After many many…yes…many years, we finally get a Batman game, that feels, like a Batman game. Arkham Asylym is one hell of a ride. Now, if you don’t read comics, it’s conceivable that you might be unfamiliar with Arkham Asylum. The iconic psychiatric hospital is essentially Gotham City’s Alcatraz, and it has housed just about every villain Batman has ever tangled with at one time or another.
With “Batman: Arkham Asylum,” players don’t just punch out relentless streams of henchman. RockSteady goes far beyond the stock beat-’em up and creates an experience that captures nearly every aspect of comics’ most complicated hero. Batman defeats squads of armed foes using stealth and smarts. He tracks down hostages by investigating crime scenes and spotting clues that will lead him to his objective. He even outsmarts murderers like Killer Croc and Harley Quinn (as always)
This dedication to the character, along with sizable contributions from the team behind “Batman: The Animated Series,” makes “Arkham Asylum” so special. Even more so, because Joker with the Voice of Mark Hamil and Kevin Conroy doing Batman’s voice was the icing on the cake for me.
Structurally, the game is set up like “Metroid Prime.” At first the Cape Crusader only has access to parts of the island. He can pull grates open and sneak through areas undetected. He can use his grappling hook gun to swing across gargoyles so that he can stalk armed criminals patrolling the grounds. He can knock them out temporarily with his batarang.
During the adventure, he’ll face huge boss fights and hordes of thugs. Winning these battles unlocks new equipment that opens up new routes and doors for Batman.
This is standard stuff for the genre, but “Arkham Asylum” melds this structure so well to the plot that you don’t even notice. The game just flows at an exquisite pace.
It makes sense for Batman to head to the Batmobile upon reaching the island surface. Getting the codes from the warden helps the Dark Knight unlock electric barriers that have blocked off areas of the game.
Another well-crafted element is the upgrade system. The game’s difficulty changes depending on how players improve Batman’s equipment. Often, the difference between breezing through a puzzle and struggling through it is picking the right upgrade at the right time. The feature provides a nonlinear element that also helps with the Riddler’s puzzles and trophies hidden through the world.
If you’re a fan of Batman comic books, you should feel very at home in Arkham Asylum. There are plenty of nods and winks to inmates who don’t actually appear in the game, and even some of the minor characters have neat backstories that are faithful to their previous, infrequent appearances in comics. You shouldn’t feel intimidated if you’re not that familiar with Batman, though, because the game does a great job of giving you all of the information you need, as well as plenty that you don’t. For example, taking the time to read prominent character Harley Quinn’s bio and listen to her patient interviews offers valuable insight into her motivations that might add to your enjoyment of the game, while unlockable information on such characters as Prometheus, Calendar Man, and Humpty Dumpty just adds a little flavor.
More significant unlockable content comes in the form of eight challenge maps, which come in regular and extreme difficulties for a total of 16. (24 on PS3 if you include the platform-exclusive free DLC option to play some of them as Joker, whose abilities are quite different to Batman’s). The maps are based on areas that you visit in the Story mode, and the challenges are split 50/50 between purely combat-oriented sequences and stealth-based “Predator” gameplay. In the former, you’re pitted against four increasingly tough waves of enemies and score points for performing combos, avoiding taking damage, executing ring outs, and using a variety of different moves. In the latter, you’re dropped into a level where every enemy has a gun and your goal is to take them all down as quickly as possible. The twist is that to earn a respectable position on the leaderboard in the Challenge mode, you also have to earn medals, and in order to do that, you have to deal with some of your enemies in very specific ways. During a stealth challenge, for example, earning the maximum possible three medals might require you to perform a silent takedown from behind and an inverted takedown, as well as pull an enemy down from a walkway while hanging from a ledge.
Regardless of whether you’re getting sucked into the Story mode or competing for high scores in the Challenge mode, Batman: Arkham Asylum does an outstanding job of letting you be Batman. Everything about this game–the impressive visuals, stirring soundtrack, superb voice acting, fiendish puzzles, hard-hitting combat–feels like it has been lovingly crafted by a development team that’s both knowledgeable and passionate about the source material. Miss out on this one and the joke’s on you Bat Boy!
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