For the most part stealth is handled really well, but from time to time evading enemies can cause a few problems. Batman isn't able to jump at all times, with a single button/key having different uses depending on the position he's in and what he's next to. If he's stood in front of a platform he'll climb it, if he's on the ground he'll roll and if he's in the air holding it down will spread his wings and let him glide. Issues crop up when you're desperately trying to run from gun-carrying enemies (a few shots and it's an early bed time for Batman) and you need to hop over obstacles - unless you time it well he'll just roll into the wall, and it's very easy to get caught in a frustrating loop of almost-guaranteed death.
Enemy variety is excellent, with the standard goons coming in a spread of forms (standard goon, club-carrying goon, knife-carrying goon, electric-prod-carrying goon and gun-carrying goon), and you'll need to use different tactics on each if you're going to fuel your combo meter and take them down without being hit. It's the numerous bosses that really steal the show, though. Rocksteady gives you time to get to know each of your main foes before having a final confrontation, with some having lengthy periods of build up spread across numerous rooms. You're rarely just thrown into a fight without any prior encounters, making the showdowns far more entertaining. The majority of villains are completely outshone by The Joker, but that's not to say they're bad - he's just one of the best video game characters we've seen in some time.
Boss fights themselves aren't hugely original, but they do make sense for each enemy, and you'll often need to use their strengths against them in some way. Scarecrow is also worthy of a special mention, although his sections are split between some utterly superb altered-reality scenarios and some dated and less-than-thrilling "don't get caught by the spotlight" gameplay. When you're playing through areas as Batman high on Scarecrow's gas you'll likely be surprised by what Rocksteady has thought up. At times it's scary, unsettling and upsetting, but then you're transported to another world in which you need to play through the basic stealth sections that are more or less repeated throughout the game.
Using the Unreal Engine 3, Rocksteady has created a stunning looking game. Arkham Island is incredible to walk around, the characters are highly detailed and emotive, and it all runs without any noticeable slowdown. Few games manage to seamlessly switch between fast-flowing combat and considered sleuthing, but Rocksteady has been able to do it here with aplomb. If there's a criticism of the presentation, and we're really being picky here, it's that some of the world feels a bit lifeless, without many objects that can be physically interacted with. This has been lessened somewhat in the PC version, thanks to some neat PhysX support that introduces moving smoke/fog, swaying sheets of plastic and broken tiles that fly about when large enemies smash into them. It doesn't add a great deal to the game as a whole, but PC gamers with the right hardware will appreciate the effort that's gone into the game, on top of the expected better textures and increased resolution the game allows for.
No doubt we'll be on the end of some hate here, but the acting is also a bit varied. While all the villains are top class, headed by Mark Hamill as The Joker, Batman suffers from some wooden delivery and iffy lines. The musical score can't be faulted though, setting the mood and never feeling out of place.
It's a shame that the game has to end, but when it does you'll no doubt have more to see and do. For one, there are a tonne of collectable items to find that will keep you exploring for ages, with Riddler trophies, inmate interviews and more to be found. There's also a set of challenges that test your combat and stealth skills, with scores registered on worldwide leaderboards for all to see and compete against. While not as engaging as the campaign, for many these challenge rooms will offer the same amount of play time, if not more, and Eidos has already released a free add-on pack.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is everything you'd want from a Batman video game. It takes the licence and uses it in ways that make sense both for the character and for a game, giving players the chance to become one of the most popular super heroes of all time. There are a few niggling issues, but nothing that gets in the way of what is undoubtedly one of the best games of 2009. Whether you fancy skulking in the shadows, smashing slow motion fists in into a goon's skull, or simply using some cool gadgets, you can do no wrong with what is Eidos' best game in years.
VideoGamer.com Score9 Score out of 10
- Superb presentation
- Loads to collect
- Great mix of gameplay styles
- Not being able to jump causes problems