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Critical Reception: Eidos/Rocksteady's  Batman: Arkham Asylum

Critical Reception: Eidos/Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham Asylum

August 26, 2009 | By Danny Cowan

August 26, 2009 | By Danny Cowan
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More: Console/PC, Columns



This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Batman: Arkham Asylum, a comic book adaptation that reviews describe as "the definitive representation of the Dark Knight." Arkham Asylum currently earns a score of 91 out of 100 at Metacritic.com.

Game Informer's Andrew Reiner rates Arkham Asylum at 9.5 out of 10, praising its grim setting. "Like BioShock's underwater dystopia, Arkham Asylum is a place of wonder and inexplicable horror," he writes. "The Asylum isn't just a backdrop for this twisted tale, it is its tone-setter and driving force. The Asylum pumps just as much excitement into this adventure as the pointy-eared vigilante, Batman, does."

Particular attention has also been paid to the enemy characters, few of which feel like the throwaway goons that players have fought by the dozens in previous Batman titles.

"Developer Rocksteady Studios has gone to great lengths to make all of the inhabitants, be it the inmates or the now-hunted guards, feel like they are living, breathing characters," Reiner explains. "They converse with one another, interact with Arkham's geometry, and ultimately create their own self-contained stories."

Reiner continues: "Their scripted behaviors translate to brilliantly devised gameplay cues that dictate how Batman approaches a scenario. Almost all of the encounters bring different twists and challenges that play off the personality traits of the caped crusader."

Reiner feels that the result is an experience that compares favorably to the genre's best. "Batman: Arkham Asylum is this year's BioShock," he praises, "not just from the connection established with the world, but from its ability to innovate where new ideas are needed, and moreover, deliver an adventure unlike any other."

At OXM UK, Mike Channell gives Arkham Asylum a score of 9 out of 10, noting that the experience does the Batman franchise justice. "Arkham Asylum gets Batman right," he says. "Whether it's grapple-swinging between gargoyles, performing crunching counter moves or appearing behind a thug and silently removing him from duty before disappearing into the shadows again, everything feels totally authentic."

Channell finds that Arkham Asylum succeeds because it focuses on Batman's often neglected gadgets and detective abilities. "We particularly love the rooms that force you to take out several heavily-armed guards using stealth tactics," he writes. "In those situations you're really made to take advantage of Batman's talents and kit, and there are few more satisfying moments in gaming than clearing out an entire room of hapless thugs in a matter of moments."

Arkham's setting and attention to detail are also exceptional. "While it's clearly a comic book-inspired pseudo-gothic setting rather than hard-line reality," Channell says, "it still feels totally convincing because it's so beautifully crafted. Better yet, the cutscenes, while excellent, are used sparingly and for the most part the story is delivered through voice messages and collectible recordings as you negotiate your way through the environment."

"No other license-shackled developer has understood their subject quite as well as Rocksteady," Channell concludes, "and this is without a doubt the definitive representation of the Dark Knight."

Cameron Lewis at GamePro.com rates Arkham Asylum at 4 out of 5 stars. "It's a triumph of mood and psychological tension," he writes, "and devoted fans will find a great deal to excite them. But they're also bound to be disappointed by its reliance on repetitive combat and a shortage of villains worth the big man's attention."

Lewis warns that some sections of Arkham Asylum become repetitive. "It's a shame that some of Batman's coolest gear and tactics are only accessible late in the game," he says. "But there's a bigger problem, and it's one that consistently holds back the joy of playing from start to finish: most of the unarmed enemies you face and the moves you use against them just aren't terribly interesting."

Lewis continues: "Timing your attacks, dodges, and takedowns to form combinations is certainly fun in a mechanical sort of way that beat-'em-up fans will surely enjoy, but when you've only got one attack button, there's little room for any personal style."

Bosses are often a disappointment as well. "Why is almost every boss battle virtually identical?" Lewis asks. "When I first met up with Bane, the ensuing clash was thrilling. When I later had to fight what is essentially the exact same creature with a different skin, my excitement took a gut punch."

Otherwise, Lewis finds the majority of Arkham Asylum a worthy play. "Batman: Arkham Asylum doesn't quite deliver on all of its big ideas," he admits, "but its rousing peaks make its low points more than bearable. Its best moments of dazzling showmanship easily qualify as must-see entertainment, even if they're not sufficient to make the game as a whole a must-play."


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