Batman: Arkham Asylum Review #1: This Dark Knight Shines Brightly
This is part one of our two part “Batman: Arkham Asylum” review series. Check out MarkyX’s take on the game.
Months ago, DC Comics killed off Bruce Wayne. A three-part mini-series, entitled “Battle for the Cowl,” followed his death, in which multiple heroes and villains from the Gotham universe battled to wear the suit of the famous, Caped Crusader. Now, a new entity dons the bat suit, and a total reinvention of the Batman storyline has begun. While “Batman: Arkham Asylum” still has you exploring Gotham’s most storied penitentiary from behind the eyes of Bruce Wayne, it draws many parallels with it’s comic brethren, as it’s a total reinvention of Batman in the gaming realm, and brings with it many innovative features that should be mainstays in the third-person, action genre.
First off, unless you are a glutton for punishment, this is the best Batman game you’ll ever have played. “Arkham Asylum” takes a top-notch cast, adds in a memorable story, and combines it with the setting of one of Gotham’s most infamous locales. “Arkham Asylum” starts off with Batsy escorting the Joker into Arkham where things predictably go awry, and you quickly realize that not only is Joker lose within the asylum’s storied walls, but he’s got big plans. Throughout your stay, you’ll discover what those plans are, and at no time will you fail to be on the edge of your seat, wondering what twisted turns Joker has waiting for you next. Developer Rocksteady has gone to great lengths to make this one of the most immersive superhero games of all time, and the voiceovers in the game help greatly in achieving that goal, especially with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprising their roles as Batman and the Joker, respectively. “Arkham Asylum” feels like a natural extension of the animated series, and the production values are amazing across the board.
Adding to said production values are the visuals: Rocksteady did a fantastic job of crafting Arkham’s halls. “Arkham Asylum” is one of the prettiest games around, and it makes exploring Arkham a memorable experience. The prison’s gothic architecture holds within it a beautiful mansion, cavernous sewers, a lush, expansive garden and one of the most high-tech infirmaries around. In fact, some of the locales are so diverse that you’ll often forget that your isolated to a small island with essentially only one facility. So much attention to detail has been payed to Arkham island that the setting almost becomes the star of the show, and, in a game starring one of the most iconic superheroes of all time, that’s quite an accomplishment.
However, if you could care less about the storyline of the caped crusader and just want to kick some good-ole’ fashion ass, “Arkham Asylum” delivers in spades. At first the fighting system seemingly feels like any other button masher, tapping square to handle almost all of Batman’s attacks, but once you unlock more combos and various fighting maneuvers, the depth of the combat engine increases significantly. Evading, countering, using batarangs, and stunning enemies are all actions that can be employed during combat to keep your combo meter going, and mastering the usage of these actions can make “Arkham Asylum”’s fighting engine feel like an art form at times. With enough practice, you’ll be able to walk into a room filled with over 20 men, and if you use your wits, you can destroy them all in one beautifully linked combo.
While I can’t say enough good things about the fighting mechanics, the stealth aspects of the game impress just as well. Batman will use myriad amounts of high-tech gadgetry to assist him in toppling his enemies from the shadows. Whether your using explosive gel, sonic batarangs, or detective vision mode, you’ll have a blast doing it, and it becomes a rewarding experience when you start combining these gadgets in unique and innovative ways.
On top of everything just mentioned, “Batman: Arkham Asylum” has an incredible amount of interesting unlockables in the forms of character bios, character trophies and challenge rooms (rooms dedicated to testing your abilities in hand to hand combat and stealth tactics). The PS3 also has the option to play as the Joker in certain challenge rooms, and provides a great exclusive for anyone playing “Arkham Asylum” on Sony’s big, black box.
At its core, “Batman: Arkham Asylum” is one of the coolest third-person action games to come along in quite some time. It’s something I’d never thought I’d write, but at this point in time, I see no reason why “Batman: Arkham Asylum” can’t be considered for Game of the Year. My only complaint is that I wanted more; more villains, more gadgets, and more of everything that made this game so great. Bruce Wayne may be dead in the Batman comics (for now), but with the debut of “Arkham Asylum,” his future in the gaming world is very much alive.
“Batman: Arkham Asylum” was developed by Rocksteady Studios and published by Eidos Interactive on August 25th, 2009 for the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. This review is based on the PS3 version of the game.