Archive Page 2


What have Nintendo set in motion?


I remember first hearing about the Wii and its new gameplay ideas, unveiling the Wiimote and its unusual point and click style of control. To be honest I wasn’t all that keen but I was willing to see how things went, and even got ahold of one on release day; although more for the upcoming Zelda and Metroid titles than for the new control style. Regardless, I played the console for a while; Metroid Prime 3 using the controls fantastically. However, mostly I found that few other titles actually benefited from the new system – sure, my grandparents played a few party games at Christmas, but there wasnt much else. Zelda: Twilight Princess was great for reasons other than the controls, and I’m sure I would have enjoyed the GameCube version equally.

Now, I applaud Nintendo for their clever marketing and acknowledge that they sold their console well, but in the end it just doesnt have the game lifespan of it’s competitors, often with months at a time before any solid releases – leaving it a lacking console for anyone with serious gaming needs.

So here I am now, with a Wii that’s used mainly to play GameCube titles, Zelda and Metroid Prime 3. When I’m not playing those (which is most of the time), the console just sits under my TV and gathers dust. And I’m quite happy with it that way – it’s there when I need it, but it leaves me alone most of the time and needs no attention from me whilst I play my PS3 and Xbox 360.

However, inside that little white console is a foreboding evil that waits to strike… After the Wii sold so well, other companies ran to look at the best-seller, wondering what it had that they didn’t. Before long, the Xbox 360 found itself covered with little Avatars of it’s players, for no apparent reason other than keeping up with what the Wii was doing with it’s Miis. Personally, I thought the NXE update was a big disappointment, and much preferred the old style of dashboard. However, it didn’t really influence me in a large way, so I quickly accepted the change, and continued my happy gaming life as usual.


However, more recently I sense a disturbance in the gaming world… The Wii strikes once again! This time it looks like bad news… Although Nintendo were quite content in creating an unusual console that filled many of GAME’s shelves with throw-away titles, its begun to spread. More recently, Sony announced their own version of the Wiimote, a currently nameless ‘wand’ which uses the Playstation EyeToy camera to track a glowing ball which can be used to control an on-screen cursor.


When I first heard this, I was a bit dismayed, but unsurprised that other consoles would attempt to take some of the Wii’s glory by creating their own motion controllers – what with the Wii’s sale figures, they obviously want their own share of the market. Expecting to see some gimmicky titles in 2010, much like the PS2’s EyeToy gaames, I was willing to ignore this new hardware and continue using my hardware in the same way I currently am. That’s OK, right?

Wrong.. It seems that the PS3 will be implementing this new hardware into some of its bigger titles – LittleBigPlanet and Resident Evil 5. LittleBigPlanet will incorporate a new tool that will allow players to manipulate certain objects in levels in order to progress – such as pulling down plaforms to walk across, or holding things back that would otherwise crush sackboy. What does this mean? Well – if I want to have full access to all of LittleBigPlanet’s features in the future, I’ll require a motion controller that I’ve already acknowleged I don’t want. However, if I choose not to purchase it, I’ll more than likely be swarmed with in-game options I can’t use, and levels that are inacessible to me.

As for Resident Evil 5, they are going to release a new version entitled Resident Evil 5: Alternative Edition. At first glance, one might think that this is much like Resident Evil 4, with its Wii counterpart which was released later on with a few enhancements. However, it seems that this new version of RE5 will feature a brand new campaign mode starring Chris and Jill, utilising the new motion controls.

Now, perhaps these games will allow for alternate control methods that make them playable without the motion controls, but I’m doubting it – why allow people to choose how to play, when they can be forced to buy new hardware in order to play games that they already love?

The Wii had some interesting concepts, but I’m really feeling that the success of it’s initial sales have had a negative impact on all of Nintendo’s stakeholders – other consoles want to emulate that success, and are willing to appeal to the more casual markets in order to do so. However, I do wonder whether these companies might want to compare the costs of their consoles before pinning the success solely on the motion capability of the Wii. I’m very worried that the gaming market will be killed by torrents of cheap party games and ports with tacked-on motion controls – and is that really the future we want to see?

I have played some fantastic games recently, and I’m also looking forward to plenty more – such as God of War III, Final Fantasy XIII, Brutal Legend, Bayonetta, Halo 3: ODST among others, and none of them require gimmicky controls to interest me. They prove that games can still be played with regular controllers whilst still being interesting, exciting and involving. The day I have to imitate swinging Kratos’ Blades of Chaos by waving a pair of Wiimotes around my head is the day I quit gaming.

So I ask, for myself and for all gamers out there: Please Nintendo, keep your damn Wiimote in your pocket and don’t show it to the other kids!


The Journey Through The Nine Circles Of Hell!


A while back I did a taster post on my first impressions of EA’s Dante’s Inferno. The 3rd person hack and slash game, based on the first part of the classic poem which is known as Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Back then I  had mixed feelings. I mean there is a good collection of Hack and Slash franchises that are out there already. With God Of War, Devil May Cry and even Ninja Gaiden holding their top spots on their proverbial leader board. That said the footage I have seen more of Dante’s Inferno and it looks pretty good, a lot lf thought has gone into it. So here is my little in site into the game, highlighting what you may expect from the  quite an adventurous outing for EA’s attempt at the Hack and Slash genre.

Lets start from the beginning. The original poem of Dante’s Divine Comedy was written back in around the 1300’s by an Italian known as Dante Alighieri. The poem outlined what he thought the christian afterlife was like, it consisted of three parts, Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Heaven). The first part of the poem, Inferno, outlines a character called Dante making his way through the nine circles of hell, being guided by Virgil, who is Dante’s guide throughout Inferno and Purgatorio.

Now I know what you’re thinking, and no, Capcom did not create the original Dante and Vergil. History aside, the makers of Dante’s Inferno have tried to stay loyal to the original poem by using lines from the text itself, so as you may gather the game is narrated by the main character.

The game will have you controlling Dante as he makes his way through the nine circles of hell; Limbo (not Purgatory), Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Wrath, Heresy, Violence, Fraud and Treachery. Each circle will be themed accordingly and will have end of circle boss battles. So far only a handful of bosses have been confirmed, with Limbo having King Minos, Lust having the ever so wonderful Cleopatra, Gluttony housing Cerberus, Greed the home of Plutus and in the wrath circle you will be pitted against Phlegyas. All these bosses are beings from the original text.

As it is the Tokyo Game show this week. Dante’s Inferno has ben showing off its Lust circle. Of corse I had to do some reading up about it, and I can safely tell you now that this game is by no means for the faint of heart. Now when we think of Lust its all about erotic nudity which makes all the blokes happy. The kind of Lust in Dante’s inferno however, is grotesque, hellish and somewhat sickening. Cleopatra herself (the Lust Boss) is indeed topless, but having demon tongues protrude from her nipples followed by demon babies – yeah, not the kind of thing to help you sleep at night.

Now there has been some controversy over he gameplay of this game. People who have played it says it plays like God of War, but with a new skin over it. In some ways, this can be good – because you know your probably gonna get some great game play. But in other ways, it’s not gonna be that original and will probably tick off those hardcore God of War fans out there. But that aside, the game play will feature you weilding a huge scythe made out of bones. You will get a healthy dose of Quick Time Events and just plain hack and slash fun. Your buddy Virgil will be setting you puzzles within the circles too, so it’s not just kill kill kill.

To me this game is definitely one I am going to keep my eye on, and when Plus XP hits Eurogamer next month be sure to check out my Hands-On preview of the game.



Project Needlemouse: The Savior of Sonic the Hedgehog?

As with many people my age (early 20’s), one of the games I grew up with was Sonic the Hedgehog. The favourite game of all in my Sega Megadrive collection, Sonic was always a game that was a joy to play, and everything about it was just done so right – the fluid controls, the beautiful environments and the challenging – yet fun – gameplay. As a child I could at first not even progress further than Chemical Plant Zone in Sonic 2, yet something always brought me back. As I got older, next came Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles which were just as enjoyable and again captured my imagination and love for video games.

However, more recently, Sonic succumbed to what many series’ had done as time progressed; it went 3D. Starting with Sonic 3D on the Sega Megadrive, and then evolving into Sonic Adventure on the Sega Dreamcast, Sonic became a new game altogether. Although the games did introduce a few nice features that I liked, such as Shadow the Hedgehog and some special moves such as the homing attack, Sonic lost something in this transformation, and like a genetic flaw it passed to its children, leaving us now with the newer titles such as Sonic & The Black knight, and Sonic Unleashed.

One of the biggest problems with this transformation was the use of Sonic’s speed – no longer was the game about simple platforming and momentum, now a 3D setting found Sonic difficult to control and no longer fun to play. More recently I found myself playing Sonic Unleashed, and after some terribly-voiced dialogue and a semi-decent running section, I almost cried in horror as I played through some awful 3rd person fighting in a sort of half-baked God of War style – albeit without the fun aspects.

It was at that point that I finally admitted that Sonic had been lost to us, his finesse and awesomeness lost to mediocre gaming carrying the title of something that was once great. However, something I heard recently has caught my attention, and I secretly think that there may be a ray of hope for the blue hedgehog yet.

An all new Sonic title, codenamed Project Needlemouse is currently under development by Sega. But this isn’t just another 3D title, oh no. It’s apparently going to be a fully HD, 2D sidescrolling title. Apparently using an engine built from the ground up, the game will return to its original roots and play in a way more similar to the old series than any of the more recent titles. Currently there is no actual footage, so we can’t say whether the graphical style will or will not be returning to a more 2D design – but the gameplay sounds like Sega could finally be doing Sonic justice.

Project Needlemouse is due in 2010, although a more precise date has yet to be revealed – and which consoles it is being produced for is also a mystery. See the short trailer below for the little info currently available; we’ll let you know as soon as we hear anything more.

Project Needlemouse


Empire Total War (PC)

I’ve been a fan of Creative Assembly’s Total war series since the first instalment Shogun graced computer screen at the turn of the century. The graphics were pretty (for the time), the score was ambient, the little assassination cut scenes gave it real character, the A.I was able and the strategy was near perfect. It created a new brand of strategy game, combining both turned based and real time into a beautiful unity. However it wasn’t until Rome Total war arrived on the scene in 2005 that the Creative assembly really grabbed the wider gaming nation’s attention. A fully 3D map with dozens of beautifully modelled 3D units made battles on a large scale such a joy to behold. Now we are entering the next phase of CA’s series development into 18th centaury warfare, a great departing from their previous work. How well do they pull it off? Well…the results are mixed…

The Bad

The initial version of the game had more than its fair share of bug, even after pushing the release date back by a few months for tinkering time. While these bugs didn’t make the game unplayable it did add a lot of frustration for players (cannons refusing to fire or failing to deploy properly, units stuck in tree’s etc). This is such a pity because CA has usually been so good with realising a very competent game with only the occasional minor bugs that only detracted slightly instead of being a real annoyance.

Also the balancing of the sides especially when the difficulty level is changed is enormous. Factions like the Netherlands, Russia and the Ottomans become infuriatingly tough to play as their neighbours turn on them at the drop of a hat and their early economies rely either on poorly funded and producing towns and farms that failed to contribute as much as the more developed nations in Europe and in India.

Another problem is the sheer number of factions involved not including the main playable ones. This means when you finish your turns you’re waiting a good two and a half minutes minimum and sometimes even longer before you have control again, even with following all units off! I play a game of how much stuff I can get done before it’s my go again which isn’t something that endears the game to you if you’re so bored you seek out other means to keep you occupied.

The Different

Diplomacy is also another difficult area for the game. It’s nice that you no longer have to rely on diplomats running all over the map to make a deal. You only need concern yourself with either the Rake (a spy, saboteur and assassin) or Thugee and the gentleman (a researcher and duellist with either other gents or the wicked Rake) or eastern teachers (their non-violent counterparts). But core problems still remain. The A.I can be incredibly unpredictable, declaring war despite having a trade agreement and their government being friendly towards you.

Not only that, but on normal and higher difficulties making a deal is harder than haggling with Apu on a bad day! They literally expect you to empty double your coffers for a trade deal or Alliance (which they may never honour) and expect you to part with your best money making province for a handful of peanuts and some as yet un-researched technology.

Now the navel battles, the first time CA have enters this arena. Again the result is mixed. On the one hand the sea and ships are beautifully realised (though a large sea battle will slow all but the best rigs down). It’s incredibly detailed: every movement of the crew, the cannon shot, the explosion as a lucky shot hits the powder magazine and the entire ship is engulfed in flames and the way they list and sink beneath the waves after one too many broad sides. Unfortunately, this also initially suffered from way too many bugs, including crew suicide on attempting to board a vessel and clipping issues with waves and other ships detracting from the immersion.


Even after the fixes were made, there were still aspects of navel combat that made it fall short of being a potential show stopper. The fact that other nations were somehow able to field more and better ships than you was a common problem. There was also the lack to tactical depth, if you had the bigger and better ships or just enough to make your firepower count, you could win by simple strategy. While it’s fair to say that due to the manner of the combat we can’t expect it to be as complex as it is on land and so is limited in its appeal; I still believe that more balancing could have been done to make it more engaging.

Finally, the new technology system and agent spawning.  In previous games you enhanced your army by upgrading your various barracks, shipyards and armouries to get an edge over your enemy.  Now this is replaced with universities and new technologies. You evolve new ways of dealing with cavalry charges by researching square or new farming methods by crop rotation. So planning on building a lot of professors to get in there first? Not going to happen, the geniuses that come up with these ideas can’t just be plucked from obscurity, they appear as and when they’re recognised. The better the buildings, the more likely they will spawn and the more able they will be. Again, this is a nice idea and works fairly well if a bit unevenly. Almost everyone is one step ahead with more agents and techs than you putting the pressure on and pissing you off. And why should you need to ‘research’ the idea of forming a square? Shouldn’t you just be able to make your men do that?

The Good

First and foremost in my mind is a small feature that makes the real time battles better for its implementation, the slow down button. Reducing the action to roughly a third of its actual speed allows you time not only to admire your armada and army in their beautiful detail, but to set orders and react to enemy manoeuvres without needing to pause the action to do so.

The land battles have always been the staple of the Total War’s series strength, especially after Rome. Empire is no exception. You must acclimatise to the new style of warfare and do so quickly. Luckily the historical campaign, ‘America’s road to independence’, is a good option, not only into bringing new players to the series but showing the old guard the new way that combat works. That said, the battle for Bunker Hill was fairly hardcore and as about as accurate as ‘The Patriot’ in what really happened and how, but hey in the grand scheme of things it’s forgivable.


Hand to hand combat has never been more messy or costly than it has here. Getting in close should only be done to finish off a weakened or wavering unit; else you’re in for a long and bloody struggle. The tension as your men line up and prepare to fire volley after an approaching enemy, hoping to make the most of stopping before they did to get the first  shot in is something that still get me every time I play. Artillery and cavalry have also changed with the revolution of gunpowder. Especially after the first few military technologies researched do you realise how cut throat and quick you have to be to make a shot or cavalry charge work. A single screw up can cost you a good portion of your regiments as they’re decimated by grape shot or a surprise charge in their flank.

Not only that but choosing your battlefield has never been as crucial. A built up area with plenty of buildings for infantry to hide in is going to cause a lot of problems if you’re fighting with a army largely comprised of cavalry or even cannon will take time to get though the cover to your troops. Similarly with woods or hilly areas diminishing your artillery’s ability to hit targets accurately.

Empire has changed the game completely, from new trading avenues and navel combat to the way in which you manage your government, not to mention the new arenas of India and America to do battle in.

While this is a game with its problems and let downs, there is still a rich and immersive work with beautifully rendered battles, a decent soundtrack, a reasonable yet punishing A.I (either punishingly stupid or just brutal) and several small yet delightful details showing some creative flair still burns in the heart of my beloved Creative Assembly. I highly recommended this to any strategy fan.

– Theat Bloke in the Beanie


Guitar Hero 5 It's Better In The Dark…And You Won’t Be Disappointed (X360)

Well the moment I have been waiting for all year has finally come, drum roll please (all be it a virtual one) GUITAR HERO 5 IS HERE.

Now I know for most people this probably wont be as big a deal, but for me guitar hero releases are the highlight of my year and I’m pleased to say this new addition is no disappointment. With a set-list of over 80 songs and stunning graphics this is a must buy for any fan of the Guitar Hero series. After Guitar Hero Metallica (mainly for Metallica fans) and Guitar hero greatest hits (lets face it a cop out really) this is a real breath of fresh air. The set-list is diverse with a good mix of modern hits such as ‘Sex on fire’ by Kings Of Leon and classics like Nirvana’s ‘Smells like teen spirit’ making this a game exciting and fresh throughout. I must admit I also got very excited when I found out they had included ‘Plug in Baby’ by Muse. One of my all time favorite bands so I had to mention it somewhere.

Now a bit about the gameplay. I have a theory about Guitar Hero. In my opinion with every GH release the note streams get more complicated but the reaction time of the game speeds up allowing you to keep up. In effect the games are slowly getting as fast as the people who play them, and to me this is no exception. The notes come thick and fast from the onset, but due to the slick programming this is not a problem, in fact it’s a joy to play. The difficulty level is in keeping with that of GH Metallica, with tricky solo’s and the promise of some really challenging levels nearer the end. A nice addition to the game is the opportunity to complete additional challenges within each song. These challenges are instrument specific and set you a range of different tasks to gain additional stars. The tasks range from whammying the most notes to getting the longest note streak or hitting the most notes of one color. I find these challenges really bring out my extremely competitive nature and so add great replay value to the game.


And now for a quick moan, skip this paragraph if you want a happy read.

Only one thing is annoying me about this game, and it’s a big problem. When you create a band and start your solo career it only displays the overall best star rating you have achieved for all instruments you have played. For example, when I started my guitar career and went through the songs it was easy to keep track of my place within the game, I just looked at my star ratings. However when I repeated my career with the drums the fact that I was a drummer this time and not a guitarist was not obvious from the song selection screen. This made it extremely hard to track how I was progressing within my drum career. GH Metallica had the same problem and I would have hoped they would have spotted it before this game was released, sadly no luck.

That’s it, Moan over!

Onto the Visual stuff. The character movements have been improved and you can now play in a band comprised entirely of Traditional GH characters which is a novelty. All of our favorite characters are still there, even if Judy nails is looking a bit skinny for my liking (I wonder if she is eating enough) alongside the opportunity to create your own characters much the same as in GH World tour. I feel that Guitar hero has the edge when it comes to character customization and this game is no different. I have always been able to create a good likeness using the GH rock-star creator, something I have never managed to fully achieve with RockBand. In this game you can create the real you as well as many other random creations which in itself leads to hours of fun. Alternatively if real life doesn’t float your boat, why not take a step back and let your XBox 360 Avatar play for you? A quirky feature more than anything but fun nonetheless. One way this game differs greatly from its predecessors is that the screen layout has been cleaned up, with all of the information such as the star power bar and score bar consolidated around the fret board area. At first I found this a little odd, but once I had become used to it I began to appreciate how much of the screen this frees up for the graphics.


As for the graphics themselves, they are stunning. In fact I am now lusting over a larger TV as I feel it would be really worth having to fully appreciate this game (at least that’s what I keep telling myself). The menu screens have the usual doodled rock theme which I have always loved and the layout of the set lists in career mode is clearer and more exciting than in world tour giving the game a clearer, more structured feel. The game graphics themselves are still cartoonish and exaggerated in style, but with a more electric, dramatic feel which I love. The fret board is less fussy but has a new texture, and I love the way that blue lights sweep across the board when star power is activated instead of the usual electricity. It is for this reason I would urge everyone to play this game in the dark. The bold colors and use of blue light within the game really lend themselves to the real gig experience when set against a dark background, it is darkness makes this game truly great and I promise…you won’t be disappointed.

I’m off now to dim the lights, close all the doors, slip into something a little more comfortable, pick up my beloved plastic guitar and rock out.

Until next time.



Brutal Legend Demo Verdict (X360)

When I first booted up the demo I could not help but smile, from the get go you are introduced by metal awesomeness, you are taken to the start screen which is a cover of a Vinyl EP, you know the retro records you used to play on record players, the menu itself is totally made up of this retro metal EP which I thought was a nice touch. Kind of like the menu layout in Guitar Hero 3 but more metal and using proper filmed footage as apposed to cartoon based graphics. So after gawking at the menu for a minuet or so I got stuck into a new game, the only option that is available as it is the demo.

Brutal legend logo

I just have to say this now before it explodes out of my like some sort of hell demon. Brutal Legend captivates, and utilizes Metal Folk lore, brilliantly everything that has been done in this demo, and indeed the game has been superbly thought out with original metal music in mind, we are not talking Limp Bizkit or Linkin Park here, we are talking Slayer, Motor Head and Judas Priest. Now that I have got that out of my system, the start of the game shows the roadie Eddie Riggs, he is the best roadie alive. He can fix guitars no matter how broken they are, he can build colossal metal themed stage sets single handedly and of corse shred some awesome guitar licks which will most likely melt anyones face around. But he is an old school metal fan who has been lumped with a band that is renowned for 21st century rap metal, and he is sick of it.

To cut a long story short, during a gig he saves one of the stupid band members, who thinks its an awesome idea to climb all over the stage set…fail. Riggs saves him but gets crushed to death by the set in the process. But in true metal fashion, his blood awakens the set he has built in the shape of a huge metal beast, which rips apart the band and transports Eddie to another realm, alive and well. Hell of a way to go I must say.

As a side note. Double Fine, the makers of Brutal Legend, put a neat little feature into the cutscenes. Before Eddie swears his socks off you are given the choice to ‘Hear every single nasty syllable’ or ‘No swearing please’. This also goes for gore, you can either have ‘No Gore please’ or ‘Show Me every Gory Detail’. I think this is a great add on meaning anyone can really play it, even though the game will have an 18 certificate.

Anyway so you awaken in this different dimension, realm, whatever it is. You awaken in a temple and for some reason in doing so you have really hacked off some priest demon guys. So naturally you would find a weapon and start defending yourself. Or in this case pick up the ceremonial axe the priest demons were praying around and hack them all up to bits.

Using the A button to use some pretty heft and pretty darn awesome axe attacks you make mince meat out of these guys no trouble, well I did anyway. The melee system in this game is simple but effective, I found myself quite happy hacking these guys to bits with a mixture of holding and pressing the A button for different attacks. Mind you, the battle system got even better when I picked up Eddie’s guitar.

The guitar is the source to Eddie’s magic power, by pressing the X button you can unleash magic attacks, this mixed with the axe attacks gave me a great opportunity to mix, match and experiment with the magic and melee attacks. Later in the game though I was teamed up with an accomplice to do some demon slaying with. If you press Y nest to your accomplice in battle you both then have the opportunity to do a joint attack for greater damage. Yet another great way of attacking for some mind blowing melee combo attacks.

The game then went on, killing demons and just being the most awesome metal music themed game of this generation. I took a minuet out from slaying demons just to look at my surroundings. As I said before, a lot of though and detail has been put into this game, and the landscapes are just brilliant. The whole look of the game could not be better in my opinion.

Brutal legend screen 1

When I got to about the half way point of the demo I was told to use do a guitar solo. Holding LT down I was taken to a mini menu, Highlighting the solo I was supposed to do and selecting it I was then taken to a fret board with a button sequence going across it. After executing the sequence, Eddie did a massive solo which then summoned up some parts so he could build his huge metal 4 wheeled vehicle, which he then proceeded to construct. It appears throughout the game you can unlock more of these solos, which will do different things, maybe summon attacks will be available? Who knows, can’t wait!

After constructing his new car dubbed ‘The Druid Plough’ I was then driving through hordes of demons, running them down. When I heard about the driving elements in this game I was a little skeptical, seeing as the driving elements in tomb raider for example weren’t the best elements to the game. The driving was surprisingly good and didn’t feel too out of place, even though it’s very simple the level design and the environment just captivated me.

Then it was boss time, not going to spoil it to much here but lets just say it was a great use of the driving element and even though relatively simple pretty inventive.

Brutal Legend is a must play for any hack and slash or indeed metal fan. Jack black does an amazing job as Eddie Riggs, the humor is brilliant and the overall setting is awesome. Even if the driving elements are a little weaker than the fighting elements. Cannot wait for the full game this Rock-tober



Batman: Arkham Asylum

Recently released, Batman: Arkham Asylum is set in Gotham’s lunatic asylum, where all of the city’s nastiest crazies are kept in a hopeless attempt to ‘cure’ them of their terrible habits – mainly mass murder and some reason to feel obliged to cause Batman a lot of pain. The story begins with Batman’s capture of the Joker after his latest escapade, although something’s not quite right – the capture seems far too easy and Joker seems all too willing to be caught. After an eventful trip escorting a restrained Joker to a high security sector of Arkham, Joker escapes his captors and – aided by the crazed beauty Harley Quinn – gains control of Arkham’s security, and the fun begins.

The game is a third-person title, giving you free reign of the grounds of Arkham at night-time. Somewhat reminiscent of Bioshock, the Asylum has a creepy darkness about it that gives the game a disturbing feel. In a somewhat ‘metroidvania‘ feel, certain areas are locked off until you acquire certain gadgets, which means you won’t be able to go everywhere to begin with, but there’s enough freedom to keep it from feeling linear.

Basic gameplay involves exploring the asylum’s various areas, whilst battling various goons and a mix of stealth and traversing the environment. Batman has access to some basic platforming abilities, which work fluidly by holding the run button whilst moving towards certain short walls or ledges to jump or climb them automatically, in a similar style to Assassin’s Creed – albeit without any complex wall climbing, but it all fits together well.

While exploring, Batman has access to a selection of gadgets, such as his cape which can solidify to glide, the batarang to hit or cut objects from a distance, his grappling hook which allows him to access higher ledges and explosive gel for breaking weak walls to access hidden areas. This allows Batman to travel quickly and quietly through various types of terrain, and access different vantage points to hide and get the upper hand on his enemies.

Batman also has access to a very handy ‘Detective mode’ which can be used to see any important aspects and enemies to take note of, with x-ray features to see through some walls. Interactive objects such as vent covers and control boxes are highlighted in red, and enemies are highlighted in red and blue depending on whether they hold guns or not, allowing you to assess the situation before you make your move. As a secondary function, the Detective mode allows you to search for forensic evidence in a few locations, such as DNA or chemical traces, which will allow you to follow traces of the substance to find your next objective, usually a person who needs to be saved, or the villain you are currently tracking.

As you progress through the game, you will receive experience which fills up a meter at the top left of the screen. Each time this meter fills, you can choose an upgrade from a list which grants batman a new ability or improvement – giving him new functions for tools such as multi-batarang, and proximity detonation for explosive gel. There are also upgrades to improve Batman’s health, which will be vital for some of the harder stages later on. Batman gains most of his tools throughout the story, and the corresponding upgrades are added to the list as he gains them. I won’t spoil all of the gadgets, but there’s a nice range of tools to collect which can aid in accessing new areas, or used for taking down enemies – some, such as the Batarang and Explosive Gel, can be used for both attack and exploratory purposes.

Using these various tools and functions, it’s possible to manoeuver around enemies to take a stealthy approach. Whilst it’s generally possible to take a head-on approach to most groups of enemies, it’s always advantageous to strike from the shadows at first – especially if they’re armed, since Batman is human and can’t take more than a few bullets. Using the grappling hook you can access higher ledges, and in many locations there are gargoyles that are conveniently placed around the asylum’s grounds. Depending on your location there are various ways to take down opponents – while on the ground you can sneak up to an enemy from behind for a silent KO, while hanging from ledges below opponents you can yank them to a surprise drop, and in true batman style you can drop down with an upside-down batman hanging from a gargoyle, and grab the unsuspecting victim for an instant KO. If you are spotted, you can escape to any location out of view to try and hide from any armed opponents. Although the AI is fairly good, it can often be simple enough to escape their view by swinging from gargoyle to gargoyle until they lose you.

The enemies consist of a mix of lunatics, and convicts working for the Joker – prisoners whom were transferred to Arkham after the Joker bombed Gotham Prison while he was on the loose.  The combat itself is fairly easy to control, yet has enough variation to keep it interesting. Batman has three main melee attacks – the basic attack, the counter-attack, and the stun attack. Using the basic attack button Batman will use various combos which can be chained by keeping attacks flowing without missing or getting hit. When an attack is about to hit Batman, a symbol is shown above the attacking enemy, and by timing the counterattack button you can perform an impressive looking counter attack and keep the combo going. The stun attack can be used on some of the later enemies, which need to be stunned to stop them blocking before you strike. Also, it’s possible to jump over enemies, as some opponents with stun rods can only be attacked from the back, to avoid getting stunned . Finally, it’s possible to unlock new special attacks such as throws and instant KO moves, which can be performed by pressing two buttons at once, when you have a high enough combo. It all chains together in very smooth animation, and at the end of each group of enemies you are shown a close-up slo-mo of the final blow. Some gadgets such as the Batarang can be used in combat as well, to mix up attacks, stun enemies or attack long range.

Along the way, there are of course several bosses, these usually being Gotham’s more prominent villains – such as Harley Quinn, Bane, and The Scarecrow. These all have different methods of fighting – some simply involve defeating waves of henchmen they send at you, others are larger enemies that you must defeat by avoiding attacks and using gadgets to stun them and give you a chance to attack. The Scarecrow is a formidable villain, torturing Batman with strange hallucinations and visions to torment him. I won’t say too much, but suffice it to say that the Scarecrow was one of my favourite villains in the game.

As a fun sidequest, the Riddler talks to Batman by hacking into his communication’s device, challenging him to a battle of wits. Throughout the game there are a total of 240 things to find – ranging from trophies hidden around the game, certain objects such as statues or relics you must find which relate to various riddles he gives you, hidden interview tapes which can be listened to in order to get some extra insight into the game’s villains, and hidden question marks which can only be seen in detective mode – but are hidden cleverly in ways that can only be seen from certain perspectives. Many of the riddles involve finding objects and items relating to the Batman characters, so there are plenty of references to many of the characters for the Batman fans out there – such as the Penguin’s Hat and Umbrellas, and newspapers with articles about Prometheus and Firefly. Finding these secrets also nets you some experience towards upgrades, so it serves a worthwhile purpose if you’re not bothered about scores. As a nice touch, however, these items can also unlock various bios for many of the Batman comic characters with comic artwork and lots of details about them all. It’s also possible to unlock “Character Trophies” which allow you to view 3D models of the game’s various characters from the main menu. Lastly, finding some of the Riddler’s secrets unlock challenges in the game’s Challenge mode – so there’s plenty of reasons to search for them all.

The game’s Challenge mode offers some extra gameplay to the title, and allows for a bit of leaderboard competition. There are two types of Challenge – all-out brawls, and stealth challenges. The brawl type Challenges involve fighting five waves of increasing amounts of enemies, whilst getting scored on your combat performance. This is graded depending on how varied your combos are, how high your combos get, and whether or not you take damage in the process – beating a round without taking damage nets you some points, while beating all five rounds without taking a hit grants you another score bonus. The stealth missions, however, involve taking down armed opponents as silently as possible. You will be in a certain area of the asylum with a large amount of enemies, and its up to you to take them down quickly and quietly. Each stealth mission has three special objectives you should try to meet for the best result – such as successfully performing a silent kill, or taking an enemy out by hitting them with an explosion. Get all three, and you’ll be awarded 3/3 bats for that particular level. The game also records your time, so you can try and beat the level as quickly as possible for a better result on the leaderboards.

The game runs on the Unreal Engine so the lighting effects are done very well, as I said before the style reminds me somewhat of Bioshock, and has some very unsettling parts that were done masterfully. The characters look great, textures on Batman’s suit looking detailed, and the Joker and Harley looking quite scary. The game is dark and gritty so it works perfectly, and the game’s range of environments isn’t at all lacking – from caves to the medical centre, the Arkham Mansion, plant-filled Botanical Gardens and the scary Penitentiary ward where all of the craziest lunatics are held. The sound merges perfectly, with Mark Hamill voicing the Joker perfectly, and Batman with his familiar over-the-top hero voice – the sound effects only add to the scariness of the place with hysterical laughter and the voice of the Joker taunting you over Arkham’s PA system.

There is also some free DLC for the game – The Insane Night Map Pack which has just been released – including ‘Totally Insane’ – a challenge of endless waves of enemies to fight, and ‘Nocturnal Hunter’ another stealth type map. Another DLC pack is also due on the 24th October, named “Prey in the Dark”. No details have been released yet, but we’ll let you know the details as soon as we know! Obviously, for free, theres no reason not to pick up these goodies to expand the game a little more.

Also, exclusive to Playstation 3 are some extra Joker Challenge Maps, also a free download. These maps work in the same way as Batman’s regular stages, yet you get to play as the Joker with his own moves, and a couple of exclusive gadgets. If you have a 360 don’t worry, its nothing you can’t live without – yet it is a fun little thing to mess around with so theres no reason not to get the PS3 version if you have the choice.

Overall, Batman: Arkham Asylum is one of the best games I’ve played in a while – a beautifully designed game with loads to do. There’s plenty of gadgets and toys to play with, and you often have a fair amount of freedom to attempt things in whatever way appeals to you most. It’s got a decent length, and is fairly challenging but not impossible. The controls and gameplay work very fluidly, and even if you’re not a huge Batman fan it’s a highly enjoyable game. It has scary moments so I’d keep it away from the kids, but it’s not terrifying so don’t expect huge scares if you’re actively looking for them. With more DLC on the way the game has potential to offer yet more gameplay time, and so far I could even go so far as making it my personal choice for Game of the Year.