Thursday, 27 August 2009

Batman: Arkham Asylum - 360/PS3

It's fair to say that previous games featuring superheroes haven't exactly set the pulse racing. As a result, titles such as Crackdown and InFamous have filled the void, allowing players to leap over buildings, throw cars into the air and unleash justice on the bad guys.

However, if anyone was going to redress the balance, it was going to be Batman. With his fighting prowess and reliance on gadgets, he's the perfect subject for a videogame hero, and Arkham Asylum is a game which does Gotham's finest proud.

Set in the confines of Gotham City's famous psychiatric hospital, the story opens with Batman escorting The Joker to his cell. Of course the grinning goon manages to escape, Arkham is locked down, and the hunt is on to track the Clown Prince of Crime down before he unleashes chaos.

Arkham Asylum is an amalgamation of genres - with stealth-based sections, environmental puzzle solving, and bouts of good old-fashioned fisticuffs fused coherently together to produce a slick and well-rounded package.

Combat is excellent, with simple button combos unleashing meaty hits and well-placed kicks, while pulling off counter attacks is intuitive and hassle free. At times the combat feels more like a rhythm game, with the player stringing together well-timed flurries with ease.

What Arkham Asylum does better than the majority of superhero games from the past is create an excellent - and slightly uncomfortable - ambiance. The dark, oppressive atmosphere exuding from the asylum's walls brings to mind 2K's BioShock.

And while the asylum isn't an open world for Batman to play about in, the developers have given the player ample opportunity to wander off the beaten track, throwing in a wealth of collectables to discover for those with a sense of adventure.

Chief among these shiny baubles are The Riddler's trophies. The green-clad fiend has scattered hundreds around the asylum, while the criminal mastermind also poses wonderful optional conundrums to solve in most of the levels.

Interview recordings with several high-profile patients are also scattered about, and these audio clips are a definite highlight thanks to the cast's stellar voice acting. Special mention goes to Mark Hamill's portrayal of The Joker. He's voiced the cackling criminal before in Batman's animated series, and his return to the fold adds an incredible amount to the experience. He chatters away over the asylum's speaker system, adding another layer to the game's already excellent atmosphere.

Each new discovery and successful fight rewards the player with experience points, which can be spent on upgrading the Dark Knight and his gadgets.
There is a fair amount of backtracking throughout the game, but usually when making your way across previously explored areas, you'll have a new gadget at your disposal, allowing the player to reach new places. This takes some of the monotony out of trudging across familiar territory, but there's still a bit too much repetition for my liking.

Thankfully, Batman's gadgets are fun to use - from staples such as the Batarang and grappling hook, to more inventive creations such as explosive gel, which blows chunks from walls, revealing hidden alcoves.

Another important feature is Detective Mode, a scanning device which allows Batman to see enemies through walls and reveal clues which are invisible to the human eye. Frequent use of this is vital, as stealthily locating enemies and taking them down quietly is vital.

Failure to take gun-wielding inmates down silently usually results in Batman meeting his end in a volley of machine-gun fire. Luckily, the stealth-based sections are solid, with Batman able to take down foes from behind with a simple button press, before the Caped Crusader returns to the shadows to await his next victim.

All of this would be enough to elevate Arkham Asylum above most of this year's games, but there's plenty more packed on to the disc. Character bios can be unlocked, featuring personal details and back story of some of the comic's most famous characters, including Killer Moth, Mad Hatter, Catwoman and The Penguin. What's more, there's a fine collection of 3D character models to unlock and peruse at your leisure, while a generous selection of challenge rooms adds immensely to the game's replayability.

I finished Arkham Asylum with 73 per cent completion rating - a task which took me a little over 12 hours, so there's plenty of reasons to go back and dig a little deeper.

With its attention to detail, excellent play mechanics, wonderful atmosphere, and engaging storyline twists and turns, Batman: Arkham Asylum is the most polished and enjoyable title I've played all year. Believe the hype, Batman is back.

360 version tested

1 comment:

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