Published on July 23rd, 2014 | by Dan Stringer0
Arkham Asylum Game Revisited
No occurrence of Batman Day would be complete without a review of what is, in my opinion, the greatest video game incarnation of the Dark Knight ever made.
Released almost 5 years ago, Batman: Arkham Asylum is a third-person action-adventure game that sees the player take the role of Gotham City’s bat-based hero. In an opening sequence that delivers everything Bat fans ever wanted, Batman is racing towards the titular Asylum for the clinically insane with the Joker coming along for the ride. It appears that the giggling and manic Mr J has been recaptured after escaping from the Asylum previously, only for the Bat to hunt him down and send him back where he belongs. At least, that was the intention. Joker has other plans however, and it soon becomes clear that being captured was all part of Joker’s plan to trap Batman and mess with him in the most fiendish of ways. With the help of the scantily-clad and Joker-obsessed Harley Quinn, it’s up to Batman to solve the mystery of Arkham Asylum.
It’s a fast-paced start as Joker’s goons rush the player and the game has no hesitation about throwing the player into the thick of the action. In some games this tactic may not work so well, but it’s here that Arkham Asylum gets to showcase one of its strongest points – the combat system. With a simple two-button configuration the player can unleash a multitude of aggressive moves from Batman’s impressive repertoire, stringing together lengthy combos with ease. The attention to detail in the animation is immediately noticeable, with Batman’s cape flowing freely with each move and the impact of each punch, kick and throw being weighty enough to feel solid but quick enough to flow from one move to another. It’s cliché but… it just works. As you land longer combos you gain access to more powerful special moves and earn XP along the way, which can be used to upgrade Batman’s arsenal of gadgetry and expand the selection of moves available to him. The early parts of the game see the goons come thick and fast (and more importantly, unarmed) and this never lets up. As the game progresses, the number of foes you’ll encounter at any one time increases, and they get smarter. They will use objects from the environment to disrupt your flow, delivering blows with boxes, pipes and other weapons – including guns, which will tear Batman apart given half the chance. This is where the next ace up Arkham Asylum’s sleeve comes into play – Detective mode.
Detective mode may have been given the most vague name in history, but essentially it boils down to Batman being able to move through the shadows and use his well-honed senses to make the most of the environment, to take advantage of his surroundings and to use the Asylum to get the upper hand in longer and more expansive combat sequences – as well as solving crimes along the way. Detective mode allows the Bat to see in what can only be described as X-Ray vision, with enemies highlighted to the player through walls, allowing a strategy to be formed. Then with one simple button press, the player can launch Batman to a gargoyle or ledge high up above them and perch precariously on the edge (or suspend upside-down of course) waiting to inflict damage from above. It’s an elegant system that integrates seamlessly with the rest of the game – you’ll have no problem flicking to Detective mode, zipping up to the ceiling and taking down bad guys that didn’t even know you were there, before flicking back into normal mode and chasing down the remaining bad guys with a massive combo of hard-hitting kicks and punches. Unlocking more gadgetry and weaponry such as explosive gel, sonic Batarangs, grapnel guns and line launchers allows these to be used in combat too, and it’s massive fun to experiment with these along the way. The game gives you the freedom to approach combat however you want to and this works wonders in keeping Arkham Asylum feeling fresh until the end.
Whilst the gameplay itself does lean heavily towards a combat focus, this isn’t the only thing you’ll be doing during your time in the Asylum. It’s not long until you’re introduced to the mysterious and crafty Riddler, who has 240 riddles for you to solve in order to unlock countless treats such as character biographies and artwork for you to browse at your leisure. These riddles range from simply finding Question Mark trophies that have been left lying around, to more cerebral visual puzzles that require you to enter detective mode and line up pieces of the environment to form one large question mark which you must photograph. It’s compelling stuff and certainly adds longevity to the game’s 9-10 hour story mode length. You can go back and complete the riddles after the story has been completed and it’s just as fun to have free reign of an empty Asylum (going back to the game picks up before the final battle) as it was to fight through it in the first place. This freedom to explore also allows the player to really see the detail and little nods that Rocksteady have put in place for long-term Batman fans. Players not familiar with the comics will glaze over these things and just enjoy a great game, but fans will no doubt love the attention to the Bat’s history.
One aspect of the game well worth mentioning is the presentation. Graphically the game still holds up well and the Asylum is a character of its own here. It’s dark, grimy and feels absolutely perfect for an adult-themed Batman game. Batman becomes visibly damaged and his suit tears and becomes tatty as the night wears on. The animation is outstanding and the environments are well designed. Don’t worry about the game all being set in one large building either, as there are plenty of times that you’ll be outside under the night sky and in expansive outdoor sections that allow Batman to literally spread his wings. The game also sounds amazing, fight sequences exhibit hefty thuds, the Asylum creaks and groans under the weight of its age and the rain pouring down onto it, explosions sound meaty, and then there’s the voice acting. Oh boy, the voice acting. Mark Hamill (of Star Wars fame, like I need to tell you) has made a name for himself as the voice of Joker and it’s no different here. He puts every ounce of effort into portraying the manic and menacing green-haired clown of crime and it elevates the game to another level. Similar spectacular turns are put in by series stalwart Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn and Wally Wingert as Edward Nigma (The Riddler to you and me). It really does show the polish that has gone into the game that every character is well-written and well-voiced – for a game with such an expansive surrounding cast (without spoiling anything, long-term Batman aficionados will come away very satisfied) the fact that each one is worth listening to and none seem out of place is testament to the ability of the voice actors involved.
If I did have to pick out a couple of problems with the presentation, the lip-synching would be one – it’s disconcerting to see lips and voice so out of synch, and kills the immersion during cut scenes. It isn’t a huge problem but it’s very noticeable when the rest of the game is so polished. Detective mode is a little overused (it’s possible to play the majority of the game with it on), and there are too many villains that are introduced to you that you never get to fight which feels like a missed opportunity. Make no mistake these are just minor flaws though and don’t detract from what is a fantastic package overall.
As I said in the introduction, I genuinely believe that Arkham Asylum is the best Batman video game I’ve ever played. It’s well polished, faithful to the source material and most importantly it’s a hell of a lot of fun to play. It may not be as expansive as its follow ups (Arkham City and Arkham Origins, and the upcoming Arkham Knight) but it doesn’t need to be. It’s a well-designed, well-paced and extremely high quality game that should be played by Batman fans and non-fans alike.
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