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Saturday, 21 April 2012

Gamingheap Review - Batman: Arkham Asylum (PS3)

Written by Oliver

A Gamingheap Review...

Batman: Arkham Asylum

PlayStation 3 Case Art
Before I bought this game last December I had heard nothing but praise about it. Many of my friends and gaming associates had called it 'the best Batman game ever' and that I had to do at least one play-through. As many of you will know, I am not a DC fan, (much preferring 2000AD with the likes of Judge Dredd) subsequently, I did not know an awful lot about Batman and the back-story before playing Arkham Asylum. Despite this, I delved straight into it about 2 months ago and have really enjoyed it so far. I've yet to complete the story-line, estimating myself to be approximately half-way through. This is mainly due to the fact that there is a reasonable amount of intangibles and extra content (specifically in the Game of The Year Edition) which have piqued my interest.  Anyway, without further ado - here are my thoughts on Batman: Arkham Asylum...

Presentation:

I'm no Batman expert or superfan but I do believe that (contrary to the angle the popular 1960's television series showed) the comic-book is supposed to project a fairly moody and atmospheric feel. The game bares many similarities instead to the newest Batman film trilogy (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises) all directed by Christopher Nolan. Many scenes in the game successfully show this, for example the scene where Batman returns to the Arkham Island Batcave under the cover of darkness. As far as I'm aware the entire game takes place during the night, a good move to be honest as watching the Caped Crusader sneakily assassinating foes in broad daylight wouldn't present the player with nearly as much satisfaction. This brings me on to the overall look of the environment that you'll see Batman grappling, climbing and gliding about in. Arkham Island looks pretty good, (the game is 3 years old, so I have to compare it to similar games from 2009 to gauge this) but I must confess I haven't spent anytime free-roaming it as it isn't large at all. The visual highlights for me were the smaller, more refined details like the state the Asylum is in. As you progress through its halls you'll see turned over desks, paper strewn across the floor, the odd corpse and many messages left by Joker written in green ink. The attention to detail is nice to see, yet it is easily missed - as you progress through the game Batman's suit will deteriorate; bullet holes will appear and rips in the fabric can be seen. It's touches like this that bring out the best in the game for me.

Other than the area around you, there is of course the unique look of the menu system and the overall interface of the game to account for. Many of the screens, particularly the character bio screens and joker trophies are layed out like comic strip panels which is something I really relished because it brought Batman back to its comic-book roots. The character-bio screen is also something I liked because it showed pictures of all of the enemies and criminals Batman has had to deal with, again establishing that link between the game and the original comic books. It felt to me like this extra detail about old characters helped the game to relate back to the comics and not just be a non-generic action-adventure game with Batman shoved in to fill the space.

Combat looks spot-on. Most of the time you'll be fighting with your fists, which can sound rather dull, but it is actually very fun. Slow-motion combos are thrown in and there's a few variations in enemy type. Batman, of course, has his trusty batarangs as well as an assortment of other hi-tech (and lethal!) weaponry up his sleeve. My personal favourite is the remote-controlled batarang which allows the player to control where the batarang goes, hitting several enemies at a time. I have not witnessed a visual glitch as far as I can remember.

Story:

Batman was, of course, born from the pages of comic books. Comic books are made to tell stories and entertain the reader so I was expecting Arkham Asylum to be perfectly structured with a story that would engross me until the bitter end. I have yet to actually finish the story but from what I have experienced so far, Arkham Asylum has delivered well.

The Joker has just been captured after attacking the Mayor's Office in Gotham City and Batman escorts him to Arkham Asylum. However, a recent fire at Blackgate Prison has forced some of the Joker's old gang to be transported to Arkham as well. Batman suspects something is up as the Joker was far too easy to capture but keeps it quiet. At that time Harley Quinn manages to override the asylum's security systems which in turn allows the Joker to escape, henceforth taking control of Arkham Asylum. Then, the Joker threatens to detonate bombs he has planted in Gotham if anyone other than Batman tries to get into the asylum and stop him. Oracle helps Batman via his radio as he tries to rescue Commissioner Gordon who gets kidnapped by the Joker. Throughout the game, Batman meets many of his old foes including Scarecrow, Bane, Harley Quinn, Killer Croc, Zsasz and Poison Ivy just to name a few! Unfortunately the majority of these characters only play very minor roles, some only seen once or twice. It would have been nice to see some more of these characters instead of Joker dominating the game. However, having said that, all the characters are recreated amazingly, just how you'd want them to be, fully capturing the essence of the original comic-books.

Gameplay:


Batman: Arkham Asylum is, at heart, a third-person, action-adventure stealth game. I think the main element developers, Rocksteady wanted to achieve was to show how Batman can strike fear into his enemies by stealthily swooping down and taking them out one by one. Well, I personally think that Batman: Arkham Asylum shows this better than any Batman game I have played as of yet (I have played some older ones, specifically Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu for the PlayStation 2) allowing you to use stealth to take out targets instead of running in and using melee the whole time. Many foes will have firearms which if fired can kill you in seconds. Consequently most people will find themselves relying on stealth to get through the majority of the game. As Batman you can use the grapple hook to reach up to high ledges or hide on top of gargoyles. A good technique is to hide on top of gargoyles and then swoop down and silently take down one guard at a time before grappling back up to the gargoyle lest the other guards detect your presence. When the guards come across the body of their fallen comrade, they act in many different ways. If the dead guard had a weapon then one of the others will grab it and use it against Batman. Using detective mode (more on that later!) you can actually check how fast their hearts are beating. Most of the time they will become nervous and group around each other for protection. Batman can also hide under grates in the floor allowing him to sneak around underneath foes. Admittedly the stealth attribute could be a lot better though, there is a bit of a limit to what you can do other than sneak up and strangle guards or just hide up above them. Sometimes the AI can be ridiculously stupid too and you'll often watch Batman take out a guard without the other guard about 1 metre away noticing a thing.

Other times, you'll find yourself face to face with enemies with no way out other than to use fisticuffs. If there are a lot of enemies then you can rack up some insanely large combos. Usually you'll find yourself just mashing the square button, but some of the time enemies will try to counter your attacks. If this happens, flashing lines appear above their head, indicating that you must press triangle to block their attack otherwise you'll take damage. Some enemies, such as knife-wielding ones and even some that carry stun batons, must be defeated in other ways. For example if you try pressing square to throw punches at a stun-baton enemy then Batman will just get electrocuted. Instead, you have to use the X button to dodge over their attack and counter it. This throws in some variation in to what would of been a fairly dull, button-mashing experience. The combat actually flows very well and doesn't look wooden or stiff. Batman can throw punches, kicks, roundhouses and even batarangs mid-brawl to stun foes. The added slow-motion effects and the excitement of trying to get a higher combo makes the melee combat something more inventive, heck your playing as Batman, what could be cooler?

Bruce Wayne is a multi-millionaire with loads of money dedicated to researching and developing new gadgets and equipment to help his vigilante crime effort; so of course there are some cool gadgets included in the game. Other than the normal batarang used to stun foes for a limited amount of time, you have access to the aforementioned remote-controlled batarang, the multi-batarang upgrade which allows you to throw up to 3 batarangs at a time, explosive gel which allows you to blow up weak structures and walls as well as blow up enemies, the Batclaw which allows you to pull objects and enemies towards you from a distance, the cryptographic sequencer which allows you to hack into security terminals, ergo allowing the electronic security gates found around the island to be opened, and last but not least, the line launcher which is a zip cord allowing Batman to traverse large spaces in a minimal amount of time. Seeing as the game isn't linear and there are a few free-roaming opportunities, most of these gadgets can come in handy in reaching areas previously inaccessible. Over the island are riddler trophies hidden in secret locations (there's 240 of them in total) which can only be accessed with the gadgets you get later in the game. For example, there may be a trophy behind a security gate which you cannot get through without the cryptographic sequencer. This gives the player an initiative to come back to places previously visited and explore the island some more.

Riddler challenges appear to, one for every area in the game. When you first enter the area, the riddle will appear at the top of the screen. You the must find the object the riddle is referring to and scan it in detective mode. Detective mode features throughout the game and allows Batman to see through objects and analyse things. Looking at an enemy in detective mode will tell Batman the enemy's heart rate to see if the enemy is calm, nervous or even unconscious or deceased; how many enemies there are in the current area and if they are armed or not. On many occasions in the story, Batman must find a person via a DNA sample. For instance, there is one part where Commissioner Gordon is taken by Joker's henchmen and Batman must follow the trail of nicotine from Gordon's pipe by analyzing it in detective mode. Other than the main singleplayer story there are many combat challenges where you have to get the best score possible. Scores are posted on the global leader-boards.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed playing this game, the combat was fluent and addictive, the stealth attribute brought Batman to life and the Riddler trophies were fun to collect. At times there were a few problems, like when you try to swoop down to take out an enemy and Batman manages to catch himself on a ledge, instead just falling to the floor instead of subduing the guard. The aforementioned AI bugs and limited stealth did have a negative effect on my gameplay experience too. I still had a lot of fun playing however.

Sound:


The game's main characters are voiced by Kevin ConroyMark Hamill, and Arleen Sorkin reprising their roles as Batman, the Joker, and Harley Quinn, respectively. To put it short, the voice acting is outstanding! Batman sounds just right, dark and mysterious yet loyal and ready to fight crime. The Joker is pefect with a capital P! Mark Hamill's voice is like it was made for the Joker! Throughout the game, Joker's voice is constantly heard on the Asylum's tanoy system, with him making bad puns and jokes and laughing hysterically. In my personal opinion, I think it's Mark Hamill and the outstanding voice acting in this game that makes it what it is. The music is, at times, dark and gloomy to support the heavy atmosphere created in this game, but changes during combat to a frantic melody as Batman takes out his foes.


There's nothing more to say about the sound other than it is perfect. I cannot think of one problem I had in this area of the game.


Overview:

When people said to be that Batman: Arkham Asylum was the best Batman game ever, they were certainly telling the truth! Arkham Asylum creates the perfect atmosphere for a Batman game, relating to a more serious side shown by the newest film trilogy, directed by Christopher Nolan. It brings Batman back to its comic book roots with comic book panel menus and loads of detail on Batman's past foes and back-story. The gameplay is fun and addictive, allowing you to stealthily swoop down and silently subdue enemies whilst sending fear coursing through the mind of their nervous comrades. As well as an exciting and fluent melee combat system there are 250 fun riddler challenges to succeed in and go back through the game to collect. To conclude, Kevin Conroy playing Batman, Mark Hamill as The Joker and Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn are just the juicy cherries on top of a rich and delighted masterpiece which will keep you engrossed until you've thrown your last batarang!

+ Arkham Island looks nice
+ Mood and atmosphere perfect for a Batman game
+ Game brings Batman back to its comic book roots
+ Voice acting is top-notch
- AI can be ridiculously stupid at times
- Stealth is good, but too limited


My Rating: 8.5/10





4 comments:

Chalgyr Vokel said...

Excellent review!

I've only gotten to play this game in a very limited window in the past. I have it now (along with City) - I just need to get to it I guess. It's nice to see that a game that's a bit older can still be so good - especially since it can be had pretty cheaply now. Thanks for the article - it was a good read!

GamesAndBiz said...

Great review - very comprehensive!

it's going to be really interesting to see if this series can get any better. I have a sneaking suspicion that it has peaked, and it's going to be really difficult to keep wowing gamers.

The Girl Gamer said...

Awesome review!

Looks like it does live up to hype that it brings. I was able to get the game, but like my other games, it's just sitting on my backlog begging me to play it already. =)

- The Girl Gamer

Chalgyr Vokel said...

@Games - yeah, I've heard that their studio is looking at maybe other superhero titles to delve into as well. I hope that Rocksteady continues to take their time and polish the games up. As long as they don't rush titles out and keep the talent they have in-house, I am at least optimistic they can continue to improve.

@Girl Gamer: I so feel your pain on that one, lol. I need more video game time and less work, but somehow I have my doubts that my job would approve.