First Level: Batman: Arkham Asylum

You Are Batman. That sentence alone should already let the comic book fans know whether or not this game is for them, because if you’ve got even the slightest interest in the Dark Knight then you’ll hopefully have already pre-ordered what is without doubt, from the few hours I’ve had with the game so far, the best adaptation of the license we’ve ever had translated to videogame.  For everyone else, the sceptics, the die-hard FPS, the people that buy a console just to play FIFA with mates?  Get it too – it’s brilliant.

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Much was written about Arkham Asylum’s troubled birth into the eyes of the press when review copies were allegedly sent around with embargoes attached followed swiftly by scores in the 9s and 10s, but we’re fairly confident that once we’re through with the lengthy single player game we’ll be aiming at around the same sort of levels – the game screams polish, is utterly playable right from the off and visually pushes the Unreal Engine further than even Gears of War 2 seemed to do.  Seriously, it’s breathtaking in places.

We’re not planning on spoiling any story development in this First Level, the intention of our new series (which kickstarted with one on SuperCar Challenge this morning) is to cover first base with a new game and let you, our wonderful readers, know whether or not it’s something you should be picking up and why.  Well, with Batman: Arkham Asylum that’s all pretty easy because developers Rocksteady have clearly poured their heart and soul into creating one of the best third person adventures ever crafted.

For example, from the opening cut-scenes (all real-time) introducing the caped crusader and his omnipresent nemesis Joker onwards, the game doesn’t stop to load once.  Yes, there’s an initial install of just over a GB but even that’s peppered with some wonderful DC artwork to keep you interested and only lasts about 5-10 minutes anyway – the game continues to install the remaining 3 GB or so without bothering you as you play: very nice.

The entire interface is designed to be as minimal and in the background as possible but can be pushed to the forefront easily enough and then scrolling through the maps, inventory, power ups and the masses of unlockables is a triumph. Similarly, the controls seems to somehow make perfect sense with square for punches and kicks, circle for cape stun and triangle for counters making up the basic combat features and the triggers used for the cool ‘detective mode’ and your batarang and grappler.

With a powerful combination of stunning graphics, practically perfect audio and voice acting, sublime controls, stacks of things to do and the overwhelming feeling that Rocksteady have managed to make you feel utterly bad-ass without compromising the level of challenge or the sweet difficult curve, Arkham Asylum might well just turn out to be one of the best games this year, if not this generation.  I guess it just all boils down to the same three words I started this with:  You.  Are.  Batman.

Review soon.

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