Dark or Dork Knight?
Whether you were that kid (like me) who ran around the house with a towel over your head, or the thirty-something year old who stumbled across a comic book store and have never looked back since, Batman has a place in almost everyone’s life. Whether you’ve read him, watched him, fancied him or, worryingly, tried to be him, the Dark Knight’s shadow has touched almost all of us in some way or other.
So how have the guys over at Rocksteady
coped with the world-renowned Caped Crusader’s Bat-mobilisation into the video game world? And, more importantly, do you buy it, rent it, or, in Adam West-style Batman jargon, *POW* it? Batman: Arkham Asylum
revolves around the Dark Knight returning his infamous arch-nemesis The Joker to Arkham Asylum: a prison-come-hospital for the criminally insane. No sooner has Batman returned the psychotic clown to his padded cell, before he’s loose once again, freeing inmates, hatching diabolical schemes, and telling derogative bat-themed jokes- and it's up to Batman to stop him. Go figure.
For Batman fans, they’ll find a lot of the inmates to be familiar faces, ranging from the more familiar such as Poison Ivy and The Riddler, to Killer Croc, Scarecrow, and the scantily-dressed Harley Quinn. Rocksteady
claimed they were focussing on three key points where Batman: Arkham Asylum
was concerned: firstly, the combat system (since Batman is a master of martial arts); second, being ‘The World’s Greatest Detective’ (given Batman’s keen intellect); and third, the ‘Invisible Predator’ play-style, given Batman’s fear-inducing “ninja-ism”. If that’s a word.
These three elements are what they claimed to be the primary foundations of Batman’s persona. And, all fan-boy arguments aside, this is broadly speaking pretty accurate.
So, to the combat system!
The mechanics are fairly simple on paper: X to attack, A to dodge, and Y to counter- following a brief Spider-sense like warning of an impending attack (which isn’t included when playing Hard Mode).
On console however, the “easy to pick up/ hard to master” scheme becomes noticeable very quickly, considering that timing, position and direction is everything- never minding the fact you’ll often be fighting hordes of thugs at the one time. And just to mix it up (since nothing is ever made easy for the Caped Crusader) the odd knife-wielding nutcase or super-soldier will be thrown into the mix also.
But given a little practice, you’ll soon have Batman launching from one opponent to his twentieth in a flurry of punches, face-kneeing and even bone-breaks, without so much a single mark on you. What Batman took years to master in terms of close-combat prowess, you’ll probably have nailed in about fifteen to thirty minutes.
The game’s combat system is quite frankly one of the best (and more importantly, satisfying) I’ve ever had the pleasure to play- and can be experienced firsthand via the demo currently up on Xbox LIVE. Trying to fully convey the finesse of Rocksteady
’s ‘Freeflow’ combat system is much like trying to explain the colour red to the blind. You simply have to see it for yourself in order to truly
‘Invisible Predator’. Basically an impressive label for Batman: Arkham Asylum
’s stealth game-play. While there are specific areas designed for this, you’ll be allowed to hug corners or zip up into the rafters wherever applicable.
Where the “specific areas” are concerned, you’ll quickly recognise them by their high number of enemies and increase in hiding places- not to mention the conveniently placed stone gargoyles to perch atop in the darkness. Aside from the aforementioned moves, you’ll be able to perform silent takedowns (which involved crouch-walking up to an enemy from behind and suffocating them), swooping down and stringing enemies up, and even the iconic glide kick. It never gets old seeing Batman swoop down upon unsuspecting foes.
All this and more considered, Invisible Predator truly makes you feel like the Dark Knight. Particularly when you try your luck and run at men with machine guns, only to be brutally gunned down. It reminds you that Batman is just a man, which makes taking out a room of eventually terrified bad-guys from the safety of the shadows totally Bat-ass. See what I did there?
This brings us to the final element: detective work.
Aside from stopping The Joker, there’s plenty more for the Bat-fanatic to fill his time with on Arkham Asylum island. With The Riddler loose, he’s fiendishly found the time to place riddles all over the island to be found, detected, or solved- leading to the ‘World’s Greatest Detective’ theme.
This can range from not-so-simply finding hidden trophies throughout the Asylum to snap-shotting randomly placed Batman relics- e.g. Catwoman’s glass-encased suit.
While still very entertaining, this slice of Bat-cake is arguably the least tasty. It doesn’t so much make you feel like the world’s greatest detective, but the island’s only bothered sight-seer. With a cape on. And X-ray ("Detective") vision. And gadgets…
Speaking of which, expect to see everything from the trusty Bat-a-rang to the fun-filled Batclaw where Batman’s toys are concerned. Aside from being useful in combat (and easy to switch between via the D-pad) they’ll also come in handy in reaching previously inaccessible areas of the asylum. Or even just something as basic as grappling to a tall height in order to behold the asylum in all its splendid squalor.
The main storyline is, to put it plainly, brilliant. The Joker’s diabolical plan is just as diabolical as it should be; whereas Rocksteady
’s ability in conveying and telling it is anything but
. You’ll feel as if you’re stalking through one of the Caped Crusader’s very own DC
graphic novels, aided by the outstanding level design.
Everything from the interiors of each individual building on the island to the sinister clock-tower exudes a gothic flavour mixed with a hint of lunacy: the medical facilities furnished with padded cells scrawled with the scribbling of the insane. Combined it all really gives the impression that the Dark Knight truly is in for the darkest night of his life.
Visually the game is tastier than Poison Ivy’s dress-sense.
Whether you’re looking at the stubble on Batman’s square jaw, the features of an enemy's face as they fall to the floor, or even just a patch of grass, everything is draped in detail and polished to perfection. Perhaps the greatest feat of all is simply the Dark Knight’s cape, which will heavily flow and sway with Batman’s movements or combat. Batman: Arkham Asylum
could’ve been seriously injured by lack of voiceover talent. Luckily, Batman literally came to the rescue. The game features both Kevin Conroy (Batman) and Mark Hamill (The Joker) from Batman: The Animated Series
, giving Batman his rightfully strong and gritty voice, and Joker his (almost too convincing) manic laugh and eccentric tone, which really authenticates the cut scenes and action sequences.
As I’ve said before, it’s the little things that make a game truly memorable, and which fully enable you to become the character you’re controlling- which is partly what gaming is all about! Rocksteady
delivers the goods. With bats on.
Following a fight, Batman will tighten his gauntlets or crack his neck. As the game progresses, Batman will eveb begin to physically show the wear and tear of the night’s events at Arkham, manifesting itself in torn capes and a cut face. Even the simple act of standing under running water is a luxury for listening to, as it patters off the Dark Knight's cowl. A particularly nice touch is Detective Vision's ability to tell you how frightened your enemies currently are.
There really is so, so
much more too, but I’d be more villainous than Ra’s Al Ghul if I told you. Needless to say, you couldn’t feel more like Batman if you tried. Which I wouldn’t recommend doing. Unless you do
happen to be a billionaire genius who lost his parents at a young age. And have a mansion handy. And a butler- preferably called Alfred.
If I truly had to nit-pick a flaw out of this game, it would be the lack of punishment for the gamer should you ever perish.
Gone are the days of Sonic
for the SEGA
for the N64
, where running out lives meant a punishing entire game restart.
While I'm by no means suggesting that such a tough-love system should be resurrected, it would be nice to see games incorpate some sort of death penalty system. In my opinion, it just makes video games that touch more worthwhile when you do
get it right.
So, do you don the cape, borrow it for a while, or leave it hanging?
With a lengthy main game, a Hard Mode to palm-strike, glide and shadow-stalk your way through following completion, sixteen combat and Invisible Predator challenges to complete and approximately two-hundred and fifty of The Riddler’s puzzles to solve/find, this is one Batmobile you should definitely put a down-payment on!
+ Gorgeous graphics
+ Perfect voice-acting
+ Polished combat system
+ Engaging storyline
+ Spot-on level design
+ Varied gameplay
+ No Robin
+ Relatively long …
- …but it still
won’t be enough for youBatman: Arkham Asylum review by A.H. Topalian