I discovered purely by chance today that the new Batman film is out at cinemas, while I don't know if I will see it or not that reminded me of a half completed review of Batman: Arkham Asylum I had written so thought I would finish it off...
I recently played Batman: Arkham City and while pondering whether to review it on my horror blog or not realised that the first game had not received a review. Batman has always been a dark superhero (well not always, tights are hardly scary) but the style of the game deserves a place in these pages.
After capturing super villain, the Joker, Batman returns him to Arkham Asylum (where all the crazies are kept in Gotham City). A series of events leads to the Joker escaping and taking control of the island; releasing all the prisoners. With guards being murdered left right and centre Batman must find a way to apprehend the Joker and restore order to the Asylum. In addition to this a dangerous chemical named 'Titan' has appeared which turns people into hulking crazed brutes. Trapped in an insane asylum with some of Gotham's must dangerous villains it is going to be a long night for the Dark Knight...
Arkham Asylum is a third person game set in the Metroidvania style (having one big level with new items opening up new areas). The Asylum has a real sense of place, alarms blaring, recorded messages calmly giving out emergency instructions, dead bodies littering the ground, scenes of destruction telling tales only implied. The opening of the long journey to the centre of Arkham Asylum with Joker in custody creates a sense of just how well protected the place is. When all Hell breaks loose you get a real sense of the trouble Batman and the guards are in. You got to feel for the guards, by the end of the game the majority have been killed by the crazies. It doesn't help that prior to the game all the criminals from Blackgate Prison were transferred to the Asylum after a fire broke out there.
Arkham Asylum shows Batman at his darkest, this is a Batman who is not afraid to break bones which is perfectly displayed in the fights you can get into. Usually swamped by enemies you can easily counter their attacks, and leap from enemy to enemy, the end of a fight sequence results in a brutal looking slow motion finisher. Not based on the films this game reinvents the look of the villains but keeps their stories the same. Main villain is the iconic Joker (expertly voiced by Mark Hamill who also did the voice of Joker in the cartoons) he taunts you throughout the game via the loud speakers set up around the island. With everyone being freed you come up across a host of the rogues gallery. Scarecrow is really quite creepy in his guise here, after a does of his fear gas sees you hallucinating that a fifty foot tall monster scarecrow is trying to kill you. A thrilling chase by Killer Croc in the sewers is a later highlight, while Bane, Poison Ivy and serial killer Zasz also make key appearances.
Gameplay revolves you heading around the island always onto your next mission target. Combat comes in the close up and personal style and is mixed up with stealth sections. These usually involve you entering a room that has a lot of armed guards in. Being human it does not take long for the guns to kill you so you must swoop up onto handily placed Gargoyles and take out the thugs one by one via your many gadgets (remote controlled batarangs, explosives, and swooping down and surprise tackling them. As Batman you have your cape and can use this to glide which helps you avoid the enemies. Bosses appear quite a bit but unfortunately they are all pretty much fought the same way, and all behave identical (except for one boss) even the end of game baddie is just a variation on the hulking Titan enemies.
The fiction for the game is rich though, and the world feels like a real place. As you progress you unlock bios of all the major characters and plenty of fan service is provided, usually in the form of the Riddler puzzles (which form the game's side quest) that point out the fan service (such as a museum that has Catwoman's whip, Penguin's umbrellas, and the Ventriloquist's puppet in display cases). Even the enemies who are not in the game are mentioned. Locations are more varied than just the prison as well and include a mansion, giant greenhouse, the prison grounds, and the caves around the island. As you progress Batman's suit gets more and more battered, it gives the feeling that this is all happening over the one night and the perils Batman is suffering to restore order.
Batman: Arkham Asylum succeeds in making a very solid believable game world that makes you feel like a super hero, you are the Batman, and enemies react in fear to you as a result. Fantastic dialogue, incidental details with a solid adventure back bone make this not only the best Batman game ever made (with the exception of the best video game ever made; Batman Returns on the SNES), but the best super hero game out there.