Whenever a new game comes out based off a comic book, I typically think one thing; this is going to be very straightforward, easy, and usually disappointing. However, 10 minutes into Batman: Arkham Asylum changed that for me.
The game opens with Batman racing his way back to Arkham, Gotham’s home for the criminally insane, with the Joker in the backseat laughing to whole way. Oh, that creepy, creepy laugh. From the start of the game, we learn that the Joker has broken out of the penitentiary just a few weeks ago, but like usual, Batman was able to find him and apprehend the clown once again. However, the Joker is up to his usual antics, so after getting the green haired clown back into the penitentiary, he pulls a quick one. With the help of Harley Quinn, he escapes once again and releases all the inmates.
This is when the real action starts. After a few awesome cinematics, you begin an adventure that is just incredible as The Dark Knight movie itself. The actual Arkham world is a massive island with multiple buildings. The Joker is now in control of the island and you have to venture into each building and swing over rooms filled with deadly gas while you save doctors, rip open some ventilation ducts and blow open some doors in attempts to stop him.
You may be saying to yourself, this sounds like a typical Batman story, and in reality, it is. It is important to point out, however, that this is a fairly mature title. Meaning, Harley is wearing a pretty skimpy outfit with some of her lady parts hanging out, Poison Ivy is not technically wearing pants, just some painted-on-panties, there is some fairly colorful language and people are being murdered left and right. If you have children interested in this game, you may want to take caution. Just keep in mind, Arkham is a pretty dark place that houses every psychopath that Batman has locked up, so it makes sense that we see dead guards all over the floors and the facilities walls being torn down. The adult themes tied in with a extremely well done Batman-looking world really drive home a connection to the story. One of the more intense scenes is when Mr. Zsasz is holding a knife to a female doctor. She is screaming for Batman to save her, Joker is screaming at Zsasz to kill her and Zsasz is screaming at us to stay back.
The Riddler is back as well! However, from the comics, we know him as a goofy kind of guy. In Arkham Asylum he is a little different. He tells really creepy jokes and riddles, one of which ends with the punch line referring to dismembering a baby. Super creepy. There are also a few segments where you are under the influence of Scarecrow and Batman’s worst fears are reavealed. These segments are extremely well done and definitely some of the coolest parts of the game.
Gameplay can pretty be summed up into four different sections – fist fighting, attacking from the shadows, boss fights and exploration. Moving from room-to-room either chasing Harley or Commissioner Gordon’s kidnapper, you will run into lots and lots of bad guys.
The combat system in Arkham Asylum can defined as easy to learn yet hard to master. As Batman, you obviously can move faster than your enemies and engage them from any direction. Just point your joystick in the direction you want to attack and Batman will follow. With the four basic moves – strike, counter, jump and stun – you can unleash some awesome combos (which also lead to achievements) to destroy your deranged emenies. Of course, if combos are not your thing, you can just as well mash the strike button until your enemies fall over, but it will be a lot more boring.
One of the more interesting things I came across is how much fun it is to actually explore the island. There are six main buildings and three outside sections. Every place is filled with cells, laboratories, libraries and much, much more. Most of the rooms are blocked by debris, or locked so it is up to you to use that handy utility belt of yours to find alternate ways into the rooms. For example, you can use your explosive gel to blow open weaker walls, or your cryptographic sequencer to hack security panels. You may think, that doesn’t sound fun at all, but there is a reason you want to go back and explore – it is to finish all the 240 Riddler challenges. The Riddler isn’t a main villain or enemy in this game, but he leaves you riddles to solve, hidden trophies to find and patient interviews for the main villains in the game. The interviews show you just how twisted these villains are – Poison Ivy almost kills her doctor, Killer Croc talks about eating people and the Joker turns Harley to the darkside (which was my favorite patient interview to listen to).
If the story mode is not enough to keep you interested, Arkham Asylum also tosses in 16 challenge rooms for you to play around with. These challenges are broken up between the fighting off massive amounts of enemies and Invisible Predator challenges. The difficulty of these rooms are brought by medals, or challenges, you can achieve – not to mention the competition of the online leaderboards. For the fighting challenges, you need to pull off a certain score in order to gain one, two or three medals. These scores are difficult to achieve unless you are a master at pulling of some insane combos. Meanwhile, in the Invisible Predator rounds, you get medals for pulling off particular takedowns, such as zip-lining through a window to take an enemy down.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is my personally favorite comic book video game ever. The Dark Knight story is very well-told, and packed with some very fun gameplay elements. I would highly recommend you try this game out before the release of the sequel Batman: Arkham City if you are interested – which is scheduled to hit stores in October of this year. Rocksteady really nailed what Batman is supposed to feel like and I think fans everywhere will agree.