Looking back on my retrospective of Batman in video games it’s a sad fact that the Dark Knight has been done a dishonor in the world of video games. While we’ve gotten a couple of OK to good games over the years there has never been an honest experience that makes you feel like Batman and you would think it wouldn’t be that hard to pull off, especially in this age of video games.
Rocksteady studios seems determined to give players the experience they’ve been yearning for years and I’d have to say they’ve done their job and went above and beyond with Batman: Arkham Asylum.
Now a warning before you read on, there will be spoilers for the game such as it’s boss fights and the main story. There are tons of great moments that I would really hate to spoil for you, so for each part that isn’t spoiler free it will have normal text on the title, spoiler-ific aspects will be in red. I seriously warn you not to read any of the spoilers if you have yet to play through all this game.
A final note before we get to the review, I have the Playstation 3 version but I don’t think there are any major differences between the two versions. Also I haven’t downloaded the play as Joker challenge maps but maybe I’ll review those another time.
I figured I should mention this part first since the very first thing that caught my attention about this game was that Paul Dini would be writing it. It’s no secret nowadays that Paul Dini wrote for the Emmy winning Batman: the Animated Series, as well as it’s continuation in the New Adventures of Batman and Batman Beyond.
With that I was really excited to see what Dini would give us and I was not disappointed. Dini takes what could have been a very boring simple story and gives it some nice twists and fills it with tons of great character moments and solid dialogue. Never was there a moment of dialogue that bugged me or felt silly or dumb like most video game dialogue nowadays.
While the story starts off simple it evolves when we find out that Joker is using an enhanced version of Venom (not the black goo that bonds to people and eats arms) the drug that made Bane so powerful. He paid a doctor to work on it and he plans to use the new formula called “Titan” to create a personal army of super-soldiers to take over Gotham with.
Okay, okay…it’s a little on the silly side I guess. It’s more something Joker would have done in the old Adam West TV show but Dini gives it that flare to where it doesn’t feel like a dumb idea and becomes a legitimate threat for Batman to stop it. Also it gives the player a larger sense of urgency now that Batman isn’t just fighting to save Arkham, he’s fighting to save Gotham itself.
Also the setting allows for plenty of Batman’s rogues to pop up such as Scarecrow and Killer Croc which was great to see all these villains here. While I would have loved to see Dini write Mr. Freeze into this game I can live without it since we get great characters and each is written well.
Despite the silly plot of Joker trying to take over Gotham I still loved this story. Dini writes it all very well and as I mentioned the dialogue is amazingly well. I especially liked Joker and Oracle’s voices as both their back and forth talks with Batman are well done and you get a great sense into both characters even though they are all far away.
I especially liked the psychological twist to this story and game. I’m not sure if this was Dini or the developer’s who thought to do this but either way it works brilliantly well. This only happens before a Scarecrow fight but Batman will be seeing hallucinations from the Fear Toxin as he walks along. He’ll see his parents begging him to save them as corpses, he turns back into a child for a bit and overhears Gordon talking to another cop about his parent’s death and there is even a brief moment where you control Joker as he and Batman switch roles for a few minutes.
I don’t know why developers didn’t think to do something like this before. There is always a psychological undertone to Batman so to add it to a video game and take such creative twists was brilliant and should have happened a lot sooner.
Overall the story is very well written, the characters are incredibly well written, and this game has an exciting and very engrossing story that will no doubt appeal to Batman fans.
There are several different things to mention about the Gameplay of Arkham Asylum. I’ll start out with how it all controls. Controls are very solid with things like running, accessing gadgets and combat all easy to get used to. You can pick this up and within seconds you should be able to do well at it and kick ass.
Combat is called free-flow combat, a perfect way to describe it as everything flows amazing well. It’s very easy to fight enemies but it’s not simple beat ‘em up where you just beat the tar out of the enemies and are done. You have to keep an eye on what’s going on, pressing the triangle button if an enemy is about to attack so you can counter. If it weren’t for the counter attack then this would have been much more frustrating.
Combat flows amazingly well and you can see the extra touch to make it look like this is how Batman would fight. Just the way he moves feels exactly like this is how Batman would fight as it adds the martial arts mastery that he has and throws in use of his gadgets very well.
One complaint I have with combat are the enemies who use electrical batons. Now while on their own they are an easy threat but if you are fighting one of these guys as they are surrounded by several of their friends it’s much more frustrating as you have to use the Batclaw to disarm them but it’s easy for one of their friends to get in the way making it much harder.
Near the end of fighting a group of enemies the game slows down for the final blow to the final enemy. It’s oh so satisfying as is hearing the bones break with every brutal punch and kick, really putting you into the combat experience.
One thing that confused me is the Lunatic enemies that are introduced after you rescue the Warden. They are much weaker than the Black gate prisoners and can be taken down with one punch then a ground takedown. While they can take punch after punch if you don’t do the ground takedown the second you realize that it’s a minor annoyance.
I can’t see why the Lunatics where the earlier enemies with the Black gate prisoners as later on enemies as the Black gate guys are much tougher. Also the Lunatics are never in groups so you never have to worry about being ganged up on by them.
A minor complaint is that Batman easily gets caught on things like chairs that you may not notice when running through the halls, so suddenly Batman will stop and you won’t know why. It’s not a major problem but it is odd.
Detective Mode is something you can always access even in the middle of a fight which is helpful. Basically you can see in an inferred type vision. Usually you just use it to find things like openings and even Riddler trophies. This is also helpful in pointing out things like maps and Patient Interview tapes that you may not notice so well the first time through a room. I recommend that for every room you at least turn on Detective Mode for a moment and scan around, though don’t make the mistake of always keeping it on or you’ll miss out on a lot of the detail of this game.
Detective Mode is also used to track people down such as Jim Gordon by trails of his tobacco. This was a brilliant twist and it plays up heavily to the great Detective Batman. It was fun following a trail and really cool just seeing where it all leads.
A key element is stealth in this game, using Detective Mode you can see armed enemies and will have to take a silent approach to taking them out. This is really fun and really puts you in the fact that you are Batman, just a man in a Bat suit who is vulnerable to guns. I was glad that I couldn’t go in batarangs a blazing and clearing a room in a matter of seconds. Actually taking down enemies silently really put me in the sense of being Batman and it was tons of fun, if not a little nerve racking even.
Larger enemies like the titans are a little annoying to fight when they are joined by regular enemies. Luckily you can use them to take out the smaller guys which is one of the more exciting moments of combat.
As I mentioned you don’t want to have Detective Mode on too much or you’ll miss out on some of the better details in this game. Clearly a lot of time and hard work was put into making Arkham Asylum an incredible looking game as there is such an incredible attention to detail even in the most basic of enemy designs.
There is still a psychological element outside of story moments as the atmosphere can be generally creepy and tensions can rise. Especially when you delve deeper into parts like the sewer or the spots that house the Lunatics. It’s honestly creepy and an exciting moment that has the player on the edge of their seat as what will happen next.
There are lots of touches of Gothic architecture that follow the deep history of the Asylum where you have to navigate through some creepier areas. It’s also a nice touch in to adding how playing in Arkham is a really cool experience that fits the Batman experience well.
One big complaint I have is that it’s easy to get a little lost at times in the Asylum. While most of the time the game follows a fairly linear path I can’t deny that I’ve gotten completely lost and ran all a round an area looking for the next objective only to realize I missed the path or should have just left the area at the time.
Now luckily this problem only pops up once in a blue moon and there where very few times I was generally aggravated with where I was supposed to go. Luckily there are times where the map is very useful, but it can also be confusing when you’re next area is on a lower level but you went to a higher level already so you can’t find it.
One thing that rather caught me off guard was the upgrade system. You earn Experience Points, or XP where you can use it to upgrade certain things about Batman such as his armor or his weapons. I personally recommend you take care of the Armor upgrades first thing because that extra health can really come in handy during the more dragged out and difficult encounters.
One complaint I do have with the upgrade system is the ability to take down enemies from a gargoyle is an upgrade rather than just a natural ability Batman can do. I can understand that things like enhancing weapons have to be upgraded or new combo moves but this was a bad choice for an upgrade as this should have been an ability right away from when you start the game.
Now there’s more to Arkham than getting around and beating up enemies, you also can go on Riddler’s little Easter egg hunt and track down things such as Riddler trophies and Riddler maps. Also you can find Character Bio’s and my personal favorite are the patient interviews where characters like Poison Ivy, Zsasz and Killer Croc get fleshed out a bit more and they are very interesting.
While all this stuff is optional it’s hard not to want to find every trophy, interview and map in the game as it’s very satisfying especially when you hear Riddler mock you even if you’ve found a trophy or solved a riddle. That being said I myself wasn’t too interested in solving riddles, finding the trophies is much more rewarding and a fun challenge.
Batman has several gadgets at his disposal. You start with the Batarang then gather things such as explosive gel, the Batclaw (which is later turned to the Ultra Batclaw) and a zip line that helps you cross large gaps. All useful and even the remote controlled Batarang can be very satisfying to use.
While at first it is a bit annoying to see moments early on where you need explosive gel or the Batclaw but you’ll have to run back to do them and get the Riddler trophies or other bonuses waiting for you. It is a tad frustrating.
It’s hard to say what the best gadget is, off the top of my head I like the device that allows you to unlock locked up rooms by using frequencies. It feels like something Batman would use and is very cool to use especially how it utilizes the analogue sticks.
Overall the gadget are a crucial part of this game and I was very happy to see the designers make sure that every gadget has plenty of usefulness to the game and is prominent.
Characters/Boss fights/Character Designs
I want to cover a few characters such as Batman, Jim Gordon, Oracle, Joker, Harley Quinn and some of the Arkham staff before I talk about the boss fights. I’ll cover all the boss fights so you know so again; don’t let me spoil it for you!
Batman is voiced by longtime voice actor Kevin Conroy who does an amazing job here. While this isn’t his first time voicing Batman or a video game this is definitely one of his best performances in a long time. He does an incredible job delivering the lines and even simple things like the sound Batman makes when striking or when he’s talking to Oracle or himself. Every line is delivered incredibly well.
Oracle is only heard in Batman’s ear but she’s so well done that you would swear she was right next to him helping. I’m not sure who does her voice acting but she does an incredible job on bringing out good lines and giving us a great feel for her character.
Jim Gordon is his usual solid character though really half the time he’s either getting captured or shot at so I can’t say much about him.
Joker is voiced by Mark Hamill and while this may be a controversial thing to say to Joker fans everywhere, by far of all the people who have done Joker in live action and animation I think Mark Hamill is the very best of all the performers. Yes, even better then Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger.
Here the Joker is his usual crazy self, spouting dark and witty humor like he always had but one thing I love most about Hamill’s performance as the Clown prince of Crime is that he’s able to balance the whimsical thief with the dark and violent monster just beneath the surface of that make up. Here his work is no different as he’s able to do a great job delivering silly one liners and changing to cold and angry.
Harley Quinn is voiced by Arleen Sorkin the same voice she’s had since she first appeared in Batman: the animated series and it works very well. While I can’t honestly say I like her psycho nurse outfit, at least they kept the theme of Black and White from her original costume so I can’t complain a lot. Also she still sounds like her crazy self that so many people have come to love to make her a fan favorite character.
Poison Ivy has a major role near the end of the game but there really isn’t a lot I can say about her character. I do like her redesign for the most part, it combines the green villain that she is along with that seductress aspect that has always been essential to her character and it’s a solid design.
There are other characters like Bane and Killer Croc that have some good moments but really I can’t say a lot about them as these characters serve mostly just for a simple boss fight and they don’t get much else.
My favorite of all the redesigns has to be Scarecrow. Now I’ll mention more about his boss fights later but damn his design is so freaky and cool. It blends some of the simplicity of a man in tattered clothes like an old scarecrow along with a weird Fred Krueger type glove of Fear Toxin along with a cool gas mask that moves hauntingly with his words as he speaks.
Now as for the staff of Arkham. Again there isn’t a lot I can say but I must admit that characters like Dr. Young and the security officer Cash are well developed to where hearing them talk is at least interesting and worth my time. They are given some good moments and they do tie into the more important characters at least.
Now for the boss fights. The first official boss fight is with a Titan prototype and it is boring as all hell. You smack him around a bit and dodge him and it’s over within seconds.
All 3 encounters with the Scarecrow are amazing. It’s like entering Silent Hill or something as Batman’s nightmares come alive and he enters a chilling world of fear. Now it’s not so much a fight as it is avoiding being seen by Scarecrow’s large gaze and platforming your way to the Bat signal and shining it on him to defeat him. Though this is such an exciting change of pace that I absolutely loved it. It also fits in very well to that psychological element of Batman.
Bane’s fight is fairly typical as you Batarang his face enough to make him crash into a wall all the while avoiding Joker’s goons and taking him out. Not a great fight, just an okay one but it ends with an awesome scene that feels like Batman finally getting payback for when Bane snapped his back so long ago.
I can’t say I liked the Harley Quinn boss fight since you don’t even fight Harley! This was a horrible design choice by the developers that rather then actually fighting Harley you beat up a bunch of goons in 2 different rooms, then we get a cut scene of Batman beating Harley. It was really frustrating that all the build up to you finally going head to head with Harley was nothing more than a simple brawl.
My least favorite of all the fights was the one with Killer Croc where you basically walk around a maze of floating platforms looking for hanging green sacs to cut down and take spores from. Croc himself never fights you and even when he pops up you just quick batarang him down and you’re done.
It’s a really tedious boring moment made even more tedious by the fact that you cant’ run and since it’s a maze rather than a linear path it’s incredibly easy to circle the same platforms 10 times in a row. I will give it credit at least that it has an awesome ending that ties in to the fact that Batman is always prepared and anticipates everything.
Second favorite to the Scarecrow moments is the fight with Poison Ivy. Now it’s a tricky fight as you’ve got to watch her attacks, dodge the guards under her control and try and hit her with plenty of batarangs to take her down. While it’s a fairly simple fight it’s a great challenge.
I must admit I really was disappointed with the final fight. While it was a cool twist that Joker takes the Titan and Batman refuses to give in to the Titan to be on an equal level with Joker rather than a simple cool fight Joker goes up and waits around as his goons fight you. It’s a total bullshit idea and really is nothing but a tedious fight waiting for Joker to get distracted so you can drag him back down and give him the proper beating he deserves.
Still while the boss fights where all mixed experiences I must admit I did still have a lot of fun with the better ones such as Scarecrow and Ivy.
If you have PS3 or 360 you owe it to yourself to pick up this game. It’s a unique experience that really makes you feel like you are Batman. Even with it’s flaws the good totally outweighs the bad and makes for an incredible experience that no Batman fan or gamer should ever miss out on.
Score: 9 out of 10