It comes as little surprise to find that within a week of its’ release Batman: Arkham Asylum shot straight to the top of the UK videogames sales charts. It’s also been reported, however, that the Xbox 360 version has seen stronger sales than that of the PlayStation 3 release. This is most likely down to the simple fact of numbers, or “installed userbase” to quote the vernacular, as opposed to the Xbox 360 release actually being received better. It couldn’t hurt to find out though, surely, and so that’s exactly what Electronic Theatre has done.
As our regulars will know, in-depth reviews on multiple formats here at Electronic Theatre are not intended as comparison pieces, but instead to deliver a verdict as to whether the title can present an entertaining experience on it’s host platform. And with Batman: Arkham Asylum, it seems that this is indeed the case regardless of it’s chosen system.
The game is a linear adventure of almost immaculate pacing. Set entirely within the confines of Arkham Island, home of the infamous Arkham Asylum, Batman is set upon a mission to bring order to the inmates, sprung free in an elaborate plan by The Joker. Scarecrow, Bane, Harley Quinn, Croc and many more provide challenges, along with subtle cameos from numerous other famous Gotham City villains and a special appearance from The Riddler.
With the asylum being a headline for the game it would be a surprise if the location wasn’t incorporated into the gameplay with some delicate suspension-of-disbelief techniques. However, quite how immersive the environment can become is by far the greater shock. Having taken inspiration from Metroid Prime and BioShock’s Rapture, the level of detail in the environments is unprecedented. From cell blocks to botanical gardens, hospital wards to graveyards and much more besides, Arkham Asylum has been elegantly recreated as a unique and inspired playpen for gamers to embark upon a thoroughly enthralling adventure. Platform, combat and puzzle solving sections comprise the bulk of the game, and each is very well presented in their own way.
The Platform sections comprise of some basic acrobatics to begin with, but soon ask the player to mix-up freshly earned abilities in order to reach exits that become less and less obvious. Further to this are challenges under pressure from time and enemy placement, and even scaling dizzy heights while remaining undetected. A lot of the combat relies of the player using the shadows to their advantage, as while unarmed guards rarely present a substantial challenge, just a single enemy armed with a firearm can cause some serious damage to Batman’s health. Health is recuperated by downing enemies through a variety of Stealth attacks and the much touted FreeFlow Combat system, which proves to be as fluid in practice as it’s name would suggest. Experience is granted through combat, Riddler Challenges and reaching designated points in the adventure, and is used to upgrade both the series of available combat manoeuvres and certain pieces of equipment.
The puzzle solving element of the storyline is rather minimal, in all honesty. The biggest tasks generally involve navigating beyond groups of armed enemies or a set pattern of jumping, climbing and gliding. The Detective Mode featured in the game is not an altogether different gameplay proposition, but rather a view mode highlighting interactive environmental objects, such as vents and the collectable Riddler Trophies. Indeed, the Riddler Challenges themselves typically provide a more mentally taxing objective than anything the main story throws at the player, coming in the form of the aforementioned Riddler Trophies, BioShock-esque backstory filling recordings and hidden question marks that often demand a great deal of acrobatics to correctly line-up. In addition are the riddles themselves: a number of riddles will be spread throughout the many areas Batman will travel through, appearing at the moment each territory is entered. The player must find and scan the object of scene that provides the correct solution. Sometimes the answers are relatively straight-forward, others will see players wandering back and forth past the answer before it becomes clear.
The presentation of Batman: Arkham Asylum is fantastic. While the incredibly – and interestingly – detailed asylum itself steals the show, the character models are finely detailed and well animated. The cut-scenes are smoothly presented, and their slightly crisper character models are perhaps the only noticeable mark between the two console versions. While the PlayStation 3 release offers little to complain about, the Xbox 360 cut-scenes do appear of a slightly higher quality. The score and vocal qualities are of a similarly commendable quality, with a notable performance from Mark Hamill, though this may have more to do with the cunningly diplomatic game convention deliverance of his script than any individual passion for the role.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is a fine example of planning and execution, delivering a videogame with intrigue and challenge littered around every corner. Players will be drawn through every step of the plot by that all important need to see what may lie beyond, and in a similar fashion to the Metroid series, it will always be rewarding enough. Batman: Arkham Asylum is a cohesive adventure that never fails to impress, and in doing so has become one of the greatest this generation of games consoles has yet to offer.