We’ve been saying it for years: The moment they stop messing around with rushed, under-funded movie tie-ins and make a real Batman game, we’ll have a huge hit on our hands. With Arkham Asylum, Rocksteady has proved us right—this game finally does justice to the Dark Knight by recreating the monstrous foes, the dark, gritty atmosphere, and Batman’s legendary fighting skills to near perfection.
Arch nemesis Joker, in particular, is a masterpiece. Voiced by Mark Hamill (reprising the role from Batman: The Animated Series) and modeled and animated with some astonishing detail and lighting, he’s genuinely convincing as the deranged, murderous clown who turns the tables on Batman by seizing control of Arkham, Gotham’s supervillain lock-up.
Fights against these 'roid-raging thugs are exciting, but the game goes back to this well a few times too often.
Arkham itself is a joy to explore. It’s a semi-open world that grows as new areas are unlocked by the story and by Batman’s expanding array of gadgetry; each section is loaded with unique details and secrets planted by the Riddler, and subtle (and some not-so-subtle) changes every time you pass through prevent it from ever getting dull. With PhysX turned on, cosmetic improvements like loose papers picked up by the wind, swaying cobwebs, and crumbling stone walls enhance the atmosphere noticeably.
The single best part of the game—the one that will have you playing over and over in challenge mode—is its amazing fighting system. Anyone can jump in right away and feel like a great fighter taking on a group of five or six of Joker’s thugs, with some basic button-mashing resulting in surprisingly smooth and flowing combat animations. With practice, you’ll get the hang of the finer points of combos and timing, turning you into an unstoppable fighting machine capable of beating the crap out of a dozen or more opponents without them laying a hand on you. Rarely does a game make you feel like this much of a badass.
Sonar's for wimps. Detective vision can see henchmen's tiny brains.
Being a bullet-permeable hero, Batman takes an entirely different approach to armed thugs. Using stealth (and convenient stone gargoyle perches) the goal is to isolate and pick the baddies off one at a time. It can be frustrating for players who prefer a direct approach, but Batman has a secret weapon to speed up the process considerably: Detective Mode. Switching this on allows you to see all nearby enemies through walls, so as long as you look before you leap you’ll never be caught with your pants down when you make your move. It’s so effective, in fact, that we felt guilty using it and left it switched off most of the time. It makes a gorgeous game look ugly, anyway.
If not for some repetitious mini-boss fights, the barely interactive “detective work,” and the checkpoint save system, we’d have virtually nothing negative to say about Arkham Asylum. Even the mouse and keyboard controls, often a weak point of cross-platform third-person action games, are elegantly done and arguably better than the gamepad. This is Batman at his best, and you don’t get much better than that.
Batman: Arkham Asylum
Awesome voice acting, graphics, atmosphere, combat, and controls