The latest Batman game to hit consoles, Eidos and Rocksteady Studios’ Batman: Arkham Asylum, is not your typical movie translated to a video game or some cross-promotion idea spawned in a marketing meeting. It’s an honest game, it stands alone. Of course the story is a little more rich when taken in as a part of the Batman universe, but this game could be played and enjoyed even by someone who hadn’t heard of Batman until Heath Ledger played the Joker.
Setting (9.5/10) The game takes place in, where else, Arkham Asylum in the outskirts of Gotham City. As the Joker frees all the inmates in the asylum and you realize that Batman has entered a world that is completely run by the Joker, the game really shines. The imagery presented in every scene is flawless, the architecture of the buildings and decorations in the rooms only serve to add to the creepy, skin-crawly vibe of the whole game. I do wish that there was a little more variety between the various areas in the game, but that’s a minor complaint for such a well-designed atmosphere in a game
Combat (10/10) As you unlock more gadgets and toys and gain more experience, you learn new tactics to combat the Joker, some playing on the “dark knight” aspects of Batman’s personality and some focusing on old-school head bashing and combos. The combat feels smooth and is especially exciting when you find yourself in the middle of a crowd of insane murderers hell-bent on beating you and hand-delivering you to the Joker. Batman feels like he should, damn near invincible. The countering system is amazing and you really feel like you’re doing more damage when you land it. Every motion, every character model, every grunt in response to a swift boot to the face feels and sounds incredibly real. Some of the best hand-to-hand combat I’ve seen in a modern console game.
Story (8.5/10) Once the Joker has taken over the asylum, there’s not many major plot twists, but there is no shortage of interesting moments and characters. Every prisoner feels like a separate character, all coming together to make a patchwork of criminals that really act and talk like insane criminals. The way they react to you coming from the shadows by shooting at things that aren’t there and falling into your traps, the way they talk amongst themselves, priceless. You also delve deeper into the story with every fight as you start to realize the mental hold that the Joker has on Batman while he is in the Joker’s world. The tricks that Joker will play on you, the sacrifices he is willing to make to get into your head, it’s just plain creepy. Some of the puzzles in the game smack of Doom, Metroid, Zelda and other great adventure games throughout the ages. New gadgets unlock new rooms and areas in the asylum which contain valuable experience, items and information that lead you to your ultimate goal. This keeps the story fluid, but retains the great leveling system that any good adventure game should have.
Overall (9/10) I’ve heard this game called “this year’s BioShock” and from what I can tell, they’re right. What it lacks in diverse story, it makes up for in rich level design and character interaction as well as smooth and exciting combat. Every bit of the game will have you feeling like you really are Batman, confused and out of your element in the sick and twisted world of the Joker. His rules prevail, his word is law, you just have to do something about it. The PS3 version includes a free download that allows you to play as the Joker on the new challenge maps, which is a welcome change to the typical hero smashing the bad guy formula. There are plenty of nods to the Batman universe and long-time comic book readers as well as the cheeky and cheesy moments that you would expect from a Batman game. Honestly, the only real complaint I have about this game is the variety. Everything piece of everything is relevant and gorgeous, but when you limit your game to just one building, you limit the amount of variety you can have within that building while maintaing some realism.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is rated “T for Teen” and although dark and themed in a violent and vile world, there is a minimum of gore. Remember, Batman hates guns. It should be available for around $60 for the standard edition and around $80 for the Collector’s Edition at any local retailer like Best Buy, Wal-Mart or Target as well as many online shopping resources like Amazon, Overstock or GoGamer. It’s available for Xbox 360 and PS3, not currently for PC and Eidos doesn’t seem to have any plans to make a PC release. So console fans, get in the mood for Batman: Arkham Asylum, it’s a great game that is certainly worth the $60 for hours of criminal-smashing, dark-knighting and Batman quotables.