With the recent release of Batman: Arkham City I thought it was about time I finished the previous game. I am really not sure why I hadn't already, it's had members of the press and gamers raving about it ever since it was released. I will also be reviewing the sequel at a later date as I bought and completed it within a week of it going on sale. I think whether or not this game is any good or not doesn't need much clarification, but here are my thoughts anyway.
Graphics: 9 out of 10
The only criticism that that I really level at the visuals of Batman: Arkham Asylum is the same grotesque gigantism that effects other games that use the Unreal engine (most noticeably the Gears trilogy). Most characters are really strangely proportioned, and look like they have quite the steroid problem. In some cases like Bane and Killer Croc this works, but Batman himself is a bit too much of a beefcake for my liking. Other than this though the graphics are excellent. The game really does do an excellent job of bringing the comic book world to life and making Arkham feel like a real place. Don't go thinking that the Asylum is just one building - a short way into the game the whole of Arkham island opens up to you, with many different places including a medical wing, penitentiary, a mansion and even botanical gardens to explore.
The whole game takes place at night which is in keeping with the setting and characters that we're dealing with, but none of the game is overly dark. A lot of atmosphere is added by having the large full moon looming in the night sky and recognisable buildings such as Wayne Enterprises viewable from certain places on the island. The environments that you will be sneaking and fighting your way throughout are quite nice and varied, and even though you end up backtracking to several areas a second time they have been changed significantly your next time through.
Sound and Music: 9 out of 10
I am going to touch on the voice acting first because Rocksteady Games have absolutely nailed it by managing to hire most if not all of the people most well known for playing the different characters from the Batman universe. First of all we have Mark Hamill as the Joker, a role that he wears like a glove and seems to have great fun doing so (even though he keeps saying that he'll never play the character again). All thoughts of Luke Skywalker disappear the moment the Joker starts to speak, and Hamill has many lines throughout the game as he will frequently make comments or order his henchmen over the tannoy system. I think overall, besides the addictive and well designed game play, it was wanting to find out what the Joker would say and do next that kept me playing just that little bit more each session.
Backing up Hamill are two highly experienced voice actors that play Batman/Bruce Wayne and Harley Quinn respectively - Kevin Conroy and Arleen Sorkin. If you have watched the animated series you will know instantly that these are the same people reprising the roles here. I can't really imagine what the game would have been like if they hadn't manage get these people in the roles as they fit them so perfectly. It also helps of course that the overall story of the game and the writer of the dialogue for these characters is none other than Paul Dini, a writer who is well versed in these characters and the universe already.
Supporting the voice work is the soundtrack, and the duo of Nick Arundel and Ron Fish have done a very good job of composing an original score that fits the Batman mythos. DC and Warner could have been lazy here and just used the Danny Elfman or Hans Zimmer music from either of their movie franchises (like they did with LEGO Batman), but they have done a proper job instead by hiring Arundel and Fish and it has paid off. Sound effects play their part too of course and the Batarang, Bat Claw and other gadgets all sound spot on. Also, punches and kicks sound really weighty and painful as you beat the crap out of dozens of poor henchmen over the course of the game.
Game Mechanics: 9 out of 10
Rocksteady Games have done a truly outstanding job of making you feel like you actually are Batman. Firstly, the hand to hand combat: you can string moves together with ease and flow from one move to the next taking out up to 12 bad guys in the same fight (they do tend to stand around patiently and wait to get beaten up, but whatever). Then there is the array of gadgets that you gradually get access to, which both allows you to access new areas of the Asylum and take out bad guys in new an interesting ways. Stealth plays a part in this game, as many of the enemies carry machine guns and tough as Batman is, he can’t survive a full clip being shot into him. Instead, you must make use of the conveniently place gargoyles around the grounds, watch the movements of the guards and then glide down and give them a boot in the face. Or perhaps hang upside down from the gargoyle and wait for an unsuspecting goon to walk underneath, before descending upon him and stringing him up.
The developers shake things up to keep you on your toes throughout the game, by adding explosives to the gargoyles for example, so that you can’t stay on one for more than a few seconds – or by putting alarms on the Joker’s henchmen that go off if they are knocked out, sending another, tougher wave after you. Every so often you will face off against a boss, who is usually one of Batman’s famous foes like Bane, Poison Ivy or Killer Croc. These boss fights have come under a fair bit of criticism in reviews, mainly because they all boil down to the same thing – you look for the bosses weakness, exploit it, they retreat and send in a wave of standard goons, you defeat them, repeat twice more, you win. While they are a little repetitive they didn’t really get on my nerves that much, and the quality of the rest of the game more than makes up for this small quibble.
Innovation and Cleverness: 8 out of 10
There are things that happen in this game that rival the Psycho Mantis encounter in the original Metal Gear Solid for sheer creativity and spot on understanding of the Batman license. To go into details here would be to totally spoil the impact for anyone who hasn’t yet played the game, and I’m not going to do that. Suffice to say though that the unique talents of some of Batman’s arch enemies come into play throughout the story in some very interesting ways. Aside from this, I also like how the usual boring old things like collectables actually give you more insight into the background of the characters, because they take the form of patient interview tapes.
Value and Replayability: 7 out of 10
The main story will take a decent enough chunk of time to play through, say a dozen hours at least, but the game is so good that you will probably find yourself powering through the game faster than you realise. Bolstering the length of this title somewhat are 300 Riddler Challenges, which vary from simply finding trophies throughout the world, solving actual riddles and targeting the item that makes up the solution, or destroying a certain amount of Joker teeth. I didn’t really go out of my way to find and complete these when I played the game, and at the end I had completed 80 of them, so there’s still plenty of scope for completionists to get many more hours out of the game.
Overall: 9 out of 10
Not only is this one of the best super hero games ever made, it is one of the best action games full stop. Fans of the Bat are going to absolutely love it, and those that haven’t really got into his comics or movies before may well end up converted after spending a night in his cape trying to thwart the latest evil scheme of the Joker and his cronies. The sequel promises to deliver all that this game has done and more so, by expanding upon the confined space of the Asylum and giving you the whole city as your playground. Batman will have to go up against many more famous foes such as the Penguin, Mr Freeze and Dr Strange, but he will be helped by Robin and possibly by Catwoman, depending whose she she’s on this time. It promises to be one of the highlights of this year in gaming despite being surrounded by so many other amazing titles in the schedule. If the original has passed you buy though, it is still worth picking up as it is an excellently designed game full of atmosphere and fun gameplay.