Batman: Arkham Asylum
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One Flew Over the Batman’s Cave

While comics originated in 18th-century Japan, not until the twentieth century during the 1930s would they receive popularity in countries such as Great Britain and the United States, the latter exposed to iconic characters such as superheroes Superman and Batman. Both would ultimately come under the banner of DC Comics, with the two receiving their share of financially-successful films. Videogames featuring them would come about, although licensed games tend to be hit-or-miss, Superman in particular receiving his share of gaming turkeys throughout various console generations.

Development of a contemporary game featuring the Dark Knight, Batman: Arkham Asylum, began at developer Rocksteady Studios in May 2007, the development team beginning at forty people but expanding to sixty by the project’s conclusion. Inspiration for the game design included the Batman-penned works of creators such as Neal Adams, Frank Miller, and Grant Morrison, with several variations during the design that led to the removal of some story elements and certain antagonists of the Caped Crusader. Eventually released in August 2009 on various consoles, the creation cycle mercifully paid off.

Arkham Asylum opens with Joker’s incarceration at the eponymous institution after assaulting Gotham City Hall, but Batman suspects his nemesis allowed his own capture, and tags along. Sure enough, Joker escapes and threatens to detonate bombs hidden around Gotham if anyone attempts to enter Arkham, and it’s up to the Dark Knight to save the day. Aside from the Batman/Joker rivalry prevalent in the comics and other DC Comics media, the narrative generally contains solid writing, some points being surrealistic and reminding newcomers to the comic mythos of Batman’s backstory, along with a databank detailing backstory for the various characters, and has some twists native to the game.

Fortunately, solid gameplay backs the experience, Batman able to string combos against inmates he encounters, with some of his gadgets aiding combat, and strategy necessary versus foes that, for instance, utilize firearms, which are one of the Caped Crusader’s major weaknesses throughout the game. He can further stun enemies with his cape, needed to damage adversaries that wield knives or tasers, and swoop down from high places to assault enemies. Bosses occasionally play part, requiring some sort of strategy to beat, and Batman acquires experience from fallen adversaries the player can use to upgrade things such as his life. The combat system is generally enjoyable, although some might find difficulties higher than Easy to be daunting, and the camera can be fickle at points.

Control is Arkham Asylum’s low point, with no mini-map during exploration that would be useful in showing Batman’s location and nearby foes, the former the player can only verify by opening the map interface, otherwise helpful. The menus, however, are easy to traverse, but in-game indication of playtime would have been welcome, alongside skippable cutscene text (though scenes themselves are skippable), a pause button during said story scenes, and so forth. However, exploration can be fun at times, when the player doesn’t get stuck, and there are some Metroidvania-esque elements such as Batman’s tools aiding exploration. Overall, the good and bad points of interaction generally balance out.

The game’s aural aspect has plenty going for it, such as superb voice performances spearheaded by Mark Hamill as the Joker, reprising his role from the animated series of the 1990s, and the other voices for characters such as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Harley Quinn with her New Yorker accent definitely leave positive impressions. The sound effects, as is expectant of a game of its time, are never out of place, and what little music there is fits well, even if it’s largely unmemorable, as seems the case with most Western videogames. Still the aurals are a definite boon.

The graphics look nice, as well, with Arkham Asylum potentially able to pass for an early PlayStation 4 game, with a dark, realistic style fitting for a franchise such as Batman. The environments and character models for comic luminaries and minor individuals have a nice attention to detail, with solid animation and effects, occasional dramatic slowdown during combat occurring that’s a nice twist. As with most three-dimensional visuals, however, there are occasional blurry and pixilated textures when seen close-up, alongside sporadic choppiness, but the game’s visual direction is otherwise solid.

Finally, the game has plenty of lasting appeal, given sidequests such as collecting the Riddler’s trophies, the PlayStation Network Achievements, challenge modes, an in-game tracker of percentage completion, and various other post-game content.

In the end, Batman: Arkham Asylum is one of the far better licensed videogames, given its positives such as the solid strategic gameplay, the surreal storyline that has some original narrative content whilst remaining faithful towards the comic mythos, the superb voice performances, the pretty visuals, and plentiful reason to come back for more. It does have issues, for certain, such as the potential hellishness of playing on a challenge setting higher than Easy (which has its share of tough portions nonetheless), the niggling problems with control, and the unmemorable music, but fans and non-fans alike will find plenty to celebrate.

The Good:
+Great strategic gameplay.
+Surreal storyline.
+Superb voice performances.
+Nice visuals.
+Plenty side content.

The Bad:
-Can be daunting on difficulties above Easy.
-Various control issues.
-Unmemorable soundtrack.

The Bottom Line:
One of the much better licensed videogames.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 3
Game Mechanics: 8.0/10
Controls: 5.0/10
Story: 9.5/10
Music/Sound: 7.5/10
Graphics: 8.0/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 10+ Hours

Overall: 8.0/10

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