Finally, a comic book game based on Batman that's truly a fun and fantastic adventure has arrived on the scene. Rocksteady Studios was just known for Urban Chaos prior to Batman: Arkham Asylum but after this game they're going to be a pretty big name. Today I'm going to look at the PC version of the game and I'm also going to be playing it in 3D using NVIDIA's GeForce 3D Vision setup as well as utilizing PhysX to enhance the environment. The NVIDIA setup combined with an incredibly well designed game makes for Batman Arkham Asylum a title you have to own even if you are remote fan of the characters.
The story starts out with Batman transporting the Joker to Arkham Asylum and you know it's not going to be as simple as locking him up in one of the cells. The Joker quickly escapes and a large portion of the rogues' gallery for Batman will do battle with the Dark Knight as you try to bring order back to the Asylum. You have to uncover the secret as to why The Joker wanted to be placed at Arkham Asylum and what his ultimate plans on. Along the way you'll have Commissioner Gordan and Oracle to help you through the game. You'll use your vast array of gadgets, detective skills, and combat prowess to take down the various enemies along the way.
One of the great things about Batman: Arkham Asylum is that it's written by a Batman veteran. Paul Dini worked on Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond so he knows the character pretty well. He was also a writer at DC so if there's one guy who can bring a good Batman story to life in a video game, Paul Dini is it. Here Dini produces a fun storyline that involves many of Batman's villains while not being too corny and outlandish. The story reminds me of some of the better Animated Series episodes and while it's not going to blow you away with twists and turns, Dini does provide some meat to the action game as well as delivering some fun dialogue to boot.
Not only that, but many of the great voice talents from the Animated Series lend their talents to the game. Mark Hamill, Jedi extraordinaire and professional voice actor, does an incredible Joker and I was really impressed when I first heard him in the Animated Series. He's got the moxy to give The Joker real life with his incredible talents on the mic. Kevin Conroy's also superb at voicing Batman and out of all the voices that have done him recently, his is my favorite. Arleen Sorkin also returns as the voice of Harley Quinn. In fact, all the voice acting in the game is superb but to hear voices from the cartoon series makes it that much better. But by far, Mark Hamill's Joker tops most everyone in the game. Since he's in control of the island and there are practically speakers everywhere you go, he's always making himself known to you. He's got some truly great lines and Hamill delivers them at a level like I've never heard before. If there's a Joker performance that defines Hamill, Batman: Arkham Asylum provides it and is one that he should be remembered for for a long time.
Batman: Arkham Asylum does an incredible job in turning you into the Dark Knight. One of the greatest things about Batman is he's a master hand-to-hand fighter. Arkham Asylum absolutely nails his effectiveness and skill with the Free Flow combat system. As a person who's trained many, many years in all sorts of combat styles Batman can easily battle multiple opponents moving from one enemy to another and dishing out impressive hits and counter attacks when needed. The controls can be simplistic in that you press the attack button and the direction of the enemy you want to attack. Later on you can combine other buttons to do such things as take down enemies or throw them through the air. The engine does do most of the work carrying Batman through the air or along the ground while he kicks and punches his way from one opponent to another but the way it's done and how graceful he looks in doing this makes the combat a delight to watch. It's almost like a ballet in terms how smoothly he dances around and transitions from one move to the next. You can concentrate your attack on one person but to really get the most efficient way to take down a group surrounding you, directing Batman to do one blow on each person is the most effective way to handle the situation as it helps prevent an enemy from gearing up to land a blow on you. The brutality that Batman can dish out is depicted incredibly well and combined with the great sound effects; you can almost feel each blow that Batman lands on an enemy. A few times the camera will pan to a nice view of Batman performing a finishing move with the requisite slow motion applied to the scene. Combat in Arkham Asylum is both beautiful and intense and Rocksteady really nailed this one on the head.
It's not just combat that is done well in Batman as he's also the world's greatest detective. With that, you are provided with a set of tools to do some sleuthing around Arkham Asylum island. By activating detective mode, you'll change the view of the screen where many electronic layovers will give you information on what you see. For example, you can see enemy skeletons through walls and also if they are holding any weapon. It's reminiscent of The Dark Knight's end sequence where Christian Bale turns all the cell phones into a sort of echolocation system. No matter where enemies hide, you'll be able to spot them in detective mode. Walls that can be destroyed with explosive gel will also be outlined as well as a view of what's behind it. Sometimes you'll need to examine objects in this view so you can calibrate your cowl to detect a certain compound. You're not going to be fighting all the time as these little activities of searching out various clues plays an important role in the game and it's nice to see that Rocksteady incorporate and aspect of Batman that not many other games tend to do. Yes, he's a great fighter but he's also very intelligent as well and he does use it to solve crimes with.
As Batman, you can play him in a few different ways but going against enemies head on when they have guns is almost always suicide. So, having him jump around and maneuver from high ground to other high grounds while setting up ambush points really gives you a feeling of being a hunter of these criminals. When you go into detective mode and see the enemies first, they all have normal heart beat rates and are relatively calm. Lay out one of their own and go into hiding, you'll see their beats per minute raise up significantly and their demeanor change to panicking. The game does a great job and mixing up ways for you to play Batman so you aren't always constantly just going into battle head first. You'll do plenty of that but the game mixes in stealth with great success as the easiest ways to take down criminals is to sneak up and silently dispatch them or to drop down from above and grab them away from their colleagues.
Batman's known for his gadgets as well and here you get some, to quote Jack Nicholson, wonderful toys to use. Besides his detective mode vision, you'll start out with your trusty batarang whereby you can use to activate switches, take out small items, and stun enemies. Also, he'll have his trusty grapple that can carry him to areas not reachable by normal means. If you've seen the cartoon or movie you know he uses it a lot to save himself from falls and the game incorporates that as well. Normally a fall into an area meant for death would see your character plummet without any means of recourse. Should this happen in Arkham Asylum, you're prompted to press the F button as quickly to save yourself. If successful, you'll see Batman catch himself and climb back to a safe area which makes jumping puzzles in the game a lot less frustrating. Thanks Rocksteady for this! As you progress through the game more items are added to your arsenal. Updates to your grappling hook, batarang, and additional items are included in at a nice pace so you get to experience each one for a good amount of time. A lot of the gadgets also have multiple uses so they aren't just there for one purpose. For example, the grapple can be used to latch onto a metal grate in front of a vent that's out of reach and then pulled on to open the vent for Batman to access. It can also be used to grab an enemy and allow Batman to pull the person towards him. The design decision on giving the gadgets multiple uses was a great choice and it goes to show the team knew what they were doing as Batman would be smart enough to use what he has in more ways than one to achieve his goal.
Arkham Asylum's really brought to life in the game and all the gritty, gruesome areas are modeled in extremely high detail in the game. The Unreal Engine does an incredible job at creating visually stunning world where Batman traverses and hunts down his foes. The aritechts have done a marvelous job at creating realistic and great looking structures. Besides that, the texture detail is top notch providing realistic looking items and walls throughout the game. You really have to play the game to appreciate the style and amount of effort put in to creating of what you would think Arkham Asylum really would be like should a place like this exists. What's great about the game is that you are explore the sights of Arkham Asylum if you want to and you should given the amount of work the artists went into modeling and texturing each nook and cranny of the place.
I was a little apprehensive about the character models when I saw previews of the game. Yes, it still has that Gears of War style since it uses the same engine but after the initial shock of change, I really loved how everyone looked. Batman looks as though he's built like a rock and how someone would look of a man who keeps in constant tip top shape with many years of grueling physical training. The Joker looks maniacal and moves with that sadistic yet jovial way you see him in cartoons of the past. At least he doesn't have that bodybuilder model style and looks just like how The Joker would like: skinny and demented. Some of the other characters such as Bane and Killer Croc are obscenely large and menacing with intensely exaggerated features. The Scarecrow's design is one of the better designs I've come across as well with a creepy looking mask complete with respirator and needles for fingers. Combined with the top notch animation, all the characters are really brought to life in Batman: Arkham Asylum.
My only objection is that a lot of the guards use the same models. I don't know if this was done to save some space and I would guess the consoles would suffer from this but on the PC I would've liked to more variety in faces. The same can be said for some of the regular henchman you fight on the island as well. There are repeating models for common characters that crop up a little more often that I would've liked but at least the stand out characters are unique and very well done. While it was a little bit annoying to see the same person over and over again, it's one of the very small issues I do have with the game.
I played the PC version on a computer running Windows 7 64-bit RTM equipped two NVIDIA cards: a GeForce GTX 275 and a GeForce GTS 250. I used the GeForce GTX 275 for rendering the graphics at 1680x1050 while I set the GeForce GTS 250 to be the sole PhysX card. The game uses PhysX to create a much more realistic world with the inclusion of many new effects not seen in the console version. While I won't go into as much detail here about PhysX as I will in a later article, Batman: Arkham Asylum really takes advantage of the technology all around. If you play the game without it, crashing down on Zsasz at the beginning of the game will show nothing of importance. Turn on PhysX and you'll see tiles break where you land. While a small effect, it's actually pretty cool to see this in action, especially as you take out many enemies in the asylum. One of the more effective uses of PhysX is the fog and smoke that's littered throughout the game. The smoke actually reacts to Batman or other characters as they walk through it and swirls around them. You'll even push some of the fog or smoke around while you run through. Another nice little touch is there are papers littered about in some areas on the ground and they react to characters moving or fighting. Taking out enemies in an area like this, it's kind of cool to see papers get blown about and adds a little bit to the atmosphere of the game. Like Mirror's Edge, there will also be some areas that use cloth effects. Some parts of the asylum have clear strips that hang from doorways and move realistically around Batman when he walks through it. Having heavy PhysX activated adds a lot more to the already impressive environment that's depicted in the game and you'll only be able to do this with NVIDIA hardware at acceptable performance, sorry AMD folks.
Another NVIDIA only feature is playing the game using GeForce 3D Vision. With the glasses in play, you'll see characters and Arkham Asylum rendered in eye-popping 3D. Everything has depth and you'll actually feel like you're walking in a full 3D building as hallways fade off into the distance of your monitor. It's more of a depth thing but there are some parts that do pop out of the screen. The effect isn't used that much so don't expect too much of that feature should you use 3D Vision with the game. But, playing Batman: Arkham Asylum in 3D is a real treat and it's an experience that's really enhanced by the product. While the scene where the Scarecrow pops out at you is a little startling, it's a lot more effective when you have the 3D Vision glasses on. The bats that swirl around Batman when he earns experience or when a label of an area comes up looks pretty slick as some bats do jump off the screen as they swirl about. You'll need a strong computer and a 120Hz monitor to get this effect though but it’s oh so worth it when you see it in action. The only things that are disappointing is that the cut scenes are just 2D and there are some anomalies that happen when playing. They don't happen enough to make the experience unpleasant though and the NVIDIA GeForce 3D Vision is something that, while not necessary, adds another level to the overall fun experience of playing Batman: Arkham Asylum on the PC and something that can't be done on the console.
Not all is roses on the PC side though as I had one annoying issue I couldn't get around. It didn't happen at the same time and sometimes it didn't happen at all but every so often the game's sound would just completely stop. The cut scene sounds worked fine though but after that, any game sound went missing. The only way for me to get it back was to quit the game and restart and since there's no user defined save system you could sometimes find yourself a little farther back in the game than you intended. It definitely kills the mood when it happens though I hope a patch is issued soon to fix it. In any case, crashes were non-existent for me.
Batman: Arkham Asylum on the PC may have been a few weeks late compared to the consoles but on the PC it really shines. The action is not too complicated and looks awesome while you get to do some nice free exploration around the island. Sure you can go straight through the storyline and finish the game quickly but you'll miss out on some of the extras and secrets that are scattered about the island. There are little nagging technical issues here and there but those don't get in the way of an incredibly enjoyable experience. If you have the PC to run it, it looks incredible. To really get the full experience, having a NVIDIA setup brings out all the visuals that make Arkham Asylum come to life. Yes, you can still have a blast playing it on other types of hardware but you'll be missing out on some of the cooler visuals without a PhysX capable setup. 3D's also pretty slick as well adds to the overall enjoyment of the game. My hats off to Rocksteady for finally delivering on a Batman game worthy of the character. They got most everything right with this one and I can't believe they were able to produce a title of this high quality in only their second try. So Batman fans, this game is definitely the one you've been waiting for but it's also a great game for non-fans as well in my opinion.
For Batman fans, this game is a long time coming. Taking the Unreal engine, Rocksteady has gone and made a truly fun superhero game and it looks incredible on the PC. If you have the NVIDIA hardware to play with, it looks even better and includes features that you can't find on the console versions.