Developers: Rocksteady Studios
Producers: Eidos Interactive, Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment
Plot: Batman has finally captured the Joker, but when he escorts him to Arkham Asylum personally, it becomes apparent that this is merely a step in the madman’s crazed, brilliant scheme…
Superhero games have never really done well. Sure, you might be able to look back on the simple Spiderman games with fondness and maybe you put up with the unimaginative gameplay of the Fantastic Four, but each game was quickly swept under the rug by the rest of the gaming industry. They never really became anything, especially Batman games, which were often laughably poor. Therefore no one was originally expecting too much from Arkham Asylum. However, boy, were we wrong…
Arkham Asylum is a very indulgent game. The entire storyline appears to be based around letting the player be Batman for a couple of hours, escaping into the illusion that they are the great Caped Crusader. We could argue that this is actually the same flaw with the aforementioned failed superhero games. They went with the premise that the player simply wanted to be a superhero and didn’t really tack anything else on. However, it is hard to criticise Asylum for that here: the controls are so flawless, seamless, that we feel closer to Batman than we have ever before.
Let’s start with the story. You might roll your eyes at the premise in a nutshell, as, Hollywood especially, is full of ‘bad guy getting captured as part of the plan’ plotlines. However, there really is a sense that every move you make is part of the Joker’s plan, which is tough to do, as the writers also have to balance the idea that Batman is unbeatable. While others might prefer the open world element of Arkham City, Asylum is a very claustrophobic, structured game. There is a very clear A to B element here, with the exception of a little sub-plot with the Riddler. Batman chases down the Joker and sidekick Harley Quinn, trying to save as many of Arkham’s residents as he can. The idea to set it in the asylum, rather than Gotham was an inspired one too. The writers are able to cram several famous villains, from Killer Croc to Poison Ivy, without ever making it seem ridiculous. Time has been spent mastering the layout of this game and we, as gamers, can only appreciate the effort and art that has gone into Arkham Asylum.
The real charm here is the fluidity of the gameplay. Fight sequences feel so smooth that when the game begins, it almost feels too easy. The real trick is to make fighting seem effortless, racking up dizzying combo streaks. Gliding is a magnificent feeling, as though you really are a silent knight (Arkham City gets one over on Asylum here – there isn’t really enough opportunities to glide in Asylum). However, it isn’t all a smooth ride: you have to meet Bats halfway. There is a puzzle-solving element to Asylum, as you use your Detective vision to solve little puzzles and riddles. The game tries to make you engage with Batman’s keen intellect as well as his physical prowess. The game, helped by the gravely voiceover talents of Kevin Conroy, has the character of Batman perfectly devised.
I also enjoy the fact that the die-hard fans of the Batman franchise will not be disappointed. Asylum acts as a continuation of the canon, so we have all of the grudges, characters and history from the Batman comics. But don’t worry newcomers: it is never too much. The game has a way of breezing over exposition so easily that you will be a mastermind of the Batman universe by the end of the game. There are little Easter Eggs dotted around the game, where you can read up on the little-known villains like Black Mask and the Great White Shark. This game knows how to use exposition. Plot details are given via intercom, during gameplay, rather than jumping to a cut-scene (although the cut-scenes are fantastic). It is a lesson that all games should follow.
Final verdict: Finally a superhero game worthy of its source material. Not only is this a good Batman game, but a good game full stop.