Batman: Arkham Asylum Xbox 360 Review

May 29, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews & Features, Xbox 360, Xbox

In spite of his representation as a near invincible bullet sponge in most games, Batman’s physical and intellectual skills are highly proficient, but still easily on a human level, he doesn’t have a single superpower and goes about beating his enemies through a combination of brute force and fear. Few games have attempted to thoroughly capture the characteristics of Batman, but Batman: Arkham Asylum really captures the essence of DC’s popular hero, which at the very least means they have hooked the fans in.

The Joker has taken over Arkham Asylum, which is as good excuse as any to get some of Batman’s most important enemies together. The story is enjoyable and the voice acting is strong: Kevin Conroy’s portrayal of Batman is much better than Christian Bale’s comically cheesy and throaty effort, whilst Mark Hamill really nails the combination of menace and comedy that makes up the Joker; that all important laugh is wonderfully maniacal, too.

Arkham Asylum is a brilliant choice of setting, particularly when it’s as well realised as this. This dark, atmospheric world wouldn’t be out of place in a horror game and it’s this, before anything else, that gives you the sense that this is Batman represented at its darkest and most brooding. Character models look fantastic and Batman himself has a meticulous level of detail in his iconic suit, whilst his animation is outstanding, with a real sense of weight and excellent cape physics accompanying his every move. It’s a near perfect looking game, but it does have some minor visual issues such as collision detection and frame rate hiccups that, because of the stunning graphical quality, are made more glaring than they would have been in an uglier game.

The Asylum is also full of secrets to uncover, which makes it even more worthy of exploration. There are Riddler trophies to be found, tapes containing entertaining interviews with some famous Batman enemies, riddles to be solved, teeth to be destroyed and messages to be found that detail the dark history of Arkham Asylum. The game is structured in such a way that when you obtain new gadgets, you can backtrack to gain access to previously inaccessible areas to perhaps discover some secrets.

As I said earlier, fans are going to be ecstatic at Rocksteady Studios authentic Batman experience, but the developer understands that not every fan of the Dark Knight who plays their game are going to be a skilled gamer, which isn’t to say that us more elite lot have been left in the cold, either – far from it in fact, as Batman Arkham Asylum is one of those rare games that caters for both equally.

This is no more prevalent than in the combat system. There’s just two buttons for the hand-to-hand fighting, obviously an attack button, but also a counter button too, so certainly no big combination of buttons to memorize. On normal, most encounters can be won through brainless smacking of the attack button, but the free flowing combat system is also inviting for those who like to test their skills. For the more considered gamer, there are various bonuses to be earned through smart fighting such as combos, that otherwise would be broken with hyperactive button bashing, whilst there’s also variation bonuses to be rewarded for mixing up your moves. The fighting whilst blood free, is very brutal, satisfying and smoothly animated, which with the sound, but simple mechanics, makes hurting people a joy. It‘s all in the name of justice, so causing such pain can be excused.

Batman isn’t just about fighting, though, there’s also the stealthy intimidation factor that too many games over the years have ignored. In Batman: Arkham Asylum, you’ll encounter plenty of goons brandishing firearms, Batman is not bullet proof, so tackle these head on and you’ll die, simple as that. Instead, they must be dealt with by hiding in the shadows and waiting for the right moment to take them out. With most of such sections having gargoyles to perch on, it all feels a bit contrived and is hardly the best example of stealth mechanics, but at least it feels like Batman.

In whatever manner you take down enemies, you’ll earn XP, of which, when you amass a certain amount, allows you to upgrade Batman and his gadgets. There are 20 upgrades in total, most of which don’t evolve your combat options, which could be disappointing for those who are looking for new methods of hurting their enemies with.

Batman’s less violent, more intellectual side hasn’t been ignored, either. Sadly the detective mode amounts to nothing more than scoping out enemy placement and finding areas of interest, whilst it can also be used to pick up trails. It’s a wasted opportunity that, in some regards, would have functioned better through more taxing point-and-click elements.

Another disappointment are the bosses, which are unimaginative and really deserve better, more memorable encounters for such famous enemies, but none are a worse culprit than the final battle with The Joker himself. I won’t spoil anything for those who haven‘t had the chance to play it yet, but I will say that it’s ludicrously easy and a seriously anticlimactic note to end the game on.

Batman: Arkham Asylum offers a reasonable 10 to 12 hours of play for its story mode, but this can be considerably extended by seeking out all of the secrets. Away from this, there are no tacked on multiplayer options, though there is a challenge mode, split into a series of combat and stealth challenges, with online rankings and your personal times and scores being a constant source for betterment and a reason to continue playing long after you’re finished with the primary game.

With Batman: Arkham Asylum, Rocksteady Studios have done a wonderful job in conveying both the Dark Knight’s dark atmosphere and his very human character traits, which should in itself be pleasing to the fans. But behind the exemplary work on these aspects, also lies a fantastic and lovingly crafted game, which has more than enough to please gamers of broad levels of experience. In short, Batman: Arkham Asylum is the best use of a comic book licence yet, and one that I just can’t heap enough praise up on.