When it comes to video games, The Dark Knight has been anything but impressive. The ample supply of Batman titles from previous generations have been modest yet not-quite-conclusive stealth titles, with most going in the direction of straight beat-em-up action rather than lurking-in-the-shadows covertness. Yet despite the vigilante’s less than impressive track record, Batman: Arkham Asylum flew the hype plane right in until touchdown. Thankfully, not only does the title fully live up to that hype, but it exceeds almost every expectation, providing an uncannily dark and gothic Batman experience.
The story begins as Batman escorts a recently captured Joker to the infamous Arkham Asylum. Aware of Joker’s impartiality to tomfoolery and confused by the supervillains easy capture, Batman warns of an unfortunate scheme at the hands of Joker and his friends already locked up in the Asylum. Soon enough, Joker escapes the hands of the prison guards as Batman watches on, and for the next 12 hours he subjects our dark hero to a hellish time in the evil prison.
It’s through the title’s incredibly absorbing and thrilling story that you’ll be pulled into this dark world. The writing team must be applauded, as the pacing throughout is as near to perfection as you can get with a game. From the way the villains are introduced to the modest boss fights and then even to the small references for Batman diehards, the pacing is immaculate, allowing for one hell of an experience. Writer Paul Dini, who was one of the influencing factors in Batman: The Animated Series being such an amazing show, definitely knows the Batman universe and it’s clear with his development of each major character. We see so many different angles of Batman in this title, some of which are totally and utterly unexpected (taking control of a young Bruce Wayne at the scene of his parents murder, for example), yet all of which flow perfectly within the confounds of the plot. Then there’s the Joker, who is as menacing and psychotic as we’ve ever seen him. Dini has written a compelling story that, while not overly memorable when placed up against narrative heavyweights from this generation, is perfect for a genuine Batman experience. It’s not so simple that you’ll forget it, but it’s not so complex and outrageous that you’ll remember it for the wrong reasons. It’s just right. It’s a Batman story at its finest.
For the mainstream Batman movie fan, Arkham Asylum definitely sides with Tim Burton’s whacked out and hilariously insane Batman universe, mixing overly dark environments with terrifying villains on the backdrop of memorable clown music. While Burton certainly didn’t create this universe, he made it his own with his movies, and it’s impressive that developer Rocksteady has been able to create a world that is so distinctively Batman, while also incorporating gameplay that Batman fanatics have been waiting to see in a game for the hero.
When you look at previous Batman titles and then compare them up against the actual source material, there’s no real genuine stealth element to the games. There might be a slight focus in particular elements, but it has always seemed to be simply a “Batman game” rather than an actual Batman experience. Arkham Asylum changes that, offering an experience that is challenging, highly rewarding and actually really addictive. With a consolidation of different gameplay elements – from stealth to action, to puzzle solving – Arkham Asylum has something for everyone, even if you’re not a Batman fan. The gameplay holds up in almost every facet, incorporating accessible controls that are easy to master and a pleasure to experience.
There definitely is a whole bunch of button-mashing and yeah, some of the body-on-body combat animations might be a bit out-of-sync and ugly, but it’s through the many different gameplay options available to you that you can experiment with Batman and the gadgets he’ll eventually come across throughout the game. The experience system allows you to not only regenerate health but also update Batman’s combat and weapon skills. The combat itself relies a lot on timing and rhythm, as the more enemies you hit in a row, the more experience points you earn once they’re all dead. If you direct Batman in the right direction, he’ll seamlessly attack the closest enemy in that direction, with the combo continuing on until you’ve mistimed and swung at the air. Combat itself is pretty simple: you can hit, evade, counter and stun, and all are integral to achieving a good combo and building up the experience points. Some enemies need to be stunned before they can be damaged, while others that are carrying electricity rods need to be jumped over and hit from behind. As you progress through the story you’ll unlock different toys – which can also double up as weapons – giving you more stealth options to consider when you’re deciding which tactics to use in a heavily guarded area.
The stealth moments are easily the best aspects of the gameplay, offering possible the best Batman experience we’ve seen yet in a video-game. Hiding up among gargoyles while unsuspecting enemies walk down below is strangely amusing, with a number of different attack options available to you. You can either hang down and pull up the enemy before hanging him from the statue, or jump down and do a silent takedown from behind. Initially, the stealth moments will be easy, having you crouch and silently go up behind an enemy and knock them out, but as the game progresses, areas become more heavily guarded as the Joker becomes more knowledgeable of your movements. Late in the game, all of the gargoyles in a room will be rigged with explosives, so you’ll have to figure out another way to take out the heavily armed enemies in the area. You’ll also have use of fantastic detective vision goggles, allowing you to distinguish the difference between enemies carrying weapons and those that aren’t, as well as scan an area for clues. You’ll often have to search for a missing character, so you’ll have to scan a certain area for something you’ll be able to track: anything from a smell, to a fingerprint or liquid. The goggle will scan areas as you move through them, creating a sort of path towards the missing person. It’s a fantastic little gadget.
The stealth aspects have been perfectly integrated into the game alongside the combat, and thankfully neither get an overworking. There’s a really good balance between the two, with some instances giving you the option between one and the other. In some instances, you’ll have the opportunity to be distinctively “Batman”, as you quietly move in on an area, before quickly soaring in and scaring any enemy you come in contact with. Once your presence is known, it’s great to hear the enemies scatter around and shout out as Batman hides and waits for his next victim. It’s what was needed in a Batman game, and it’s finally what we get.
Developer Rocksteady have done a brilliant job creating an eerie and memorable title, from heavily detailed holding cells, to a dark and frightening mansion, to a bright and colourful garden landscape. This game is distinctively “dark” and while it might have its syncing issues with the combat animation and the story can be a little too linear for its own good, these are all aspects associated with a game, not a Batman story. Yet that’s exactly what this is – a genuine Batman experience, filled with outrageous villains, gothic environments and some great stealth elements. Furthermore, there’s plenty to explore and discover across the island, with literally hundreds of Riddler riddles to solve and find.
Arkham Asylum is a “true” Batman experience. Forget about every other Batman game you’ve played in the past – this is the only one you need to play. Everything from the environments, to the brilliant (yet linear) story, to the flowing combat and fantastic stealth elements: this game is an absolute pleasure to play. It’s accessible, challenging, and deeply rewarding, and it’s one of those games that you can play through multiple times without ever growing tired of it. It’s a title constructed perfectly around stealth and basic button-mashing combat, and with plenty of memorable cutscenes and fantastic all-round performances from the voice-cast, Batman: Arkham Asylum is an absolute must-have.
The combat is simple yet incredibly engaging and fun, allowing you to seamlessly move from enemy to enemy and build up experience points. Then, with the use of the detective goggles tool, you can scan areas and pinpoint enemy locations and plan your attack. The stealth elements are very enjoyable, allowing you to have a genuine Batman experience. Overall, the gameplay flows perfectly from one aspect to another.
Some really nice areas and nice character animations. The level of detail on some of the buildings is fantastic. It definitely feels and looks like a Batman game, that’s for sure.
Brilliant voice-acting right around the table. Kevin Conroy as Batman is great, although he still sounds like a mix of Lawrence Fishburne and Leonard Nimoy. The soundtrack is great also, combining great orchestral pieces with eerie clown music.
The main story straight through can take anywhere between 8-12 hours, depending on your skill level. That’s not including finding all of the riddles and killing all of Joker’s toy teeth flapping around the place. Then you’ve got high replay level.