Holy critical acclaim, Batman!
Generally, when a game is developed to coincide with a blockbuster movie it’s almost a cruel guarantee that the game will be dreadful. Rushed gameplay, bland graphics and a rehash of a films storyline is usually a staple of the final product. There have of course been some outstanding exceptions to this disappointing cycle (Goldeneye on the N64 is a prime example), but the reason these games succeed is that they identify and apply the strengths of the film, whilst making sure that it’s first and foremost, a good game. Other developers use the popularity of the brand to shamefully ‘cash in’, or the gameplay and design choices suffer by having to follow the strict structure of the film. So, as with many others, after the blockbuster smash of the first Batman franchise reboot, Batman Begins, I was rather sceptical when I heard a new Batman game was being developed.
Thankfully, it was made clear that Batman: Arkham Asylum would not be based on the recent film. In fact, it had an entirely new story and was a re-imagining of the franchise in its own right. Even the developer Rocksteady was for all intents and purposes, unheard of. Guess what? They did a remarkable job.
The Joke’s On You
Customary to life as a superhero, there’s always more than one evil lunatic vying for your life. This is no different for Batman who has dozens of acquaintances who fit the requirement of being mentally unstable with ease. However, if you had to determine Bruce Wayne’s most notorious rival, the consensus would agree that it has to be The Joker. Once again, Joker has been up to no good and, suitably restrained, is being escorted by Batman to Gotham’s home for the criminally insane, Arkham Asylum. You’d think that these mad men were past the rehabilitation stage, and yeah, it pretty much turns out that way.
Whilst escorting the Joker (brilliantly played by Mark Hamill) towards his cell, Batman immediately becomes suspicious. A fire, which was started by Joker, resulted in hundreds of in-mates being transferred to Arkham. Why was Joker so easy to apprehend? Something isn’t right. Batman’s fears are justified as Joker breaks free, but there’s a twist. Joker has managed to obtain control of the whole asylum. This wasn’t a coincidence; this was Joker’s plan all along. Unfortunately for Batman, Joker is pulling the strings, however, Batman is no stranger to conquering adversity and this is exactly what the Dark Knight must do if he is to save his friends and regain order in the asylum.
The World’s Greatest Detective
Batman is famous for his wide range of hi-tech gadgets, hand-to-hand combat skills and an unwavering pursuit to ensure that enemies are dealt with justly. Combine this with the fact that he has grown accustomed to tracking many of Gotham’s most devious minds; he is also a brilliant detective.
One of the key features of Batman: Arkham Asylum is the ‘detective mode’. By entering detective mode, Batman’s special display can track clues, highlight enemies’ anxiety levels, outline destructible areas and provide other useful functions. It’s so useful in fact that you may end up playing the majority of the game in the x-ray-like visual filter. This is such a shame as Batman: AA is a beautiful game, powered by the Unreal 3 Engine, it’s one of the best looking games out there but, it is hard to resist scanning the area for secrets or the best way to take down your foes.
When playing as a superhero, it’s important to feel like a superhero. You are Batman. You are the Dark Knight, saviour of Gotham City. Therefore, it’s not enough just to have all the fancy gadgets in your arsenal if the hand-to-hand combat is boring and stale. Luckily, Rocksteady designed a fighting system known as ‘free-flow combat’. Although relatively simplistic at first glance (essentially the combat system consists of simple one button attacks, a counter attack button and the option to chain attacks with alternative techniques) the free-flow combat works tremendously.
Batman rolls, dodges, counters and disarms his enemies with the grace of a ballerina.
Batman rolls, dodges, counters and disarms his enemies with the grace of a ballerina; punching, throwing and kicking his adversaries with the devastating power of a heavyweight boxer. The combo system is a clever way of keeping the player engaged throughout the game due to the fact that if you achieve higher combos, more experience will be gained. This can be used to acquire new techniques, improve items and physically strengthen Batman.
The gadgets available to Batman are as equally impressive and intuitive to use. A well-aimed batarang is enough to daze any foe. Strategically spraying explosive gel on a wall and detonating it next to an unsuspecting in-mate is always satisfying, and of course, my personal favourite, hanging just out of sight under a gargoyle, dropping down, sweeping the enemy up, then gliding to the next position leaving the goon suspended and dangling helplessly in the air. Believe me, it never gets old.
Riddle Me This
Hidden throughout the asylum are numerous secrets and puzzles to be solved. Naturally, the man responsible for these brain twisters is non-other than The Riddler. The Riddler has scattered numerous trophies around the asylum as well as devising clever visual riddles for Batman to solve. Not only does this provide longevity for the single player campaign and strike a chord with the many completionists out there, it’s also an ingenious way of unlocking less popular villain and character biographies, essential reading to any hardcore Batman fan.
Holy Critical Acclaim, Batman!
Quite simply, Batman: Arkham Asylum is by far the best superhero game ever made. To be honest, it is one of the best games of this generation. The fact it had to compete against each individuals own un-scalable expectations of their favourite comic book hero, or the pessimism that arises when any game may seem like the unwanted offspring of a hit film makes it an even greater achievement. Batman is back and he’s absolutely awesome.