Batman: Arkham Asylum - Game of the Year Edition

Holy Bat-features! The best superhero game ever is back. And this time its gone 3D!

Comic book superheroes have generally had a pretty tough time of it in the world of videogames, with recent movie-tie ins like Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk doing little to inspire confidence. However, there’s one classic comic book character that has (for the most part) avoided this fate – the Dark Knight himself, Batman.

The list of the Caped Crusader’s videogame outings is far too long to list here, but highlights for the past three decades include Jon Ritman and Bernie Drummond’s wonderful 1986 isometric action-adventure outing for the Amstrad and Spectrum, the marvelous 16bit tie-in to Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie, and the 2D beat-‘em-up console thrills of The Adventures of Batman & Robin from the mid-‘90s. Sure, he’s had his fair share of duds too, but compare Batman’s videogame output to a similarly iconic character like Superman, and you can see just how well he has fared. But it was last year’s magnificent Batman: Arkham Asylum that truly raised the benchmark for all future superhero games.

Award-winning action
This third-person action-adventure mixed the best of the Tomb Raider and Metal Gear Solid games together with an incredibly solid and responsive fighting mechanic into a thrilling piece of entertainment that really did the character proud. As far as this reviewer is concerned, it was easily the standout game of 2009 - so much so, that I’ve continually find myself going back to play through it again while the likes of GTA: Episodes from Liberty City still sitting unfinished in the pile of games next to my consoles. And it seems like I wasn’t alone, with Batman: Arkham Asylum getting no less than eight nominations (and winning two of them including the all-important Best Game) at the recent British Academy Video Game Awards.

So it hardly comes as much of a surprise to see the game hitting shelves once again in the form of this timely Game of the Year Edition. But is there anything here that should necessitate an upgrade for those of us that already know and love the game inside and out?

Into the third dimension
Well, following in the time-honoured tradition of Game of the Year re-releases, Batman: Arkham Asylum returns to shop shelves with a collection of six additional Challenge Maps that we’re previously only available as downloads. Here you’ll be able to hone your fighting skills by sneaking around and beating up the Joker’s goons in a variety of iconic locations from the game.

However, the big addition is the inclusion of an optional 3D mode for the main game. Now, around Christmas I went to a press event where I had the chance to have a play with an enhanced PC version of the game running on a high-spec 3D laptop using active shutter glasses. And, while it definitely looked pretty impressive and the 3D itself worked pretty well, I didn’t find that it really added anything to my existing enjoyment of the game. Of course, given the current lack of 3D TVs in peoples’ homes, this wasn’t a viable option for the console versions of this Game of the Year Edition.

The even darker Knight
Instead, this release resorts to good-old anaglyph 3D – or at least a proprietary TriOviz incarnation of it. According to the official website, ‘TriOviz uses the third dimension information which already exists to perform visual tricks, such as modifying the 3D effect according to the part of the screen you are looking at. The camera focus works like your eyes. Move the camera to look at a specific object and it will be brought right into focus. If you slightly adjust the direction so you are now looking at the character down the hall, the entire 3D effect has been recalculated to accommodate your point of view’. Which all sounds pretty intriguing.

In practice, it sort of works, adding an illusion of depth to the imagery (at least in-game, cutscenes appear much flatter). And despite claims to the contrary, the TriOviz technique does still result in a drop in brightness and resolution. It’s not crippling, but given the hi-def 3D products starting to hit the home cinema market in the coming months, it can hardly be described as cutting-edge either. Personally, I found it far more pleasurable to return to the 2D incarnation of the game I originally fell in love with.

Worth the upgrade?
So where does this leave consumers? Well, in all honesty, if you already have the first version of the game, there’s nothing here that really merits the upgrade to this re-release. The new features are interesting, but don’t really add anything meaningful to the game itself. However, as they certainly don’t detract from it either, if you’ve yet to experience the brilliance of Batman: Arkham Asylum, then you might as well take the plunge and buy into this Game of the Year Edition.

Xbox 360 (tested), PS3, PC, Square Enix, £40 approx, On sale now