Riddle me this
When you're not fighting you're exploring, and Arkham Asylum is full of secrets. Like Resident Evil's mansion or BioShock's Rapture, the dark halls of the asylum are packed with history and detail. There are countless references to the Batman comic mythology (see 'Arkham's darkest secrets') and every area has its own distinct design style - from the terrifying gloom of the high security cells (a dingy basement where the shrieking, wild-eyed 'incurable' patients are held) to the genuinely beautiful overgrown botanical gardens and enormous, lavish mansion. And all can be accessed at any time between objectives, letting you freely explore the island at your leisure.
The asylum is also designed with backtracking in mind. When you first pass through an area you'll see inaccessible vents and doorways covered with security forcefields. Later, when the appropriate gadgets are unlocked to pass these obstacles, you can return and reveal new secrets and solutions to the game's 240 'Riddler challenges' - an addictive way to earn more experience points with which to upgrade Batman's tools and unlock new combos and abilities.
Sadly, the bosses, for the most part, suck. A shopping list of famous Batman villains - Killer Croc, Poison Ivy, Bane, the Joker, the Scarecrow - should have made for some amazing battles, but their design is disappointingly old-fashioned in comparison to the rest of the game. There's little more to them than learning a basic attack routine and exploiting it, which just isn't enough post-Metal Gear Solid. The spectacle surrounding them is the best thing about the bosses; the cut-scenes and the way they're integrated into the story. Scarecrow especially. The timed encounters are much better. They're not strictly bosses but have the same purpose, offering an elevated challenge at the end of a section. These usually involve members of the Arkham faculty (doctors, orderlies etc.) trapped in life-or-death situations and a puzzle to solve against the clock. In one two guards are hung over electrocuted water by Harley Quinn. With the timer ticking down you have to find a way of shorting the electrical circuit, cutting the guards down and escaping before a bomb goes off. These scenes always happen when you least expect them and are remarkably tense, keeping the pace interesting.
But going back to the negatives, the detective sections are something of a a let-down. Previews led us to believe they'd be more like the Condemned games, hunting down clues, solving problems etc., but really they're just an elaborate way of marking the next objective on your map. Thankfully, they're integrated so well that their simplicity is masked.
However, complaining about the minor details seems trite. Arkham Asylum is a rewarding, beautifully designed, lengthy adventure with an engaging story and some of the best visuals on PS3. The sensation of 'being' Batman is spot-on and Arkham itself is one of the most compelling and richly detailed environments we've ever explored in a game. If you don't enjoy it, well, you must be mad.
An incredible adventure in an amazing setting. Only weak detective bits and boss battles let it down. 92
To read the full Batman: Arkham Asylum review, plus the world-first hands-on with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 - plus first details of the potentially incredible Special Forces co-op mode - pick up PSM3#118, on-sale Wednesday 2nd September, £4.99 at all good newsagents