We can all admit Batman’s previous appearances in the gaming world were never all that impressive. So it was weird to be quite excited about his latest gritty outing in Arkham Asylum. Rather than produce a game version of the Dark Knight’s latest movie, Rocksteady had created a third-person action game that was not only special to Batman fans but also to gamers as a whole.
After only 20 minutes of popping in Arkham Asylum into my Xbox 360 and loading up the title I realised that this was not only going to be a fantastic game in its own right but possibly one of the best superhero titles I had ever played.
You start the game straight after capturing Joker, walking down eerie long corridors of Gotham’s most prestigious mental asylum, the beginning credits role as you take control of Batman and divulge into the opening narrative. The Joker menacingly teases as you briefly stroll into the asylum, this soon draws to an end when events take a quick turn for the worse. What begins is a deliciously fulfilling story of Batman and Joker at each other’s throats once again, a battle of the wits!
After some words you are pitted against a number of inmates who are ready to beat you to a pulp. Luckily you are Batman and so the beat down commences. Combat is quite easy to pick up, and the only real skill needed is timing to build up a number of combo attacks. You can punch and kick with one button and various directional moves with an attack will send Batman flying off to the next target. Learning where to direct Batman next while mashing away on the attack button is what will rack up your combo. You can also counter attack, throw, aerial kick, cape stun and perform various take downs. Batman obviously prefers not to kill so making sure your opponents are knocked out efficiently is important.
You’ll find yourself heading into rooms and having to strategically sneak around to take out the henchman one by one. Storming in a room can be done with unarmed gangs, but as soon as guns, tasers and knives get involved a certain degree of stealth must be adhered to. Well, unless you want to die and view the many humorously dark ‘Game Over’ clips that play on your screen. This is where detective mode comes into play. Triggering this mode will enable you to work out who is armed and who isn’t, which helps to base your strategy against a group of awaiting thugs. It also shows off their skeleton, which makes it easier to spot through walls who is coming around the corner.
Of course Batman wouldn’t be anywhere without an onslaught of gadgets to help him along, and in Arkham Asylum there is no exception. Upgrades and new gadgets are obtained at various points in the story or by levelling up Batman. The gadgets range from explosives that blow away walls, a Cryptographic Sequencer to disable security barriers or just a trusty Batarang to knock out multiples of henchmen.
The levelling system is more about collecting experience from completing various riddles, story based objectives or by beating down enemies. This then contributes to an upgrade menu where you can enhance Batman’s suit for extra protection, learn new combo moves or even just upgrade your gadgets.
You can gain experience slowly by taking on a whole horde of henchman around the island or by solving some of the many riddles scattered across the asylum. The Riddler, one of the super villains from the Batman series, takes on the role of giving out optional side missions in Arkham Asylum. Every time you enter a new area that has a riddle to be solved it will pop up on your screen. Some of the earlier riddles are quite obvious, but later on they become quite taxing. Not all of his challenges are about working out what you need to analyse in detective mode but also by exploration. There are hidden riddle trophies that you can pick up as well as invisible question marks that can only be seen in detective mode. Usually the question mark is split onto various surfaces and it is all about getting the right angle to solve the puzzle. I must admit, aside from the encounters with Gotham’s criminal masterminds, the Riddles were my favourite part of the game. I spent quite a while running around working out what to investigate, and doing so not only rewards you with experience but also unlocks various information about other characters in the Batman universe as well as character models to enjoy from the main menu.
There is something very cinematic about Arkham Asylum, with its frightfully good voice acting, high visual quality and true to source material style. Mark Hamill, reprising his role of Joker, has done such a fantastic job bringing such an absolute criminal insanity to life, it’s almost quite unsettling. The script is so fitting and each of the comic book villains act just as you expect them to.
The Joker takes most of the glory for his constant inane chatter over the radio, reminding his henchman on how many of them are left conscious. There are moments, such as a report going off over the radio, which had me stood still in a room as to not miss out on another Joker moment. This combined with the collectable interview tapes for all the criminals featured in the game makes for some fantastic listening and well worth hunting them down.
During your adventure you unlock various ‘Challenge Rooms’ from riddle solving and storyline progression. These can be accessed from the main menu and provide another chance to pit your true Batman skill against your friends and earn medals for (you guessed it) achievements. There are two types of challenges, a predator mode and a combat mode.
The predator mode is all about completing various requirements and clearing the room as quietly as possible. Some of the requirements go from taking out someone with an inverted take down to getting 3 henchmen knocked over from a single wall explosion. The challenges get even more extreme as the henchman become more rapid with their patrols while also being armed with weapons that can really end the challenge quite quickly.
Combat rooms are all about ranking up combos during arena based battles. You have a few stages to grow up a combo score which will offer you medals for getting certain scores. The combat rooms are not about spamming the attack button but more about really learning about how combat in Batman works and maintaining a constant combo which is lost after being hit or by not landing a hit.
My only main issue was with the henchmen and how they all looked the same; even the voice talent for them didn’t change up much either. I wasn’t a fan of Harley Quinn’s new wardrobe either and was disappointed to see her out of her usual digs.
Aside from those small niggles, Batman Arkham Asylum is not only a stellar example of how superhero games can work but also with narrative as a whole. The scarecrow moments were quite iconic and had me thinking we have another Bioshock on our hands. I can’t imagine a Batman game being any other way.