It’s been a while since Batman has graced a video games console and so it comes as welcome entertainment to finally be able to put the caped crusader through his paces on current generation hardware. Although If we’re to be one hundred percent accurate then this will in fact be Batman’s second appearance on Xbox 360 – LEGO Batman being the first outing for the pointy eared hero. So… after the hugely succesful Batman movie Dark Knight, it shouldn’t be surprising that we get another game to keep fans satiated, except this time round Eidos have made a game that’s not related to any movie and stands on its own two feet. This is most welcome, free from restraining politics which surround movie tie in games and meaning us gamers get to play as Batman in his most natural of states. Cue Arkham Asylum, the place where Gotham’s criminal underbelly are taken for their just deserts for crimes against the city and most often than not incarcerated by the dark knight himself.
The story begins with Batman chaperoning his arch nemesis the Joker into custody, except all seems to be going way too ‘peachingly’ smooth which sends the bat radar into overdrive. It’s a trap (now there’s a surprise) which leaves Batman entangled in the recesses of the dark and moody asylum, except this time the Joker is at the helm rather than the warden and thus the game of cat and mouse begins. Although the parallel between the two is never clear despite the confidence of Batman and the cunning of the Joker. It’s down to you the player to save the needy, solve the mysteries and bang up the Joker, placing him firmly back into the established order of confinement.
Batman Arkham Asylum or Batman AA which is how the game will be referred to from this moment onwards offers a veritable mixture of gaming styles wrapped into a neat package complete with cute bow and slick presentation. A perfect gift if there was one for action gamers. To begin, the game offers third person fighting, which in all honesty is very basic but in a visceral sense quite fulfilling. There’s little depth here other than learning to counter the various muscle bound nasties and chaining combos together so you look shit hot knocking opponents out. You’ll encounter the basic thugs who are pretty easy to take down, yet as you progress you’ll come across armed thugs who require slightly different approaches in how you tackle them; which leads onto the next element of the gameplay – stealth. We’re not sure on the parallel between real bats and stealth other than the fact that they are nocturnal creatures and use radar to capture prey. In Batman AA though the use of stealth is paramount to success when the game dictates, such as when rescuing civilians from extra nasty characters. At other moments the stealth element is there for the taking but not a necessity – which is a good thing because not everyone is going to want to sneak around all the time. However, there’s a distinct level of satisfaction gained from clearing a room of thugs without being shot at or engaging in fisticuffs and so it’s well worth experimenting.
Another slice of gameplay which ties into a loose explorative/platforming element are moments where you’ll be required to sleuth it out and find clues to progress the story. Ok, none of them are that taxing and are about as obvious as a boxing glove on a spring inside a box. Yet the action of using one’s detection prowess does offer welcome departures from the stealth and fighting. Our Batman has a whole heap of gadgets to help out and with upgrades available as well means that you’ll get more and more immersed into the Arkham Asylum game world. Talking of game world, there’s an open element to proceedings rather than simply moving from level to level. This works very well because as you gain new tools you’ll be able to backtrack and open up more of the asylum for exploration.
The story is indicative of success for this game, and without spoiling it, offers an engaging and tentative experience all round. The claustrophobic nature of the asylum plays well on the mind, and the fact that although a powerful character, you’re not invincible as death, or should that be failure is always clawing at your ankles. There’s a heady mix of stupid, intelligent, sexy and just plain unusual characters on offer and with NPCs thrown into the mix, you’re surely thrust into the world of Batman as you’d expect. It gels very well together in the most Batman of ways, almost harking back to the original TV series rather than the huge budget movies of recent years.
Graphically Batman AA looks very polished indeed with some excellent use of gritty colour and lighting. The character models in particular are very good and animate in the most believable of ways (take one look at the model viewer to see how well they have been recreated). That includes the classic Batman jig when he runs with cape flapping behind him. There are some neat touches during combat when an auto slow motion shot is triggered, and some great uses of gadgets to add a hue that pulls you into the world of the Bat. The interior of the asylum is very detailed and although you might think would be portrayed very ‘samey’ there’s a lot of variety to be had from the various sections offering a distinct style to each area.
Sound is a mixed affair simply because the game seems to rely more on voice audio cues than a driving cinematic score. In many ways this is a good thing seeing as we’re in an asylum after all rather than a movie. You’ll be hearing a lot from your enemies and these audio bites will bellow from the intercom system pretty much everywhere you turn. There is some music in there somewhere but this is deliberately overshadowed by the aforementioned voice clips. So, about those… they are in general very well performed albeit somewhat expected. Joker is as menacing as you’d expect although fans of the Joker in the last movie might be a little disappointed. At least we don’t have to listen to Bale’s overly gruff delivery this time. There are some interesting supporting cast voices and the thugs or should that be goons sound just as stupid as they look. Enough said on that one.
Batman AA offers a single player only experience which is above average in length, but made even more so if you decide to fully get into the role and hunt for all the game’s extras. Joker’s teeth, riddles, interview tapes and hidden items are all for the taking and if you’re a ‘completionist’ will add on considerably more time to the initial experience. There are levels o f difficulty for those looking to replay again on harder settings and additional challenge modes where you can hone your skills further. Certainly enough here to keep you well entertained without being overly drawn out for the sake of it.
Batman Arkham Asylum doesn’t re-invent the wheel in terms of action games and to be frank is quite basic when you dissect and view each individual part. However, the culmination of those parts melded into the one game and the familiar world of the superhero makes for an impressive, immersive experience that doesn’t merely opt to provide a tried a trusted open world game filled with the expected. If you’re a fan of Batman and his solitary world, then this is well worth checking out as you’ll come away with an ear to ear grin. If you like stealth games then there’s something here for you as well despite the stealth itself not being overly complex. For action gamers, there are enough flamboyant moments, fisticuffs and general exploration that will keep you hooked from start to finish. A worthy and worthwhile purchase if there ever was one during the closing moments of the Summer.