Everybody at some point of their lives, have played with the idea of being a superhero. Normally, we could only live out these dreams in our minds, but thanks to video games, we can be given a first hand experience of what it would be like to be a superhero, or to be in the same shoes and our favorites. As the technology has gotten better, so have the possibilities of being able to emulate that “essence” of being that super hero. There have been many games which let you do anything from creating your own superhero, to playing a world famous one. Batman: Arkham Asylum makes all the right moves and comes off as the best “superhero simulator” of its kind.
The developers at Rocksteady games definitely have a strong sense of direction, borrowing styles and assets from both comics and the Animated Series that aired during the 90s. The result is nothing short of amazing. The graphics, on a technical level, are nicely detailed and impressive in its scope. The character models have a great amount of detail, from Batman’s cape that gets torn up, to Joker’s snazzy suit and trademark grin. What steals the show, however, is Arkham Island itself. Thanks to some smart level design and great attention to detail, Arkham ends up having a strong identity of its own, with its own charm and style. As far as art direction goes, characters and the environment look great. Personally, I like some of the character redesigns of certain characters and indifferent to the rest. The attention to detail remains consistent, which makes this game an excellent visual spectacle.
To compliment the visuals is its excellent sound design. Bringing back the voices of Batman, Harley Quinn, and Joker from the animated series, along with other excellent voice talent for the rest of the cast enriches the experience even further. Mark Hamill’s Joker in particular steals the spotlight, as his delivery as the clown prince further cements many people’s opinions that his joker is the definitive joker bar comics. Not taking anything away from the Dark Knight himself, Kevin Conroy’s Batman sounds great and the two interacting with each other gives many of the game’s highlights. This coupled with a great soundtrack and great sound effects from crumbling rocks to the gut wrenching sound of batman smashing his opponent’s face to the ground, this game’s sound should be appreciated as much as, if not more than its visuals.
Gameplay can be separated to 3 parts, Brawler, Exploration, and Stealth Action. Exploration in the game feels similar to recent games like Assassin’s Creed and the more recent Tomb Raider series. Batman’s tools such as the grapple hook and cape (which serves as a glider) augment the experience. Stealth Action comes from set pieces where there are several guards in a large area, most all of them armed with guns (which will tear you up if they see you), forcing you to plan and systematically clear the area, much like batman would. Detective mode cements this, as it reveals the enemies position, whether they’re armed with weapons or not, along with hidden passages and other objects the player can interact with. One detriment to this is due to how incredibly useful it is, many players would simply leave it on, which makes most players end up playing the game with x-ray goggles, which renders a lot of the excellent detail of the actual graphics meaningless.
Rounding out the gameplay is its free-flow fighting system. Similar to Assassin’s Creed, combat is more about timing than preset combos. The depth comes from the combat multiplier, which increases with each uninterrupted attack on an enemy. Building up the meter inducts rewards such as more experience to unlock new moves, a higher recovery of health when the battle is over, and access to special takedown and throw moves which can only be used after reaching a certain multiplier. The result of this, when mastered, is making battles between batman and upwards of 10+ foes play out like a choreographed scene from a batman movie, with great animations from attacking and receiving hits on both sides. The weak point to the fighting system isn’t from the mechanics themselves, but who you use them on. Boss battles are rather mundane, with many of them fighting in a very similar matter, and the enemies themselves from a visual standpoint, which makes a crowd of 8 guys looking the exact same a little detracting.
As a package, the game provides a lot of ways to extend your playtime. Within the main story mode, there are audio tapes of the various inmates you run into, fleshing out their personalities and serving to enhance the story of the game. On top of those, there are 200 Riddler trophies scattered on Arkham Island. Many are attained by the use of tools you collect throughout the game, but the most satisfying being from solving the riddles that are given, which there are usually one in most rooms in the entire game, sometimes more. Collecting these trophies not only brings experience, but also unlocks goodies such as character bios of other characters in the batman universe, character models too observe at your leisure, and challenge rooms, which serves as a diversion to the main storyline. These challenge rooms are split into combat and stealth oriented set pieces, the former rewarding you with a higher score from how high you get your combat multiplier up, along with other bonus points from achieving different actions. The stealth ones have you going up against the clock to take out all the enemies in the room, with bonuses given if you complete any of the 3 room specific objectives for that challenge, such as exploding a destructible wall on an enemy, or staying out of the opponent’s line of sight the entire time. These scores and times are then placed on the leaderboards, which some players can use as motivation to improve their skills. DLC for this mode has been advertised, adding new set pieces and challenges to the mode, extending its playability.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is considered by many to be the definitive superhero game, as it gives the feeling, with great success, of what it would be like to play as the Caped Crusader. Difficult but rewarding in its execution from combat to getting the jump on armed foes makes the player feel like they’re batman, which is where the game succeeds most. Minus some unfulfilling boss battles and an overpowered detective mode, this game is definitely one of the most immersive and satisfying games of the year. What may be one of Batman’s worst nights of his life may end up being one of many players’ best experiences of the year.