Batman: Arkham Asylum Review

Some call him Batman, others The Dark Knight, or as the Joker says it, Bats. No matter which one you choose, this comic book vigilante is one of the most famous characters to date and his popularity only continues to increase. With the release of the films, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, this character’s mainstream status has risen to new heights. However, video games have never been the strong suit for DC Comics’ renowned costumed hero. Seldom has the reception of video games based on the vigilante been a welcome one. Changing the flow of the tide however, is the release of Batman: Arkham Asylum.  Developed by Rocksteady Studios and published by Eidos, this new entry in the franchise has completely reshaped the view of all comic book video games.


The story is based on the actual comic series entitled Arkham Asylum. Now, don’t worry if you have never read the series because it isn’t necessary. The game gives enough plot, information and background story throughout the game and more, so there isn’t a need to worry if you have never even heard of the series. The game starts off with Batman bringing the Joker to Arkham Asylum. He meets up with Commissioner Gordon at the Asylum and hands over the Joker to the guards. Even though Joker is back where he belongs, Batman knows there is something wrong since the maniacal fiend “gave up without a fight.” Well, his instincts prove true like always. The moment Joker gets away from his arch nemesis, he breaks free and ends up taking control of the entire asylum. Joker then releases all of the prisoners and goes on a rampage wreaking havoc throughout the entire island (yes, for those who don’t know, Arkham Asylum is an entire island).  With a long night ahead of him, it’s up to Batman to put away all the criminals and take down the Joker!

Simple story, I know, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. The darkness of the entire game is really what adds to the plot. The surreal elements this game delivers are what keeps the gamer on his or her feet and creates intensity all the way to the credit screen. Sure, some things could’ve been elaborated a little better or made more creative, such as the way the Joker escapes. He literally beats up two guys and suddenly he has control of the entire prison. Come on, seriously? Nonetheless, this was just to get the game off its feet quickly so the player can become Batman. And that, my friends, is what you will feel like when playing.


The gameplay is unbelievably well done. Everything from exploring the scenery to combating thugs is done so smoothly you can hardly tell that Batman has switched to the next command. First, let’s start off with the investigating of the island. Arkham Asylum is a huge landscape to traverse. There are several outside areas, caves, tunnels and buildings to search through on your hunt for the madman. Aiding you in this endeavor is the trusty map that you can open at any point in the game to find out your location and where to go next. This will definitely be useful as it will point you in the right direction and indicate what area you should be in next. As usual, you use the left thumbstick to move and the right to control the camera. Also helping Batman get around are his gadgets that he will obtain as progress is made. These consist of the grappling gun, the line launcher and the explosive compound sprayer (which can be used for combat as well; more on that a little later). Each gadget is simple to use and will be a necessity in order to complete this adventure. The grappling gun will help you get up to those high areas, the line launcher will shoot a wire that Batman will glide across and the explosive gel will blow those pesky old walls out of your way (you can also use the grappling gun to pull the whole thing down once you get the upgrade). Batman can also use his cape to glide long distances and believe me, this is fun. Climbing on top of the tallest structure and gliding all the way to the ground can be pretty enticing. You also don’t have to worry about damage from falling. Batman will either use his cape in order to catch himself before he face plants the pavement or the game will give the player a chance to use their grappling hook to get back up to the ridge. You can only jump when you run off a ledge which is fine because Batman is apparently a really good mountain climber. He will climb up ledges easily shimmy himself around to hard to reach places. He can also crouch and crawl into the vents and small passageways (and believe me, you will be using those vents and small passageways). The only problem I have with the entire movement layout is the fact that you have to press and hold a button in order to run. We live in the 21st century! It should be common knowledge to all developers that pushing the joystick all the way will make the character on screen sprint while only pushing it half way will cause them to walk.


Nevertheless, that is only a minute shortcoming since the combat in the game is superb. There are three different buttons dealing with combat in the game which are attack, stun and takedown. Using what is known as a “freeflow” combat system the brawls are amazingly enjoyable. Batman can attack in any direction the player leans the analog stick to without any hesitation or choppiness. This means you can attack to the right, stun to the left, attack the enemy in front of you and then go finish off the guy you started with. The combat is remarkably fluid and realistic no matter what combination you choose to take out your opponents with. This also encourages the player to create continuous combos. Button mashing could get you through some of the game but correctly pulling off attacks is what should be the focus of each clash. The higher the combo, the better and stronger Batman’s attacks will be. When you reach a high enough combo, you can perform throws as well as quick takedowns which knockout the enemy instantly. In addition to all this, you can even throw batarangs in mid-combat to spice things up. Oh, the joys of being vigilante.


Batman is a great martial artist, easily trouncing all of his foes. Even so, the Dark Knight can not block bullets; so, contrary to beating your enemies silly, you will have to use stealth in order to clear the area sometimes. This is when you seriously feel like you’re Batman. The vents and passageways I mentioned earlier are a big part of the stealth as you’ll use them to sneak around armed thugs, but it’s the gargoyles that make the experience. With a gargoyle in sight, Batman can grapple on to it and watch the area from above. While up there, he can also grapple to other gargoyles to gain a better vantage point. And then, the goons are all yours. You can throw batarangs at them, drop down and glide kick them or you can do the famous Batman maneuver by dropping down and snatching them (definitely my favorite)! In addition, the explosive compound sprayer I stated earlier can be used to take out enemies. You can spray the gel onto a flat surface, wait for some wandering fool to walk by and then… BOOM! Another tool in the Batman arsenal is his “detective mode.” The special vision allows players to see through walls and find out where enemies may be, how many there are and how many are armed. It also highlights any and all unique items that can be interacted with in the area. The only problem with “detective mode” is, since it’s so useful, you’ll probably end up keeping it on for a good part of the game; which is a downer because players can miss how elegant the landscapes are designed. As you make your way through the Asylum, keep in mind that Batman’s gadgets and moves can be upgraded with experience points you gain from taking down prisoner or finding collectibles.


In contrast to the excellent combat system though are the boss fights. Almost every single one is, sadly, the same thing. You let the overpowered and steroid injected creation charge at you, throw a batarang at its face and then proceed to beat the living hell out of it. This is done over and over again until victory is achieved. It’s great the first time but when you face multiple other baddies and must take them out the same way, it’s a letdown. Even the final fight is ridiculously easy compared to the rest of the game. The only change of pace was when Batman faces off against Poison Ivy because it actually felt like a real boss battle. Scarecrow was also different but you can’t allow him to see you or it is an instant death. Even so, the bits with the psychotic Doctor Crane can be somewhat creepy. The biggest disappointment was when Batman must take on Killer Croc. After hyping this part up since the beginning of the story, it only ends up to be a cat and mouse game where Batman must sneak along wooden planks while Killer Croc stalks him from below. It’s just a long, repetitive and drawn out scene as Killer Croc continuously jumps up at you only to be introduced to a batarang that sends him back down under. Yet, these disappointments do not hinder the grand scale of the game. Each session of combat you face off in will feel invigorating as you watch Batman smoothly transition through his combos.


Exploring and fighting aren’t the only things to look forward to as there are a total of two hundred forty-nine collectibles that the Riddler has left for Batman to find. These are actually quite entertaining as every time you enter an area a riddle will show up on screen for you to solve. The riddles deal with references to other characters in the Batman universe and some can be quite difficult to figure out. Along with the riddles are audio tapes of interviews between doctors and the numerous inmates of Arkham Asylum that are great background fillers for all the villains within the game. There are also trophies the Riddler has placed throughout the island that the player can collect. None of these collectibles are mandatory but they do add some playtime to the seven to ten hour storyline (and worth some nice achievement points).

Next to the story is the Challenge Mode. There are two types of challenges in this mode. The first is basically an arena mode where wave after wave of thugs take charge and you try to build up a high score. The second is where you must try to take out all of the thugs without being seen as quickly as possible. After participating in either of these modes, your score will be posted online for others to compete against. Other than this however, there isn’t much to the game and only true Batman fans will try to go for a second or third playthrough.


The voice acting in the game is top notch, especially with stars from the animated series providing the voices of the characters. Kevin Conroy is Batman, Mark Hamill is the Joker and Arleen Sorkin is Harley Quinn. If you were ever a fan of the old Batman animated series, your heart (and ears) will feel right at home as you dive into another adventure. The sound effects are great, particularly the punches and kicks. Each blow sounds beautiful as you beat an enemy to a pulp, especially when the slow motion kicks in at the end of a fight. The music is pure Batman and fits the game perfectly. There isn’t anything that will blow you away or surprise anyone but it fits the dark element trying to be established.

The graphics are absolutely stunning. From Batman to the lowest thug, each character design is beautiful to look at (and you probably will end up looking at Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy… a lot).  What’s even better is the fact that Batman’s costume becomes torn and tattered as players make progress. You’ll see bullet dents, holes in the cape and tears in the costume towards the latter part of the game. The environments are gorgeously designed, too as stated before. Each area has its own distinction so you’ll never feel like you are running through the same area over and over again. Whether it be a building structure, an individual cell or the outside in the open, the atmosphere are striking to look at because of the amount of detail that has gone into all of Batman’s surroundings.


Batman fan or not, this is a must play game. Combat is a pure grace as Batman moves fluidly from one attack to the other. Exploration is pleasing due to the good controls and beautiful landscapes. It is certain that there are some disappointments and letdowns but those are only minor compared to everything else in the game. Some may not find it worth buying since the storyline is only seven to ten hours long but it’s worth renting at least once. So many times have comic book video games fail to live up to standards. This can change now because a new standard has been set by Batman: Arkham Asylum. And there is no doubt in my mind that as of now, this is the greatest comic book video game ever.

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  1. Good review. A little long, but your last conclusive paragraph is perfect. I seriously need to stop delaying and pick this up. So many games this holiday coming up, my wallet won’t make it.

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