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Batman: Arkham Asylum Review

Can't read my Joker face...

It's not purely linear. Just in case you got that impression from the Preview. Sure, that first chapter may be straightforward, but shortly after leaving Intensive Treatment the whole gameworld opens up before you. At that point you begin to get a sense of what a special game Batman: Arkham Asylum really is.

In fact, the aforementioned preview called it 'arguably the best game of the whole summer'. Now we've finished Arkham Asylum, we'd go back on that. There's no argument at all, really.

Assault and bat-ery

And yet, no one single thing sets Arkham Asylum apart from everything else we've played recently. Instead, it's the combination of gamestyles that makes it such a well-rounded action adventure.

Take stealth, for instance. Anyone who's seen Batman Begins will know the caped crusader is something of a hi-tech ninja, and Eidos have done a stellar job of rendering that with versatile, yet immediate control. Grapple to the rafters wherever you see an RB icon and Batman will swiftly zipline up, from where you can glide kick (X), hang (B), perform an Inverted Takedown (Y) – swooping down and picking up enemies, then hanging them upside down from their ankles – or just float silently behind them (hold A) and sneak up (R Trigger) for a one-hit stealth takedown (Y).

Anyone who's seen Batman Begins will know Batman is a hi-tech ninja, and Eidos have rendered that with versatile, yet immediate control.

Fancy yourself as more of an up-close-and-personal superhero? No probs. Arkham Asylum's slick combat lets you attack, block, stun and dodge around the Joker's clown-faced goons, countering their attacks by simply pressing the Y when an icon appears above their heads.

Then there's forensics. Batman is billed as the World's Greatest Detective, and lives up to that in Arkham Asylum with a whole host of gizmos that give him the edge over Arkham's criminal masterminds. Hit LB and you'll go into Detective Mode, which gives you two distinct advantages. The first is that it gives you an x-ray vision view of the world, letting you track guard's movements through walls. The second is that it helps highlight objects of interest; be they a grate to prise off a wall or a fingerprint trail to scan and follow to your next objective.

And the more you progress through Arkham Asylum, the more gadgets you get to play with. You start with just the Batarang, but before long you're able to spray explosive gel, pull objects (and enemies) with the Batclaw, scale distances with the Line Launcher, and overload fuse boxes with the Cryptographic Sequencer – plus there's unlockables like a remote-controlled Batarang, proximity-detonated gel, enhanced combo moves and upgraded armour, purchased with Experience Points earned from doing well in the game.

Possibilities galore

The pleasing thing is that all of these additions come together in a way that's almost Zelda-like in design; each new inventory addition feels like a reward for your hard work, and straight away opens up new ways to take out enemies, and a whole new set of possibilities for getting around the gameworld.

You'll want to devote a significant amount of time to doing that away from the main story arc, because the amount of secrets to discover is just insane. From inmate interviews lending the game an element of backstory and menace, to the hundreds of riddles, Riddler trophies and other challenges dotted around (you'll never look at windup teeth the same way again), there's an enormous amount of replay value – even before you've factored in the Challenge Rooms, with high score tables to top on Xbox Live.

It's all delightfully – and sometimes disturbingly – diverse, and almost always flawlessly executed.

Of course, it goes without saying what a good-looking game Batman: Arkham Asylum is. What's less apparent is how imaginative and polished it proves. The Joker and Harley Quinn are so well-acted (in that camp, maniacal kind of way) that they steal pretty much every scene they're in, and boss battles against the likes of Killer Croc and Poison Ivy aren't just your run-of-the-mill exercise in finding a weak spot, either. The appearance of Scarecrow, meanwhile, turns an accomplished action adventure at times into a surreal Survival Horror game, or a challenging side-scrolling platformer. It's all delightfully – and sometimes disturbingly – diverse, and almost always flawlessly executed.

Bad points? Not many. A few times you'll run into a fence, press the context-sensitive A button expecting to climb, and find yourself rolling instead, which can be suicidal if you're running away from a fight. Likewise, having RT as the button to spray explosive gel, and RB as the button to detonate, is a bit counter-intuitive. We kept mixing them up and pulling the trigger again, spraying a second lot of gel. Irritating.

Game of the Year?

Oh, and you don't actually get to use any of Batman's vehicles, despite them putting in an appearance in cutscenes. As negatives go though, that's pretty much your lot.

What we have here then is nothing short of the best Batman game ever. But we knew that after the first chapter. In truth, Batman: Arkham Asylum is much better than even that. It's not only the best superhero game going, and the best licensed game in years – it's genuine Game of the Year material. Miss it, and the joke's on you.

GAME's Verdict
plus points
  • A superb blend of stealth, action, exploration and detective work.
  • Tons of unlockables, collectibles and challenges for extra longevity.
  • Looks amazing, sounds superb.
minus points
  • Ending up dead because you pressed A and rolled, instead of climbed.
  • No Batman vehicle sections.
  • Multiplayer and/or co-op would be nice in the sequel.

Review by: Mark 'Swoop n Scoop' Scott
Version Tested: Xbox 360
Review Published: 02.09.09

Published: 02/09/2009

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