Batman: Arkham Asylum
He’s one of the darkest anti-heroes to ever exist, scaring generations of both adults and children all over the world. Through the medium of comics, graphic novels, films, books and TV, Batman has become a key part of the entertainment industry. Then Rocksteady presented us with Batman: Arkham Asylum. An eclectic masterpiece that perfected the ‘Dark Knight’ persona and left an experience that was waited on by bat-lovers everywhere. Waiting in the wings, developers had already begun work on the grander Batman: Arkham City and it is by no means a disappointment.
A year has passed since the events on Arkham Island; the Joker has been poisoned by a substance known as Titan and continues to lurk in the shadows. The asylum remains overrun with hordes of criminals from Gotham – a large area of it has been cordoned off to pen in these crooks. Psychotic psychiatrist Hugo Strange and his mercenaries both words run the area and within it are three factions of men– Harvey ‘Two Face’ Dent’s, the Penguin’s and our friend, the Joker’s. All are hungry for power. The game starts with disfigured Dent trying to execute the slinky, PVC-clad Catwoman. As crime-fighters do, Batman intervenes and uncovers with it a plot – Protocol 10 – condemning Gotham into a sinister oblivion. And so a night of judgement begins, again…
As the game begins, players are immediately hit with the stunning visuals in Arkham City. The graphics have never looked as dark and ominous. The grime of Gotham City is brought to life in realistic ‘graphic novel’ style but may mean you have to brighten your TV set to see what’s going on. When given the chance to soar across the skies, the player can realise just how expansive the City is. The architecture of the decrepit and decaying Gotham shows itself in new lights around every street corner.
In rescuing Catwoman, Batman soon encounters the newly improved combat system. Where Asylum had previously broken boundaries in creating the most dynamic fighting system of its kind, Arkham City presents us with a new intuition born into combat; Batman chooses who to attack next based on who is closest and who is more threatening. However, Batman can have a tendency to become disorientated and hit the wrong target at times, leading the player to suffer a baseball bat to the head. Although, Batman could not be complete without his utility belt and this comes with many new and upgraded gadgets. Accessing these gadgets couldn’t be easier – tap the directional pad. This isn’t to say that players aren’t significantly challenged; thugs come at you with baseball bats, stun guns, firearms, knives and with their own protective body armour. They are possibly the most well equipped scum to walk the planet. Luckily, Batman’s dwindling health bar can be topped up with XP created by jaw-dropping combos. Articulated button stomping is required for well-timed attacks that can make or break even the simplest of fights – even on Normal, players are presented a challenge.
Stealth is key to the Batman experience, which is delivered in ‘Metal Gear Solid’ quantities. The environment has been perfectly created so players can stalk their prey and then bring down ruthless brutality on unknowing villains but they don’t take it lying down. Gone are the irritating and repetitive Asylum thugs. Thugs come equipped with thermal goggles lighting up the dingy ceilings to reveal Bat-shaped figures lurking for an attack and detonation devices are planted on innocent-looking gargoyles. Even proximity mines are placed next to villains so no take-downs can be acted out. XP can be found in overcoming these issues and this, in turn, will provide Waynetech upgrades. Detective Mode is still very much in use too, now called Augmented Reality mode, it can be a tad over empowering and over-used but still works well within this type of stealth-related game.
Various super villains present a world of pain to Batman; each villain has been characteristically brought to life through stunning visuals and brilliant voice acting, especially Mark Hamill as the Joker. The vicious taunting will soon have players throwing their controllers about the room out of sheer frustration but worthy of dying many times over.
Another playable character is Catwoman, her sexy interventions throughout the story increases the sexual tension between her and Bat-boy every time. Don’t be mistaken for thinking this is just an add-on; she has her own agenda, Riddler trophies and combat combinations to perfect. This makes the characters just that little bit more believable and vulnerable.
Once again, the Riddler has left his mark all over the City, now presenting the player with Revenge Challenge maps. These are unlocked through the game and give players a chance to upgrade and enhance their skills. Riddler trophies can still be sought out during play but are a little bit more difficult to find this time round. Character bios and statuettes can also be collected amongst each level, adding to the collectable content available – a hoarder’s paradise. This makes the 15 hour narrative a bit more drawn out. It is always worth returning to certain areas too, as bonus cut-scenes and dialogues present themselves such as the opportunity to sucker punch Penguin and finding Scarecrow’s discarded remnants. Excitingly, this game never really ends – it is a dark, twisted fairytale whereby play can continue with Batman or Catwoman.
Overall, Arkham City builds up a sense of righteousness in the player, there is a sense that justice has been served across Gotham with every thug, major villain and mission taken down. Every trophy collected, ever challenge unlocked and all the upgrades collected, makes Arkham City feel wholesome. This game has no rival for believability, aesthetics, game-play and soundtrack. With enough content to keep the inhabitants of Arkham Asylum busy for the rest of their life sentences, you can bet your Bat pole on it that there’ll be another thrilling sequel to this masterpiece.