Only The Insane Would Avoid This Game
Nobody really expects a game based around a comic book character to be very good. Multiple games in the past have tried to pull off this feat, but none have come anywhere close to Batman: Arkham Asylum. This game utterly surprised me. After playing the demo, I was hooked. Everything about it seemed so polished and so refreshing that it was hard to pass up. The quality of the package is so high that it's unlikely anyone would be disappointed.
One of the great aspects of Batman: AA is how varied the game is. You may find yourself taking on up to 10 thugs in one room, and the next moment you're swinging around the ceiling, carefully knocking out goons without being seen. The combat in the game is phenomenal, and makes great use of the free flowing style. You'll bounce back and forth between foes, pulling off combos and face busting punches and kicks. The animations for Batman look amazing, and as you switch between enemies to punch, you'll rarely see the same move twice despite the fact that you'll be mashing the X button to punch and kick and hitting the Y button whenever see the "Hey, I'm about to hit you" icon appear above the enemy's head to counter their attack.
The stealth sections (or, "Silent Predator") are a lot of fun. While playing you'll occasionally come across a large room with multiple goons patrolling, all of them carrying a gun. In these rooms, you can't just simply run through and punch everyone. Batman is vulnerable to enemy fire and gets shot down quickly, so instead you must make use of stone gargoyles located along the ceiling. By grappling up to these, you can view the entire area and watch the men as they move back and forth. There are several tricks Batman can use to eliminate the enemies: everything from glide kicking them in the back, blowing them up with explosive gel, or swooping down and hanging them from the gargoyle.
There are many things to be doing around Arkham Asylum, and the game never gets boring. There are plenty of breaks after intense fighting, and you are given a ton of opportunities to actually explore Arkham Island and solve one of 240 riddles scattered throughout the island. The riddles, created by none other then the Riddler, offer players a chance to take a deeper look at the environment. You solutions can range from analyzing an inconspicuous family picture sitting on a desk to lining up question marks that can only be seen in what's called Detective Mode. This can be activated at any time by hitting Left Bumper, and you'll probably end up playing through the majority of the game with it turned on. When it's on, you'll be able to see enemies through walls, and important things like vents you can crawl into or walls you can blow up are shown to you. This is really cool, and what makes it even better is that it doesn't interfere with the game in any way. There were several moments throughout the game where I was playing with Detective Mode on and after a short while I completely forget that I had it activated. Detective Mode also points out collectibles that can be picked up throughout the environment. Of these, the most interesting are definitely the patient interviews. These offer a small bit of backstory for the game's main villains, and it's really cool listening to doctors interview the psychos.
Aside from the story, you will also unlock challenge rooms and Silent Predator challenges as you play. The challenge rooms place you in one of the locations from the game where you fight off 3-4 waves of enemies. It's not all that exciting, but it's cool to see how many points you get at the end and where you stand on the leaderboards. The Silent Predator challenges allow you to basically replay some of the SP moments from the game, but this time you'll have to kill enemies in a certain way to get the most points.
Something I really loved about this game is how great the AI is for the thugs. When in a Silent Predator situation, you'll seem them casually walking about. After taking one down, they'll move after the body (if they heard him being knocked out) and will get nervous. They'll be much more alert and will move more slowly. Take another out, and they'll begin to panic. You'll see a thug move away on his own, and his buddy will yell "Hey wait up! I'm coming with you!" The two will then move very slowly together, watching each others back. (Sometimes, the other will respond with "No way! It's every man for himself!") Take another out, and they'll be so scared that occasionally you'll see them suddenly start firing at random. It's great fun watching how they baddies react to your actions.
Visually, Batman: AA is a masterpiece. The game makes excellent use of Unreal Engine 3, which you might know as the engine that powered games such like Gears Of War 2. The detail on the characters is great, especially the Joker. You can see every individual wrinkle and scar on his face, which is neat. Batman looks awesome, and throughout the game you'll notice that his suit and cape get more and more banged up and torn. The game makes excellent use of lighting, and it really sets the mood for the game. Very impressive.
You gain experience points during your adventure which will level you up. Once you reach the next level, you can buy one more ability. These can range from multiple batarangs to throw at once, different fighting moves, and much much more. Overall, I had the feeling that I was actually making Batman stronger instead of progressing through the game buying useless powers.
So that's Batman: Arkham Asylum in a nutshell. If you are a fan of Batman and the Batman universe, you would be crazy to not pick this up. Even if you know absolutely nothing about Batman, like me, there is plenty to enjoy. By far one of the better games I have played all year.