atman: Arkham Asylum was shockingly different on PlayStation 3. I’d played it for hours on the 360 but even my keen eye for system specifics I hadn’t seen this one coming.
I had originally played Batman: Arkham Asylum on the Xbox 360 and it was the game that made my Xbox 360 experience. Both console and game were purchased at the same time in a high street store. I usually do all my gaming shopping online but there was a deal not to be missed so I took advantage. Clutching my HMV bag (ed: other retailers are available) on the bus-ride home as if it contained a Millennium Falcon, the whole experience awakened my inner eleven year old and the journey could not go quickly enough.
It’s a constant, and sometimes annoying, characteristic of my system centric leaning that when I play a new game on a specific system first, the two become synonymous. It was no different with Batman: Arkham Asylum and the 360. This third-person action-adventure belonged on my Xbox 360.
From dropping the disc into the tray and hearing the tell-tale blings of unlocked achievements racking up as I played the game through this felt like an experience I could have on no other system. I completed Arkham Asylum three times and still returned in the months that followed, after all there are still a few of The Riddler’s trophies that I had to find.
But then my Xbox 360 went the way of many before it. Three little red lights signaled that the party had come to a premature end. The Dark Knight took his cape and gadgets and went to live at someone else’s house. Once bitten twice shy, so now I own a PlayStation 3.
Give or take a few exclusive games, the Xbox 360 and PS3 are extremely difficult to tell apart when compared side-by-side. So, ordered another copy of Batman: Arkham Asylum (Game of the Year Edition this time) I wasn’t expecting it to be different.
Initially things were as I expected, the game plays pretty much exactly the same and is every bit as wonderful and engaging. Guiding Batman through the halls and grounds of Arkham Asylum with the PlayStation Dual Shock 3 controller is just as intuitive and satisfying.
But then my girlfriend, who had been watching, held the box up and tapped at a little sticker “Play As The Joker”. I paused, saved, and went straight to the PlayStation Network store to download this free DLC. In that moment the PlayStation 3 version jumped leagues ahead of the 360 – I could play as The Joker.
Within minutes of walking The Joker, bandy-legged and giggling, through Arkham’s stricken corridors, I knew that despite looking, sounding, and being priced almost identically, this PS3 version had the edge. It was this more than the PlayStation 3’s ability to play the game in 3D that really got me excited.
The Joker DLC also offers a variety of challenge maps where you must beat up a variety of foes within certain parameters and within a time limit. These are admittedly similar to the challenges Batman faces, but controlling the Joker’s pratfalls and Three Stooges style of fighting was a novelty that again extended my enjoyment.
As he strides around Arkham Asylum as if he owns the place, which in many ways he does during this game, the music takes a pleasantly sinister turn and is reminiscent of being trapped inside a haunted fairground fun-house.
Also, the differences in the Joker missions aren’t just aesthetic. His pockets are bulging with gadgets to put Bruce Wayne’s efforts to shame. Stunning foes with a squirt of poison from the trick flower on the Joker’s lapel begins with the enemy actually falling for the Joker’s charms and stooping to have a fatal sniff.
Particular favourites of mine are the controllable, exploding, wind-up, chattering teeth. Hide in a corner and let them loose on the smeared hospital floor and you can steer them to the heels of your target before: Boom. Cue insane cackles as the Joker dances by the fallen guards.
The Joker DLC, for a Batman fan like me, is every bit as re-playable as the main game and I found myself guiltily thanking the shoddy construction of those early Xbox 360’s, for if mine hadn’t died I would never have discovered the joys of the Boxing Glove Gun. And everybody should experience that.
I’m keeping my eye on system centric features on Gotham City, but so far all I’ve stumble upon is the “Play as Robin” pre-order bonus that’s for both systems. I’m sure there will be differences and when they emerge I’ll let you know how systemic they are.
Kelsey Jackson writes the Systemic Gamer column.
“Systemic reviews are all about choices. Remember when you had none? Now that I have a range of consoles, when I play a game I want it to fit the system it’s on and make the most out of that.”