Riddle me this: which black, swift shade with glowing eyes will grab you from above and hang you upside down, suspended from a stone gargoyle, waiting for you to pass out in fear? It’s Batman, and he’s pissed off. In Rocksteady Studios’ Batman: Arkham Asylum, released in 2009, the Dark Knight has succeeded in capturing the Joker and takes him to Arkham Asylum. It does not take long, however, before Joker breaks free, along with the entire criminal population of Arkham Asylum. It’s up to you to don the virtual inky cape and go after Joker and his henchmen. What follows might just be one of the best gaming experiences of this generation of consoles.
Arkham Asylum is an action adventure with stealth elements, basic detecting, combat segments, and even some platforming. You have a variety of tools at your disposal, as well as detective vision, which highlights important items and makes enemies visible through solid objects. The storyline is basic but dark and involving, with superior voice acting—Mark Hamill’s Joker is an absolute treat. The game isn’t afraid to break through the fourth wall (but no spoilers here, so find out for yourself), and upholds various creative approaches to keep the gameplay fresh. The combat system at its basics is simplistic, and button-bashing will get you quite far. However, the more you play around with it, the more you’ll notice the fluency and subtle depth in combat. Soon you’ll be spinning around easily countering henchmen, picking up them up and throwing them at each other while blinding knife-wielding baddies before punching them in the face, and, in general, just having a great time.
The story mode will take you a good 10 to 12 hours to play through, but besides this there are numerous hidden items for you to find or riddles to solve. There are also challenges to play through, and these offer lots of extra fun; you’ll gravel your teeth on some of these – especially the Freeflow combat challenges, which will cost you years of your life and hairs on your head – but once you get that sought-after three bat rating, the relief can’t be greater. One of the definite attractions in terms of replay value is that getting to 100 % completion is challenging, but not (too) frustrating, and you will definitely be tempted to fully beat the game.
Not everything is peachy though. Combat, as has been said, will feel just a bit too simplistic in the beginning – even though it’s often heaps of fun. Some of the boss fights are also too basic and therefore anticlimactic. Even familiar boss battle clichés pop up – evade, evade, shoot when the core is exposed – a feat that does not come across as being very creative. One final problem is that on some occasions the camera can get a bit panicky, especially when you find yourself in a corner while trying to battle a dozen henchmen. Overall, though, none of these problems truly hamper the experience.
Attention to detail is what can make a good game great, and Arkham Asylum does stand out here. Even superficial Batman fans will find plenty they can recognize and connect with from the Dark Knight’s universe, and for more die-hard disciples of Bob Kane’s superhero there is enough of an own style to Arkham Asylum to make it stand out among everything else in the Batman universe. Even more important than recognition is that the effort put into this game truly helps to make you feel as if you are controlling Batman, and not merely steering around a pixelated, animated drone that happens to sport black pointy ears.
Ultimately, the experience is what it all comes down to, and Arkham Asylum easily offers a great one. The beauty lies in the combination of various things that simply make it work, including said attention to detail, but also the immersion resulting from the profound love and care the game has received from its developers. Combine this with gameplay that offers accessibility without compromise, action without boredom, immediacy without sacrificing depth, and Arkham Asylum becomes and adventure that will stick with you. For a game, the path to becoming unforgettable is not an easy one, but Arkham Asylum walks it with stealthy grace, and in immersive darkness.