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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Review

Batman: Arkham Asylum 2009
Rocksteady Studios.
Jack Clarkson review

Carl almost jumped out of his skin when he heard the scream. Loud, shrill and cut short before he could hear exactly where it came from. He almost wondered whether he had really heard it or if it had simply occurred inside his head.

One night, that was what the clown had told him. One night to take over this nut house and he would walk away rich and free. All he had to do was make sure none of their prisoners escaped and he’d never have to work again.
Why was it never that easy? Carl noticed Johnny beckoning him over.
"You hear that? I think it came from over there." He said, gesturing to the north corner. "You take point and I’ll cover you!"
Carl was secretly relieved, if there were two of them they should be safe. He edged round the corner, his gun shaking in his hands. And found Tony out cold, hanging upside down from a gargoyle six feet off the ground."
"Oh Jesus! It’s the Bat-Man Johnny! Johnny?"
Carl turned around, Johnny lay unconscious on the cold, hard concrete beneath him. Carl span round, trying to find where the monster was in the darkness of the Library they had been assigned to protect.
When out of the shadows, a glint of blackened metal caught Carl’s eye, curving majestically around one of the bookshelves before cutting Tonys’ limp body free of the gargoyle. The body landed directly on top of Carl, pinning him to the ground.
"Oh God! Oh God! Somebody help me! Anyone! Please!"
All Carl saw were a pair of white eyes almost glowing from inside the pitch black bat cowl. The Bat-Man leaned down close to the shaking Carl.
"There’s no-one. It’s just you and me."
And with one punch, it was all over.

Well this is a pleasant surprise. A Batman game that isn’t just good. A Batman game that’s actually great. Today is a good day to be a nerd!

Imagine taking the Christopher Nolan films and surgically removing all the bad bits like Christian Bale and Glasgow-grin joker. Now slather the gritty slime left over on to the original animated series with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamil. And you will be left with something beautiful.

The story goes that Batman has captured the Joker once again and has just put him in Arkham asylum, unfortunately the asylum staff haven’t heard the golden rule of never letting the Joker out of Batman’s sight, and he inevitably escapes and takes over Arkham. It’s up to you as Batman to liberate the place one room at a time.

The voice acting is superb, with Conroy and Hamil playing their parts pitch-perfectly, and everyone else being at least tolerable with the possible exception of Harley Quinn, but she’s always been like that.

The story is delivered at a fast pace and you never feel like the game is being padded out or stretched. There is always something to do, even if it’s just solving the Riddler’s puzzles that he’s left around for you to find. However what you’re going to be doing most are beating the crap out of unarmed thugs, and picking gun toting ones off stealthily.

What Batman: Arkham Asylum does so beautifully is it keeps the controls so streamlined. Aside from the upgrades you receive you have almost all your moves at your disposal from the get-go, most of the game is about using your many abilities to outsmart your enemies and slowly feel Batman become your little puppet. Almost never do the controls feel context sensitive or contrived. Your abilities are at the tip of your fingers, everything form throwing a Batarang to grabbing a weapon out of a criminal’s hand are a button press away and not once will you feel yourself grappling with the controls. Everything in that introduction story is possible to do. I casually threw a batarang at a man I had hung from a gargoyle and watched as he fell on top of the two guys who had found him. I’ve pulled criminals over ledges, silently wrestled them to the ground while their friends stand mere feet away unfortunate enough not to see me before finding their colleague unconscious while I’ve silently whisked myself up to a gantry above them, watching them firing their guns at the slightest sound in the darkness.

But it’s not all stealth and skulking about in the shadows. Oh no! When they aren’t lucky enough to have guns, they get to feel the might of Batman’s fists instead. Combat is fast, fluid and relies on you moving through a crowd of hardened thugs, beating on them with your martial arts skills, throwing them into each other and just breaking limbs left right and centre before being treated to a close up, slow motion shot of Batman’s last hit. And you don’t know happiness until you’ve seen Batman punch a man in the genitals so hard he flies back six feet in a quivering mess.
This game is truly exceptional. Eidos have not simply made a Batman game, they have made a game where you are Batman. My only disappointment is that it has to end at some point, although the challenge modes are definitely good consolation for that fact, testing you on how fast and well you can dispatch a certain number of goons until your eyes bleed.

If all comic book based games were this well thought out and nicely made, the world would be a better place. If you enjoyed Nolan’s recent films you will love this, if you enjoy Batman you will love this, if you enjoy anything you will love this!
© Jack Clarkson
Jack is dressing up as a rodent and jumping on rooftops after studying Creative Writing at Portsmouth Univerfsity

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