Batman has had a terrific run on the big screen in recent years, but his history in video games has been nothing short of abysmal. Thankfully, Batman: Arkham Asylum finally does some justice to one of comic book’s most loved heroes. Right from the get-go, the story sucks you in and keeps a firm grasp until the moment the maniacal Joker is taken down by The Dark Knight and the city of Gotham is saved, once again.
I had a smile on my face the very second the menu screen faded in and the dark music set the stage for what I hoped was a terrific adventure. The lengthy opening cut-scene set the stage perfectly and before I knew it, I was taking down Joker’s thugs one-by-one in some of the best hand-to-hand combat I’ve ever seen in a game. Batman: Arkham Asylum is a refreshing change in the combat department, since Batman doesn’t use traditional weapons. There are no machine guns or sniper rifles. Batman is equipped with gadgets that will assist in taking down bad dudes, but nothing that will do the job for him.
Slow Down There, Partner
Each room requires an assessment before you start taking goons down, as you are quickly wasted once someone gets a lock on your position. And this is where BAA really shines. Stealth tactics are a must in order to survive. Thankfully, Batman’s gadgets come in handy when you need to survey your surroundings. Detective mode can be initiated at any time, which highlights armed and unarmed bad guys in your area, and also brings attention to vents that can be entered, walls that can be demolished, and generally provides useful tips in finding your way around the asylum. I found that I was playing with detective mode enabled most of the time, which hampers the visuals a bit. It would have been nice if there was a way to identify thugs with detective mode, then leave them some how visible on the HUD once it’s disabled.
Familiar (Evil) Faces
The “super villains” in BAA are in their comic book form, which was a good move in my opinion. They’re much more over-the-top and extravagant than they would have been if the style of the recent movies was adopted. Many old favourites are present, and even a couple lesser known villains. You encounter each of them on a different level, and some of which you actually don’t end up taking on directly, which was a bit of a let down. I really wanted to beat the piss out of Scarecrow!
The story itself is quite good, and keeps shifting directions as you uncover Joker’s master plan. Character voice overs are very well done and there’s plenty of chatter through-out the story. Even aside from cut-scenes. As you take down Joker’s thugs, you can hear them talking amongst themselves and they’ll often yell out in hopes of drawing you out of the dark.
One of my favourite aspects of the game is the AI, and how they respond when threatened. For example, as you walk into a room full of half a dozen thugs, you can see they’re condition on your HUD. Initially, they are calm. But as you start picking them off, that changes to nervous, and eventually terrified. They act differently in these varying conditions as well, and will do things like run and climb up ladders which they wouldn’t normally do if they’re at ease. Setting traps for thugs is quite fun, as you have plenty of options when it comes to clearing a room. One of my personal favourites tactics is booby-trapping a downed thug with explosive gel. When the others come to investigate – BOOM! They’re all knocked to the ground, which gives me just enough time to swoop down and incapacitate each and every one of them. It’s quite satisfying!
Plenty of Bang for Your Buck
Once the story mode is complete, there’s plenty of reasons to continue playing. The Riddler has placed trophies through-out the asylum which can be collected, earning you some tasty Achievement points. There’s also a challenge mode which drops you into combat and stealth scenarios that are all sorts of fun. There’s no multiplayer what-so-ever, but I can’t even think what they could have done in this department. This is definitely one single player package that feels complete, despite the lack of online play.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is a game that I have been looking forward to for some time, but I refrained to get my hopes up as I assumed it would be another shitty Batman game to add to the pile. Thankfully, that is definitely not the case and this game shaped up to be one of my favourite video game experiences of 2009.