Batman is back and, this time, he’s not made of yellow plastic bricks. The world’s no.1 detective returns to the Xbox in a dark and serious mood more akin to the recent Christian Bale incarnation than the camp Adam West version of the 1960s. Arkham Asylum sees you assuming the role of the Caped Crusader in what is, so far, the game of the year. It’s visually stunning with an immersive plot and a format which switches game-play modes just often enough to prevent a feeling of staleness from creeping into the gaming experience. Most of the characters are true to the Batman universe, deep and believable and, as most are psychotic, more than just a little bit scary.
Rocksteady Games have managed to develop a great superhero game that anyone who has ever pulled a towel around their neck and wished they could fly will love. You can use an array of tools to help you negotiate the Asylum and find your way through the puzzles laid before you. The combat takes many forms from stealth to all out 15-on-one melee and when jumping from great heights you can utilise the glide function of your cape. In the stealth take-down sections the gameplay takes on a new level forcing you to think carefully about your moves before launching into your attacks. One of the game’s little gems is suspending a hapless goon upside down below a gargoyle before slicing the rope with a baterang and startling his equally goonish allies below. They obviously know their audience too as Rocksteady’s team have ensured that Poison Ivy bulges in all the right places with just enough leafage to spare her blushes while she seductively chats up the Bat, just before trying to batter him. Those in the know will enjoy the hidden references to other characters unseen in the game and the back-stories, which can be collected to fill out the plot as you progress.
The game does have some flaws however, not least of which are the combat controls. It is possible to win almost any fight by battering the X and Y buttons mercilessly until your fingers bleed, and this detracts a little from the sense of immersion in the game. Players really have to try and make it interesting for themselves by throwing in the odd baterang and batclaw just to spice it up. Without giving too much away the boss fights can be somewhat repetitive and formulaic, although this can be said about a lot of games. With all that aside though, Arkham Asylum is, overall, a shining achievement for Rocksteady and glorious fun to play. Put your pants on outside your trousers, start talking in a gruff voice and settle in for some gratuitous cartoon violence.