Batman has had many incarnations in his 70 years as a super hero. The most true mainstream adaptation of the Dark Knight has to be the Bruce Timm 90’s animated series. Batman as this brilliant detective that fought crime along side, but still outside, of the law. Terrifying, resourceful, strong, quick, that’s the Batman. Video games have tried time and time again to create a good game for this legendary comic book character. Some have gotten close, but none quite succeeded in doing so.
Last year Game Informer had the exclusive news that Rocksteady Studios was making a Batman game. The title was to be based on the comic series, rather than any particular adaptation. It took place in the famous Arkham Asylum. Many thought it would be the best Batman game to be made. I would agree with that statement. That doesn’t say much, considering the collection of poor Batman games, but Batman: Arkham Asylum changes that completely.
The game’s style and setting is perfect. Each character model is nicely designed. Every character form the Joker and Batman, to Poison Ivy and Bane look like you expect them to, but are still unique at the same time. With exception of Harley Quinn, who barely resembles her original look, every character looks positively flawless for the game.
There are some characters missing from the game that I would have loved to see, but then there are some that haven’t been seen in the main stream, like the twisted Mr. Zsasz. The attention to detail these characters is amazing. In particularly the Batman’s suit change as you play through the game is rather interesting, showing the stress he’s going through by means of his torn cape or slashed cloth.
Voice acting in the game is, likewise, perfect. Some voices from the animated series return, with new ones that are still quite familiar. Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and Arleen Sorkin are just as good in the game today as they were in the animated series. The new voices do just as good a job, each getting the characters they play pitch perfect. The perfect voice acting with the great character design make for near perfect characterizations of these villains and heroes.
Arkham itself is an important character in the game. The level design is set much in the same ways as games like Metroid and Castlevania. It’s largely open to anything in the beginning of the game, but progressing through Arkham depends on what gadgets you have. There are hidden items everywhere, but the big interest in Arkham is it’s design which creates an amazing atmosphere for the game from start to finish.
Every room and area in the game is unique. The great mixture of the stressed Gothic architecture and the sterile hospital interior fits perfectly. The background story of the Asylum’s construction gives every room on the island a reason for being there. No room, pebble, or leaf seems out of place. The level design for the game, much like the rest of the game’s design, is absolutely flawless for the title.
Part of what made this game so interesting to me to begin with was the story, or rather who wrote it. Paul Dini, producer and writer for some of the DC: Animated Universe, was a writer for the game and it shows. The dialogue for the characters are superb and the story feels like it could have been used for a DCAU movie. Paul Dini’s involvement in the game just makes the refined characterization of every minor detail fit like a glove.
The game makes great use of the Batman’s arsenal and skills. His abilities as a world class martial artist make for the hallmark of a great combat system. It’s easy to pick up, difficult to master. The combat is simple, but utilizing it properly can make for some amazing battles. Combat can be as simple as just hitting the attack button, but countering and building combos are what make it great. Timing your attack just right so you don’t get hurt takes finesse that suits Batman’s style.
The gadgets in the game, as they’re progressively unlocked, are a slight disappointment. Most are used out of battle, with ones like the the batarang and explosive gel used most of the small collection. In large they work well in the game, there’s just not a lot you can do with some of them. Some are almost exclusively used for progression through the level or finding hidden things It would have been nice to seen some of them used in combat, or more in the stalking of enemies, but it doesn’t really detract from the game. Setting up traps with explosive gel and batarangs to turn overwhelming odds in your favor makes for some rather unique scenarios.
The most disappointing element in the game would have to be the detective mode. Several times in the game you have to follow a trail of some small piece of evidence. It’s used a few times in the game, but doesn’t really add much. Finding the singular piece of evidence you need to set up the trail is always easy to do, and just makes a way point to where you’re supposed to go. There’s not much interaction with it beyond following floating icons. More deductive work or puzzle solving would have been nice, but there really isn’t any with it.
One of my favorite parts in the game would have to be the boss fights. Each fight with a villain is incredibly varied. It’s not so much just a normal fight, but a setting to each one. Some just require you to beat the snot out of them, while others require patience and quick reactions. Two villains in particular stick out. Killer Croc’s fight is a single slow and terrifying level. Scarecrow on the other hand has a handful of unique levels that completely mess with your mind, much like Psycho Mantis from the original Metal Gear Solid.
The stealth segments in Arkham Asylum have to be some of the best I’ve seen. There aren’t many through the length of the story, but the many hiding places and ways to take out enemies create a great experience. The further you progress the more upgrades to the more combat oriented gadgets you get make for setting up some killer traps.
The psychological element you see these traps have on enemies is subtle but make you feel like Batman. A room full of 10 gun toting enemies might start close up in the first few minutes, but then slowly turn on each other and split up. The Batman Begins game tried to do it, but Arkham Asylum does it right.
Some smaller attention to details in the game are there just to make people who love the comic smile. Unlockables focusing on many of Batman’s friends and foes are found through out the game, but the particularly interesting unlocks are the audio files. There are a handful of recordings from villain’s sessions with psychiatrists that just build these characters even more. The more interesting recordings are the recollections of Arhkam’s founder, Amadeus Asylum which seem to come straight from the Arkham Asylum graphic novel written by Grant Morrison, which paint a picture of the founder’s troubled and disturbed life.
The story itself isn’t particularly long, but all of the hidden items you can find help remedy the length of the game. Those hidden items unlock more challenges to make the game last even longer. These challenges are rather difficult, and trying to finish each perfectly with a good time is far from easy. On the PS3 this is only more difficult by playing as the Joker, who has far less gadgets compared to Batman, but offers a completely unique experience in the challenge mode.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is the Batman game every fan has been looking forward to. Every character is designed superbly in union with it’s sublime cast. The combat and boss fights are exceptionally entertaining. The story is well written and helps bring the appearance and voice of each character to life. There are very few problems with the game, such as the limited use of the detective mode and gadgets or it’s length, but the game does not disappoint. This is a great game, regardless of if you’re familiar with Batman or not.