Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive, Eidos, Rocksteady
Release Date: August 25th, 2009
Platforms: Playstation 3, XBox 360, PC
Synopsis: Batman: Arkham Asylum features an original story penned exclusively for the game by famous Batman author and five-time Emmy award winner, Paul Dini, whose credits include "Lost" season one and "Batman: The Animated Series." As the game begins Batman is personally delivering his nemesis, The Joker, to the asylum at Arkham Island, but he is uneasy. Although the Arkham asylum is well fortified, he has a nagging feeling that all is not well, which proves to be the case when seconds after turning The Joker over to the guards, the master criminal breaks free of his captors. Even more surprising than this quick turn of events is the revelation that it was never The Joker's intent to escape the vault-like facility, but instead to trap Batman there. Surrounded by an asylum full of dangerous criminals, many of which he put there and all at the beck and call of the Joker, can Batman survive and discover what is behind the Joker's intricate plot?
Batman: Arkham Asylum Review
Developed by the London-based group Rocksteady, the team has truly created a labor of love here, something that is sure to please both hardcore video game fans and Batman fans. With a story written by Batman: The Animated Series' Paul Dini, and featuring the voice work of Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hammill as The Joker, you know this game isn't some quick cash-in, but an earnest effort. This devastating Dark Knight adventure sees Batman take on a whole host of crazed villains in a faithful recreation of the asylum, but with a few added twists to keep you on your toes. It's an addictive story, one that you will want to follow to the bitter end.
I found the gameplay was easy to get a hold off, with the learning curve incredibly shallow, and the fighting seemed to gradually increase in complexity as the game moved on. Things started pretty easy, with fairly easy thugs to take out, but as the game progressed, Batman started facing more heavily armed (or just straight-up super-jacked) thugs, and with that the gameplay got more challenging. The boss fights get bigger and bigger, and the enemies tougher, but thankfully your access to weapons also increases at the same time. Batman gets his hands on increasingly awesome gadgets to help deal with some of the larger-than-life foes that slink out of Arkham's shadows. The combat system for the game is excellent, completely fluid and enjoyable, but more importantly...brutal. Those punches and kicks land hard when Batman swoops from thug to thug.
Gameplay isn't static or monotonous. Batman: Arkham Asylum goes back and forth between straight-forward fisticuffs and stealth attacks. Batman can lunge from the shadows, usually from one of the many gargoyles littering the walls of Arkham, to take out bad guys in one fell swoop. Said gargoyles also allows you to get the lay of the land whenever possible so you can plan out your assault on the Joker's countless thugs. Along with Batman's Detective Mode - which usually breaks down any given room or area and tells you everything you need to know - players can quickly figure out their best plan of attack and brutally execute it. The only downside to the aforementioned Detective Mode is how easy it is to rely on it for, well, everything. You can stay in Detective Mode for the whole game, and that will definitely give you a leg up, but it will also greatly hinder the visual experience.
Like the variety in combat, Batman also comes up against a few peculiar foes that adds to the gameplay experience. The Scarecrow gets easily the most distinctive levels. We get to watch this frightful foe peel back some of Batman's deepest fears, resulting in some pretty trippy visuals and imaginative gameplay. Batman has to avoid the Scarecrow's evil gaze while maneuvering through obstacles and...well...to say anymore would ruin a pretty unique experience. Additionally, The Riddler adds some additional side-mission challenges to the game, as Batman has have to hunt down roughly 240 Riddler trophies to defeat the enigmatic villain. The trophies are hidden around the asylum, sometimes right out in plain sight, other times hidden deep or in very hard-to-reach places. It's a fun side-mission that obsessive players will find themselves wanting to complete, but be prepared to spend a lot of time trying to get every last one.
A host of other Batman characters are referenced or acknowledged during the game, so keep your eyes and ears open.
Thankfully, the excellent story and gameplay are equally matched by the visuals. This is easily one of the best-looking games for the Playstation 3 console right now, and this includes both in-game animation and cut-scenes. Everything looks gritty, dirty, grungy, and downright dank. The detailing on Batman's costume is fantastic, and - as a neat touch by the game designers, gets increasingly damaged as the game progresses. Batman takes a beating during the game and you see every single bit of it up, as the his classic cape is in tatters by the time the campaign is finished, his suit ripped and face bruised and cut.
The character designs are bang-on nearly across the board, too. The Joker looks fantastic here, with his long stick-like arms and limber body, like something akin to a wooden puppet or doll. The Scarecrow looks like complete nightmare fuel, especially those synringe-tinged hands, and Killer Croc is a monstrous, lumbering beast of an opponent. Bane looks pretty great too, as does The Riddler and Victor Zsasz. I wasn't too overly fond of Harley Quinn's design, to be honest. The sexuality has been ramped up considerably, to a near-laughable degree. Poison Ivy's design here in Batman: Arkham Asylum has her in less clothing and, somehow, she seems more modest than Quinn.
The asylum itself is stunningly detailed, with an unbelievable amount of homages, references, in-jokes and easter eggs to Batman's extensive mythology. I strongly encourage fans to give the asylum a strong once over (at least).
The voice acting here really deserves a nod. Kevin Conroy is in top-form as Batman. His grizzled performance drips with experience and pain, definitely someone who has suffered too much in his life time. Mark Hammill's performance as the Joker is, naturally, near-perfection. It rivals his terrifying Joker performance in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, and what we get here touches upon something truly haunting. While the game is nicely acted on all fronts, these two performances (mainly due to the actors' history with these characters) gives the game substantially added weight to the proceedings.
Before I wrap things up, the score work by Nick Arundel deserves a nod. It's able to perfectly balance every aspect of this game - be it the exciting fights, the haunting visuals, or the nightmare-ish hallucinations - with ease. Everything flows together nicely with a nice underlying theme that connects even the most extreme pieces of work together. With luck we'll get a nice soundtrack release for Batman: Arkham Asylum down the line.
To wrap things up, it goes without saying that Batman: Arkham Asylum is the best superhero game to date. And that is by a wide, wide, mega-huge margin. While there are a few small issues with the game - such as the occasional weak fight and odd bouts of stiff animation, overall those are such minor complaints against the wealth of material Rocksteady nails absolutely right here. This is a game that definitely deserves to be played by Batman fans and video-game aficionados alike. Enjoyable from start to finish (the odd aggravating bits of remote-control batarang throwing aside), Batman: Arkham Asylum is the Batman game fans have been begging for. With incredible production values, a stellar voice cast, fantastic controls and a gripping story, this is hopefully the first of a very promising new era of Batman games.
"Batman: Arkham Asylum" is now available for Playstation 3, XBox 360, and PC.