Video games based on movies are common, especially when talking about superhero flicks. But as publishers make the most of a film’s popularity, it’s the gamers who get the short end of the stick. Remember clunkers like Superman Returns and Iron Man for consoles?
When The Dark Knight came out in theaters last 2008, gamers were half-expecting a mediocre film-based game to follow. Instead, it was Batman: Arkham Asylum that was released an entire year later and it had nothing to do with The Dark Knight movie. Is Batman: Arkham Asylum worthy of the Batman name, or is it merely another casualty in the countless other b-rated Batman titles that came before it?
Like any game with a plot, Batman: Arkham Asylum progresses linearly, meaning there’s a beginning, an end and a lot of in-between. However, the game is structured like Metroid—you unlock more and more portions of the game world as you accomplish objectives. These portions are made accessible by introducing Bat gadgets, which are conveniently key to solving obstacles that you will face in the newly unlocked areas. This combination of structure and just the right amount of freedom to explore makes for a compelling experience.
Speaking of Batman’s toys, Arkham Asylum arms you with gadgets that aren’t just useful for reaching new areas, but can also be applied in laying the hurt. The Batclaw, for instance, is not only for pulling grates from a distance. It can also make combos more satisfying, thanks to its ability to grab and stun foes. The line launcher isn’t just for reaching areas where the grappling gun can’t take you. You can also launch Batman headlong into a group of thugs, mowing anyone in the way. Bottom line: The gadgets are well-implemented and give you an edge against your foes, but they don’t make you overpowered.
Hand-to-hand fighting is another activity in Batman: Arkham Asylum that would take up much of your time and keep you entertained. At your disposal are a range of punches and kicks that are easy to execute. If you manage to pull off a good combo as a thug is knocked out cold, you’d be rewarded with a zoomed-in slo-mo of the final blow with extra experience to boot. The game rewards you for adding variety to your moves, resulting in longer combos and more experience points. However, the combos themselves are easy to pull off—maybe too easy to the point of button mashing—but this is somewhat offset by the ridiculous number of foes you’ll be fighting simultaneously later in the game, which has the potential to frustrate less experienced players.
Visuals and Audio
Arkham Asylum just screams quality in every little detail. Each screenshot looks as good as they do because the game looks breathtaking in motion. The cutscenes are beautiful to behold; and while it uses computer graphics—not in-game visuals—to render its slick presentation, the difference between the two is almost seamless that they practically look one and the same. Even the art style is impressive, combining a mix of comic book charm and realism; it’s dark and gritty with just enough color variety.
The star of the presentation is Batman, whose details are so striking that his renders look like artwork. Despite his odd-looking spindly arms, the Joker looks pretty good in a scruffy sort of way.
Audio is just as capable of making any jaded gamer swoon. Consider the voice acting cast, led by Mark Hamill, who plays the Joker. You’ll be hearing a lot from Batman’s archenemy throughout the game, thanks to the asylum’s PA system. Hamill’s delivery of each Joker line is golden. There are smatterings of self-deprecating jokes, barbs directed at Batman, and the occasional livid threat that betrays the Joker’s true nature. Let’s not forget Kevin Conroy, who has played Batman in every Batman or Batman-related animated show since early 90s. Conroy’s chops is perfect for the role. The rest of the voice actors are convincing as well, but we don’t want to spoil the characters you’ll encounter.
Despite the convenient setting, which could justify a larger, improbable roster of enemies, Rocksteady Studios decided to take the high road and keep Batman: Arkham Asylum’s plot more cohesive by showing more restraint in the lineup. The result is a believable Batman tale that’s heavy on action, but isn’t short on details.
The Riddler Challenges
It’s not required, but solving the puzzles that the Riddler has scattered throughout the asylum feels immensely satisfying. Why? Because there’s a bit of exploration, good perception and thinking involved in cracking them. By itself, finding and solving all of the Riddler’s puzzles is a convincing case for a second playthrough.
In many instances, Batman needs to fight in enclosed spaces and it can be frustrating because of the uncooperative camera, which in itself could be considered one of the games’ adversaries that you have to survive. Unfortunately, unlike the other bosses which have to be beaten only once by studying its patterns, you have to deal with an unpredictable camera over and over again.
The Detective Mode
While incredibly useful, the much-vaunted Detective Mode is a double-edged blade. Turn it on and you get vital information like a thug’s location even behind walls, or visual indications that a wall can be blown up. However, you miss out on the slick visuals. It’s good to leave the Detective Mode on, but it’s not something you want to see the entire game.
Batman’s Occasionally Clunky One-Liners
Has any villain, real-life or fictional, ever fallen for the line: “You have one chance to surrender”? Did you groan when you heard Batman say, “It’s over, Joker”? Upon hearing these atrocious bits of dialogue, one can’t help but wonder why Batman writer Paul Dini put those there.
When all is said and done, pointing out the flaws in Batman: Arkham Asylum devolves into nitpicking because of the game’s overall excellence. What Batman: Arkham Asylum does best is make you feel like Batman through combat, sleuthing and Bat gadgets.
But even if we remove the Batman name, the game is very capable of standing on its own merits. Not only is Batman: Arkham Asylum is the best Batman game so far, but it is arguably the best superhero game as well. Buy it now.