Xbox 360 Review – Batman: Arkham Asylum

Is Arkham Asylum worthy of the Dark Knight?

Let’s face it, Batman games haven’t always been the greatest…in fact some of them have been downright awful over the years, but when I heard that a new game was in development I was hopeful, yet doubtful. The obvious thing to do would have been to release the game around the time of The Dark Knight and link it in for marketing, but because of the tragic nature of that film…it wouldn’t have gone down very well. Instead, Eidos and Rocksteady did the thing that every developer should do when it comes to licenses like Batman; they took their time and didn’t rush it.

The story follows Batman after he captures the Joker and takes him to Arkham Asylum, but Batman is cautious as Joker gave up without a fight. Joker’s inmates from Blackgate Prison have been moved to Arkham due to a fire at the prison, does anything about this sound fishy? Indeed it does, Joker makes an escape and takes over the asylum with a few deadly tricks up his sleeve and he’s not alone. He has help from the likes of Harley Quinn and some familiar faces that are best left for you to see. You may think that an asylum is pretty small to be the stage for a videogame…well you would be wrong. Arkham is a pretty big island including a mansion, penitentiary, medical center, botanical gardens and even a secret Batcave. The island is dark and gloomy, but also vibrant with detail.
The end result is the greatest superhero videogame of all time. Arkham Asylum is full of the darker side of the Batman universe, it has great cameos from some of his arch-enemies and references to the many other characters, some you will know and others are for the hardcore fans. There’s just so much detail added in when it comes to the background of each character, be it in the form of audio interviews or character bios earned from completing Riddler Challenges.

Batman has a wealth of gadgets at his disposal including the traditional batarangs and batclaws, but also some upgrades like explosive gel, remote control batarangs, a grapple hook and some others which I won’t spoil. He also has a special view called Detective Mode which puts the game in an X-Ray-type vision but also pinpoints weak walls, how many enemies are in the vicinity and how many are armed as well as being able to hunt down clues.

The Dark Knight may be strong with his fists and gadgets, but he can’t do much against bullets. This is where the game really stands out as Batman becomes stealthy and takes out enemies one by one. As you progress, enemies will be notified when one has been knocked out and will all rush to the body, so it becomes increasingly difficult to take them out individually…but the patience of the ninja should see you through.
Combat is simple but incredibly fun. Each enemy will shine a certain colour over their head when they are about to attack and then you can counterattack, but the real joy comes from racking up a huge combo and gaining a huge chunk of points and XP for upgrades. There are some great finishing moves also and it’s best to learn them quickly as you will need them for the devilishly hard Challenge Mode which I will get to later on in the review.

The single-player campaign lasts around 10-12 hours and there are 240 Riddler Challenges to complete. These can vary to collecting trophies and audio tapes to solving riddles like aligning two parts of a question mark and scanning it. I did have help from the brilliant strategy guide from Bradygames; it takes you through every step of the game and helps you complete the challenges along the way. It’s well detailed and I owe it for getting me to 100%. There are a few boss battles in Arkham Asylum, but there are quite easy. It all comes down to timing, but they can become tough when you have to contend with a mob of enemies as well as the main boss. If you are playing on Hard, the combat indicator isn’t active and so you have to know exactly when to counterattack and dodge…it’s not easy at first, but it’s fine once you get used to it.

Levels in Challenge Mode are unlocked by completing certain Riddler Challenges. These are incredibly difficult and will test your sanity. Combat Challenges require you to reach a certain score limit within 4 rounds of enemies, this starts out easily but becomes increasingly difficult with tougher enemies and a mixture of things to screw up your combo and make you start again. The hardest has to be Shock and Awe (Extreme), it may only be a 30k score to reach, but each round has a time limit. Yesterday I finally did it, but beforehand I reached 30k on the final round but failed to finish in time and got electrocuted. I was cursing at the TV entertainment center for hours!
The other mode in Challenge Mode is Predator Challenges. These are my personal favourite; they give you 3 objectives for each map such as taking out an enemy with explosive gel, using an inverted takedown and so on. These also become harder as you progress and will cause some frustration, but also enjoyment when you finally succeed. The trouble with these challenges is that you need to complete them all to push your completion rate to 100% if you have completed the single player with everything. It will take a considerable amount of time, dedication and luck to see it through to the end.

The presentation of Arkham Asylum is superbly high. Character models are detailed and very well animated; each area is full of secrets and looks great. I guess the only complaint I have is that you do end up spending so much time in Detective Mode that you end up missing a lot of the great visuals. Voice-acting is top-notch with Kevin Conroy as Batman, Mark Hamill as the Joker and Harley Quinn by Arleen Sorkin, who voiced these parts in Batman: The Animated Series. It gives it an authentic feel for fans of the series. The music is also brilliant and helps match the atmosphere of Arkham, it’s understated but works just fine.

The Verdict

Batman: Arkham Asylum is without a doubt the greatest superhero game to date and definitely the best game of 2009 so far. I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I have, but I love to be proved wrong. I only hope that Eidos make some kind of spiritual sequel to Arkham Asylum so I can hang out more with my friend, The Dark Knight.