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Batman: Arkham Asylum

Oh what a Knight

Arkham Asylum is not your typical licensed game. For one, it's bloody brilliant. London-based developer Rocksteady Studios - who's CV shows the relatively unknown PS2 action game, Urban Chaos - has caught us totally by surprise with an expertly crafted, supremely polished single-player game that really is up there with the best.

It's production values rival Gears of War. It's attention to detail is almost unmatched outside of the very best first-party console exclusives. Without trying to drench ourselves too thoroughly with the hyperbole hosepipe, Batman: Arkham Asylum is simply a shockingly good action romp in a cape and utility belt.

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The game kicks off as old Bruce Wayne - totally under your control - wheels the Mark Hamill-voiced Joker into the Arkham Asylum for imprisonment - and it's here we're shoved into the passenger seat of Rocksteady's brilliant comic creation. Animation and voice work are flawlessly paraded in front of the controller as Joker fills the security-filled hallways and elevators with his chirpy quips.

We get a glimpse of hallmark series villains as they're dragged away in chains - knowing full well that we'll be seeing them again later in more eventful encounters.

It's a sublime introduction and the stellar production and solid pacing thankfully doesn't stop there. Once the Joker inevitably escapes to cause carnage in the madhouse, Batman's escapades have him swopping down on heavily armed thugs, scanning the environment for fingerprints in the hi-tech detective mode, visiting the Bat Cave for gadget upgrades and even the occasional Eternal Darkness-esque nightmare with the Scarecrow.

Of particular note are Batman's stealth encounters, which really are the centrepiece of Arkham's gameplay (and you can replay battles in Challenge Mode). Most rooms are filled with aerial gargoyles which old Bruce can shoot up to with RB. It's here that you'll sit and plan your assault on the room's roaming guards, and armed with the x-ray detective mode vision, you can see exactly where henchman are, what they're armed with and how much they're shitting themselves.

And this is the first game we've played that can give us a thrill from scaring the living Christ out of virtual characters. Systematically take out grunts one by one, laying traps with explosive gel and tricking victims with sonic bat-arangs, and you'll see the remaining prey grow increasingly nervous. They'll pair up and patrol together, flinch at the sound of your gadgets and even shoot the environment if they think they saw a ghost in the shadows.

And then you can wait for one poor sod to stray off from the group, swoop down from a Gargoyle and string him up by his feet. And when the horde comes running with flashlights to find him swinging from the sky, launch a bat-arang at his rope to send him plummeting into the floor. They'll absolutely cack themselves and you'll love it.

Picking off each guard without getting machine gunned into the floor is a real thinking man's stealth game, and later on guards will be armed with alarm collars that sound an alert to their mates when they're knocked unconscious - making it even tougher.

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But hide and seek isn't all Arkham has to offer; Bruce Wayne's wide array of gadgets will have you adventuring in true Zelda style. Line launchers create a swift solution to perilous gaps, explosive gel can be used to strategically blow walls and ceilings onto your foes and the bat claw and sonic bat-arang are both solid additions to your Poison Ivy-topping arsenal.

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