Published on September 21st, 2009 | by Stephen Colfer8
Batman: Arkham Asylum Review
There’s four henchmen below me, three armed and one with a pipe. They’re close together and calm. No chance of knocking three out before one pulls the trigger and the batsuit is far from bullet proof. The un-armed man leaves the group, getting board. He walks underneath a stone gargoyle the same gargoyle I happen to be perched upon. I drop and suddenly he’s strung upside down hanging from the statue. That’s one. His companions rush towards him while one stays behind frantically looking for the bat. But he’s too late, I’m two feet away from gliding feet first into the back of his neck. That’s two. The two remaining henchmen stand back to back but they’re afraid. Pulse rates are averaging at 140bpm when I emerge from the floor grates between them, a swift punch to the back of the neck forces the first to drop his gun, the others gets two followed by a boot to the face knocking him unconscious. That’s three. The first has recovered, he grabs his gun and spins to greet a batarang to the face. That’s four. I AM BATMAN.
First of all “Batman: Arkham Asylum” works, which is a huge relief for myself and the millions of Batman fans who had the horrible feeling that it all looked too good to be true. Here’s the story, Batman has caught the Joker again, he throws him in Arkham Asylum again, turns out the Joker planned it all along and has taken over the Asylum and set free all the villains it contains. Batman must stop him. It all works for a very simple reason; it knows exactly what it wants to be.
It’s very clear that somebody sat down and asked “What exactly is Batman?” They then took “He’s a very human, very venerable hero who refuses to kill” along with all the other answers and figured out how to make that fun. There are essentially three types of game play in Arkham Asylum: Action, Stealth and “Metroid” like detective moments. Any segment where you fight unarmed enemies falls under action. Batman has four general fighting actions which you must combine depending on how many enemies and more importantly what type they are. Though it at first seems simple the real fun comes when fighting over ten enemies some of which must first be stunned or jumped over all the while countering attacks from the others. Although most of these sections can be completed without too much thought it never feels like the game is making things artificially easy. Say by pulling Assassin’s Creed’s frankly lazy trick of having the enemies only attack one at a time. Batman’s movements are animated more flawlessly than any other game I’ve ever seen. No matter what position an enemies kicking leg may be Batman seems to be able to block it from any angle himself, if you go back to your old games after this they’ll certainly look a lot jerkier.
The stealth segments are where the fun really lies. If even just one of your enemies has a gun then it’s going to take more than some punching combos to take them out. Sure the game teases you by letting you try if you should choose to but bullets are very much bullets, anymore than two seconds of fire and the Dark Knight will certainly fall. It’s here batman’s gadgets really start to come in handy. As the game expands and you upgrade your gear more and more options become available, a horizontal zip line and proximity explosives being my two favourites. The game balances these upgrades by adding more enemies and less hiding places making sure that it never gets easy but always remains fun. To complete these segments you must really think like Batman, anyone who’s read pretty much any of the comics will actually find Bruce Wayne’s internal monologues useful to planning out taking enemies down. When you fail in this game it’s never annoying, there is always something you should have done but didn’t and it’s nothing but satisfying to have another go even if there was only one henchmen left.
Then there’s the detective work which is less searching the environment for clues and more letting your built in detective vision do the work for you. These serve as pointers from one area to the next and successfully keep you moving even if the pace is a little slowed. Though the game follows a liner path you are allowed to free roam anywhere you can reach on the island. Progression follows the Metroid way of thinking, new gadgets allow you to backtrack and open that locked door you thought inaccessible near the start. The Island is beautifully designed, the history of Arkham is present at all times and should you be attentive enough to go looking subtle hints to the wider Batman universe are all around you. An entire list of Riddler Challenges where you are given clues which lead you to everything from staff rosters to villain lairs exist solely to point these out.
Flaws are few thankfully, the Boss fights never really involve more than throwing a batarang at the right moment to stun then beat the shite out of >insert monstrous villain name here< Also don’t bother attempting the non obvious Riddler challenges until you’ve collected all the gadgets. Some areas near the beginning require items from the end or else the riddle is impossible to solve. To be honest though neither these nor any other little problems here and there are anything to get worked up about. There are so many wonderful things that make it all come together. The story would make an awful comic book yet makes a great video game, it’s great to see a writer realise this and take advantage of it. Mark Hamil steals the show as the voice behind the Joker. Often times you’ll catch yourself hanging around monitors just to hear what he’s saying. On several occasions Scarecrows fear gas sends you into twisted “Eternal Darkness” like moments all of which have an excellent pay off. The inverted take-down really will have you saying “I’m Batman” every time and Robin is absolutely nowhere to be seen.
But what really makes Arkham Asylum work for me is that it’s about Action AND Stealth not Action OR Stealth. Far too many games such as “Far Cry 2” and Assassins Creed” have tried to allow a choice between both at anytime. The fact is that if rushing in on an explosion fuelled, loud and gun blazing rage is a legitimate strategy then the bad guys must be really dumb and the player more so should they waste their time taking the stealth approach. Arkham Asylum has the guts to punish the player who trys to drop kick an armed man. Sure it might sound cool but do you know what’s infinitely cooler and satisfying? “I’M BATMAN!”
Please oh please make “Batman: Gotham City” next.