Review by AK_the_Twilight

"Rocksteady made a Batman game, and they made it gloriously!"

Batman may be Gotham's greatest superhero, but video games haven't been particularly kind to Bruce Wayne's stealthy alter-ego. As technology grew, many gamers began to pass off Batman games as buggy, repetitive, and slow. But enter Rocksteady, a company who came into the gaming circuit without much experience. Could this up-and-coming development house actually make a serviceable Batman game? Could the Dark Knight finally be saved from video game mediocrity? It's taken a long while, but Batman fans finally have a game to be proud of. Enter Batman: Arkham Asylum.

The story begins with Batman driving the Batmobile to Arkham Island with the captured Joker in tow. Batman arrives at Arkham Asylum to deliver the criminal clown to justice, only to have The Joker escape from his confinements and unleash hell on Arkham Island and Gotham City. Enlisting a cornucopia of Batman baddies ranging from illusionist Scarecrow to right-hand woman Harley Quinn, The Joker sets up a trap (which Batman springs “gloriously”) that puts the Dark Knight and Gotham City in jeopardy. It's up to everyone's favorite caped crusader to navigate through the hazards of the asylum, find the Joker, and stop him from blowing Gotham City sky high. Even for those unfamiliar with the Batman mythology, the Arkham Asylum narrative is full of cleverly paced plotpoints and some remarkably trippy moments that really bring about a sense of gloom and danger for Batman. It feels extremely well designed when it comes to the different scenarios, and the end result is a story that keeps things going smoothly throughout.

Batman has a solid arsenal of gadgets to use throughout Arkham Asylum, from his traditional grappling hook to reach higher places, explosive gel to break down barriers, and even a Cryptographic Sequencer to overload electrical barriers. These all have their important uses when exploring the asylum, and they all feel tuned and fun to use to solve puzzles. Batman also has a Detective Mode, which can be used to identify critical weaknesses in enemies, detail objects' uses, or scan for important clues in solving puzzles. This is a kind homage to Metroid Prime's Scan Visor, but you'll be using it much more, considering that it makes solving the puzzles easier. The different gadgets are diverse and well-implemented, and with a simple tap of the D-Pad, switching them on the fly is easy. It's great to see such variety in Batman's arsenal, especially when the puzzles are so clever and tuned to work with the skills available. The only significant problem with the gameplay itself is the camera, which in tight spaces, can jump around and be disoriented. Fortunately, the remainder of the core gameplay is fluid and diverse, keeping players interested and in control for a great majority of the game.

Batman isn't just about the gadgets, though. Nope, the Caped Crusader also likes using his fists, and he'll frequently need to take out thugs to progress through the asylum. The combat is actually rather simplistic. Pressing the X button lets Batman attack, and when a special icon appears over an enemy's head, pressing Y allows Batman to counterattack. These can be strung together to produce bigger combos, and can also be upgraded for more intense skills and longer rounds of fist-to-face action. Enemies rarely change their tactics, but earning combos takes a significant amount of challenge. If you ignore the combos, though, mashing buttons can get you pretty far, so the end result is a bit repetitive. Still, the combat looks great, and being able to change up skills and abilities gives the fighting a decent amount of depth.

One of Batman's best qualities in his respective media has always been stealth, and Arkham Asylum is easily the best interpretation of Batman's stealth abilities seen in a video game yet. Throughout the game, Batman will occasionally be confronted with a number of armed soldiers, where simply running in and punching enemies usually results in instant death. Fortunately, the stealth aspect is full of variety. There are the basics; sneaking up behind an enemy undetected allows for a quick, silent takedown. Also, Batman can simply and easily swing from gargoyles using his trusty grappling hook (used context-sensitively with the right bumper). But it's when you get full access to Batman's repertoire of abilities that these stealth sequences really show their specialties. Try using explosive gel to distract enemies, hiding in corridors to avoid detection, or my personal favorite, using the Inverted Takedown to string up enemies from the statues above. The possibilities are near endless in these situations, and the diversity lets the player conquer these situations with finesse. The challenge is there as well, whether by armed enemies or other limitations that The Joker underhandedly implements (like putting a limit on which enemy you must eliminate first). It's fantastic how Rocksteady was able to not only create an authentic Batman stealth experience, but also make it chock full of variety in the stealth scenarios.

Batman: Arkham Asylum has a good, lengthy storyline with plenty of memorable scenes and intense boss fights, along with downloadable challenge maps for combat fans. Players can also gain experience to earn new moves and abilities, and even the more puzzle-oriented gamers can solve riddles courtesy of the Batman universe's own Riddler. The gameplay is so diverse and there are so many intense moments that returning to Arkham Asylum is rarely ever a chore. It can be confidently stated that Batman: Arkham Asylum sets the bar for superhero games, showing that it all pays off when developers not only stay true to the source material, but integrate variety and accessibility into the equation as well.

The presentation in Batman: Arkham Asylum takes nearly all of the elements seen in the Batman media and really multiplies it tenfold. The atmosphere is expectedly dark, perfect for sneaking in the shadows, though you still need to keep your guard up frequently. It's very compelling and pretty much re-masters the Batman world in a truly interactive way. The world is so cryptic and almost frightening, but playing as The Dark Knight himself keeps the presentation in a controlled form. You really do feel like you're Batman. The Detective Mode's lustrous info-gathering markings are cool, though you will be seeing them a lot, as there's a ton of things to investigate. Graphically, the game presents a truly authentic world, which really captures everything great about how the Batman universe looks and feels. The haunting Arkham world is lightened up with some very good voice acting. Mark Hamill's long-time role as The Joker continues in Arkham Asylum, and listening to his crazy quips throughout Batman's journey is cleverly reminiscent of Gruntilda in Banjo-Kazooie, but the writing is even better and funnier, in a twisted sort of way. As far as presentation goes, Batman: Arkham Asylum trumps every other superhero game on the market thanks to a stellar graphical polish, superb voice acting, and a pure authenticity that even those unfamiliar with Batman will no doubt enjoy.

Pros
+ Deep and accessible stealth system captures the Batman world superbly
+ Dark and authentic presentation
+ Plenty of gadgets and tools to use
+ Versatile gameplay mechanics let the player choose how to complete challenges
+ Sets the bar for licensed games in general

Cons
- Camera can be wonky in confined areas
- Detective Mode is practically required to be on for most of the game
- Combat system is a bit too simple

Batman: Arkham Asylum has its small issues, but the end result is so much better than anyone could have ever expected. Keeping the source material front and center is a good first step, but Rocksteady's careful pacing and excellent amount of things to do make Arkham Asylum go far beyond any other superhero game to come out in this generation. The stealth gameplay is superb; there's always a brand-new way to take out thugs, keeping the abilities plentiful and accessible. The combat, despite its simplicity, is fluid and cinematic. Batman's moves are full of visceral force and fist-to-face bliss. The variety in Batman's repertoire keeps the different challenges engaging and tackling a difficult puzzle always has its rewards. Arkham Asylum is a fully-realized world that captures nearly every piece of its source material and makes it fun all at one. The presentation is fantastic, whether it's the moody and haunting lighting effects or The Joker's maniacal commentary over the Arkham loudspeaker. If you're a Batman fan, there's literally no reason not to have this game; it's as close to the source material as possible. For those unfamiliar with Batman, Arkham Asylum is still a fun and beautiful title that mixes stealth, combat, puzzles, and presentation into a stellar brew. Don't fear the darkness, gamers: Batman: Arkham Asylum is one of the best of 2009.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 01/19/10

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


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