Batman: Arkham Asylum

September 8, 2009

Batman’s association with video games has been mediocre at best. Aside from the classic game on the NES, and perhaps even the kid-friendly LEGO Batman, the Dark Knight hasn’t had much success in the realm of video games. Batman: Arkham Asylum , shapes up to be not only a great Batman game, but an all around great superhero game. And it not only meets any lofty expectations, it exceeds them.

Arkham Asylum follows the story of the Caped Crusader as he returns The Joker to Gotham’s own prison for the criminally insane, Arkham Asylum. Little does Batman know that The Joker plans to get kidnapped to unleash another one of his master plans. The Joker quickly escapes captivity, takes over the entire island, and as always it’s up to Batman to put an end to The Joker’s sinister plans. Batman and The Joker are voiced by Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill respectively, and they give absolutely fantastic performances. 

The game as a whole looks stunning. It’s a lot darker, more brooding, and definitely a lot more detailed than any Batman game before it. Arkham is a huge place to explore, and there are many little nooks and crannies to look in. There are several different buildings you will find yourself exploring, each with a very unique look to it. The character models are also well done, and as the game progresses, you’ll notice Batman’s costume getting more torn and beaten up as he continues. The little touches like those may not be noticed by everyone, but they are nice to have.

The story, while it starts out basic, plays out like an interactive episode of the original Batman Animated Series. Even if you’re not a huge Batman fan, or know much about the comics/series the game is tied to, you can still appreciate the story. And although The Joker is the main villain, you’ve got plenty of supporting villains, some of which actually manage to steal the show for quite a bit. The story actually took quite a few interesting twists, and there are some truly amazing moments to be found. 

The controls are perfect, and are very easy to learn. It can be considered a pick up and play title, with a basic tutorial in the beginning of the game showing you some of the ropes. You’ll find yourself running and gliding around Arkham in no time, and the intuitive controls only adds to the fact that you truly feel like Batman playing this game. No other game before this has given you that feeling before, and it’s done thanks to the combination of the controls and the many different gadgets you get as you progress, such as the Batclaw.

The gameplay blends together three main elements, and does so excellently. The first element is the combat, which is sinplistic, but intuitive and uncomplicated. You press the X button for all of your base attacks, but you combine those attacks with movements of the analog stick, the timing of your button presses, and other things like your gadgets and moves you can learn or upgrade along the way. The Y button serves as your counter button, which is used when you can tell an enemy is about to attack (I guess you can call it “Bat Sense”). When stringing together all of these basic elements, you can get some pretty amazing combos going. And later, more difficult enemies are introduced that require different tactics to take down. 

The second major element is the stealth, and while it isn’t as prominent as the combat, it can be just as intense and challenging. There are several situations in which you are faced with a group of armed guards, and it is at that point you realize that taking them head on is suicide. You will grapple along a bunch of gargoyles that are placed around the room, and use your many tools and moves to take down the various guards. Also, thanks to Batman’s “detective vision,” it’ll pinpoint all of the guards around the room easily. Later on in the game, you get larger groups of henchmen to deal with, a lot of which stick together in groups. But thanks to things like inverted takedowns, silent takedowns, and a “sonic batarang” you can unlock later on, you’ll find yourself clearing these rooms fairly quickly.

Speaking of Batman’s detective vision, it leads into the third element of gameplay, the detective work. It’s not a large part of the game, and it basically boils down to you finding a clue, analyzing it, and then following the trail to your next major location in the game. But what this detective vision is especially good for is finding hidden areas, such as walls you can destroy with your explosive gel, or even things you can collect. 

This leads to another part of the game, The Riddler challenges. Early on in the game, The Riddler contacts you and tells you he has hidden several Riddler trophies all around the asylum, and also given you plenty of riddles to solve based on what part of the environment you are in. The detective mode is especially good for helping you solve these riddles or collect the trophies, which give you extra bonuses such as character trophies and new challenge maps. And even once you finish the main story, you can wander around Arkham to find the rest of the hidden Riddler goodies that you missed during your main playthrough of the game.

You also earn points for doing certain things in the game. These can be as basic as defeating enemies or merely progressing in the story, or a bit more complicated such as finding specific hidden items (such as The Riddler trophies mentioned above). You use these points to upgrade Batman by increasing his health, and unlocking new gadgets and attacks for him as well. While you may not use a good part of any of these unlockables, they are nice to have and add a bit of variety to the later parts of the game.

Aside from the main story, you also have challenge maps, which are specific parts of the game that you can play to earn high scores, which are uploaded onto Xbox Live scoreboards. There are two main types: the combat challenge maps, and the predator challenge maps. And they are nice additions to the game that might keep you coming back to it, if you’re one for earning high scores and such. They also unlock even more things for you, so they are must plays for the completionists out there. 

There is one weakness in the game, and that is  that some of the boss battles are very disappointing (and some can’t even be considered “battles” at all). The final boss is especially disappointing, considering it mainly consists of you fighting regular enemies for the majority of it. Some of these boss battles are truly amazing, but a lot of them are downright disappointing. 

Overall, the gameplay blends together many different elements and does so in a truly amazing way. You have never played a Batman game quite like Arkham Asylum, as it brings Batman to video games like never before. This is as close to a perfect superhero game as we have gotten so far, and it really shows the folks over at Rocksteady know exactly how to treat this franchise with the respect it deserves. Even if you aren’t a fan of Batman, this is a quality game that is well worth the asking price. 

ESRB: T for Teen; rated for blood, violence, suggestive themes and mild language

Pros: Has a truly gripping story; fantastic presentation and voice cast; free flow combat is uncomplicated, smooth and satisfying; stealth sections are challenging and tense; truly amazing level design; plenty of extras to collect, riddles to solve, and things to unlock

Cons: Some disappointing boss battles, especially the final boss

Score: 5/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.