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Batman: Arkham Asylum Review

Xbox 360 Review by Dan Whitehead

21 August, 2009

Page 1 of 3. Page 2 ->

Character goes a long way. Developers know this, which is why most games based on existing characters are, at best, adequate in their construction. Ghostbusters, for example. It's a rather ordinary corridor shooter, really. Dress it up in a funny script, get a beloved movie cast back together and throw in Slimer and Marshmallow Man, and suddenly you've got something that fans will embrace regardless of the pedestrian construction. The litmus test for any licensed game is to strip away all the fan service and see if we'd still be as interested.

Within the first hour of play, Batman: Arkham Asylum passes that test with flying colours. The appropriately named Rocksteady has delivered a solid, immersive blockbuster title. It's well paced, boasts a well-judged variety of gameplay elements and is brought to life with excellent visuals, a compelling story and superb voice acting. Even if you were controlling a generic ninja rather than an iconic superhero, this would be a polished and engrossing game.

Add the Batman to that recipe and you've got something remarkable; a game that doesn't just use its famous character to make up for rote design, but one that takes a rich and detailed fictional universe and uses it to enhance an already enticing prospect. The great thing about Arkham Asylum isn't that it's a Batman game, it's that it only makes sense as a Batman game. Every plot detail, every gadget, every action set-piece ties the game back into the world of DC Comics in a way that feels utterly organic.

'Batman: Arkham Asylum' Screenshot 1

The seamless interaction between characters means that every encounter feels viscerally real.

Taking its title and basic concept from Grant Morrison's brilliantly obtuse graphic novel, we're dropped into Batman's world as he delivers The Joker to Arkham for the umpteenth time. This time, however, the Clown Prince of Crime was defeated too easily, and Batman is wary. His instincts are proven right when the Joker springs a trap on his captors. The lunatic takes over the asylum, and it's up to the man in the cape to restore order.

Drawing inspiration from both Resident Evil and Tomb Raider, what follows is an action-adventure in the classic mould. You'll spend a lot of time fighting, but it's far from a mindless brawler. You'll do a lot of creeping around, but it's never just a stealth game. There's plenty of climbing and exploring, but it's more than a platform game. It's a true hybrid, delivering distinct gameplay styles in carefully measured portions without ever losing sight of the bigger picture.

Combat is the first element you're introduced to, following an enjoyable interactive cut-scene opening, and the pared-back method chosen for hand-to-hand fighting is immediately impressive. Relying on just two buttons - one to attack, the other to counter - it takes the emphasis away from memorising complex special moves and instead lets you focus on timing and flow. Tap the attack button and Batman will direct his fists and feet in the direction of the left stick. If an enemy approaches from another angle, buzz lines will flash above their head to alert you to their imminent assault. Tap the counter button and Batman seamlessly alters his attacks to block and then eliminate the new threat.

'Batman: Arkham Asylum' Screenshot 2

A whole game of this stealth style would be frustrating, but served up in bite-sized chunks it's easy to forgive the sometimes clunky AI.

In theory it could end up being a question of just steering Batman through the villains, windmilling his arms like a fool. There's more to it than that, though, and it soon becomes clear that steady, precise rhythms are more effective than button mashing. The higher the combo meter climbs, the faster and more agile Batman becomes. As the game progresses, you can add a couple of special attacks to your arsenal - a grapple and throw move, plus an instant takedown - as well as utilise your batarangs to stun and slow opponents from afar. Health recharges after battle but, for as long as enemies are engaged, it can only ever go down. This neatly raises the stakes for each encounter without making progress impossible for those who haven't mastered the combo system.

It's hard not to pick up the combo style though and soon you're elbowing one guy in the face, grabbing another enemy's leg in mid-kick, uppercutting him for the impertinence and then vaulting over him to deliver a crushing roundhouse to the thug with a baseball bat rushing to join the scrum. At all times, it's a thrilling and satisfyingly cinematic way of presenting Batman's elite fighting skills. Everything connects with wince-inducing force, and the animation chains it all together beautifully, even if there is some forgiveable polygon overlap. For the coup de grace, when you finish off the last enemy you're treated to a punishing slow motion close up as Batman delivers the final devastating blow.

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Comments: 1-50 of 143 in total | next 50 »

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SleepyDeathFred
21/08/09 @ 17:01
#1
+3
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Hurray!
chessboxer
21/08/09 @ 17:01
#2
+1
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Got it pre-ordered, glad I don't have to cancel it.
TheStylishHobo
21/08/09 @ 17:02
#3
+6
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After watching the last two movies and playing the demo I certainly agree that the character has been done a great deal of justice. Brilliant portrayal in the movies. Brilliantly written, voiced and designed in the game. \o/
Edited 1 times, most recently on 21/08/09 @ 17:02
McBradders
21/08/09 @ 17:03
#4
+6
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Did not expect a 9. Nice.
Widge
21/08/09 @ 17:04
#5
+2
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NEUF?
Embargo!
Conspiracy!

All that aside, what a tasty demo there was for this game. Dead up for it, you could tell it was going to be class.

Completely the opposite to Wet, which had me reaching for the mind bleach.
VicViper
21/08/09 @ 17:06
#6
0
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Excellent, had it pre-ordered already, although I waiting to see if I get the collectors edition or if game has decided not to bother.
mowgli
21/08/09 @ 17:07
#7
+4
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God damn I've been waiting for this for so long and it has turned out better than I could have imagined.
GamesConnoisseur
21/08/09 @ 17:09
#8
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Right on! Finger up to the naysayers! Knew from demo that the game gonna be fun and a deserving place in the Batman based franchise, and even the wider Super Heroes verse.
kangarootoo
21/08/09 @ 17:12
#10
+4
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I think I had mis-read this one completely. I didn't have anything against it, but all the footage I had seen so far just made me file it under "3rd person fighting game based on known franchise", which based on my usual game prefs meant it wasn't very high on my priority list.

However, it sounds like its probably one of the best current examples of that genre of game, which means I need to have a nosey if only on principle and for professional reasons.
cianchristopher
21/08/09 @ 17:13
#11
+4
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Jesus, this game snuck up on me! I honestly gave it absolutely no attention until the demo came out and I "what-the-hell"-ed it!

I was so blown away by the quality of the demo that I just knew this wouldn't let me down come review-time.

Well done Rocksteady! Great to see a young developer shine on only their second outing. Bravo!
Emilia'sHorse
21/08/09 @ 17:16
#13
+1
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Great review. Certain buy. Happy all round
jefranklin18
21/08/09 @ 17:17
#14
+2
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Will be getting this game based on my try out of the demo. What I've seen has captured the character of the Batman well, and I do not read graphic novels.
Stormflood
21/08/09 @ 17:18
#15
+1
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Pleasantly surprised. No need to cancel the pre-order after all.
Master09
21/08/09 @ 17:19
#16
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Great. I have already pre-ordered the game and been really hyped about it and it's a relief it doesn't disappoint. The best super-hero game. Well done Eidos.
Metalfish
21/08/09 @ 17:20
#17
+4
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And with that a certain Ram-Raider shaped person has gaming pie all over their face.
cyacomini
21/08/09 @ 17:21
#18
0
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2 excellent super hero games* in 1 year? wow.

*Batman and Wolverine.
donnie080208
21/08/09 @ 17:26
#20
+1
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this review mirrors the plaudits i have read in recent uk gaming mags,going of the demo i enjoyed the game,plus rocksteady have done a great job on both 360 and ps3(extra kudos as it uses unreal3)imo this game is graphically equal to epics gears of war games which are a showcase for unreal3 and shows us how incompetant a lot of devs have been with multi platform releases which use the engine.anyway buying next week but worried combat could become repetetive,although it is the stealth aspect i am most interested in as a big batman fan.
Edited 1 times, most recently on 21/08/09 @ 19:20
MrGilder
21/08/09 @ 17:28
#21
+2
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Loved the demo and have it on pre-order so whatever the review score i was gonna be picking this up - 9/10 now makes me want this even more!
donnie080208
21/08/09 @ 17:30
#22
-1
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YES the barren spell is over,its been a long hard few months.the great games start next week with this.then dirt2,nfs shift etc,etc..
Hendo
21/08/09 @ 17:30
#23
-7
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RAM Raider says, "ding ding ding!"
smelly
21/08/09 @ 17:32
#24
+2
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nernernernernernenrenerner!

Buying this tomorrow!

Metalfish
21/08/09 @ 17:32
#25
+3
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@Hendo, it has become apparent that RR has said "ding ding" about pretty much ever single bloody review of this game, damaging his credibility rather a lot.
kelly's_h
21/08/09 @ 17:33
#27
+1
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First class, I don't play that much games these days because I have no time, but I will have to make time for this.
zuljin
21/08/09 @ 17:33
#28
+6
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A good superhero game? Awesome, I'll be getting this now...

EDIT: For the love of god donnie080208, start using punctuation and line breaks!
Edited 1 times, most recently on 21/08/09 @ 17:34
chudders
21/08/09 @ 17:33
#29
+1
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No Michael Keaton? No sale.




Just kidding.
Hendo
21/08/09 @ 17:35
#31
+1
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@Metalfish it's a fair point, though anyone that trusts a Gamesmaster review gets what they deserve. I'm shocked they're still in print!
Vertius
21/08/09 @ 17:36
#32
-2
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I figured it'd top out at 8/10. That's quite reassuring. Fancy that, I'll actually be getting a good game with mah batarang! ;)
smelly
21/08/09 @ 17:37
#33
-5
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>"3rd person fighting game based on known franchise"

Surely that's better than ANOTHER 1st person shooting game?

But play the demo.. you'll be surprised! Its not often a play a demo and am left wanting more!

Cheeky
21/08/09 @ 17:37
#34
-3
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Day one for me then. :)
miiiguel
21/08/09 @ 17:48
#35
-2
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Being a graphic novel collector, and having a few of Batman, most of them very well written, I still can't empathize with the persona. Too "vigilante"; too "fascist". No, it's not in the same way that almost any other super-hero, with Batman there's something else.

No reason to stop buying the books or the game (which is pre-ordered). Good call.
muscleblade
21/08/09 @ 17:48
#36
+2
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I expected a 9/10. But i have played the full game. The demo did not do this game justice imo.

Batman Arkham Asylum has everything. Great story, great graphics, great combat mechanics and great gameplay.
Azazel
21/08/09 @ 17:54
#37
+1
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Looking forward to this. Seems to have pleasantly exceeded a lot of peoples expectations.
Ninja_Tino
21/08/09 @ 17:59
#38
+1
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Greatly written review (and not just because it got a high score). Now we all also know that Eurogamer is obviously biased towards DC over Marvel as well. Joke, by the way.
makeamazing
21/08/09 @ 18:03
#39
-5
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@muscleblade can you tell me what things in particular make the game a 16? Is it a Terminator 16 (e.g shouldnt have been) or is there anything particularly bad in it?
andywilkie35
21/08/09 @ 18:07
#40
0
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I'm looking forward to this very much. Less than a week to go! (assuming my shopto order arrives on Thursday)
DUFFMAN5
21/08/09 @ 18:08
#41
0
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Fookin great, just cant wait.
GhenghisNaan
21/08/09 @ 18:10
#42
-1
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Always was going to buy this.
Bulbatron
21/08/09 @ 18:10
#43
-1
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The game sounds great, but I'm really shit at the whole stealth thing, so I don't know whether to get this game or not.
darc
21/08/09 @ 18:14
#44
+1
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This looks awesome. Is it out in the UK already? I see a US date of 8/25.

I was starting to think I'd pick up a PS3 Slim in September, but now it looks like we're going to get blitzed w/ excellent new 360 games, so perhaps not. I'll never find time to play half this stuff anyway! Sony really should have made their move at the *beginning* of the annual summer drought.
Sonic_D
21/08/09 @ 18:14
#45
0
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Demo made me think this game might get a bit repetitive, but it looks like it's worth the punt. Reviews have been very positive.
Vortex808
21/08/09 @ 18:18
#47
0
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Just pre-ordered it having seen this review- I'd maybe have cancelled my wolfenstein order if i'd seen the review in time, but it seems fun enough after a long time of no new game-age!
Widge
21/08/09 @ 18:18
#48
+4
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and then goes on to detail that this is referring to stuff like static chairs and whatnot as opposing to an overarching sweeping statement. I fail to see your issue.
BartonFink
21/08/09 @ 18:27
#49
-4
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Cool will be picking this up in a few months when the price has dropped like a stone.
BillyBrush
21/08/09 @ 18:39
#50
+5
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The litmus test for any licensed game is to strip away all the fan service and see if we'd still be as interested.

Within the first hour of play, Batman: Arkham Asylum passes that test with flying colours. The appropriately named Rocksteady has delivered a solid, immersive blockbuster title. It's well paced, boasts a well-judged variety of gameplay elements and is brought to life with excellent visuals, a compelling story and superb voice acting. Even if you were controlling a generic ninja rather than an iconic superhero, this would be a polished and engrossing game.
...
...
...
...
The great thing about Arkham Asylum isn't that it's a Batman game, it's that it only makes sense as a Batman game.


Erm...yea, that makes sense.

Game looks very good, i think i'll wait till it's 24.99 or thereabouts as i'm a cheapskate, but it looks worth a play.

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