Something laughs in the dark.
Unfortunately when it comes to PC games -- and this review is based on the PC version of the game -- there are much more than the actual game to comment on. Sometimes it's sad to say that the complex structures of PC builds aren't up to the task of handling ports, in the case of this title however, there's pretty much no technical problems standing between you and the caped crusade's quest to save Gotham once again. Not much though not necessarily absent.
Any PC moderately decent should take care of this on mid or high settings. Those addicted to pixels on-screen can power up their NASA supercomputers for the ultimate graphical experience. Since the atmosphere is phenomenal, it's at least worthwhile when experienced, much more than the "next-best-thing" first person shooter to up a few frames per second just for the sake of it. From a technical standpoint, the graphical settings are pretty optimal. From a artistic standpoint they're even better.
If you don't you should probably get your hands on an Xbox controller. Any version will do, the 360 or the One controller. It has reached a point where it's basically the unofficial controller for PC gaming. That's actually great news because of two main reasons: the controllers are great and it deals with the problem of support. The configurations aren't really perfectly implemented for PC so the controller should prevent a few headaches. The mouse sensibility is way too high and there's no options out of it, except the dodgy fixes you find around the internet at your own risk.
You're "stranded" in Gotham City's nearby island that holds none other than the most dangerous super criminals from the made-up world of Batman and the player needs to get things back on track after Joker takes over the place and decides to take over the place and create a big "party" for Batman. The eccentricities inherent to Joker back up most of the flow the story tells. People getting murdered, lots of innocent civilians and medical staff getting kidnapped, hostages being hold with gun in hand; chaos with the expected dose of demented humor.
The story is pretty well made when all gaming things are considered. I'm not exactly a comic books number one fan so I can't comment on how deep it all goes in main storylines or how much "true" it keeps on a universe that has been thoroughly exposed in so many medias, including video-games. For a Batman-newbie like me everything was pretty self-explanatory, and when not, they kept a data info as unlockable prizes stating information about characters that made the cut in the game as well as those who never even had the chance.
You get to explore the island taken over by criminals in nifty little ways using the gadgets Batman has in store. The sense of improvement is ever so present, from not being able to get certain unlockable from the get-go only to find that an item acquired midway through the game will do the trick just fine to reach what was once unreachable. There are many stuff to collect, from The Riddler, a villain that is not even present in the game itself, but has scattered charades all over the place. Getting them correctly and inspecting the item it mentions unlocks new bios and hands out percentage in overall completion -- it's up to you to decide which one is more important.
Controlling Batman was one of my biggest fears. Games based on popular non-gaming franchises serve more often than not as simple cash-ins for whoever holds the rights to said franchise and generally skips a huge part of a game, be played. It certainly had potential, Batman is a human after all, his accessibility to near alien technology coupled with a side-story that elevates his physical endowment to some kind of super human without super powers is too good to be passed.
The best aspect this game offers is the ability to grapple to basically any ledge that offers this possibility, both within reason and game-design. Frail structures won't give you this opportunity requiring Batman to, on his own words, "climb the old-fashioned way". Grappling around the island feels awesome. Other items in Batman's arsenal offer the good amount of freedom to be executed. In the end, it just works amazingly well.
Hidden beneath its shell, Arkham Asylum offers two types of gameplay. One of them is the combo-based combat system. The other is the logical usage of the terrain, items and AI to offer a stealth system based on shadowy advances. The second one is the better choice. I might sound bias when I say that stealth is always better but the combat system just isn't all too interesting. It borrows some ideas from button-mashing action games to deliver a system based on punching, countering and executing some odd mixture of lethal moves or items. You can manage just fine by attacking relentlessly while keeping track of when an enemy is about to attack you to just counter-attack.
Doing things slowly is a whole other beast of a game. Most of the time you'll have to face off enemies by comboing them out but when you have the option to use the environment to your advantage, planning out every attack to get the most from them, dealing with armed thugs knowing that any wrong move could be your last is just more suited for Batman. You have a detective system implemented in your bat mask that gives out every type of information about your surroundings, including people around you, weather a foe or ally. It even tells you their mood at the moment. Guards that were once in a group which was eliminated to the point that only one person is alive will become terrified, which results in them freezing upon seeing the lofty stature of Batman in front of them or shooting out of sheer fear as his mind plays trick on them..
The detective cam is integrated with heat sensor that shows everyone in the room so you can plan your movements pretty well in advance and show the best positions to transition using the grapple to gain advantage over you enemies. The AI works spot-on on most occasions, though sometimes enemies kind of refuse to be lured in no matter how many batarangs you throw at their general direction. It really should at least hint them that something is not right.
The island is divided in sections that are available as you progress through the game. The medical area, the penitentiary, the mansion, the botanic area. We could argue on why an island created to hold the most dangerous crime masterminds of Gotham would have a botanic building but the only conclusion would be to allow certain character to have its share on the story. Still, one of the most beautiful places in the island. They had to work around the clock here to offer variety in such a gloomy, mysterious place.
After a while you'll backtrack enough to feel like home in the island but not so much that it feels contained, small. The exploration offers a decent level of freedom for the sake of not losing the grip of storytelling and design. It wasn't meant to be Assassin's Creed in the dark, but it deals the right amount of mystery to make stuff worth revisiting.
Several rivals of batman do make the cut in the end and the glue that holds this type of universal antagonist fan-fest is pretty clear, the Asylum itself. The ones that never appear have still received proper care of having cameos as collectibles from the puzzles scattered around. Other decisions should make longtime fans satisfied with voice-over cast made up of familiar faces like Mark Hammill that made quite a cult following from his dub in the Batman Animated Series and replays the role of Joker as nicely as ever.
Aside from the main campaign you have the challenge mode which is also a two-faced coin. You have the combo challenges where you need to keep the combos going to reach a certain amount of points to earn the maximum number of 3 batarangs depending on how good you do. And you have the stealth challenges that focuses on following objectives based on strategies that revolve around certain aspects of taking enemies down, like hanging them from a vantage point or using explosives to take down 3 guys in one single detonation. The combo challenges are boring to a point of being useless but the objective-based stealth missions are pretty fun. At least you don't have to unlock the subsequent one by beating the previous, everything gets unlocked via the main game. You can choose whatever suits you and forget about the rest.
Batman Arkham Asylum is a game that deserves to be played. It might make you wonder how they would manage gameplay with a full concept in hand that needs to be addressed at all costs and still please the majority that might not even be big fan of games; whatever the challenge was it has been achieved. The game is dark and portrays the overall story of Batman in a meaningful way so as die-hard fans and people who are completely oblivious to it can all share a great time. The combat is always something problematic when you have a formula and needs to create a way for it to be played. The system can be improved upon but even in its current stage it's pretty manageable and stands on its own. The game is as solid as Batman's batsuit taking bullets from armed thugs.