Hello all! In anticipation of the release of Batman: Arkham Knight, which is scheduled for a worldwide release of June 2, 2015, I will be doing a three-part review of the games that have come before it. Even though you have probably played them a million times, I must still keep my reviews spoiler-free as per the rules of this blog. Now, without further ado, here we go!
Batman: Arkham Asylum was developed by Rocksteady Studios and published by Eidos Interactive and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment in 2009. The game follows the Dark Knight as he investigates the unfolding events of the madhouse on Arkham Island and fights to restore order.
The game begins with Batman driving through Gotham City in a Nissan Murano (just kidding; it’s the Batmobile) with the Joker in the passenger seat, having been freshly captured from City Hall in an adventure we don’t get to see or play…not that I am complaining or anything. When he delivers the Joker to the Arkham staff, Batman follows his archnemesis as he is put through the motions of his return, commenting that something is wrong as the Joker never allowed himself to be captured so easily before. The Joker, however, breaks free from his captors and, according to plan, takes over the asylum in a matter of seconds. It is then up to Batman, over the course of a single night, to find out what the Joker’s plans for the asylum are and to stop them.
Gameplay consists of investigation, fighting, exploration, and puzzle solving. The investigative aspect consists of Detective Mode, which allows Batman to use a special scanner integrated into the cowl to discover and analyze clues and follow trails. Fighting is broken down into two types: brawler and stealth, where the brawler sessions are mainly used for unarmed inmates and stealth used for armed ones. The fighting system uses simple button combinations so you never have to remember complicated sequences, which makes for a more free-flowing battle. And while you may question at some point what gargoyles are doing on the inside of the buildings, you will be happy they are there the moment you find yourself in a tight spot and need to disappear before you die.
Exploration allows you to discover Riddler trophies, Riddler maps, interview tapes, and encrypted Spirit of Arkham messages left scattered about for only the smartest of people to decipher. Everything discovered grants the player experience points that they can use to upgrade their equipment, combat skills, and health, while the interview tapes and Spirit of Arkham messages enrich the Arkham environment with backstory and history. As for puzzle-solving, it is left for situations wherein you must discover how to advance to the next point in the game—not necessarily from a moment-to-moment standpoint, as the game holds your hand in those instances, but more along the lines of how to leave a room or cross a gap or how to reach a Riddler trophy.
Because you are Batman, you get to enjoy tinkering with all of his gadgets. His arsenal of tools include batarangs, the grapnel, and explosive gel, which are the most common items you will use throughout the game. Batman also has a line launcher for crossing gaps, a batclaw used for removing out-of-reach air duct grates (which is later upgraded to the ultra batclaw to tear down walls), and a cryptographic sequencer for accessing locked areas and defusing bombs. Outside of their intended use, most of his gadgets can also be used to perform offensive moves on enemies.
All of the goodness that springs forth from this game, however, is enhanced further by the incredible talents of the veteran voice actors who are considered to be the characters themselves: Kevin Conroy as Batman, Mark Hamill as the Joker, and Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn, who have been voicing these roles since the early ‘90s, starting with Batman: The Animated Series. Their magnificent performances not only give this game credibility in the Batman universe but also give the game a seal of approval. Coupled with a closed-off environment rich in atmosphere, this is truly the Batman game everyone has always wanted to exist. The game is darker than anything these cast members have performed before, which grants the Joker character permission to be more vile and sick than ever before, using a formula to turn inmates into monsters and letting Batman have a peek into his perverse mind with various TVs set up around the asylum.
But the golden triumvirate, as I call them, are far from the only people in the game. There’s also Arkham staff and security, to whom Batman speaks on a regular basis, as well as more villainous encounters, including Bane, Killer Croc, Scarecrow, and more. While most villains are treated as boss battles, the Scarecrow encounters are treated as supernatural events. The fear toxin Scarecrow uses incorporates hallucinogens, forcing Batman to enter a mental world of Scarecrow’s (or rather his own) making, full of twisted reality and skeleton combatants.
Outside of the game itself are challenge maps you can enter in order to hone your brawler and stealth skills, teaching you how to perform various actions in various rooms in order to clear them (great for in-game play) or just letting you go nuts with beating up an endless hoarde of enemies.
However, every game has its bad side, and this one is no different. While there is nothing bad about the game per se, there are some annoying moments within the gameplay, all of which are minor—this game has no major flaws at all, so the bad elements are all nitpicks. As such, I will refrain from mentioning them.
In this game, you don’t play as Batman; you are Batman. With its engrossing story, detailed environment, and outstanding voice acting, this game is so good that it made it into the Guinness Book of World Records in 2009 for “Most Critically Acclaimed Superhero Game Ever.” This is a must have game, so if you don’t own it already, what are you waiting for? Be sure to buy the Game of the Year version so you can have extra challenge maps and, if you own the PS3 version of the game, play as the Joker, as that element is console-exclusive. Oh wait. I think I just found a major flaw…