Batman: Arkham Asylum: I am the Batman!
Arkham Asylum served as one of those out-of-left-field titles of 2009. Developed by Rocksteady, whose only other published title was Urban Chaos: Riot Response, they aimed to create a game based on the super-popular Batman character, given the hype the movies were getting at that time. This had the entire world gazing on this game with the stigma of many sub-par superhero licensed games they had to endure prior to its release.
I have always been proud to say that Arkham Asylum broke the ranks of mediocrity and managed to enter the spotlight as the finest example of superhero licensed gaming to date. But was this just lightning in a bottle? Did the sudden big-screen comeback of the Dark Knight, coupled with the relatively large blob of shitty licensed games, aid this titles praise for it?
In a way, these elements did, but they did so only to help solidify the epic scale and ability of the game as a whole.
Arkham Asylum takes place just as Batman has detained the Joker, and is escorting him back to Arkham Asylum, home for the criminally insane in Gotham City. Feeling that the Joker cannot be trusted, as he has escaped Arkham many times, Batman decides to stay with the escort party, including Commissioner Gordon, until the Joker is secure. At the same time though, all of the Joker’s henchmen are being transferred to Arkham itself. But wouldn’t you know it? All hell breaks loose, the Joker escapes, and with the aid of his goons, Harely Quinn, and a few other familiar faces, takes over the Asylum. Batman is now forced to fight his way through legions of henchmen, insane enemies, and at times, his own mind, to defeat the Joker and end this riot, but the Joker is searching for something inside of Arkham, and will do anything to get his hands on it. This premise is exciting and fun, allowing the story to exist on its own without any influence from the movies or comic stories. In fact, the history of Batman is on full display, as we are introduced to several well-established characters, all with their own unique backgrounds. The character roster is far from overwhelming, saving the spotlight for specific, important characters.
Arkham Asylum works on a gameplay mechanic of stealth, combat and exploration. Enemies are dangerous, the goons with guns can quickly dispatch Batman, so stealth and combat go hand in hand. But there is another element that aids you in these situations: gadgets. Ranging from the signature batarangs to explosive gel, even a grappling hook, each of these items will help you traverse the levels and take out enemies in more difficult situations. One major element is the use of the grappling hook to gain access to higher areas and vents, which pose different ways to perform takedowns. Takedowns are a rather cool feature. From high points, if an enemy walks under your position, you can knock them out and leave them hanging from that position. It’s an extremely gratifying to take down multiple opponents in a row using this method, but its actually part of a larger mosaic in the system. Using different combat, stealth and gadget elements can optimise how many opponents you can take down at any one time, and you’ll need to be precise, as enemies have no set patterns. You can also activate Detective mode, which allows you to track enemies, telling you the lethality of specific targets, and even trace footsteps throughout the game. This is handy when you want to get your bearings in a room full of enemies. It's an interesting and cool feature, especially when you can see an opponents skeleton.
When the hand-to-hand combat begins though, that’s where this game really comes into its own. Rocksteady have managed to integrate a precision combat system into Arkham Asylum, whereby punches and kicks are accompanied by a counter system that can be triggered when enemies are seconds away from attacking, and a stun system, used to stun more difficult enemies. You can also use a system of acrobatics to dodge and jump over enemies to give yourself room to breathe. As you attack and counter more enemies, you’ll activate a combo counter. When the counter hits ten, you can perform hand to hand takedown moves mid-combat situation. All of these elements flow together near seamlessly, although on major issue is that dropping the combo counter is too easy, as a single enemy just a little too far away can screw up the entire flow, and leave you swearing at the screen. Taking down enemies also grants experience, which allows you to gain levels and unlock more moves or more powerful weapons, like triple batarangs. This is a cool feature, and constantly makes you want to do better.
Exploration is another large element of the game. In each area of Arkham, there is a wealth of Riddler trophies and audio recordings to find, and riddles to solve. This is a way to coax the player into exploring, as these extra elements give you insight into the world of Batman itself. Levels are expansive and allow the player a lot of choice in how to traverse them. It’s a really clever way of opening up the levels, and you’ll always find a new way of getting through the levels. If you happen to fall from a particularly high place, don’t worry, you have your cape, which can be used to slow your fall, and help you glide down to the ground, even combining with an attack to knock enemies out. Area structure is linear, leading from one area to another in an A to B fashion, as the story goes, but the level of exploration and complexity of level design more than make up for this linear storytelling/level structure idea.
The graphics and aesthetics of Arkham Asylum are what really immerse the player in the world of the Dark Knight. The gritty, dank and dark world of Arkham, and Gotham itself, suck the player into the atmosphere. The characters and their respective areas, as seen with the bosses of the game, are diverse, but they all reflect a certain psychotic element of the world Batman is sucked into. Death is not uncommon in this game, and one slip up by the player can cost more people their lives. The character models are extremely well detailed, Batman himself accumulates damage throughout the game that never goes away, and the level designs are all interesting and diverse, but lend themselves to the darkness and insanity of Arkham. The lighting is perfect, mixing areas of shadow with areas of bright light, allowing the player to make choices on how to traverse the levels themselves. All in all, the presentation is amazing; this is one of the most beautiful looking games I’ve seen in a while.
The audio of the game really shines as another key element of the title. The music adds to the atmosphere, and hits all the right notes at the perfect times. The voice-acting is incredible, bringing back the original Batman himself Kevin Conroy and the original Joker Mark Hamill who pretty much make this game the most epic creation in existence. But every voice actor plays their part with conviction, and not even the henchmen voices are lacking.
Boss fights are one of the more negative aspects to the game. Bosses are generally a hit and run affair, with some generic combat technique to take them down. One of the first bosses is basically a throw batarang then dodge scenario, with some lackey-combat waves to deal with. The best moments involving key villain characters are the Scarecrow levels, which are trippy and surreal, bridging a surprising gap between Batman and those he fights against.
There are also Challenges that you gain access to as the game goes on, these take place outside the main game, where you have to traverse particular levels with time limits set for completing objectives. While this isn’t exactly something important, it’s a nice addition, especially when you can unlock different suits for Batman, which is kind of cool. It adds more value to the game, which is already overflowing with hours of main game content.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is simply an epic affair. In terms of comic-book characters turned videogame heroes, Arkham Asylum is up there with games like X-men Legends 1 & 2. This game stands on its own merits, giving the player everything they could ever want from the Batman franchise. Even non-Batman fans will enjoy the complexity and simplicity of the gameplay, the look of the game, and the fun of gadgets or exploration. This is a top-tier game, and would is damn-near perfect, if it hadn’t been for the mostly uninspired boss battles. Overall though, this game is the pinnacle to what all comic book hero based games should be. It is quite literally a revolution in its genre.
- Graphically stunning
- Audio is excellent on both music and voice acting fronts
- Stealth elements are intuitive and fun
- Combat is fluid and fast, never boring
- Challenges add value to already large gameplay elements
- Collectibles are interesting and involve themselves in the Batman universe.
- Storyline is excellent, interesting and involving
- Scarecrow boss fights are interesting and innovative
- Boss fights are mostly uninspired
- Killer freaking Croc
- Dropping combos because of game hit detection or slight distance discrepancies can be irritating.
- Last boss is a weak ending to an epic game. (yes the bosses are THAT bad)
A damn near perfect title, some minor issues coupled with boss fights knock this game from its perfect throne, but overall, it’s an excellent, solid title.
WTF? Moment: Why did anyone think shipping Joker’s goon squad to Arkham was a good idea? Could we not just break Jokers back and leave him in a cell without food? DOES NOBODY IN THIS UNIVERSE WANT TO TAKE THE DAMN INITIATIVE?!?