The prison guard jerks The Joker’s arm as he leads him off to his familiar cell in Arkham Asylum. As The Joker looks back over his shoulder at Batman, he trips and falls to his knee.
When the guard leans down to help him up, Joker takes the opportunity to quickly headbutt the guard as he stands up, sending him reeling. Before anyone can react he leaps up and wraps his cuffs around the guard’s neck from behind. Batman beats on the reinforced glass separating him from his nemesis as he kills the helpless prison guard.
When The Joker hears the guard’s last gurgling attempts at breathing, he gets in his punchline… “Choke’s on you!”
This scene sets the whole tone of Batman: Arkham Asylum, and I think someone may have been pumping Joker gas into my living room, as I had a silly grin on my face the whole time.
The Caped Crusader has been striking fear into the hearts of the Gotham City underworld for the past 70 years, and yet all of the criminals pale in comparison to The Joker — often seen as the Yin to Batman’s Yang, this being reinforced by Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke published back in 1988.
Unfortunately the same can’t be said of Batman’s videogame history, as they seem to have follow the Joel Schumacher iteration of Batman in most cases… however with Arkham Asylum… there’s not a bat-nipple in sight.
Thankfully Eidos’ latest outing for our pointy-eared protagonist doesn’t disappoint when it comes to the atmosphere and tone of the game. From the off the dark, dank visuals coupled with the eerie score, and some competent voice acting help to keep the tension and suspense going throughout. Mr. Skywalker himself Mark Hamill reprises his Joker role that he’s played on many occasion, and this time he’s definitely nailed it. Two more actors reprising their roles are Kevin Conroy who puts in a good turn as Batman, and Arleen Sorkin who returns as Harley Quinn.
The game opens with Batman delivering The Joker to Arkham Asylum on Arkham Island, muttering to Commissioner Gordon and Warden Sharp that the villain was caught all too easily after his attack on Blackgate Prison. The game’s introduction lasts about ten minutes or so, giving you a nice walkthrough of part of the creepy asylum while The Joker babbles at anyone who’ll listen. He also drops a few other villain’s names here and there too — a possible indication of what’s to come… Although you do meet one rather hulking bad guy in the form of Killer Croc during your walk to the detention area.
Once The Joker’s trap is sprung after his intentional capture (reminiscent of The Dark Knight) his games begin, with the help of Harley Quinn and a few other cons. The opening area leaves you trapped with 2 waves of bad guys with the intent of getting you used to the new Freeflow™ combat system.
This particular gameplay mechanic got me rather excited prior to the game’s release, and upon testing the combat out during the demo (available on Xbox Live, PSN and via the web now), I thoroughly enjoyed it’s simplicity and brutal feel.
On the PS3, most of the damage is dealt using the Square button, dishing out standard strikes and linking moves together when you aim at different opponents. The Triangle button is a counterattack — when you see little lightening bolts around an enemy’s head, (it’s an indication of an impending attack) tap the triangle button and you’ll counter that attack no matter what you’re doing. Combining the triangle button with R2 (the crouch button), you can do ground finishers on downed opponents.
Although the combat may seem like bashing one or two buttons repeatedly, the skill comes with stringing attacks together with different enemies — the more opponents you link in to your attacks, the more combat multipliers you get. The more this increases the more health and XP is returned to you and additional XP is granted for variety in combat.
The Circle button is the Cape Stun — used to break enemies’ blocks, but in the early stages you’ll probably not find this very necessary. One useful little tool is the Batarang, used by tapping the R1 button (and you can aim it using the L1 button)… though until you can upgrade these, you’ll normally use them from afar.
Although the Freeflow™ Combat system is a great gameplay mechanic, it’s not the be-all and end-all of the game. There’s a certain amount of stealth and detective work involved too, as often it’s suicide to just wade into a group of enemies. Half the fun is picking them off one by one, and watching the effect it has on their colleagues.
Once you unlock the combat upgrade, you’ll be able to perform an “Inverted Takedown” — here you hang down from a gargoyle, and grab an enemy hoisting him back up with you… then you drop him so he hangs upside down from the gargoyle. Great fun!
There are projectile weapons too in the form of Batarangs, used by tapping R1 for a quick release or aiming them with L1. Another options in this area also includes explosive gel and more — all selected using the D-Pad. The explosive gel is rather handy in taking down walls to locate Riddler Trophies, gain access to previously inaccessible areas or take down The Joker’s goons.
All these items are upgradeable as you gain XP throughout the game, and upgrades come in the form of multiple Batarangs, projectile gel, armour and combo upgrades, and a whole lot more.
There is some Sixaxis control employed too — when you Glide (hold X and run off a big drop), the motion control is used to change direction. It’s also used when using the aforementioned Remote Controlled Batarang upgrade, and to shake off certain types of enemies.
Another great feature of Arkham Asylum is “Detective Mode” — you can switch on your cowl’s visor, and switch vision modes in a Predator-esque fashion that will highlight different things. For example, you can use it to see through walls, and mark armed combatants, or to track particular chemicals… alcohol in the air for example.
The detail that’s gone into this feature is amazing. This will show the type of weapon an enemy is carrying, as well as that enemy’s heart-rate and current frame of mind… along with information on certain hardware like unhackable lock systems made by WayneTec and much more.
You can also hold down the L2 button to do an “Environmental Analysis” — this is used to scan certain items as well as look for clues and secrets — some of which are left by Mr. Edward Nigma aka “The Riddler.” Although he never actually makes a visual appearance, he hacks into your communication system and talks to you, setting you little tasks here and there. You will end up finding Riddler Trophies (like the suitcases in Grand Theft Auto IV), as well as other collectible items like Arkham Artefacts.
However, Detective Mode being almost like an electronic guide, it does lead to the problem in that it makes the game a little too easy, and some users will end up switching on Detective Mode, and not turning it off. The other drawback of this is that you end up missing out on a lot of the luscious visuals provided by The Unreal Engine 3.
Graphically the game excels in almost every area. I’ve found very little (if any) glitching, and the character movement is great. Some of the facial movements of the guard characters during dialogue isn’t exactly perfect, but in all honesty I haven’t seen a game yet that has managed to perfect this yet.
Something I really enjoy in Arkham Asylum is the character design. The Joker looks great (though I think he needs long hair a-la Ledger’s Joker), Killer Croc & Bane look really badass too. However my favorite character design-wise is Harley Quinn — I don’t care that she’s a Psychiatric Doctor turned Psychopath… she’s definitely hot – and the alternative look for her and the other characters goes well with the sordid/depraved undertones that run through the game.
Once you get through the first main section of the game, you’re introduced to Arkham Island and given the run of the place. It’s not quite as open as games like [Prototype] or GTAIV, but the illusion of completely open gameplay is there, and it works well.
There are other gameplay options available too, in the form of Challenge Maps. Happily if you have purchased the PS3 version, you have exclusive (and free!) access to the maps where you can play as The Joker – these are already on the Playstation Store.
One of the other great bonuses on the PS3 is that on Playstation Home, you have an extra “Personal Space.” Yes, it’s your very own Batcave! You can finally live out your fantasies! Well almost — it’s essentially an interactive advert for the game. You can walk around, and look up information on the Batmobile, Batwing, The Batsuit & Batarang… as well as watch a continually looping trailer for the game on some monitors. It’s cool, but very much a novelty.
Overall Batman: Arkham Asylum is a triumph — it’s a dark, badass comic book game with great gameplay, a provocative story, great visuals and it’s very good fun. You’re looking at about 12 hours solid gameplay, which is a decent length especially for a game with so much to do and see. I’d urge you to go and get your grubby mits on a copy as soon as possible… and if you’re one of the lucky bastards that got hold of special edition
, don’t go blinding your friends with the Batarang!