Another rainy night in Gotham…
I’m sitting beside a lunatic, speeding towards Arkham Asylum. He’s laughing all the way, as if he’s looking forward to it. I suppose for The Joker it’s like home.
But something is different tonight. Minutes after we arrived at Arkham he’s free and I’m giving chase.
Looks like it’s going to be a long night…
From the minute the start screen fades away to the moment that the credits roll, Batman: Arkham Asylum pulls you into the Dark Knight’s world and refuses to let you go. Combining a variety of gameplay elements with impressive visuals, inspired level design, and a solid script penned by DC Comics’ Paul Dini, Rocksteady Studios and Eidos Interactive have created not only the best comic book inspired game ever, but one of the best games of this year. This is the game Batman fans have wanted. Now that it’s finally here, let’s take a look at what makes it so good.
The first thing you will notice about Arkham Asylum is the presentation. You’re not just starting a game when you press the Start button; you are beginning an adventure and the opening moments draw you into a dark and disturbing place. A tension builds as you escort The Joker through the halls of Arkham, passing inmates and guards that he greets, taunts, and jests with like he was attending a reunion. As you progress deeper into Arkham the feeling that something is wrong begins to build and when the moment finally comes and The Joker is free, it’s evident that this is what he was planning all along. The adventure that ensues will challenge Batman to confront his greatest foes and conquer his darkest fears as he explores the foreboding corridors of Arkham Asylum.
The story is told in a series of in-game cutscenes that feature many of the same vocal talents from Batman: The Animated Series, including Mark Hamill as The Joker and Kevin Conroy as Batman. The cast of characters that you encounter throughout your time in the asylum have been designed by Wildstorm Productions especially for this game, and while I’m not going to spoil anything, the designs for several iconic characters have been revamped while still retaining that classic feel. The presentation is aided by the Unreal Engine which powers the game and provides some impressive, if sometimes glossy, visuals.
Although the visuals are indeed impressive, it’s unlikely that you’ll see much of them as you will probably spend most of your time in “Detective Mode”, which allows Batman to identify threats and track leads via technology in his cowl. A good portion of the game is spent in this mode, which applies a visual filter to the environment that allows you to spot clues, follow scents, or assess enemies. Detective Mode can also be used to search for weakened walls and floors as well as air vents which will lead you to deeper into the asylum or reveal dark secrets. It really is too bad that Detective Mode is so useful because when it’s off the visual design and architecture of Arkham really shines.
Throughout the course of the game you will explore every corner of the asylum grounds, traversing it many times over, but it never feels old or repetitive. As the game progresses you gain access to a wide array of gadgets that will help you reach previously inaccessible parts of the map, ensuring that even if you’ve been to a part of the asylum five times previously, when you enter it the sixth time there will be something new for you to discover. While this allows you to get that previously unreachable Riddler Trophy, it also opens up alternate routes through the asylum, allowing Batman to get the jump on unaware enemies.
Batman can pick enemies off one-by-one using stealth, leaving fallen foes as bait to set traps that allow him to get the upper hand in combat, which you’ll want to avoid if the threats you’re facing are armed since gunfire will chew through your life meter quickly. The best strategy is to stick to the shadows when facing armed enemies. However, when facing unarmed packs of inmates you can leap into hand-to-hand combat which features a robust, yet simple fighting system.
Consisting of three buttons – attack, stun, and a context-activated counter – the combat utilizes a “Freeflow” system that will allow skilled players to take down groups of inmates without taking a hit, but will still give the novice player an opportunity to put together satisfying and cool looking combos. Players of all skill levels will want to keep combos going as the higher the multiplier gets, the more experience Batman will receive to upgrade his suit, combat skills, and the gadgets that will aid him in battle. A high combo counter will also grant the player access to special moves such as the ability to take down inmates with one hit or a throw that will knock down several enemies at once. Combat is rarely a one-on-one encounter in Arkham Asylum, unless you’re fighting one of the many iconic foes that Batman will face and even then it’s rarely a straight-up fight. I won’t mention any spoilers here, but there are some truly unique and epic boss encounters that you will remember long after the game is finished.
Batman: Arkham Asylum has a lot of replay value that will have players going back to the game long after they’ve restored order to Arkham. There are a load of hidden secrets to find and Riddler challenges are scattered throughout the asylum that will have players searching high and low to find the solutions. Some of the challenges are in fact quite, uh… challenging and will leave players scratching their heads till they stumble across the answer. All of these little hidden extras are rewarding to find, unlocking character trophies, Challenge Rooms, and audio diaries that provide some insight into the demented minds of Arkham’s residents.
The Challenge Rooms are a series of two types of arenas where Batman will either pick off armed inmates in the stealth-based “Invisible Predator” style or face off against waves of unarmed foes in an effort to dispatch them quickly and, if you’re good, without taking damage. At the end of each challenge your score will be posted to a online leaderboard, showing where you rank against other players. Even without the extra motivation players will still find themselves compelled to wander the halls of Arkham Asylum and thwart The Jokers plans time and time again.
What Rocksteady Studios and Eidos have created is not just a great comic book game, although it is that by a large margin. Batman: Arkham Asylum is simply one of the best games of this generation and to not experience such a well-crafted game for any reason is selling the game, and yourself, short.
What We Liked: Voice Acting. Presentation. Combat. Exploration. Character Design.
What We Disliked: A sequel has yet to be announced.
Target Audience: Comic fans (especially Batman fans). Anybody and everybody who owns an Xbox 360, PC or PS3.