No question about it folks; Batman has finally landed in a videogame worthy of his name. Arkham Asylum is the best comic book videogame ever created. I don't stake that claim just because Iím a hardcore comic fan who also happens to love Batman. Itís true thanks to the game encompassing every single element of what makes Batman, Batman. You take on worthless thugs, a couple super villains, as well as hide in the shadows, solve pretty wild puzzles, and become the worldís best detective -- all the while using some of the coolest gadgets you could imagine. Youíd have to be an Arkham Asylum inmate to not to want to play this stunning masterpiece.
During a dark and stormy night, Batman is seen racing towards Arkham Asylum with Joker in tow. Mysteriously, the Joker doesnít even resist the Dark Knight when found. Thinking something isnít right, Batman follows the Joker as heís brought into the bowels of Arkham. Well wouldnít you know, but just as soon as Batman is stopped from going any further, Joker manages to escape his confinement and the real joke plays out. Joker and his lunatic buddies have taken over the nut house! Now Batman and commissioner Gordan are stuck within the tight walls. Joker holds all the cards this time, so our hero has no choice but to do as he says if he plans to keep the guards alive and return all the crazies to their cells. With this, the Dark Knightís greatest gaming adventure begins.
For anyone not up to speed on the Batman lore, Arkham Asylum houses all of the criminally insane. You know the type: Joker, Poison Ivy, Bane, Riddler, and everyone else you can think of. Actually walking through these halls is an experience in and of itself. Everything looks so sharp that you really feel compelled to scope the various cells to find all of the Riddler's 240 hidden brain teasers for you to solve. Some take the shape of audio discs that reveal inmates being questioned, while others unlock character bios. No matter what it is though, each hidden gem is worthwhile. Youíre not forced to collect any of this either, which makes finding the goods completely up to you. Even if you decide to ignore all the secrets, it comes off as a typical Riddler scheme: place a bunch of riddles and hints everywhere to try to drive Batman crazy along the way.
Since youíre not the one in control, you get to see these classic villains in their prime element. Just understand that not every baddie from Batmanís rogue gallery makes an appearance. This is to be expected, as weíre really hoping for a sequel. You do see the Joker, Killer Croc and Poison Ivy, on top of a few others. I don't want to spoil anything. Some would argue that this is a missed opportunity, but I think it sets the stage for another killer Batman game in the future.
Gameplay consists of several elements. The most basic is hand-to-hand combat. Players simply press one button to cycle through a series of punches and kicks. By pointing the analog stick at any enemy, Batman leaps, rolls and everything else he can to fight the directed enemy. To spice up the action, thereís a fairly deep and robust combo system that unravels as you advance. At the onset, enemy attacks can be countered. By using the counter and attack buttons in unison, insane combinations are possible. Each take-down Batman scores earns him a little experience. After a level-up, a piece of WayneTech becomes available to upgrade Bruce's repertoire. These upgrades range from the ability to throw two Batarangs at once, to basic elements such as armour improvements. What's great about the system is that no matter what you do, Batman's life is made just a little less stressful.
The other major combat concept is stealth attacks. Unlike Superman and other heroes, Batman isnít indestructible. He canít simply run out and take hundreds of bullets to the chest from gun-wielding henchmen. Sticking to the shadows is the only way to stay alive. Depending on the difficulty level, enemies can see/hear you if you make but a single sound. Thankfully on Normal, the game is far more forgiving, and henceforth more enjoyable. Some of the highlights of stealth are attacking from the ceiling, etc. Players have the ability to latch up high on gargoyle statues and wait for unsuspecting prey. A quick button press is all it takes to drop down and take out an enemy. If you remain undetected, others start to feel nervous and eventually shoot at any sound they hear. This mode far exceeded my expectations. Itís wicked to play as Batman, but something else entirely to actually see the fear in the eyes of your adversaries.
Once you master both combat concepts, you realize thereís something else, tools. They range from Batarangs to explosive gel, grappling hooks and so much more. Each toy has a specific use. For example, you might come across a wall to use the explosive gel on. Detonating the charge after walking away opens new areas for you to traverse. On the flipside, the gel can double as a powerful weapon. Say three armed enemies are standing on the other side of the aforementioned wall. Set the charge, reposition yourself and then blow them to hell. Now you're probably thinking, "How can Batman see through walls?" Well it's nothing fancy, he has x-ray scopes. This is Batman weíre talking about here. By pressing the left trigger/L2, the extremely useful detective mode is displayed. In fact, I played most of the game with it on. Not only does it let you see through walls, but you can distinguish armed enemies, riddle locations, and more. As both a tool and as a weapon, detective mode is your biggest asset.
Detective mode also helps during puzzle-solving. Say you're not sure where to go. You can enter the main menu to check the map, but without detective mode, you wouldnít know where the next objective is. These clues could be fingerprints. When he finds them after scanning around, Batman can then follow the trail to the next objective. It works surprisingly well, and acts as a really intuitive puzzle system. The only suggestion I have for Rocksteady, for the sequel, would be to include a mini-map on-screen. I found it a little bothersome to have to pause and resume the action just to maintain my bearings. Outside of that, this system is virtually flawless.
As you should clearly see by now, not only is Arkham Asylum's battle mechanics genuinely fun, but it also features a robust and addictive exploration system. I havenít even detailed your ability to zip line across great distances, glide across chasms with your cape and all sorts of other gameplay goodies. Thereís virtually no point though, because it's hard to stop once you start the ten hour campaign; itís really that simple. That doesn't sound like a long time, but trust me, there are reasons to keep playing. One is of course the Riddler's challenges, but another is the challenge mode that pits you against a bunch of baddies and establishes various criteria for victory. It should be noted that the PS3 version features the Joker as a playable character, but only in these challenge rooms and after Batman unlocks them first. His unique gameplay addition convinced us that the PS3's is the definitive version to purchase. There's no reason to fear the 360 build however, as the game is a masterpiece no matter what platform you make the purchase for.
Visually, this game feels like The Dark Knight film. Itís just oozing with dark and dirty charisma. A few technical issues arise every now and then, like characters clipping through the environment, some pop-in from a distance and an occasional texture flicker. Yet as a whole, Arkham is stunning to look at. As the game progresses, the buildings start to buckle under the pressure of the inmates and Poison Ivyís plants. Speaking of which, the same happens to Batman's suit and face, which experience similar wear and tear. We donít blame the guy; weíve seen what Killer Croc can do to a man. While some may assume the graphics to be on the plain side, I found them to enhance exactly what makes Batman so special in the first place -- heís a regular guy with extraordinary skills. AA may look simplistic on the surface, but it doesn't take long to recognize all the superb animations, rag dolls physics and all-around attention-to-detail. This is exactly how I envisioned a Batman game to look like when I was younger. After finishing Arkham completely, I can say my hopes and dreams have come true. Rocksteady, excellent job guys. Honest!
Audio-wise, all I have to say is this: Batman: The Animated Series. If you watched the show, you know how fantastic each and every cast member was. Well most of them have come back to reprise their roles. The end result is another dream come true. Mark Hamill, Kevin Conroy, and Arleen Sorkin shine as the brightest stars, but everyone else is equally enjoyable. Even more amazing is how the voice talent matches some of the best games we've had the honour of playing this generation: Gears of War, BioShock, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, etc. I'm also in shock at how well the whole presentation came together. If you own a surround sound system, prepare for Dolby Digital 5.1 at its greatest. While the voice work is clearly the standout, the rest of the gameís audio fits the bill nicely. Explosions rock, gunfire is loud, and environmental effects are as life-like as possible.
Batman: Arkham Asylum has won a spot in my personal top five videogames of this generation; it's really is that good. Never before has a videogame captured the look, feel and overall essence of a comic book character. When you combine my two loves, games and comics, Iím left sitting here with my jaw on the ground. Rocksteady has become one of my favourite new developers, and if you play Arkham Asylum, chances are you'll feel the same way. If you detest Batman, playing this will likely change your mind. If youíre a hardcore Batman fan, be prepared for greatness. The little winks and teasers thrown in should make your fanboy heart skip a beat. Thereís literally nothing else I can say. Batman: Arkham Asylum is wonderful; buy it!