Superhero video games are one of those things that can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, they allow gamers to assume the role of one of their childhood heroes. On the other hand, there haven’t been many good superhero games. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is the most recent video game based on a superhero to receive good reviews. Now it’s Batman’s turn to be in the spotlight. Will Batman: Arkham Asylum continue this current trend of good superhero video games, or will it derail the train before it ever leaves the station?
Batman: Arkham Asylum begins with the caped crusader capturing The Joker and returning him to Arkham Island. Batman feels uneasy about the situation as The Joker rarely gives himself up without a struggle. As The Joker is entering the Arkham Asylum, he turns the tables by luring Batman into Arkham Asylum where the inmates have taken over the entire facility. If that wasn’t bad enough, Arkham Asylum is home to the most dangerous villains Gotham City has ever seen.
What’s a Batman game without a little bit of brawling. In Batman: Arkhan Asylum, the developers created the “Free-Flow” combat system. The system allows Batman to take on a gang all on his own. The player simply tilts the control stick in the direction you’d like to attack and Batman can unleash combos by attacking, counter-attacking, evading, and performing takedowns to name a few of the moves available. The better you keep the constant flow of motion, the higher your multiplier gets, which in turn highers your score. The multiplier can reset itself if Batman is hit by an enemy, misses his next attack, or altogether stops attacking. The criminals Batman brawls with range from thugs who fight with their fists, weapons, and even guns. Before every fight, Batman needs to size up his opponents in order to deal with the efficiently. When in combat, the camera angle has a tendency to focus in on the wrong enemy, which can result in easily getting hit. The combat was very quick and Batman’s moves varied depending on a number of factors such as the direction the attacker is coming in from and what position Batman is facing in.
When there is a room full of armed enemies, that is when Batman turns into a stealth-action game. Fighting these enemies mano-a-mano could result in Batman’s early demise by way of lead poisoning. Instead, Batman needs to use his surroundings in order to take these thugs out. Batman can sneak up behind an enemy and silently dispose of them, hang upside-down from a gargoyle statue to perform an inverted takedown, or he can use his trusty Batarang to knock his enemies unconscious, then pounce on them to finish the job. There are a lot of possibilities and strategies as it all really depends on how imaginative the player can be with their takedowns. If a conscious enemy is alerted to a downed comrade, they react with fear by showing both visible changes in their walk as well as verbal queues. Some can be so frightened as to shoot randomly around corners hoping they hit Batman.
Batman isn’t known for just kicking ass, but he’s also a brilliant detective. At certain points during the story, Batman will need to study a crime scene in order to acquire important information to what happened, as well as what he should be going next. When Batman picks up on a clue, his vision can be switched to Detective Mode where he can focus on the clue in order to track its origins. Fingerprints, cigar ashes, even alcohol on a person’s breath can be traced once the detective mode is activated. The detective mode can also be used to give Batman x-ray vision of his immediate area. The x-ray vision allows him to see hidden items, walls that are weak, and even allow Batman to see the physical condition of the people around him and their threat level. People that are highlighted blue are unarmed, while red signifies they’re armed. If you hold the detective mode button for 2 seconds, a flash a light is emitted which can be used to decipher secret codes or to attempt to solve one of The Riddler’s room challenges.
Batman starts off a strong and capable superhero. As he fights criminals, explores new locations, or solves a riddle or two, Batman will gain experience. When Batman reaches a new level, he can then unlock an upgrade by way of the Waynetech tab. The upgrades vary from new combat moves, upgraded armor, as well as upgrades to his many gadgets. Batman also picks up new gadgets which can unlock new parts of the map. The new gadgets are also capable of unlocking secrets that might have been overlooked early on in the game.
The gadgets at Batman’s disposal are extremely important to his visit to Arkham Asylum. Gadgets are unlocked through certain points of the main story and when Batman acquires them, they feel perfectly placed. The Batarang is the first gadget Batman arrives at Arkham with, but as his adventure progresses, he’ll come across additional gadgets such as Exploding Gel, which can breach weak walls and glass, the Graphnel Gun, which can rip open grates and pull enemies in your direction, and the Line Launcher, which shoots a cable which Batman can use to cross to areas that would be unreachable.
The amount of side missions in Batman: Arkham Asylum is jaw-dropping. Nearly every room has a Riddler challenge attached to it. The Riddler challenge is a sentence or phrase that acts as a hint which guides you to a particular point of the map to unlock a number of things, including character bios and trophies. There are also Riddler trophies littered throughout the game and patient interview tapes which serve as a way for players to better understand the psyche of the villains that plague Gotham City. Challenge rooms are also made available as you unlock Riddler Challenges. The Challenge rooms are a mix between combat challenges and predator challenges. Combat pits you up against an assortment of thugs in four rounds and your results are uploaded to the challenge’s leaderboards where you can compare your score with others over Xbox LIVE / Playstation Network. The Predator challenge has you fighting armed criminals, to which the time it takes you to dispose of them is measured and compared.
Graphically, Batman: Arkham Asylum does not disappoint one bit. With the Unreal Engine powering the game, Arkham Island is beautifully represented in all of its maniacal glory. As Batman progresses through the story, wear and tear is bound to show up. Batman’s costume will show cuts, his cape will tear, and blood will be splattered on his face. Enemies, whether they be thugs or villains tied into the main story, have a high level of detail to them as well. The voice acting is also top-notch with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprising their respective roles as Batman and The Joker. If you’ve ever watched “Batman: The Animated Series”, then you already know their handy work. Many of the other voice actors from the series seem to have lent their voices to the game, including Harley Quinn. The use of these professional voice actors puts a definite polish on Batman: Arkham Asylum.
FINAL THOUGHT: Whether you’re a fan of comics or not, Batman: Arkham Asylum is an absolute gem. The story, characters, and overall gameplay suck you in from the moment you put the disc in your console. The combat, stealth, and detective work are all very fun, although a slight tweak with the camera angles would have made this a completely perfect title.