95Batman didn’t really need to get better.

Already one of the greatest comic book characters of all time, Batman has had a bit of resurgence in the last 5-10 years, accruing massive popularity deriving mostly from the latest installment of cartoons, merchandise and, of course, films.

Still, other than the super-cute Lego Batman game, the Caped Crusader has yet to leave his mark on the video game world, especially in the 21st century.

Until now.

Publisher: Warner Bros.
Developer: Rocksteady
Aug. 25, 2009

Say hello to Batman: Arkham Asylum, one of the newest releases from developers Rocksteady Studios and publishers Warner Brothers and Edios Interactive.‚  This multiplatform action adventure title has had a lot of hype surrounding it leading up to its release in late August.‚  So, the big question about Arkham Asylum wasn’t if the game was going to be highly anticipated, but rather if it could live up the excitement.

Having getting a chance to demo it at Comic-Con this year, I felt the heat that Arkham Asylum was generating even with the most casual of batman fans.‚  Yes, even I decided to join the Arkham hype-machine with my hands-on preview, hoping and praying that somehow this major release from a small, independent developer could live up to all I had come to expect from it.

Would Arkham be that great title everyone has been craving or would it end up being just another over-hyped letdown?‚  I guess you’ll have to read through and find out”¦

What would any video game review be without a short overview of the plot?‚  Batman: Arkham Asylum takes place on — wouldn’t you know it? “" Arkham Island.‚  This island is home to Gotham City’s most famous maximum-security correction facilities where Batman has recently delivered the Joker.‚  Though he is being processed and surrounded by many security guards, the Joker’s actions still seem suspicious to Batman.‚  Unfortunately for the Dark Knight, everyone’s worst fears are confirmed when the Joker escapes the clutches of the Arkham security personnel and creates total chaos.‚  It is up to players to use Batman’s strength, tools and allies to stop the Joker and his plans to destroy Gotham City.

The very first thing one notices when playing Arkham Asylum is its very effective cinematic approach to the game’s cut-scenes.‚  Driven by Mark Hamill’s incredible vocal portrayal of the Joker, Arkham Asylum really set a new standard when it comes to incorporating quality voice acting in games.‚  The dialogue was well written for every one of the characters and the visual aspects found a perfect blend between comic book stylization and realism. ‚ Furthermore, the in-game music for both the cinematic and action portions of the game coupled well with Arkham’s tremendous thespian endowment.

However, though most of the verbal talent was quite impressive, some of the most dry and uninteresting acting came from Batman himself.‚  Whether this is tribute to Batman’s stoic nature or just more proof that the Caped Crusader’s enemies are just much more interesting and complex than he, I wish we could’ve gotten a little more out of the protagonist’s lines.‚  Still, no one should be surprised if Arkham Asylum is used as a prime example of how effective direction and acting can help a great game become legendary.

Arkham Asylum did not only look good, but it felt good too.‚  Running on Unreal Engine 3.5, this title ran smoothly and beautifully.‚  Like many games that use the engine, Arkham Asylum has many characters that have an “epic” look to them.‚  That is, many of the character models are large, muscular and overall physically fit.‚  With this in mind, the folks at Rocksteady made a great choice with the Unreal Engine.‚  As I discussed in my preview for Batman: Arkham Asylum, Sefton Hill, director at Rocksteady games, told me that the developers wanted to make sure Batman looked and played like he was someone who was in chief physical condition.‚  Batman’s (as well as other character’s) sturdy, brawny build went well with the graphics engine without looking too over-the-top in terms of physique.

Batman would need to use all of that strength of his if he wanted to survive the high-intensity third-person gameplay that Arkham Asylum features.‚  Most of the combat involved an easy, free-flowing hand-to-hand fighting style.‚  With an Xbox 360 controller, a few taps of the X button would string together impressive and dynamic bone-breaking combat combinations that could be effective against many enemies at once.‚  When one of the Joker’s thugs is about to strike (as evident by attention-grabbing stripes protruding from said thug’s head), pressing Y will perform a jaw-dropping counter-attack, which can also be used in massive fighting combos.‚  When armed foes arrive, pressing B will make Batman spin his cape, disorienting anyone in range, turning potentially dangerous enemies into exposed and vulnerable beings.

However, though it can play like one, Batman: Arkham Asylum is not your simple brawler.‚  In fact, it is more of a stealth game (albeit a VERY aggressive stealth) than a fighter.‚  Being the world’s greatest detective, Batman has to do a significant amount of snooping and sleuthing during the game’s campaign.‚  This is where Detective Mode comes in handy.‚  This mode, toggled by the LB on 360 controllers, accentuates key details in environments necessary to solve puzzles, find clues and identify proper courses of action.‚  For instance, say you want to determine how to attack a group of enemies in the next room.‚  Simply activate detective mode to see where the thugs are, how many of them have weapons and even how scared they are (based on BPM).‚  This information will be key in determining how and when to attack.

Detective mode also comes in handy when following or tracking NPCs and completing the Riddler’s numerous and very addicting challenges.‚  Batman also has many tools at his disposal, progressively adding more and more to his repertoire throughout the game.‚  Look forward to using Batarangs, Batclaws and Explosive Gels to your advantage.

Finally, no review of Arkham Asylum would be complete without an overview of the extra goodies that are in the game.‚  First, Batman: Arkham Asylum rewards players who complete tasks and find clues with Character Bios.‚  These bios give each gamer deeper insight into the Batman Universe.‚  Each bio includes background stories and physical details of each enemy, friend and family member of Batman identified throughout the game.‚  This is a great way to get hardcore Batman fans and newcomers involved in the same game.‚  Also, players can find recorded audiotapes of therapy sessions and interviews from supervillians like Scarecrow, Poison Ivy and even the Joker himself.‚  Again, this is just another way to add depth and intrigue to an already interesting game.

While all the previously mentioned features were very entertaining, Arkham Asylum is not without flaws.‚  There are two main problem areas that come to mind: Boss Battles and Riddler Challenges.‚  Both of these aspects were both fairly lackluster in my very humble opinion.‚  Though the boss battles were challenging, they often got repetitive and came to unspectacular conclusions.‚  Similarly, the Riddler’s challenges were solid, but also become more tedious than entertaining at times.‚  I would have been more satisfied with my experience if my reward involved more than a few gamer points and a sense of achievement.

Blast Factor: Still, all things considered, Batman: Arkham Asylum is probably the best game of the year so far.‚  In fact, I think it would be fair to say that Arkham may be one of the best 5-10 games you can get for Xbox 360 and possibly the PS3, as well.‚  It is beautiful, addicting and, most of all, very fun. ‚ It is not often that a ultra-hyped game can truly live up to the excitement that surrounds it, but Arkham really broke from the mold here.‚  Batman: Arkham Asylum is a title that every gamer should own and, coming from an independent developer in Rocksteady Studios, it’s a title that every gamer can feel good about owning.‚  I’m glad to give Arkham Asylum the highest grade I’ve ever bestowed on a game.‚  Go buy this one ASAP.

Batman: Arkham Asylum is available for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 for a suggested retail of $59.99

About The Author

Chase Gharrity is a Blast Games correspondent.

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