REVIEW: Batman: Arkham Asylum
I grew up as a fan of Batman. There are few memories I remember with such fondness as getting the Bat-mobile on Christmas morning or coming home to watch the original Batman cartoon that my grandmother had recorded for me on VHS while I was stuck at school. Growing up as a Batman-kid, I have been with the “world’s greatest detective” to “the caped crusader” to “the dark knight” and have loved most of the representations of such for differing reasons, however the Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earthgraphic novel absolutely blew me away. Arkham has long been more of a representation of the criminally insane than a fictional building in a fictional universe, and it seems appropriate that a Batman game step back into the dark comic world that Frank Miller (The Dark Knight series) and Alan Moore (The Killing Joke) helped create rather than follow the new Christopher Nolan trend as of recent.
Batman: Arkham Asylum begins with Batman speeding through Gotham to Arkham with his arch-nemesis tied up in the front seat. All the while transporting The Joker through the detainment facility, Batman can’t help but feel that this time it was too easy and isn’t all too surprised to see Joker break free from his inept guards and learn that his capture was all part of the plan. Now Batman was traverse the island of Arkham, under control of the criminally insane, to find Joker and stop him before he decimates Gotham. There is admittedly little story for one to dig their teeth into in this game, however long-time fans or newcomers alike will appreciate the amount of time put into the content containing background information of many of Batman’s classic foes and the story of Amadeus Arkham (founder of Arkham Asylum).
The minute the game starts it is hard to not comment on just how nice it looks as the quality of the games graphics are some of the best I have seen and are enjoyed at a smooth frame-rate throughout the entirety of play. Batman looks the way I wish they could portray in film, The Joker and his subordinates look fantastic and Arkham island is spectacularly detailed beyond belief. The surroundings perfectly create a creepy atmosphere that immerses the player to, if playing any other character other than Batman, want to hide in a vent and not come back out. Between sterile medical facilities with blood all over the walls, dimly lit sewers and large plants overrunning a botanical garden, there is a wide range of scenery to enjoy and it is obvious that just as much time and love went into all of it.
When people think of Mark Hamill, no doubt they have a picture of Luke Skywalker in their head from Star Wars but few would ever realize how successful he is as a voice actor. In 1992, Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroychanged the way I, and undoubtedly hundreds of fans, heard the voices of Joker and Batman with their character-perfect tone and it was a real treat to have them back (along with Arleen Sorkin as the delightfully insane Harley Quinn). The music for Arkham Asylum is spot-on as to what one would expect and sounds as if it should be in a live action movie rather than just a video game. Artfully done music and soundtracks are not uncommon for many games these days, however it is rare for music to composed to the tone of a beloved syndication such as Batman and be recognizable as more than the standard “action-thriller” that could be used for any similar game. There are a few filler themes for some tense situations that work alright, but for the most part the sound design is done so subliminally that it is only when it ceases that there is an awkward sensation.
The game-play in Batman: Arkham Asylum is outstanding. Unlike the many predecessors who have thrown their hats in the ring for Batman games, Arkham finally realizes the truth of what it would be like to be the dark knight with an approach to stealth, fear-mongering and subtle take-down rather than straight-up brawler fighting. The player still gets to enjoy the badass-ery of being able to run into a group of ten enemies and kicking the crap out of all of them without being hit once, however it is ill-advised to run into any foes packing heat as, just like in real life, a man in a suit can only take so many gunshots. While not all enemies are wielding weapons, it is a very effective device used to change play-style from a beat ’em up to stealth action which keeps the game fresh while beating on the same thugs for 9-12 hours and forces the player to use their imagination on how to get through an area using Batman’s wide array of gadgets. By taking out enemies, completing the Riddler’s riddles and progressing through the game the player receives experience points in which to upgrade or purchase all new skills for Batman which keeps the game more interesting and adds motivation for being as stylish as possible rather than button-mashing.
Being the “world’s greatest detective” is a hard title to live up to… or would be if not for the introduction of Detective Mode, a view-style that changes how Batman sees his environment to highlight objects of importance. Detective Mode is truly the biggest advancement in Batman video game technology, implemented to aid the player’s survival or to just further their game by attempting new things not obviously shown at first. It is a completely optional device that the player can choose whether or not to use, however it’s helpfulness is also the game’s Achilles’ heel. While by no means a hard game to begin with, the game almost turns into a joke since Detective Mode allows the player to see any enemy they may run into coming up which ruins some surprise attacks on Batman that would have otherwise added to the idea of “the worst night of Batman’s life” that the game was built around. In the end, it is up to the player how much they wish to utilize this mode, however it would be no surprise if most players kept it on quite a bit to push through the action sequences easier which is a shame because there is a lot to be said about the adrenaline of not knowing for sure where the enemy is and makes you feel like so much more a bad-ass if done without help.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is truly a godsend to a Batman fan. With so much bullshit that we have had to put up with by seeing our beloved vigilante feathered and tarred over the years with terrible, campy misrepresentation, it is miraculous that a half-assed game like this hasn’t already been released to add to the garbage bin worth of Batman games I have experienced. Instead, Rocksteady Studios took the time to develop a game worthy of the name and show the world what we fans already know… there is only one true hero that lurks in the night, and his name is Batman.