Arkham Asylum is home to the world’s most criminally insane minds. It is a psychiatric ward, a hospital, and a penitentiary all at once. It is here where Batman brings the captured Joker, who seems more than happy to have been caught. Soon, Batman’s greatest fears are realized when Joker escapes and assumes control of the entire facility.
As the game that won the Guinness World Record for “Most Critically Acclaimed Superhero Game Ever”, Batman: Arkham Asylum is an incredibly deep and thoroughly satisfying experience in Gotham City’s infamous house of madmen.
The story behind Batman: Arkham Asylum begins with what was supposed to be a routine prisoner delivery, in this case, the Joker. However, one thing leads to another and Joker stages a massive takeover of Arkham Asylum. As Batman, you’ll have to figure out the Joker’s dastardly plan and deal with the inmates who now run riot throughout the place.
The setting is perfect for a Batman game, with many (in)famous names making appearances in the game such as heavyweights Joker, Poison Ivy and Commissioner Gordon, and even lesser known ones like Bane, Aaron Cash and Victor Zsasz. The story flows so well from beginning to end that there is a very cinematic feel to the proceedings as it alternates smoothly between fights with Joker’s thugs, boss battles and even detective work (more on this later).
You can get up to ten to twelve hours of gameplay out of this game, with replay value accounted for by the presence of hidden collectibles strewn throughout Arkham Asylum by none other than the Riddler himself. With numerous trophies, challenge mode maps, interview tapes, encrypted messages and Joker’s clattering teeth toys (yes, you read that right) to be found, there is incentive to revisit previously explored areas just to try to find more.
Moving around the grounds of the asylum is a delight when you’re Batman. Aside from staples such as walking, running and climbing, Batman can also glide from higher ground, grapple to high spots, crawl through ventilation shafts and – coolest of all – hang upside down from gargoyles. Numerous gadgets such as the line launcher, demolition gel and Batclaw allow you greater flexibility in terms of getting about swiftly and quietly.
Combat is, by far, the most gratifying exprience in any superhero game ever. The first type of combat is called Freeflow Combat. Here, there are just four types of moves: Strike, Stun, Counter and Takedown. This reflects Batman’s economical approach to hand-to-hand fighting, but the sheer number of combinations he can pull of with just these four basic moves is astounding. In the hands of an expert, Batman becomes some sort of a brutal ballerina bashing the faces of Joker’s many nameless thugs.
The second type of combat is called Invisible Predator. Batman normally goes for this approach with the gun-toting bruisers in Joker’s makeshift army. This is where the game truly shines. As the name suggests, Batman moves about quietly dispatching Joker’s thugs one by one. As the number of thugs is slowly worn down, the remaining baddies quickly become panicked, losing their cool and being unable to follow instructions. This really gives you the feeling of actually being Batman, of striking fear into your enemies before taking them out.
My only peeve is that the game strictly dictates which method of combat you should use. For instance, armed thugs in a big room with lots of hiding spots mean Invisible Predator, while unarmed thugs in an uncluttered space mean Freeflow Combat. Sure, you could play Freeflow Combat against armed enemies – but you won’t last very long.
Then of course, there are the boss battles. Depending on who you fight you will require the use of different abilities and gadgets to defeat your opponent, ranging from stealth to brute force to agility and timing. My favorites are the ones where you have to battle the Scarecrow – I’m not telling you what it’s like because that would spoil it for you. Suffice to say, encounters with him play to his greatest strengths as a villain.
Batman also has to take time out to play the detective and occasionally look for clues that will help him progress to the next area, such as a DNA or fingerprint sample. Using a special view called ‘Detective Mode’, Batman can not only analyze his environment for these types of clues, but also identify enemies, find hidden entrances and places to which he can grapple, and search for the many hidden collectibles around the asylum.
In fact, the problem with ‘Detective Mode’ is that it’s so gosh-darned useful that you’ll be tempted to play the whole game while leaving it on. My advice: don’t. There are some genuinely OMG-did-you-see-that moments of cool that will look much better with the goggles down.
Arkham Asylum is a visual treat for the senses, and I don’t just mean the game as a whole. Gotham’s madhouse is chock-full of little details that remind you that you’re in the home away from home for Batman’s most dangerous enemies. From the dark, brooding atmosphere to the little nods to infamous personalities (hint hint!), Arkham Asylum is both beautiful and dangerous at the same time.
That is not to say it is a static environment. Joker always shuffles his men around the asylum grounds, meaning that even after you’ve cleared an area you can return to it and find even more dangerously armed opponents than before. Numerous gates, doors and entryways that can be blocked, guarded or sealed means you will need to find new ways to move around. Then of course, Arkham Asylum itself does literally change later in the game – but that’s up to you to discover for yourself.
The voice work in the game is stellar. Even the nameless goons who do Joker’s bidding have something different to say now and then, especially in response to your actions throughout the game. Batman and Joker are played by Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, respectively, both of whom voiced the same roles in the animated series. Seeing how you will be hearing these two talk for most, if not all of the game, they do a damn good job of carrying their parts, and it does wonders for the atmosphere of the game.
Barring exams or insufficient computer requirements, there is absolutely no reason for you not to get your hands on this game. It is an excellent game that doesn’t just live up to the hype and expectations surrounding it, but exceeds them. It is a game that is worthy of wearing the mantle of the Bat – and it looks like it will proudly do so for a long time to come.
Pros: Playing as Batman, compelling original storyline, great graphics, incredible gameplay