Let’s face it, superhero games have been ass save for a few titles. Most don’t do a good job of emulating the protagonist’s powers. Moreover they’re usually rushed to release alongside their film counterpart. Batman: Arkham Asylum was already on the road to success by avoiding these trappings by being based on the long running comic book franchise rather than serving as a movie tie in. Additionally, the development team sought out the comic book’s artists and writers to work on the game. It definitely went a long way as their input set the atmosphere perfectly and gave the player a great feeling of what it’s like to be Batman.
So here’s a quick synopsis: Batman captures the Joker and sends him to Arkham Asylum; the resident crazy house for Gotham City’s infinite kooks. One thing leads to another and Batman falls right into The Joker’s trap. The premise is The Joker rigged Gotham with explosives and is using the island to build a mutated army. He’ll set the explosives off if anyone sets foot on the island. So in classic fashion Bruce Wayne has to stop his arch-rival all while encountering difficult confrontations and other villains along the way.
Now let’s get into what makes it great. Batman is not super human. He’s stronger and more agile than the average person but he can’t do anything wild like fly or shoot lasers out of his eyes. He can, however, take on thugs in hand to hand combat and outsmart armed foes by using his surroundings. To add to that he can dissect a crime scene and find perpetrators. He’s no Superman but who needs to be with that utility belt?
Arkham Asylum handles the fighting and stealth mechanics surprisingly well. The game uses one main attack button. The rest are used for countering strikes, dodging and dizzying opponents. Batman is usually outnumbered when he fights and enemies don’t wait around to hit you. The controls come together extremely well and show off the game’s great design. It’s really satisfying to pull off long combo strings and the fighting gets even better when you upgrade his abilities. So while Bruce never catches a fair one, he’s always prepared for the ambush as long as you know how to assess the situation. You can’t fight your way out of every situation however. There’s plenty of standoffs with rifle-toting enemies that’ll take you out easily. Yes, bullets actually HURT in this game. Gutters, vents, ledges and stone statues are used to elude guards and take them out quietly. These instances get some interesting twists later in the game that keeps them fresh so I won’t spoil them.
The detective work has its highs and lows. The best parts are the Riddler’s Challenges. Tons of environmental puzzles and trophies are hidden throughout. Some are pretty tough but thankfully secret maps uncover their general vicinity. They’re also worth your while considering they help Batman level up MUCH quicker and grant some nice unlocks. More routine work involves picking up scents, fingerprints, or any other evidence that lead towards the next objective. It can seem like déjà vu after awhile but you never feel lost. There are a few adventure elements that break things up as well. Batman jumps, glides, climbs, and swings his way around with relative ease. Gadgets gained later in the game can expose secret areas you couldn’t access previously so the game feels like a Metroid-lite in that regard.
The intricacies of Arkham Asylum are dark, gritty, violent as it never loses its appeal. Plus the game really pushes the bar for a Teen-rated experience. People get murdered on screen (albeit without blood), death threats are common and females are referred to as bitches from time to time. It all comes together and makes the setting so convincing when you play it. The standard game length is fairly short but the secrets considerably extend its shelf life. On top of that the challenge rooms, varying between stealth and fighting scenarios, are plentiful and fun to play. There are some free downloadable challenge rooms for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC available right now with more on the way. On top of that the PS3 version has exclusive Joker themed challenges as well.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is the best comic book game ever and it’s one of the best games of 2009. Rent it, buy it, do whatever, just find a way to check it out.
Batman Arkham Asylum Gameplay Trailer (Stealth)