eventually this will be upgraded into the Ultra Batclaw and it will shoot 3 hooks and also be able to bring down structurally-weak walls as well. Using this on a group of enemies is also fun to yank them off ledges or bring them closer to you for a quick pounding.

The last major Gadget you?ll receive is the Line Launcher and this allows Batman to cross very distant (but horizontal) areas. As you slide across, you?ll also kick anyone in your way and it?s the fastest way to cover a long distance if useable in that area.

Easily though, the most useful tool Batman has in his repertoire is his Detective Mode; this is an X-ray mode that allows Batman to see almost like night vision, but will give much more info any anything he is looking at. Enemy locations can be seen through walls along with their heart rate and if they are carrying any weapons so that you can plan your attack ahead of time. Secrets like grates that can be pulled off or walls that can be blasted stand out in the blue-ish tint to make it much easier to sometimes figure out where you need to go next.

The only issue I had with Detective Mode is that unfortunately, there is simply no real reason you would ever want to turn it off. Having it off will make things much more difficult and you will miss a huge portion of the secrets without it; which is a shame because the environment and art is so wonderfully done that it?s never really admired do to always having your X-ray vision on.

Joker isn?t going to make things easy for you to capture him, so of course he has an almost unlimited amount of henchmen to stand in the way of Batman and his downfall. The majority of the enemies you fight will be your standard thugs that will fight you unarmed or sometimes with a pipe. These aren?t even really a threat even when you are outnumbered 10 to 1. When the enemies have knives or tasers, this is where combat has to be a little more precise.

When an enemy is about to attack you, you can see a little icon above their head to show that you should press the counter button to nullify their attack; if it?s blue it means it is just an unarmed thug that will give you no trouble. Now if that icon is red, that means they have a weapon and you can potentially hurt yourself with a normal attack; for these guys you need to either stun them with your cape before attacking or dodge and attack them from behind.

I don?t expect your low level thugs to have the smartest strategies, but sometimes the AI doesn?t even pick up on me doing a Silent Takedown to his buddy 5 feet away and somehow he doesn?t notice. This goes back to where I said about enemies losing track of you so easily when you swing away when there is no way they should have lost track of you.

Batman wouldn?t be Batman without a plethora of super villains to constantly combat against either; and Joker has spared no expense and gathering some of Batman?s greatest counterparts to stop him in his tracks.

Most notably you have Harley Quinn who seems to enjoy giving Batman an extremely hard time in everything he does, Bane who is famous for being the one that broke Batman?s back years ago and Killer Croc who will have you in the sewers as he hunts you down.

There are more, such as Scarecrow; which I have to separate from the others simply because the sequences where you interact with him in the game is probably the most interesting and awesome experience I?ve played in quite some time in any game. You also have Poison Ivy who tries taking over the Asylum with her plants and of course last but not least; The Joker who will stop at nothing to kill Batman and take over Gotham City. A couple of the bosses you actually don?t even truly fight, as it?s all about the chase and getting to them, which was a little disappointing in the end.

You may notice that I?ve not mentioned other famous villains of the Bat like Mr. Freeze, The Riddler, Penguin, and Two Face; this is because they aren?t physically in the game, but just because they aren?t included doesn?t mean that they aren?t a part of the story or lore. There is quite a substantial amount of info on some characters that may not appear in the game through audio interview tapes you collect or at least a profile page in your journal.

As you progress through the story, you will come across Riddler challenges that will have you hunting all over Arkham back to front, and since there are 240 to be found, you will be looking for quite some time. Many aren?t even attainable until you have all of your Gadgets and are very well hidden (think of these as the Pigeons in GTA IV). There are also many interview tapes to be found along with quite a few other secrets that will have a completionist wandering around for quite a few extra hours to find it all.

If you?ve completed the campaign or simply want a break from your detective work, there are also 16 Challenge Rooms accessible from the main menu. Half of these are combat based and the others are stealth combat.

With the combat rooms, you are faced off against a few enemies and as you defeat them, a new wave of enemies will appear but they will be more in numbers and usually upped a difficulty (given weapons for example). Your score is based on your combos, time, and preciseness and although none of these were challenging to complete, the challenge lies in getting the high score.

The stealth challenges are slightly different, where every enemy has a gun and if you get spotted, you will not last long indeed. So you must perch up high on the gargoyles and wait for your opportune moment to strike. Scores are based on your efficiency and if you are spotted at all. The later challenges of these are quite difficult as you are not given any gargoyle perches to use (they are there, but will explode when you use them).

Every map has a leader board that can be filtered down to just your friends if you wish. The only improvement I would have made on this system is that I would have loved if I would have been able to download and watch the ghosts of the top players to see exactly how they got their impressive scores and times.

Should you be a huge Batman fan and have the spare cash, there is also a Collector?s Edition available for around $30 to $40 more and comes with a few interesting extras not included with a regular edition. The first being an extra challenge map that is exclusive to the Collector?s Edition. The code for the download of the Crime Alley Challenge Map actually comes on the back of the Batman logo sticker included inside. I actually had to look online how to access the extra map as it never occurred to me to look on the back of the sticker when I was unpacking everything. The challenge map itself is actually nothing special other than being set in an alley. There are no special occurrences or enemies or anything that really sets this apart which was quite disappointing.

There is a second disc that comes in the game case that is your standard making-of behind the scenes of the game. It does have some interesting info and footage, but there really wasn?t too much outside of what I expected and I wish there was more real behind the scenes stuff like the voicing over sessions or game design. It was broken into 5 different segments and was entertaining to watch and get some background info on a lot of the art and sound design though.

Also inside you?ll find an embossed leather bound book that is supposed to be an Arkham doctor?s journal. In reality it is just a mini book with patient profiles and such wrapped with a leather cover; and while the leather exterior is very elegant, the book itself really didn?t have much extra info that you couldn?t find in-game.

The main reason someone would buy the Collector?s Edition though would be the inclusion of a replica Batarang that is the same model as the one used in-game. Everything in the box comes in a 14? long Batarang shaped hard case and has a very sleek look to it. The Batarang itself is 14? long and comes attached to a stand for display in your collection. The issue myself and others have with this is that the Batarang itself is made of a hard plastic and unfortunately not metal as it was led to be believed before launch. The other issue is that the stand is hard glued into the Batarang itself so there is no playing with it as one would have hoped.

Due to the disappointment with the extras included in the Collector?s Edition, unless you are a die hard Batman fan, I don?t really see much of a value for the extra money unfortunately unless you absolutely want a showpiece in your collection. It?s a shame as I was very excited for this Collector?s Edition but was mostly met with disappointment all around; just keep in mind I?m only referring to the items, not the game itself.

I can?t give enough praise to the top notch quality to the voice acting from the entire main cast and the gritty soundtrack that fits the Arkham Asylum theme absolutely perfectly. Sound usually gets overlooked in many reviews but it stood out that much for me that it needed to be mentioned; the acting doesn?t get any better. The only real flaw I?ve seen even related to the sound was some lip-synching was off for some of the minor characters, but the entire major cast seemed perfect. From the beginning sequence of Batman bringing in Joker, you will get a feeling of how perfect the roles are played, and pay attention to the quality of the soundtrack throughout.

There is much to do with Arkham Asylum considering there is no multiplayer aspect; playing through the story multiple times on varying difficulties, searching for all the collectables which will take a considerable amount of time, or doing the Challenge Maps for a change of pace and beating the top scores. Regardless of what you spend the most of your time doing, you?ll truly feel like Batman while doing it.

So much detail has been given to the game; graphically, sound, and even how Batman?s cape flows and becomes mangled throughout the engaging story that will take roughly around 10 hours or so to complete the first time. It should say a lot when I didn?t even notice my first session with the game was around 8 hours before noticing the time, it?s simply that engaging with great pacing.

Fans can rejoice and take solace that this adventure is a solo affair for Batman, which means no Robin to be found. Who knows though, there is a menu option though for DLC. Batman Arkham Asylum does the exact job it?s supposed to do; put you in the shoes of Batman and make you feel like the Dark Knight. Rocksteady does this absolutely in every way and Batman fans should be ecstatic that there finally is a game that does the Caped Crusader justice.

Overall: 9.3 / 10
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.7 / 10
Sound: 9.7 / 10


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