• Review: Batman: Arkham Asylum

    Single Issue XXI (Written by Gen. Chris)

    Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009)

    Batman: Arkham Asylum The Joker, captured by the Batman, has begun an elaborate plot to completely seize Arkham Asylum as a base. The situation unravels as the Arkham security forces and other personnel are unable to handle it, and Commissioner Gordon and many others are taken as hostages. Batman must delve into the walls of the famous prison in order to stop the Joker's plot; create an army of creatures with superhuman powers to threaten Gotham City. But as more and more of the prisoners get loose, Batman must not only contend with the henchmen of the Joker, but also the villains he himself has put there. And they want their revenge...

    Batman Arkham Asylum is set in the dreary prison that houses Batman’s worst villains. The island it is set on as well as the facilities on which it is based is on lockdown, meaning that all that Batman can explore of the world is the facility; none of the game takes place in Gotham. However, the world is still decently sized, and quite beautifully done in a depressing way. The atmosphere of the game is suitably creepy, especially in certain sections, and really adds to the simple aspect that the prison is not a pleasant place to be, especially in the dark of night and when the dangerous prisoners are in control. Such sections of note are creepy passages, dark chambers, and secret tunnels that only add to the mystery of the island. Lovingly detailed and well made, the setting of the game is easily one of its highlights. The only problem with the island is that it is technically open world, but it is still rather limited. The outside sections are sparse, and many of the inside areas require progression before Batman can explore them. So while it is an open world game in theory, it is not fully open to the player without further progression.

    The gameplay mechanics are also interesting. As you are Batman, combat is of course a large aspect of the game. Combat is fairly simple, consisting of standard attacks as well as counters, and upgrades to your weapons and skills are unlocked with further fights and the gaining of experience. The combat flows together very nicely, and the finishing moves are brutal and fun to unleash on the prisoners. The combat may be a bit too easy to execute, but overall it is fun and satisfying in the overall experience. But combat is not the only skill that Batman must utilize. Stealth is also very important, and sometimes crucial, to advancing in the story. Batman can use silent takedowns as well as swooping in from hiding spots above (often in the form of conveniently place gargoyles jutting out of walls) to quickly and quietly suppress would be assailants. In fact there are times when not being stealthy enough may lead to mission failure. So skillful use of stealth is paramount throughout much of the game, and I find its use to be frustrating at times but otherwise adds to the variety in the game; if it were simply a solid beat-em-up game it would be rather one dimensional. Overall these are the core mechanics in my opinion, and are used effectively throughout the campaign.

    There are also some other mechanics that feature throughout Batman’s descent into the Asylum. The upgrade system as well as gaining access to further equipment ensure that the game never feels very stale in the ways in which Batman can move around or fight. The upgrades unlock by way of gained experience, which is typically done via combat, but there are other ways to gain the experience as well. While it certainly does include upgrades to his suit in particular, other gadget upgrades as well as combos/moves are also unlocked, greatly aiding Batman throughout the game. Another significant mechanic is the use of detective mode. Batman is not only an excellent fighter but also great at investigation, and often times must use his skills to find secrets or clues for important information. This mechanic is fairly straightforward and also analyzes enemies including their mental state, their armaments, and can even see through walls or discover secret areas. These two mechanics are useful towards advancing through the story and are often necessary in certain situations.

    There are a few issues that are worth noting. While the combat is mostly good, the boss fights are incredibly boring, and often not worth the build up to them. The showdown with Killer Croc is a prime example of this, as that fight is primarily running around in the sewers. It is drawn out and rather boring, and like many of the others, just not satisfying to complete. These villains are supposed to be powerful and yet each fight can easily be beaten once you understand the particular strategy needed for each. There simply is not much to be had with them. There are also some CG hiccups in an otherwise graphically pretty and stable game that do not really impact anything of note but otherwise should be pointed out. It can be forgiven though, as this is Rocksteady’s first foray into such a game. There are also often some muddled control glitches that can occur, but otherwise do not handicap the player much. But one of the oddly frustrating components of the game is the enemy AI, which can be easily confused. If Batman is surrounded, or has otherwise alerted enemies to his presence, it is easy enough for him to grapple away to hiding places and then swing around as necessary to escape their notice. Granted, it might be dark in the numerous locations within Arkham, but enemies should still be able to somewhat track him since it is not like he is teleporting away. Otherwise the enemy AI is fine, it can just be easily beaten with little to no effort.

    However there are other positives that do tip the scales in the favor of the game. The voice acting is solid, and features much if not all of the cast of the Batman Animated Series from the 1990’s. The stellar voice cast is led by Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy as the Joker and Batman respectively, with Harley Quinn, as annoying as she is, voiced beautifully by Arleen Sorkin. The rest of the cast is fine as well, but those two, especially Hamill, stand above the rest. The music is great, especially the main theme, and adds wonderfully to the atmosphere of the island and the story. The game also features aesthetic damage to Batman’s suit over the course of the game that while it does not impact his actual armor, does show the likely outcome of fighting non-stop for an entire night. Finally, of particular note, are the series of “boss fights” involving the Scarecrow and his hallucinations. The gameplay during sections change to different perspectives and mostly involve avoiding the detection of a giant Scarecrow. Detection ends in failure, and the overall gameplay of these sections is really rather creepy yet enthralling. It really is the best boss fight(s) throughout the game, and should be commended. Finally, there are several collectibles throughout the game such as Riddler trophies and secrets about the facility itself that can be obtained, and give the player something to do in between beating up thugs.

    Batman Arkham Asylum is easily one of the best superhero games at the time it was released. There are a few detractions, of course, and the repetitive and boring boss fights should definitely be corrected in future titles. But combat is fast and fluid with few hiccups, and the other mechanics of the gameplay as well as the setting round out the game into a solid experience. There is nothing overly wrong with this game, and of course the best part about it is the fact that you get to play as Batman in an amazing setting with a decent story.