If you weren’t aware, DC Comics hasn’t ever had a video game that’s been generally well-received by the public or critics. Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe came close, but let’s face it, that was more of a matter that the game just wasn’t total crap. Over the years though the Batman franchise has been plagued with sub-par games. Personally, I was a fan of The Rise of Sin Tzu, but I was in the minority on that one. Anyway, the Batman games have never captured what it’s like to actually be the dark knight, until now.
Batman: Arkham Asylum begins with Batman bringing the Joker into Arkham Asylum. As he hands Joker over to the guards he comments to Commissioner Gordan that something feels wrong, like it was too easy catching the Joker this time. Batman asks to personally see the Joker to his cell. This gives us a chance to walk through the Asylum and take in some of the sights and sounds. For example, you run into Killer Croc as he is being moved back to his cell and you get to see him spot Batman and make some threats. The usual rogues gallery banter you would expect. Speaking of things you would expect, guess who turns the tables on Batman and breaks free and proceeds to run amok in the asylum? Oh Joker, they’ll never truly catch you will they?
I feel like if that is the only setup you had for the game and then you started playing it, you’d be in for the greatest video game experience ever. So I won’t delve too much more into the plot other than to say the focus of the game is to get the Joker. “But Butner,” you ask, “we’ve seen so many Batman games that have that exact same goal. What makes this game any different?” This game is different because it takes Batman all over Arkham Asylum in a semi-open world kind of way. I say semi because, it’s just Arkham Asylum, which isn’t really a “world,” however, it’s still a large area to cover. There are different buildings you’ll have to go into across the asylum, so don’t think of Arkham Asylum as one “really big building” that you have to explore. It’s more like a campus.
Let’s talk gameplay for a moment. Batman Arkham Asylum might have the best gameplay of any comic book game to date. At the very least all the elements are there to fill in the small gaps. You could describe the gameplay as exactly one-third fighting, one-third stealth, and one-third detective. Any true Batman fan will tell you that’s EXACTLY what makes Batman, Batman. There may be a part in the game where you have lost the trail of someone you’ve been following, so you bust into a CSI forensic mode, aptly named ‘Detective Mode,’ and you follow a unique trail they leave behind. You follow one guy by the amount of whiskey on his breath. Yeah, Batman will #*%@ing hunt you down wherever you are!
So, there’s your detective part. Then as you are tracking your suspect, you might encounter a room of bad guys, the only problem is they all have guns. In some games like this, you can get away with getting shot a few times and still clear the room out; definitely not in this game. You have to use stealth to isolate each of the henchmen and take them out quickly and silently so they don’t alert the other guards. This is where the fun comes in as you can take out guards in so many ways. One of the best ways is to hang upside-down from a gargoyle statue, grab a henchman as he passes under you, tie him up, leave him hanging from the statue, swing over to a neighboring statue and throw a Batarang at the rope cutting the henchman loose and falling onto a separate henchman underneath.
If there are no shadows, gargoyle fixtures, or grates to hide in, then it’s time for just straight up fighting. The fighting system consists of pressing one button to attack and another to counter. An easy system to learn but a very hard one to master. Chaining attacks together between striking and countering, when done right, looks like a choreographed fight scene that was almost scripted it runs so perfectly. One of my only complaints about this system though is that it can be too easy at times. After a while if you run into a crowd of 10 guys without any weapons you can take them out no problem. You might argue that this is perfectly in character with Batman, and I’d agree, but after a while you’ll feel the need for more of a challenge. This does happen though with the introduction of henchmen with stun batons and knives.
In conclusion, for my money, and I am the self-proclaimed expert on all comic book video games, this ranks in the top 3 of all time. If you’re a Batman fan and a hardcore gamer, this is Christmas in summer for you. There isn’t much to knock Arkham Asylum on actually. I lost two days of my life sitting on the couch playing the game until I had solved every riddler clue and beaten every challenge I could. I guess that’s a knock. Bottom line though, if you love video games, comics, Batman, or games that achieve the respect of the entire gaming community – Batman Arkham Asylum is the game you’ve been waiting to play all year.
- Perfectly realized Batman setting
- Voice acting sets the bar for quality
- Graphics and lighting sell the Batman “feel”
- Innovative gameplay keeps you entertained the whole time
- Character design for villains is original and awesome
- Attention to detail in level and just general game design is astounding
- Combat feels cheap and easy at times
- No unlockable alternate outfits
- More villains would have been great