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I don’t really follow comic book publishers or brands, only certain heroes. My favorites are Batman and Spawn. I recently finished watching the show Gotham and it got me in the mood to play some Batman games. Developed by Rocksteady Studios and published by Eidos Interactive in conjuction with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Batman: Arkham Asylum was released for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in August, 2009 and PC in September of that same year. Remastered versions of Arkham Asylum and Arkham City were released together in the Return to Arkham collection for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. For this review, I played the original PC version. Specifically the Game of the Year Edition. I was tempted to play the remastered version but after reading about the technical issues, I decided against it. The PlayStation 3 version of the game received DLC that lets you play as Joker in the Challenge mode and apparently this DLC was ported to the Mac version but there is a way to install it for the PC version.
The story opens with Batman bringing Joker to Arkham Asylum. Shortly after arriving, Joker escapes and threatens to detonate bombs around Gotham City if anyone tries to get in so it’s basically up to Batman to find out what Joker is planning and stop him. Major supervillains are released, Joker’s henchmen are everywhere, and various people are held hostage. The loonies have taken over the Asylum. As Batman works his way around Arkham Island, rescuing people, and defeating bad guys and villains, he learns that the Joker is planning to create an army of Banes using a more powerful version of the Venom drug called Titan or the Titan formula. Overall, I liked the plot and writing. The story was written by one of the writers for Batman: The Animated Series and some of the voice cast is from the show as well and the performances are excellent. Kevin Conroy reprises his role as Batman and Mark Hamill delivers yet another phenomenal performance as Joker and Arleen Sorkin reprises her role as Harley Quinn.
I would categorize Arkham Asylum as a stealth action game. You can walk, run, jump, crouch, glide, take cover, and utilize gadgets. One of Batman’s most useful tools is Detective Mode. You can activate it at any time to spot important objects, characters, and information. One of the reasons it’s so useful is because it allows you to see enemies through solid walls. You can use it to figure out where to go, to see enemy patrols, to see what enemies have guns, to solve certain Riddler Challenges, and to find collectibles. Detective Mode is so useful that there’s almost no reason to ever turn it off. That said, it kind of takes away from the visual presentation.
The game implements the “freeflow” combat system which utilizes only a few buttons. You can strike, counter enemy attacks, and stun enemies with your cape. You can also evade enemies by basically jumping around and over them. The combat system feels simplistic at times but it works and I like it. Once you get the hang of it, defeating foes isn’t very difficult but I found the combat to be addictive. When an enemy is about to attack, an indicator appears above his head meaning it’s time to press the counter button or evade. If you play on the Hard difficulty, the indicator is not present. Despite the combat feeling simplistic and somewhat easy, I would say the real challenge is building up combos or keeping your multiplier going. The more hits you land without messing up or getting hit, the higher your combo. You gain more experience for higher combos. When you earn enough experience, you earn a point that can be spent on Waynetech upgrades and abilities. You also gain experience for completing Riddler Challenges.
Hand-to-hand combat is not the only way to defeat enemies. You are Batman after all and have all the tools necessary to be as silent as possible. You’ll craw through vents, grapple to higher elevations, and swing between multiple vantage points. In addition to the Grapnel Gun, you’ll get to use other gadgets to help you progress, find secrets, and take down enemies. You can throw Batarangs to temporarily incapacitate enemies, use explosive gel to blow up structural weaknesses, use the Cryptographic Sequencer to bypass security systems, and the Line Launcher allows rapid movement between two horizontal points. Most of the gadgets are acquired as you progress. The game has a Metroid feel to it. You’ll see areas you can’t access yet and will have to come back later when you have the appropriate equipment to get there. Some of the gadgets can be upgraded by putting points into the appropriate Waynetech skills. For example, you can upgrade the Batarang so you can throw multiple at a time. There’s an upgrade that allows you to detonate multiple sprayed gels individually. And another that increases the range in which you can use the Cryptographic Sequencer. The game offers a nice sense of progression and does a great job at making you feel like Batman.
Most of the objectives have Batman rescuing people but sometimes you’ll have to take out enemies without being detected. Most of the enemies are henchmen. Some wield melee weapons and others have guns. You need to evade or jump over baddies with stun batons before you can attack them and the baddies with guns are easily the most dangerous. If they spot you, they’ll start shooting and drain your health or armor until they lose sight of you. High security henchmen carry knives and must be stunned before they’re vulnerable to attack. As you progress, the encounters do get more challenging and it’s always wise to get to a vantage point like a Gargoyle to analyze the situation before engaging. After reaching a certain point in the story, henchmen will start wearing suicide collars which means when you take one down, an alarm goes off and his buddies will come to investigate and then start searching for you. The enemies aren’t very bright but they do act somewhat intelligently. If they know you’re around, they’ll sometimes stick together and if they have guns, you’ll need to either separate them, disarm them, or find a creative way to take them down if you don’t want to take damage. During some encounters, enemies will look for things in the environments to use as weapons.
You’re always outnumbered and usually surrounded. The more challenging fights include different enemy types that require different strategies to take down. Besides the henchmen are other foes like Lunatics that will jump on Batman and Mutated Plants that release spores that can explode, inflicting damage. Boss-type enemies are peppered throughout the story and several of them are just big bulky henchmen on Titan and these battles all feel the same. Sometimes you’ll have to engage major villains like Poison Ivy and Killer Croc and these encounters are a little more creative but I found most of the bosses to not be very difficult. There are several encounters with Scarecrow and I found them to be tedious. Each one plays out the same. You need to avoid his gaze otherwise you die or fail.
The game is set on Arkham Island and new areas become accessible as you progress. You will have to overcome certain obstacles or hazards from time to time like electrified water and floors and bombs strapped to Gargoyles. You’ll navigate through the medical facility, botanical gardens, sewers, and intensive treatment center among other locations and all throughout the game you’ll be taunted by Joker. You can reference a map at any time to see where you’re supposed to go and you will backtrack through areas whether it’s because of the story or to find secrets. That said, there are Riddler Trophies to find and Riddler Challenges to complete scattered all around the island. For some reason, he left maps behind in each area that show the locations of secrets. You’ll have to scan things in the environments, destroy the Joker teeth littered around, decipher cryptic symbols, and there are also interview tapes to find. Finding the collectibles and completing the Challenges unlocks various character trophies and information. What I like most about the Challenges or riddles is that some of them require actual knowledge of Batman lore. I was able to solve most of the riddles but actually locating what you need to scan was usually the challenging part. That is until you find the area’s Riddler Map. There’s plenty of reasons to explore and completing Challenges feels rewarding.
As you progress through the game and collect Riddler trophies, you’ll unlock Challenges for the Challenge mode. There’s combat and predator challenges. The combat challenges have you fighting enemies in rounds and the goal is to set a high score. The predator challenges require you to take out enemies quietly. You can utilize all the gadgets at your disposal so there’s usually multiple ways to take down foes. And each one has different goals you can try to complete. If you have the Joker DLC, you’ll have to take down Arkham Guards. Joker doesn’t have access to the same gadgets Batman does which can make the Predator challenges a little more difficult. Joker can’t glide or grapple but he can use a gun and chattering teeth to take down guards. He can also put on specs to see guards through walls and objects, similar to Batman’s detective mode. I like the Challenge mode because it offers a lot of replay value and Joker’s predator challenges require you to think a little differently. Also, his animations are fantastic.
Visually, the presentation is a bit washed out but the look and feel of everything captures the dark aesthetic the universe is known for and Arkham Island is visually well represented. The environments are well detailed, parts of the Asylum look creepy and run down, dead bodies are scattered around, you can see Gotham City in the distance of the outdoor areas, the texture work is great, and each area and facility on the island looks and feels unique. The character models look good and are well animated and I like how Batman’s suit shows more and more visible damage as you progress. As mentioned before, using Detective Mode all the time can take away from the presentation. You can easily miss a lot of little details. I can’t say any of the songs really stood out to me but the soundtrack does fit the dark tone of the game nicely. The sound effects are excellent with satisfying sounds of punches and attacks during combat, loud explosions, and I enjoyed the enemy chatter. On the technical side, I did notice the frame rate dip a few times and I did encounter some bugs. I noticed little things that are supposed to be lying on the ground like leaves and papers floating in mid-air. I got stuck in the environment once and when leaving the morgue, the game crashed on me, forcing me to turn off PhysX. I was able to turn it back on after leaving the area.
I love Arkham Asylum because it actually makes you feel like Batman. Sneaking around areas, taking out enemies, and listening to them get scared as you pick them off one by one is extremely satisfying. The freeflow combat system does feel simplistic but racking up big combos is the real challenge and it’s easy to mess up or take a hit once high security henchmen and dudes with batons show up. But once you master the combat which isn’t that hard to do, it can be very addictive. Quickly moving through a crowd of enemies, smacking them around, while countering their attacks, and not taking hits or messing up makes for rewarding and satisfying gameplay. Furthermore, I like how the game respects the source material and provides a good amount of information and backstory on different characters in the Batman universe. There’s a good amount of fan service here and if you’re a Batman fan, the game encourages you to explore every nook and cranny of the Island. And you’re rewarded for doing so.
I would absolutely recommend Batman: Arkham Asylum to fans of Batman and stealth action games. This is my third time playing through it and my first time finding all of the collectibles and solving all the Riddles. It’s the kind of game that leaves you wanting more. The sequels do expand on the mechanics and features but this is where it all started and if you’re a Batman fan, you owe it to yourself to play this.