Genre: Action Developer: Rocksteady Studios Publisher: Eidos Classification: M Release Date: 28th Aug 2009 Platforms:XBOX360
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When I inform people my favourite comic book character is Batman the looks of derision aren't surprising - even if they aren't warranted. Beyond Clark "my only weakness is a green rock which conveniently finds its way into almost every bad guy's hands" Kent The Caped Crusader is easily the most recognised superhero around. Hugh Jackman - patron saint of handsome Aussies - probably wishes he could play Batman, and he's friggin' Wolverine.
So when the nerds I tend to hang out with inevitably draw out the question "who's you're favourite comic book character?" the only way I could make their eyes roll faster is if I named Rorschach the months following the Watchmen cinematic release. Still - screw 'em, I say. The fact that the Dark Knight often spends as much time detecting as he does beating up goons makes him feel like a realistic hero - instead of just relying on the fortuitous nature of Deus Ex Machina he actually works to catch his foes, and he's a better character for it. His reasons for donning the cape give him depth, but they don't drag you down too far into the gritty reality most comic books are supposed to give you escape from. Also bats are scary, horrid creatures - but damn if they don't make for a good silhouette.
It seems like the guys at Rocksteady Studios are Batman fans like I am, so Batman: Arkham Asylum caters to all the right facets of The Caped Crusader's character. The grit is very much present in BAA - the Asylum part of the title isn't ignored at all - but you spend a good deal of time detecting, sneaking and playing on the fears of your enemies... As Batman should. The Joker, meanwhile, spends most of his time leading Batman down the garden path as the depth of the game's story plays out.
In fact, almost all the characters live up to our expectations - Harley Quinn's annoying vocals and vulnerable character gave me a real love hate vibe any time she was on screen. Oracle - the unseen voice of the former Batgirl - varies from a powerful ally to the scared daughter of Commissioner Gordon. Even Bane seems as tortured as he is angry - for what little he has to say.
A lot of this can be attributed to the fantastic voice acting - most of the cast are revisiting roles they've played before in the various animated series'. Kevin Conroy (You don't get any more Batman), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker, duh - The Joker here) and Wally Wingert (The Riddler) are my stand-outs, but everyone does an amazing job. The writing certainly helps, and so does the attention paid to the setting and atmosphere of the Asylum setting.
Punters who played Thief 3 might remember a level called "The Cradle" - only a crazy person would expect an Action RPG hybrid like BAA to carry the same vibe through an entire game, but there's plenty of tension seemingly inspired by the level. It's a significant effort to make you feel a high level of fear when you're playing as Batman, but the game delivers - and it doesn't even use crying babies.
Gameplay combines some occasionally challenging puzzles, simplistic stealth gameplay and two button action RPG fighting for surprisingly good results. Most of the fights tend to be pretty easy - I typically had more issues with the large groups of henchmen than I did the actual bosses. X is attack, Y is counter and B is stun - I said two button because stun really isn't needed except in a few situations. Most battles can be won by countering and attacking everyone in sight. The stealth elements come into play against armed opponents - Batman is better off hitting and running in these situations.
The puzzles are usually solved through a combination of Batman's detective skills and his array of handy gadgets. As you progress further through the game you'll need to combine more of these gadgets to solve the puzzles at hand. Also handy is DK's detective vision - basically just cheat vision, it allows Batman to see enemies, recognise puzzle elements and at times is used to follow the trail of whoever you're hunting at the time.
A quick mention on the "RPG" part of what I said earlier - Batman gains experience for solving Riddler riddles and beating up bad guys. He can spend this on upgrading his gadgets or batsuit, but this is basically it. It's a fairly feeble attempt on my own part to categorise the game - basically it plays like God of War, minus the blood and with amped up cinematics. The fighting is conditionally animated - so Bats will dodge attacks automatically when you counter, and as your attacks flow into longer and longer combos his fighting remains fluid.
The game isn't without flaws. At contrast to the game's dramatically
easy gameplay is the initially confusing layout of Arkham. Even further into the game I'd constantly find myself retracing my steps needlessly after taking a wrong turn. On the asylum grounds it's not any better - outside areas confused me a number of times and headed me in the wrong direction (there is a map available, but it's not great). This isn't helped by the occasionally extend loading times. When transitioning between some areas the game will hang while it loads. Getting lost exacerbates the issue a little - though the confusing thing is it doesn't happen all the time.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is the best translation of comic book to video game around. It combines the best features of any superhero series with fantastic graphics, solid gameplay and outstanding voice acting. The minor flaws - the easy gameplay, the initially confusing layout of Arkham and the occasional loading time hitch - are all negated a dozen times over by the game's character, atmosphere and attention to detail. This is the type of game which will make the Christian Bale Batman fans sit up and take notice of the massive universe the character belongs to - even the most hardcore Marvel fan would be remiss to skip this game.
I'm playing this using a GTX280 GPU. When the HD movie stopped I waited for the HD movie to stop and the game to play. I waited and nothing happened. THEN I got the shock of my gaming life - the High Definition WAS the actual game. I thought this couldn't be as I began to move the characters!! I would go so far as saying that a PC upgrade is worth it if games like this are coming out!! This is a classic. The gameplay is phenomenol. You can't just fight and kill you have to actually often work out a strategy to defeat your foes and use defnse as well as attack . No pushover. Will be buying more games from Bigpond. Price is very reasnable for the quality of the game. 10/10