Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Game Review - Batman: Arkham Asylum

Everyone knows Batman - you, your mum, your gran, even your hamster. The developers of Arkham Asylum know this and don't waste time attempting to introduce the brooding dark knight. From the very start Arkham Asylum draws you into its story via cutscenes, interactivity and stupendous voice acting from its principal cast.

The game begins at the end of one of Batman's off screen adventures, he's just captured the Joker and is once again taking the Clown Prince of Crime back to his comfy padded cell in the titular Arkham Asylum. Once the cutscene ends, you become Batman. You walk through the halls of the asylum, taking in the security arrangements and layout whilst chuckling to yourself at the Joker's deranged banter. It's not long before things go incredibly wrong and you find yourself trapped in the asylum with an army of thugs.

The true genius of this game is that it's not long before you realise that much like Rorschach in Watchmen, it's not you who is trapped with the thugs. It's the thugs that are trapped in with you. Batman has an arsenal of gadgets available to him and he can use these to terrorise the ever loving piss out of the bad guys. The game encourages you, via its array of gadgets and room layouts, to improvise whilst facing a room full of armed thugs. There is no right or wrong way to clear a room of ne'er do wells (apart from one frustrating instance) and discovering new ways of breaking limbs or rendering men unconscious is a delight. The most amusing method is the inverted takedown which allows you to swoop down from a gargoyle, grab a villain and then hang 'em upside down from the gargoyle for his friends to find. Hearing the frightened cries and worried challenges from the thugs is a joy as you consider your next move.

Combat is a smooth and enjoyable affair as it actually makes you feel like a hyper competent, millionaire, martial artist. It's a simple system, there are no complicated buttons combinations to be pressed, just a simple system of blocking and striking. Whenever a villain tries to take a swing at the pointy eared one, a warning flash appears above their head just beforehand. If you time your button press correctly then Batman will block the manoeuvre and deliver a punishing counter attack. The melee action feels smooth and looks well choreographed, in fact I'd say that the fisticuffs look more convincing than the action in Batman Begins. It makes you feel in control and powerful and you'll find yourself looking forward to facing increased odds in combat as you show off yet more combos and manoeuvres. Instant takedown moves are particularly satisfying as Batman unleashes bone crunching blows on his unlucky opponents.

Arkham Asylum rewards exploration too, there are many clues and trophies dotted around the asylum grounds and it's a genuinely rewarding experience to uncover them all. There is a degree of frustration at first as the game doesn't make it clear early on that some items cannot be reached because you lack the relevant equipment. You will have to backtrack if you want to uncover all of Arkham's secrets and this can be a little tedious once you've completed the main story. It does provide a reward in terms of extra snippets of story and is well worth the effort for the Bat fan.

Mark Hammill reprises his role as the Joker from Batman The Animated Series and he hasn't missed a beat in the decade or so since his last performance as the character. His Joker is funny and chilling at the same time, you'll find yourself laughing at the threats he delivers to his put upon minions and then find yourself shuddering as you realise the threats will be carried out with horrifying repercussions. Kevin Conroy also makes a very welcome return as Batman.

Batman: Arkham Asylum captures perfectly the atmosphere of the comic book and film incarnations of the characters involved. If you're a comic book fan then you'll delight in the many references to be found via the Riddlers clues. There are patient interview tapes to be found (ala Bioshock) which provide background and story elements for certain characters. It's clear that the developers have a lot of love for Batman's comic book world as no reference is too obscure to be included as an easter egg somewhere within the game.

Batman: AA is the greatest power trip since watching your parents die, becoming a millionaire, training with ninjas for years, and using your immense wealth and large armoury to assault the criminal underworld.

No comments: