Darkness is descending upon Gotham City. The night sky is obscured by dark clouds lashing rain over a dark Gothic cityscape. Moonlight pierces through this gloomy curtain, illuminating a deserted road—the Dark Knight approaches.
A Serious House on Serious Earth
The Arkham Asylum overlook
The Joker has a party planned for The Batman and the venue could not be any better than Arkham Asylum. The asylum is a mansion on an isolated island with a dubious reputation of “treating” some of Batman’s deadliest foes, and The Joker has most of them on his party list. These guys are not the ones to resort to crime as a means to an end as they seem to have transcended beyond the petty criminal; proposing an alternate, almost dystopian view of the world.
Let’s get this party started
The Joker is escorted by Batman to Arkham Asylum after a failed attempt to attack the Mayor’s office. Around the same time, a mysterious fire breaks out in the city’s penitentiary, the Blackgate Prison and all the inmates are evacuated into the asylum. The hospital turns into a real madhouse after Joker, along with Harley Quinn, takes control of the security systems and sets all the inmates loose. It is a long and testing night for Batman as he works to regain control of the facility and unravel The Joker’s real plan.
The Dark Knight Returns
The game is played in a third person perspective with an over-the-shoulder camera system. With a push of a button, a special visor in Batman’s cowl is activated, switching the worldview to Detective Mode. In this mode, points of interests are highlighted in stark contrast while everything else is darkened with a dark blue hue. This also helps Batman preempt enemy encounters as he can see through walls at a limited distance, with enemies and guns that they may be wielding getting highlighted.
The Dark Knight stalking his prey
As expected, apart from this high tech cowl he also has access to amour upgrades and a utility belt filled with gadgets powered by Wayne Industries’ technology. However, not all these gadgets are available from the start of the game and will become available as the game plot progresses. These serve a variety of purpose from creating access to seemingly unreachable areas to setting traps for your enemies. These gadgets also have upgrades available that can be unlocked using experience points earned by various means. You start off travelling light though, and have only the Grapnel Gun and your trusty Batarang with you.
Journey into Knight
Harley Quinn with the warden
Most of us may still be experiencing a hangover from The Dark Knight movie; however, the game is purportedly designed with loyalty to the comic book mythos and written by Paul Dini who has penned quite a few comics and TV shows, including Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League Unlimited. I must admit to not being a big comic book fan; however this claim may actually hold some weight. For those who are curious enough to explore, there is a quite a bit of information available to delve into the minds of some of Batman’s foes. Exploring to find these secrets will also reward you with experience points and unlock bios of Batman’s enemies. The script for the game is well written and is supported by some strong voice acting. Most notable of the lot are voices for Harley Quinn (voiced by Arleen Sorkin), The Joker (Mark Hamill) and Amadeus Arkham (Tom Kane).
During the course of the game, you will also encounter some of Batman’s allies like Commissioner Jim Gordon and his daughter Barbara Gordon, as the Oracle.
The Brave and the Bold
Before you are able to restore order in the asylum and apprehend some of Gotham City’s greatest enemies, you’ll need to neutralise dozens of Blackgate Prison’s convicts. Since Batman has a “No Guns” policy, you’ll need to use a variety of techniques to incapacitate them. This game will sometimes present opportunities to use Batman’s stealth skills along with his arsenal of gadgets to isolate and take down the inmates without getting detected. These stealth sequences are typically set in a room with a handful of Joker’s henchmen patrolling. Switching to Detective Mode will highlight vantage points and hiding places, helping you to plan your course of action.
Glide-kicking Mr. Zsasz for a stealth takedown
There are a variety of ways in which Batman can take down his foes without being detected, like Inverted Takedowns (as seen in the movies) and using a Sonic Batarang to lure enemies into traps. Fear is something that Batman has always used against his enemies to great advantage and you will find scared and isolated enemies firing at nothing, out of sheer nervousness.
Batman engaging The Joker’s henchmen
The game is not all about stealth however; and you will sometimes have no option but to go up against a fairly large group of armed enemies in melee combat. During such situations, you will find yourself surrounded by enemies wielding knives, metal pipes and shock batons. To successfully overcome these overwhelming odds, the game features a Free Flowing combo system that unleashes Batman’s martial arts skill. You can use your cape to stun enemies, dodge, jump or counter incoming blows and unleash power strikes as you swiftly and seamlessly move from one enemy to the next. You may not feel like the Dark Knight from the onset and may find crowd control a little daunting at first. However, with a little bit of practice you should be able to take on an entire group of enemies in a single free flowing combo, without taking a single hit.
The combos are very well animated and the exact move Batman uses to take down an enemy is context sensitive. There are also a few special combo moves available that can be unlocked using the experience points. Successfully moving from one enemy to the next without taking a hit and missing any hits yourself, is a very gratifying experience. Sounds and slow motion techniques are effectively used to bring out hard-thumping punches and kicks with bone cracking grapple attacks. Mastering this combat technique not only provides a boost to your gamer ego, but also earns you extra experience points through score multipliers.
Combat during a sequence in Scarecrow’s alternate world
Journey into Knight
The game uses the famed Unreal 3 and PhysX engine along with other technologies like SpeedTree, IDV, ScaleForm, etc. to render the dark and gloomy landscape of Arkham Asylum, with a slick vector-based heads up display (HUD). Along with the customary health display, the HUD is also used to access and switch between gadgets in Batman’s utility belt. If you cannot find your way to the next objective or locate that last secret in a location, the game menu can be used to bring up a 2D schematic of Arkham.
Although the game characters might seem a little buffed up, they are modeled with an uncanny resemblance to some of the comic book art.
The Joker constantly tries to break down Batman’s psyche by mocking him using the facility’s video feed and the PA system. And he is only one of Batman’s problems this night, as he will have to also face The Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, Killer Croc, Harley Quinn, Bane and Mr. Zsasz.
Batman getting reacquainted with Killer Croc
Due to Batman’s training and conditioning, it may not be easy to break his constitution, but the effects of this grueling night are clearly visible on him. The developers have used certain artistic licenses to deliver the visual feedback: As the game progresses Batman sports a stubble, his cape has holes in it and there are cuts and bruises through his armour.
The game is so much fun that the Story Mode may seem a little short, lasting between eight to ten hours. After you beat the single player mode, there are a couple of other things to keep you busy.
Solving a riddle by scanning this gravestone of Dr. Amadeus Arkham
The Riddler also has a challenge for Batman this night and he has hidden away secrets throughout Arkham. These are sometimes placed in plain sight while others are hidden away behind grates and breakable walls. These secrets come in various forms like the Riddler’s Trophy, Patients Interview Tapes, The Chronicles of Arkham and some more. The game measures completion of your game by the progress you’ve made in the Story Mode along with the number of secrets you have discovered. All of these secrets are not accessible from the beginning of the game as they may require gadgets that become available at a later stage of the game. This means that if you want to achieve 100% game completion, you’ll have to do some back tracking with a complete arsenal of Wayne Tech equipment.
As mentioned earlier, progressing through the game and locating these secrets will unlock a bit of Batman lore. In addition to this however, it will also unlock challenge mode stages. Just like in the game, there are two types of scenarios—stealth and combat. There are a total of four combat challenges and four stealth challenges available to be unlocked. Each of these stages also has an “Extreme” mode, effectively taking the total number of challenges to 16 stages. On completion of these challenges, your total score for that stage is calculated and uploaded on the online leader boards.
It is not easy making a crossover game, especially ones based on a superhero; and understandably, solid games in this genre are few and far in between. The good news is that Arkham Asylum is easily one of the best games ever made in this category. In fact, even if you are not a big fan the Batman mythos, you’ll still enjoy this game.
Batman and The Joker
With the exception of gunplay, this game has something for every typical gamer. There are sections of the game that require stealth and patience and works well for those who look for a bit of strategy in a game. The combat system is robust and free-flowing, sometimes warranting good reflexes with the gamepad, especially in the later part of the game and in Challenge Mode. And for those gamers that enjoy exploration, there are secrets to be found and rewards to be unlocked.
Arguably, the only things that go against this game are the relatively short game length and somewhat disappointing boss battles...
Reviewed on an Xbox 360
Genre: Action, Stealth, Beat 'em Up
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Publisher: Eidos Interactive and Warner Brothers/DC Comics
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Price: Xbox 360 & PS3 - Rs 2,499 | PC - Rs 699 (Releasing Sept 18)
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