Batman: Arkham Asylum Review
Licensed games are a sorry lot, generally speaking. Maybe it’s because they are often rushed out the door to meet a release date to coincide with a movie. Perhaps it’s due to the second- or third-rate studios that churn them out. Whatever the reason, they show a history of suckage that dates back to E.T. on the Atari 2600 and continues today with titles like Avatar. Every once in a long while, though, a real gem squeaks through this gauntlet of trash and surprises everyone with its quality.Goldeneye. TMNT: Turtles in Time. Star Wars: KOTOR. So which camp will Batman: Arkham Asylum fall into? Trash or treasure?
Since it’s a Batman game, we can dispense with explaining the mythos. The game begins with Batman escorting the Joker to Arkham Asylum for a presumably long stay. Right off the bat (no pun intended) the high production values are apparent. It has an excellent, cinematic intro with Batman ushering Joker down to the bowels of Arkham while the credits roll. The Joker escapes during this sequence, of course, and Batman finds himself deep in Arkham trying to hunt the Joker down to bring him back to justice.
This opening sequence gives you time to admire the look of the game, which is beautiful and detailed throughout. The world of Arkham has a dark caste, appropriate to an Asylum for the world’s worst super criminals. The Batman depicted here is of the gritty, hard-edged variety typical of the more recent films and cartoons. Rocksteady also used the voice talent from the cartoons in Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker. Thankfully, they didn’t feel the need to find someone to imitate the gravelly delivery of Christian Bale. And Mark Hamill delivers a superb performance as the Joker, striking just the right balance between silly and sadistic.
Presentation aside, Batman: Arkham Asylum plays wonderfully. In my opinion, previous incarnations of Batman games have made the error of trying to be all things to all Batman fans. They would have combat interspersed with vehicle sequences interspersed with puzzles. Rarely did they focus on what makes Batman truly great: he flat out kicks a lot of ass. You’ll get to do that again and again here with the stellar combat and combo engine put together by Rocksteady. Here you’ll find Batman busting arms, whalloping dudes in the back, and generally humiliating his enemies. It’s made all the sweeter by the variety of moves you will unlock as the game progresses. You’ll Batarang fools into oblivion, yank dudes off ledges with your Batclaw, and deliver many a slow-motion, leaping punch or kick to the face. You just can’t go wrong with a slow-motion kick to the face.
It’s not just a brawler, either. The game also incorporates a strong stealth element as well. Let’s face it, if the enemies are packing heat, you’re better off taking them down from the shadows. Luckily, you’re Batman, and in this game you actually feel like Batman. You get to grapple all over the joint, and string guys up at your pleasure. There are a myriad of escape routes in most rooms, including vents to crawl through, high places only you can get to, and even floor panels where you can lie in wait. Essentially, you’re doing everything you’d want to do as Batman. Sneaking around, scaring the crap out of your enemies, and then beating them into submission. They even threw in the enormously useful detective mode. In detective mode, you can see enemies through walls and even see their heart rate. It’s helps you find important items and even track a few people here and there.
The story arc of Arkham Asylum is engaging and moves at a steady clip. The rich mythos of Batman and the huge stable of enemies are well represented here. Killer Croc is as menacing as he should be, and Rocksteady uses Scarecrow and his toxic tendencies to great effect. The previously mentioned strong voice acting serves up great tale that just feels right, with one notable exception. At the very end, the Joker does something very un-Joker-like that causes a typical giant boss battle to close out the game. Still, the overall narrative is strong and this is merely a quibble.
Arkham Asylum also has a great deal of replayability. You have your requisite trophies/achievements to unlock if you feel like jumping through hoops. There are also a number of Riddler’s challenges and trophies scattered throughout the game. I tend to be a completionist, and Arkham Asylum jerked me around plenty of times with inaccessible trophies that I would have to come back for later, when I sported the necessary gadget. Lastly, there is the challenge mode, which consists of two different types. There are brawling stages that focus on combat skills and the predator stages that focus on stealth skills.
Above all else, Batman: Arkham Asylum delivers exactly what I’d want in a Batman experience. It has a beautifully rendered, gritty world, tight and varied gameplay, an excellent storyline and a good amount of replayability. It isn’t a perfect game, however. I had occasional issues with the camera and found the final boss battle lacking. But I have yet to crack the case of another game since I began my quest in Arkham Asylum, and I look forward to the recently announced follow-up. This is the most excited I’ve been about a licensed game since perhaps Goldeneye, and that’s saying a lot. For those reasons and more I give Batman: Arkham Asylum my highest possible recommendation. You owe it to yourself to play this game.