Platforms: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC and OS X
“Batman Arkham Asylum” exceeded the expectations of many because of how much care was put into making this game, not just in terms of graphics (which in themselves are stunning), but in terms of creating a fantastic story and controls. I’m not what you would call a gaming aficionado, so I won’t wax on and on about the control schematics of the game, but I will confirm that not once did I get frustrated for not remembering what button to press to make a gadget work or how to block an incoming blow because thanks to the easy to learn game mechanics that at the same time did not insult my intelligence, my fists were Batman’s fists and his batarangs were my batarangs. I was Batman. Another wonderful part of playing Batman is the fact he is first and foremost a detective, and in several cases, Batman must pick up a forensic trail to follow a lead in order to progress further through the Joker’s madhouse by using his Detective Vision. Since you are playing the Dark Knight, there are many instances in the game of which you must either resort to kissing with your fists as well as using your wits. Combat and stealth play a huge part in the gameplay and it encourages the player to plan their attacks accordingly.
For me, a game must have a story compelling enough to make me to want to continue to play it and “Arkham Asylum” has that. Writer Paul Dini took a simple concept and expanded it into far much more by focusing on the character of Batman rather than just the circumstances the character reacts to. After a typical apprehension of the Joker, Batman carts him back to Arkham Asylum (situated on an island just outside of Gotham) but when Joker breaks lose, he battens down all the hatches so Batman can’t escape. Oh, did I mention this all takes place on a dark and stormy night? What I adore about the story is that is all somehow centers on the concept of fear, using Batman as our avatar. Batman knows he can’t afford to let Joker escape the island to wreak havoc on Gotham, which is why he feels absolutely obligated to pursue him. Gotham depends on him, the people EXPECT him to take care of the menace the Joker imposes. Batman fears that if he does not succeed, all of his hard work will have been for nothing, and the promise that he upheld to himself, his parents, his friends and really, the WORLD would be broken. But Batman’s fears penetrate deeper than that, and since the Scarecrow, the Master of Fear himself is in that very asylum, we witness these demons manifesting themselves in Batman’s mind thanks to Scarecrow’s Fear Gas.
Not having the ability to save Commissioner Gordon from being murdered, unable to reach Barbara Gordon (Oracle, former Batgirl) to tell her, forcibly locked in a morgue with the dead corpses of his parents who admonish him for not doing something to save them, witnessing his parents being shot (and briefly becoming a small, helpless child with hunched shoulders walking ever so slowly down a dark, rainy alley). Finally, and perhaps the most horrifying of all, finding himself trussed up in an Arkham that is presided over by Joker and all of the other criminals he has had to deal with. Batman is constantly faced with this despairing nightmare because inside of his mind, he doubts if he himself is truly sane due to the fact that the persona of Batman has become more natural to him than Bruce Wayne has. He has sacrificed having a normal life all to save his fellow humans, but at the cost of his own freedom. In saying this, one of the highlights of this game are definitely the Scarecrow dream sequences- they manage to elevate the reality of Batman’s world- a fractured, intimidating and dangerous dreamscape that mirrors not only Batman’s psychology, but also the asylum itself.
Speaking of which, the Arkham in this game is a huuuuge dump. Broken down, dirty, mouldy and caked with filth, it really makes you question the sanity of those who actually work here who say the facility is the best in the country. The best at what, exactly? ORs look like torture rooms, floors are secreted with dirt, debris and what could very well be blood and observation rooms look like prison cells. To me, the asylum is another character of the game because it reflects not just the oppressive and hateful mood of the inmates, but Batman’s own state of mind. How can a healthy mind function in a place like this? While the actual story itself is what you may generally expect, the developers and all involved have taken pains to make sure that you play this game time and time again simply because of how captivating the entire experience truly is. Add to that the brilliance of the Riddler’s Challenges when you venture around the asylum solving riddles and discovering trophies Mr. Nigma has left behind to bamboozle Batman. Finding these grants you character biographies, XP to upgrade your Batsuit and arsenal as well as patient interview tapes with several of your favourite loonies.
The voice acting in this game is phenomenal because everybody knows what sort of game they are in, who their audience is and what type of people their characters are. Naturally we have Kevin Conroy (listening to that man makes ME feel manly) and Mark Hamill as Batman and Joker respectively reprising their roles from the unmatched “Batman: The Animated Series” plus we also get highly respectable voice actors such as Kimberly Brooks (Oracle) , Arleen Sorkin (Harley Quinn), Tasia Valenza (Poison Ivy), Dino Andrade (Scarecrow) and Wally Wingert (The Riddler).
All talent rise magnificently to the occasion.
Another excellent thing about the acting is that Batman can pick up on conversations between inmates who are complaining about the situation, their families, the Joker and each other. Many times I’ve situated Batman up on high somewhere above unaware inmates and listened to their ranting. Even the most ruthless of henchmen need to vent, doncha know?
While I love this game and I play it regularly, there are several things that stick out to me that are mainly nit-picks, but they were quite apparent to me. For one thing, travelling around the island got repetitive. Batman has the ability to travel through air ducts like a boss, but the game just has a few too many instances that Batman has to crouch down and remove a steel grill and crawl through them. It gets a little too distracting when you are for the most part completely in the moment- you just want to get Batman from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible so you can continue to kick ass. Another whinge I have is that the goons that you fight pose no real threat to Batman, nor do they really have any identity. I understand that of all the characters to get their own arc, a lowly goon that works for the Joker wouldn’t be one of them, but Batman cuts so easily through these guys that they are but minor distractions, mites rather than locusts. My third quibble comes from just how… perfectly orchestrated the Joker’s plan is. By nature, Joker is chaotic. He cooks up his schemes, but he’s not the meticulous type. Batman shows up at any given time and Joker seems perfectly ready for him and not once is he caught with his pantaloons down. I know the entire island is under the Joker’s control for the most part, but for an agent of chaos, the Joker’s plans always seem to work out to the optimum even though that is not something that the character aims for. The final issue I have is one which did not actually bother me until it was brought up to me while watching an episode of Captain Logan’s superb series “Superhero Rewind” when he reviewed this game from a strongly analytical perspective. Batman has a Batcave stationed in the jagged cliffs of Arkham where he goes twice in the story to get a particular piece of equipment or consult the Batcomputer directly. Given how beat up Batman gets over the course of the story, you’d think he would do several other things in his sanctum such as doctor his wounds, don a new suit or re-hydrate himself and despite how cool we all know he is, he is still human. I know Batman has trained to his mental and physical peak, but surely it’s not too much to ask to have ten minutes to have to his Batself.
But you know what, these complaints mean naught in the end- “Batman Arkham Asylum” is not just one of the best superhero games, it is also one of the best games created period. It is highly reverent of not just the character of Batman, the world around him, and those who he shares it with but also the concept of telling a story in the interactive digital medium. The attention to detail and catering to an intelligent demographic were first and foremost on the list of Rocksteady and it worked above and beyond the call of duty. This attitude would be repeated again for “Batman Arkham City”. But that is a review for another time. 😀
Fun Factor: 10 – Dare I say, this may make a Batman fan out of you if you were not one already. Rocksteady has fulfilled their mission gloriously.
Graphics: 9– Not perfect, but the graphics are highly immersive and great care was taken in their creation. You do get some basic texture issues and there is nothing distinguishing about minor characters, but that’s part and parcel for such a huge game.
Sound: 8- A few lines and instances of sound design are muffled and unintelligible in places, but I doubt it will be a huge issue if you are already neck-deep in this crazy night.
Control: 9 – Very easy to recall and completely friendly no matter what type of gamer you are.
Lasting Appeal: 8- It may get repetitive in places, but the madness will always beckon you to come back.