Retro Review: Batman: Arkham Asylum
One of the most highly anticipated games of the year has finally arrived, Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Asylum. Donning the mantle of the Dark Knight, Arkham Asylulm has you assuming the role of the caped crusader as he delivers the Joker to Arkham Asylum. Unfortunately it’s all a trap as Batman finds himself trapped on Arkham Island as the prison and asylum is overran by the Joker and his henchmen. It’s up to Batman to stop the Jokers maniacal plans and restore order to the island, before Gotham is besieged by super strength soldiers.
There’s been a lot of expectations set upon Arkham Asylum from fans of the Bat to the gaming community that has embraced comic books turned games. Thankfully much of it has been met. Arkham Asylum is hands down the best Batman game you will ever play, and probably the best game adaptation of a comic book character. Being written by long time Batman scribe Paul Dini, the story is intricately woven around the Batman mythos and incorporates a manageable cast of characters. Although he focused primarily on the Joker and his lovable sidekick, Harley Quinn. Characters such as Killer Cros, Poison Ivy and Zsaz also make appearances, and the brief hints or glimpses of characters like Mr. Freeze, the Sandman, the Riddler and more really immerse you within the Batman universe. You’re not over saturated with Batman’s foes, it’s just the right amount with that tease of a little more.
Perhaps one of the best characters is the actual Arkham Island. Containing various facilities, there’s a vast amount of territory you can explore giving the game replay-ability. The island hides numerous caves and old, long forgotten passageways giving it a sense of history and danger. The amount of interacting with the island and exploration makes it one of the best characters of the game.
Arkham Asylum has three styles of gameplay, from combat to platforming and stealth action. The combat is focused on fighting multiple enemies at once and it consists of simple button mashing. There are no complex combinations to remember since you only have one attack button. The other buttons are used to modify your combat abilities, from swiping his cape to stun enemies, to throwing Batarangs or using the Batclaw grappling hook to pull foes toward him. There’s also a counter button you can press during combat which will stop enemy attacks or grab their bats right out of their hands and slam them back into the attackers. Focusing on one enemy won’t help you win a fight, instead you’ll need to keep moving between the enemies, attacking them and keeping them stunned and disoriented.
Combos become a helpful combat advantage as well. Once you’ve started a combo of at least three hits, the game’s Freeflow system activates and you start flowing between the enemies instead of focusing on one. Reach eight combo hits and you’ll unlock a special attack. Take one hit though or miss an enemy and you’ll have to start all over. As the game progresses, you’ll encounter new enemies who require you to change up your tactics. Knife-wielding foes have to be stunned before you can attack them, while henchmen wielding stun batons need to be attacked from behind. The action is flowing and you can easily get to a combination of over 40 hits during one fight.
The second type of gameplay is platforming. Batman will automatically jump across gaps, glide with his cape, and climb or grab onto ledges if necessary. Although he starts out lightly equipped, Batman will find gadgets like explosive gel, a Batclaw that help remove barriers, cross larger gaps or reach previously inaccessible areas. These include explosive gel, a Batclaw that allows you to pull objects and enemies, a security hacking device and various modified Batarangs. It’s your usual array of items you’d find in his utility belt.
Lastly, there’s the stealth action part of the game. Part of the charm of Arkham Asylum is watching Batman use the dark surroundings to his favor as he sneaks up on enemies or conceals himself within the shadows of a room. Throughout the game, rooms are filled with various gargoyles in the ceilings, guarding the rooms below. Using his batclaw, Batman can swing from gargoyle to gargoyle, perching on them high above his enemies. Swooping from above he can drop down and grab his enemy, and hang him from the gargoyle for all to see or simply glide kick his way in and take him out quietly. The means of quietly take out an enemy are practically endless.
Helping you throughout the game is the Detective Mode, probably one of the most important components to Batman’s arsenal. By pressing the left bumper button you can activate a special X-ray vision mode within Batman’s cowl that will allow you to see enemies through walls, pinpoint objects of interest and find hidden paths. It also allows you to read an enemy’s mood. The Detective Mode’s x-ray visions will portray all enemies as if they’re skeleton’s and it will even highlight enemies with weapons as being red while unarmed thugs will be white. It’s such a convenient tool, and looks so good, that you’ll find yourself using it all the time and some people might play the entire game in that mode.
Throughout all of the combat, platforming and stealth action you’ll earn XP which will help you level up your combat, health and weapons. Whether it’s solving a riddle, dispatching henchmen or completing a complex move the xp earned will fill a gauge, and when it becomes full you get to pick an upgrade. It’s these upgrades that will help you as the game progresses, allowing you to take more damage and last longer in a fight, or gain access to previously restricted areas.
Throughout the game you’ll come across a number of the Riddler’s side quests, 240 of them to be exact. The Riddler’s challenges vary from finding recordings of patient sessions, retrieving a number of Riddler trophies to solving riddles he’s created for specific areas. When you enter a room with one of his riddles he’ll chime into Batman’s earpiece and share the riddle with you. It’s up to you to locate the answer and scan it with the cowl’s built in analysis tool. Some of the riddles will only be detectable through the Detective Mode while some will be staring you right in the face. Most of the riddles are little nods to other characters that aren’t featured within the game. From finding Ra’s al Ghul to locating Tommy Elliot’s work schedule, the riddles can range from difficult to easy and finding them can be extremely rewarding. Solving riddles will also unlock character bios, giving more in depth information into Batman’s rogue gallery. Not only will you earn XP by solving the riddles, but you’ll also unlock the various Challenge Rooms that you can partake in outside of the Arkham Asylum story.
There are 16 Challenge Rooms, and all are modified versions of the levels from within the game. They’re broken into Combat and Predator challenges. The Combat Challenges are four-round fights where you’re tasked with defeating a group of enemies as efficiently as possible. The more combination moves you use the higher score you earn. The Predator Challenges task you with completing a room as quickly as possible while completing various side-tasks. The more you complete, the higher your overall score will be. The Challenge Rooms have leaderboards where you can upload your score and compare to the global leaderboard or one against people on your friends list. One exclusive to the PS3 is the ability to take on the various challenges as the Joker. Since there’s no multi-player aspect to the game, the Challenge Rooms add that extra layer.
The thing that really stands out in Batman: Arkham Asylum is how dark and adult oriented the story is. Paul Dini has done a wonderful job crafting a story that will appeal to adults, and fans of the recent movies. People die, villains talk about dismembered babies and the Joker is portrayed as a clear psychopath. The great thing about Batman is that he’s surrounded by villains who view murder as just another tool to achieve their goal. This isn’t for kids, and that’s a good thing.
Visually, the game is beautiful. The island and the environments within it have that old creepy feeling to them, and the fact that it’s filled with goons that are hell bent on killing Batman makes it all the better. The cut scenes look very good, but you’ll notice that some of the lip syncing doesn’t add up at times. The combat looks fantastic, and watching batman flow during combat really makes the game shine. It’s great watching his face and suit take damage as the story progresses, giving him a more ragged and tired look by the end of the game.
Even better than the graphics is the audio quality of the game. From the voice acting to the music, everything is audibly superb. Using the voice actors from the Batman: The Animated Series, Arkham Asylum is blessed with the talents of Mark Hamill as the Joker, Kevin Conroy as Batman and Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn. Listening to them really added a special touch to the game. Even the orchestral score fits the dark, brooding mood of the game perfectly. It’s extremely reminiscent of the recent scores of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. They really stepped it up a notch and it just makes it feel a lot more Batman-like.
While I may have been heaping praise and adoration all over this game there is one glitch that threw me into a rage. It seems that there is a problem for a number of people that save the game to come back and find that their save is corrupted and they can no longer continue from their previous spot. I, along with a rather unfortunate lot of individuals found ourselves forced to start the game over when the game saved at a particular point. After reading a few gaming sites it would appear that the glitch might be more widespread than thought. Hopefully it’s something that Rocksteady can identify and ensure doesn’t happen again.
Despite my problem with having to restart the game, Batman: Arkham Asylum is the Batman game we’ve all been waiting for. It’s managed to capture the Dark Knight in a way that no other game has ever managed to do before. Fans of Batman must pick this game up, and fans of good games in general have to join in as well. Arkham Asylum is a clear candidate for game of the year.