"Who's this Joker?"

Simply put, Arkham Asylum is a Batman game like no other. Not only in the sense that it isn't based off any previous installments of the Batman franchise (comics, movies etc.), but in that it's actually good. Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and Arleen Sorkin return from the 1990s television series to provide voice acting for Batman, The Joker and Harley Quinn, and what a fine job they do indeed. Though I am fairly inexperienced with the Batman games, and Batman related things in general, I was thrown off at the beginning of the game, as Batman had already captured The Joker. For a second I was afraid maybe I'd missed something (not that I'm complaining, I think it's actually quite groovy). Batman proceeds to drive his nifty Batmobile to Arkham Asylum, which is basically a Looney-Bin established in a creepy building that looks like it was made in the 1800s (and probably was). This of course sets the scene from some mayhem and general spookiness. What with The Joker being crazy and all, things don't go according to plan and Batman finds himself stuck on Arkham Island with dangerous criminally insane criminals, prepared to commit crimes and engage in other criminal activities with their criminal brethren.

Arkham Asylum has clearly been put together by a dedicated team. Such is evidenced by critics unanimously declaring this game the best of franchise, and possibly the best game of the year. This game is what a game should be, first and foremost, fun and rewarding. The game captures the feeling, and subsequent joy of faffing about as a superhero in tights as you take down your enemies. As previously mentioned, this game contains an all-star cast, and it shows through the voice acting and well-written dialogue, especially that of The Joker, no doubt the star of the show, who you will hear over the speaker system quite frequently making comments about his inadequate support (probably forgetting where he sourced them from) and other witty comments about Batman.

Batman: Arkham Asylum is a stealth action game, which involves Batman using his sneakiness, brains, muscle and nifty do-dads in order to bring order to what is essentially a crazy house gone mad (however that works). Combat against unarmed foes involves button tapping to perform brutal combos on the inmates, which flow incredibly well and look awesome. Especially when you start to throw Batarangs and use counters, throws and evasive jumps. All of Batman's gadgets have uses, from the humble Batarang to stun foes, to the explosive gel which can blow up walls, and maybe stun a few foes too. You can also use remote controlled Batarangs, or the BatClaw for grabbing far away objects or enemies. One instance that sticks out in my mind is using the claw to grab an enemy on a balcony and pulling him over the edge. The game isn't all about getting face time with the inmates and their ugly mugs, if Batman stumbles upon inmates with firearms, the player is forced to try different tactics in order to incapacitate them. You can sneak up on them and knock them out, stun them with a Batarang and finish them off, or maybe place some explosive gel on a weak wall and set it off when they're nearby. The game doesn't force you to stick to one tactic or set of moves, it's up to the player to decide how to tackle a challenge or room full of enemies. On the other hand, during certain parts of the game for example, you can no longer rely on gargoyles to hide you above your unsuspecting foes, they've been booby-trapped, forcing you to use other methods to hide and take down enemies. You can also upgrade your gadgets, combos and armor whenever you gain enough experience points to 'level up', including more variety to the mix.

Another great feature is 'Detective Mode'. At any time during the game you can switch to this mode and view the status of your enemies, how many there are, what weapons they have, and which ones have guns and which don't. You can also locate key features in the surrounding environment such as things you can grapple onto or activate. As part of the story, Batman can track various things such as alcohol traces or tobacco using this feature. Admittedly it is awesome, even if it's really only making you follow the breadcrumbs. As a little distraction, The Riddler will call up Batman and give him cryptic clues for him to solve. A whole lot of them. These take the form of objects in the room you need to scan in the aforementioned Detective Mode. You can also locate a number of Riddler Trophies, and doing so yields valuable rewards. Of course these are entirely optional, but a little puzzle solving can be a nice distraction from beating up baddies and flying around in tights.

Along with its story mode, Arkham Asylum contains a number of Challenge Rooms, either the stealthy ones, or the ones where you beat up evil-doers, wave after wave as you try to accumulate the largest combo you can. You can also earn medals by performing certain tasks within the challenges, providing an additional target to strive for. These challenges connect online, allowing you to view leader boards from around the globe. You can also mix it up and play these maps as the Joker, a feature exclusive to the PS3 version.

Visually, I couldn't be happier with Arkham Asylum. Although it seems that some of the cut scenes skip from time to time, the graphics are as eye pleasing and wondrous as they are horrifying. The Asylum feels like the scary old place it is, and the music helps adds to the tension (and it also adds a little to the butt-kicking, as the situation may warrant). The Joker, along with his goons and various other Batman villains look superb, my personal favorite being Scarecrow (whom I won't go into any more detail about). The combat, gadgets and enemies look fantastic (even if they jiggle a little too much when they go down, as if Batman disintegrated their bones.)

If I had to say something negative about the game, I would agree with most critics who state that the game does have a tendency to baby you a little too much, as if it has no faith in your puzzle solving abilities. The strange thing about it is that the hint displays on screen when you least need it, and appears when you don't need it all. That little ledge that it's telling you to jump up to is right in front of your face. It can be great if you really are stuck, or if you really don't know how to beat that boss, but it would be preferable if the game didn't hold your way almost the entire way through.

In conclusion, Batman: Arkham Asylum is an exemplar title, showing us what a determined developer can do. It includes all the big names, brilliant voice acting and story telling, incredible and impressive atmosphere and environments and fun game play. Also, it's Batman. What more can you ask for?

Pros:

Atmospheric, great game play, it's Batman, great characters and story telling, it's Batman, stealth action, awesome combos, it's Batman.

Cons:

Has a habit of being a nanny-game.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 09/08/09, Updated 03/22/10

Game Release: Batman: Arkham Asylum (US, 08/25/09)


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