Batman: Arkham Asylum
The most remarkable fact of Batman: Arkham Asylum is how the makers succeeded to perfectly translate that unattainable, complex and ever-evolving Batman atmosphere to the game. Both the recent fans of the last two movies as old-skool lovers of The joker and the sorts will be able to find themselves happy with the looks of the game, how Batman and his cape are shown on screen, how the hero talks and acts and how he moves through the levels. The grown-up setting, dialogues, situations and gameplay do the rest and drag you into the game at the speed of a Batmobile, to not let you go until the ending credits roll over the screen. And probably even until long after.
Let’s start with the location. Arkham Asylum is a mental hospital where all nutjobs and criminals of Gotham City have found a place. It’s daring of Rocksteady and Eidos to situate the entire game only there and the island alongside, but never does it seem to have been a bad move. On the contrary. Even during the introduction, which reminds of Half-Life 2, where Batman delivers his arch enemy The Joker to the institute the atmosphere becomes threatening and dark and you’ll feel from the hairs on your back that the joker has something on his mind and let himself get caught all too easily by the Caped Crusader.
Minutes later you’re put in the middle of the action when it becomes clear the ever-smiling villain wants to conquer the island. Action that will never disappoint throughout the rest of the game, amongst others thanks to the constant unlocking of new possibilities (collecting XP), fun locations, looking for hidden secrets and riddles the Riddler challenges you with, varied with beautifully shown combat against foot soldiers and the necessary – also varied – bosses. Don’t underestimate those assignments by The Riddler as although some are limited to finding question marks others are very intelligent and ask more thinking than just jumping around through the surroundings.
The fighting itself is fluid enough, with some combos and the necessary countermoves, but it’s the filmic, spectacular animations and sneaky skills or the floating down from dark corners above that steal the show during hostile encounters. Spying on your non-suspecting (and not very clever) victims to then at the right moment drop on their heads. It never grows old, especially because when you take out enemies one by one the rest will start running around shouting more and more in panic!
On top of that this all gets added with just enough Batarang work, grapple hook climbing and use of explosive gel to offer the perfect combination of using your fists and exploring the beautiful environment. The extras The Riddler has in store ask just that bit more of you so that also obsessed collectors are served and the lifespan of the game gets prolonged. Concerning gameplay depth is traded for accessibility, but in this case in such an immersive way that it never bothers nor bores.
That accessibility is even further emphasized by the means of your Detective Mode which puts the environment in a blue glow and offers additional information on what’s present. With one push on the button Batman can suddenly identify all hostiles and discover their status, see windows and walls light up where he can go through and also means of escape or surprise like climbable gargoyles or usable ventilation shafts can be lit up. As such a handy system but the logical result is that I played just about 80% of the time in that mode and only reverted back to “normal sight” to quickly have a look at a new area. Too bad as that way you admire too little the detailed and very atmospheric locations.
What we also have to talk about is the way the voices, the sound and the music work together to create an unequalled atmosphere. Especially The Joker is brilliant with his constant challenges, jokes and bursts towards both you and his often failing companions. That way you’re constantly aware of your mission and an additional and welcome layer of depth is added to the story. This is how games should be and how they can make use of their own strengths to be more than a sequence of cut-scenes and gameplay segments. Also the rest of the voices are fantastic, by the way, and they inject each character with tons of realism and personality.
Those that have finished the main story need not despair. There are Combat and Predator Challenges you can take on, with or without specific sub-assignments and medals, including addictive leaderboards, and throughout the game you unlock tons and tons of background info on characters, stories and interviews you can listen to, artwork to drule on and so much more. Saving on content is something the makers certainly didn’t do, and each fan of the comic series will lick his or her fingers here.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is without a doubt one of the best superhero games ever, and an absolute must for those looking for an atmospheric action game with high production values. If only all license games were this good!