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Batman: Arkham Asylum Review

Batman: Arkham Asylum pack shot
Developer:Rocksteady Studios
Publisher:Eidos Interactive Ltd
Platform:Xbox 360
Official Site:http://www.batmanarkhamasylum.com/
Release Date:August 28th, 2009 (UK)
Reviewer:Andrew Hemphill (Bandit)
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Batman is not my favourite superhero- that accolade goes to Iron Man- but when you compare the last offering Tony Stark gave to the world of videogames to this latest offering from the Dark Knight, there is no competition- this game is the best superhero game I've ever played.

The brainchild of newcomer Rocksteady Studios, Batman: Arkham Asylum is a third-person opus which really does do justice to the man himself, especially as it has long been held up as a belief that the prince of Gotham doesn't have one good game to his name- not any more.

Set on the titular island nuthouse of the title, Arkham Asylum, the game sees the Bat match his wits against his greatest enemy- The Joker (played to perfection by the eerily creepy Mark Hamill.)

It seems the Bat has just caught the supervillian out in the city and transported him back to the asylum.

While making sure the pasty-faced evil genius is put away securely, all hell breaks loose. The Joker executes his plan, trapping Batman on the island with a load of homicidal inmates, mutated horrors, terrifying nutjob prisoners and a whole host of booby-traps. So, what is a master detective, martial arts guru and tortured soul to do- if you said 'kick some butt', you'd be 100% correct.

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With the inmates of the asylum running loose, you immediately find yourself thrust into the middle of the action- everyone in the asylum is out to get you, and the Joker is planning on keeping you busy until the preparations for his 'party' are complete.

The main campaign is of a reasonable length, lasting about 10 hours on a play through without digging through the many nooks, crannies and mysteries that litter the ancient asylum. The objectives follow the mysterious plot well, and it never feels like you're doing something for the sake of doing it- each objective makes sense and fits into the plot perfectly.

As well as the plot itself there are also the 250 riddles to solve- riddles left all over the island by the elusive 'Riddler'.

These range from statues left in air-conditioning ducts to puzzles you have to line up in first person view, to clever analogies for past and present Batman villains. Finding each one can quickly become an obsession, and with the varied nature of the island you will often find a Riddler mystery hidden in the most mysterious of places. The island itself is a pretty diverse place- the intensive care ward has a completely different feel to the gothic mansion house or the botanical gardens.

By far the most terrifying moment of the game was my arrival in the prison building- as Batman walked up a corridor, passing through abandoned checkpoints spattered with the blood of the guards, a screaming noise can be discerned over the buzz of the electrical lights.

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As the last door opens you're suddenly surrounded by the screams and cries of 50 insane inmates, clawing at each other and throwing themselves at the bars of their cages in an effort to reach you- I found it so unnerving that I immediately grappled up to the next floor, just to get away from the scenes below.

Speaking of grapples, during the adventure Batman gradually acquires a host of "those wonderful toys" the genius inventor is known for.

Starting out with a batarang, his cape (which can be used to glide from high spots or stun enemies), his costume and a grapple gun, Batman gradually acquires sonic batarangs, a claw for dragging things from a distance, a computer hacking device, explosive gel which can be used to blow up walls (or enemies), and even a portable zipline- all of which are acquired at points in the story which make sense, rather than just randomly finding them lying around.

The best gizmo by far though is batman's cowl, which has 'detective mode' built in- this allows you to see enemies through walls (and their skin), spot forensic signs of targets you're tracking, scan the area for clues and generally allows you to plan your attacks productively. The combat itself is in a 'freeflow' style. Rather than a street fighter-style sequence of button combos, the fighting require the use of only a couple of button pushes- attack and counter, plus the occasional batarang throw if an enemy is going for a gun.

While the simplicity of the combat makes watching the acrobatic takedowns fun to watch- especially the bone-crushing slow motion ones- it is disappointing the combat is so simplistic, but as the meat of the game relies on Batman's abilities as a silent predator it is an acceptable compromise.

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Planning your attacks is key to the game- while the freeflow combat system allows Batman to dispatch 20 enemies at once (making the gamer feel like a superhero at the same time)- he is not bulletproof.

At certain points in the game Batman will have to take out a room full of armed enemies without being seen- or it will result in a quick and brutal death. To do this Batman can use the asylum's fetish for gargoyles to plan an attack from high above the room.

You could use the batclaw to drag enemies over railings, swoop down to kick them in the face or even dangle off the gargoyle, grab an enemy and leave them hanging by a rope. Grappling between gargoyles while planning the perfect takedown is one of the game's highlights, and really makes you feel like you are the Dark Knight himself, as well as proving a worthy challenge to the experienced gamer.

Graphically the game is pretty stunning. The island is rendered in a moody, gothic feel, with lots of black and green overtones amongst the architecture. There is little or no pop up and only the occasional graphical bug, most of which are over in a second and are barely noticeable.

The sound design is also excellent. Batman's voice is his typical gruff stoicism, but the true star is Mark Hamill as the Joker, who plays the villain perfectly, even down to his homicidal laugh- all the more disturbing when he starts taunting the enemies hunting you as they're picked off one at a time.

Plus, even if you manage to locate all of the Riddler's puzzles, the game will still keep you busy with its extra features- a 'challenge' mode with online leaderboards, which tasks the gamer with taking out as many inmates in a certain way as quickly as possible, as well as in-depth character files and interviews with the game's supervillians and even unlockable, highly-detailed character statues to admire, offering an insight into the many enemies the Bat has defeated in his long reign over Gotham- it is the complete Batman package.


Batman: Arkham Asylum is the best comic book game I've ever played, and one of the best single-player experiences on the Xbox 360 thus far. Whether you're a fan of the Bat or not, the combat, gadgets and general badassery of Batman are sure to keep you entertained, and the plot, riddles and deep characters faced throughout the course of the adventure are sure to keep you coming back for more.

"I'm Batman"- and you can be too.

The bottom line
9.0 / 10

Good stuff

  • Great comic book action
  • Loads to see and do
  • Genuinely unnerving villains
  • Good plot

Not so good stuff

  • Simplistic combat system
  • Not enough boss battles
  • I want more- make a sequel, now!

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