Fans of the Dark Knight have been waiting quite some time for a game to come along that truly captures what makes Batman such a beloved character. Arkham Asylum truly is that game. From the incredibly cohesive combat to the detective-based puzzle solving this game is as close as we are likely to get to a chance to feel like Gotham’s finest crime fighter. From beginning to end Arkham Asylum is not only the best Batman game ever created, but also one of the finest games released this year by far. If you are looking for a fresh experience, are a fan of the caped crusader and just enjoy a solid gameplay experience, this could easily be in the running for your favorite game of 2009.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is a gritty tale that rivals just about any graphic novel or motion picture based on the Dark Knight. The game starts off with you driving The Joker to Arkham Island where you will finally put him where he belongs. The opening sequence is one of the most immersive experiences this side of Half-Life or BioShock. Shortly after arrival Joker throws his master plan into effect and escapes the clutches of his guards. This initiates the overall plotline as Batman must then traverse Arkham trying to stop Joker and his goons.
Having the clown prince of crime in control of the asylum leads to Batman brushing elbows with his greatest enemies. Arkham Asylum is the definition of fan service, and with so many jaw-dropping moments, the game really delivers an experience unlike anything I have played since the original trip into Rapture. This is further aided with voice actors from the animated series and visuals that deliver some of the most detailed environments you will ever gaze upon.
At its core Arkham Asylum is a third-person action game that sprinkles in some stealth and puzzle solving elements for good measure. The combat system is one of the most intuitive and unified I have ever toyed around with. Batman’s attacks seamlessly flow into each other, and can be executed with just a couple of buttons. Everything is context sensitive depending on which direction you are facing, and the attacks the enemies are delivering. There is also a counter button that allows you to interrupt incoming onslaughts with a simple button press. The further you get into the game, the more advanced combos and attacks you learn, but never once did I feel overwhelmed with what the game threw at me.
Arkham Island is massive in size. As you progress you will unlock access to new areas to explore. Each one feels unique and contains its own presence. This was one of the more impressive things about Arkham Asylum as I played through the game. No experience was the same from area to area. One minute you are fighting gangs of thugs, the next you are tracking down various people using your detective vision, and the boss fights; let me just say that these experiences have been some of the most enjoyable that I have encountered in a long time, minus the final encounter, which was a tad disappointing.
When you combine all of the aspects of the game together, it really feels like a mesh of some of the best ideas from the last two decades of gaming. As I started the game and was introduced to the Riddler challenges, I noticed areas I could not access due to a lack of a specific gadget. This invokes the classic discovery and retracing your steps made famous in Metroid. There is also a dreary atmosphere and a sense that the environment has been lived in, complete with an insane amount of detail in each room. Look hard enough and hardcore Batman fans will find things such as Riddler’s cell or Scarecrow’s secret hiding place below the elevator shaft. The guys at Rocksteady have done an amazing job of squeezing the maximum amount of fan-service into the game, without making it feel tacked on.
One of the biggest things that continued to impress me as I played through the game is how no two things felt the same. Being a huge fan of the Batman lore I was intrigued with every villain and every encounter the game throws at you. I don’t want to spoil too much, but the times you encounter Scarecrow are some of the best moments in recent gaming. Every boss fight has a unique method that pertains to their character, and every single gameplay nuance feels fresh thanks to solid controls and a plethora of gadgets. Arkham Asylum is an expertly crafted experience that every Batman fan will fall in love with, and every gamer needs to experience.
Blasting through the single player experience omitting the side quests and hidden unlockables will run you roughly 10-12 hours depending on which difficulty you play it on. The amount of hidden items to be uncovered though will easily tack on an extra five if you want to hunt them down. I found myself intrigued at solving all of Riddler’s puzzles, and obtaining a back story and finding the archived tapes of each inmate was a definite bonus. Rocksteady spared no expense when it came to authenticity and it shows in every nook and cranny. It is obvious that these guys are passionate about the universe and its characters, and you get that every time you notice a small detail on the wall, or a line of dialogue that the characters articulate to each other.
In addition to the story mode there are also a set of challenge maps that you can unlock in the main game. These are basically brawling grounds where you get to beat up on wave after wave of enemies to hone your combat skills. These include online leaderboards to strive for higher scores, and are actually quite fun for wasting time. There are also predator maps where your objective is to take down the enemies without being seen. PS3 owners also get an exclusive Joker challenge map where you get to play as everyone’s favorite villain in his own set of missions, so if you have the option I suggest getting that version just for the chance to play as the clown prince of crime.
Visually the game is a masterpiece of Unreal technology. The environments are painstakingly detailed with plenty to discover. Level designs are built to cater to each scenario, but also not so much that it is obvious that this is a game. Batman looks fantastic, even if he does have eyes and the long-eared look. The villains are the highlight though as they all sport a unique look and feel exclusive to Arkham Asylum. Scarecrow is absolutely phenomenal and characters such as Killer Croc and Poison Ivy take on more of a mature, comic book style as opposed to the cartoon appearance. Combine this with the fact that the game runs super smooth, and rarely ever loads considering how large Arkham Island is, is to say the least, impressive.
Sound is even more impressive with the cast of the animated series lending their voices to the mix. Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy reprise their roles as Joker and Batman respectively, and both deliver outstanding performances. They are accompanied by a voice cast that includes an incredible list of talent including the return of Arleen Sorkin in her role as Harley Quinn. In addition to the stellar voice performances the game features a marvelous score that mixes the heroic tones of Batman with the dreary vibe of Arkham perfectly. Music fades in and out at just the right moments to create a suspenseful atmosphere. Sound effects are incredibly well done, and if you have the proper setup or a good pair of headphones, I highly recommend experiencing this the way it was meant to be heard.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is one of those games that comes along every few years that will have gamers talking about it long into the future. It is this year’s BioShock, and I for one could not put it down from start to finish. If you enjoy great narrative, interesting boss encounters, fresh gameplay and of course everyone’s favorite detective then Arkham Asylum will not disappoint. Everything comes together so well and there are so many jaw-dropping moments crammed into this disc that the only thing that disappointed me was that it had to end. You owe it to yourself to check out this amazing game, I guarantee you will not be disappointed.