Batman: Arkham Asylum
From: Eidos Interactive / Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Reviewed on: PlayStation 3 (Also available on Xbox 360, PC)
Let’s start with a simple progression. Batman fans who are also gamers have wanted nothing more than a solid Batman game - a game where they would actually feel like they were under the cape and cowl.
This game uses every conventional aspect of Batman’s character: detective work, stealth, fast, efficient combat against multiple opponents, and a network of associates who help him along his way. It puts gamers into the mind and body of the Dark Knight.
Therefore, every Batman fan who like video games should run out immediately and get this game.
This game is a masterpiece of Batman and a masterpiece of video games in every way. The story, written by Paul Dini (“Batman: The Animated Series”, “Batman: Streets of Gotham”), is engrossing from the introduction video showing Batman driving to Arkham Asylum all the way to the final fight. Dini has been playing in various sandboxes with these characters for close to twenty years now, and he makes it clear here that his dark, noir detective that also has a hidden gentleness and hope translates well in multiple mediums. The characters, regardless of his experience with the animated series, are much closer to their comic book counterparts; they should be equally familiar to fans who’ve read 70 years of “Batman” comics and fans who just enjoy the big screen adventures of the Caped Crusader. While the story, pitting Batman against a variety of his Rogue’s Gallery in a gauntlet-style succession, isn’t forging new ground, the presentation and equal amounts action and mystery manage to still make it something special.
Dini is helped in the portrayal of the story by some longtime friends from his days in animation. Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman on “The Animated Series,” reprises his role here, as does Mark Hamill as the Joker and Arleen Sorkin as Joker’s sidekick Harley Quinn. These three Bat-veterans are joined by other A-list voice actors, bringing a cinema-quality vocal presentation. Their comfort zones were stretched by a slightly darker, more mature set of dialogue than they had on the TV show, and all three managed expertly. It is truly amazing how Conroy’s voice for Batman pulls the player further in; the slightest changes of intonation reveal new layers to the character that are seldom explored this well in any of his many other incarnations. Hamill, meanwhile, is intensely creepy, sending shivers down the spine with his hair-splitting laugh and vocal disregard for human life.
Continuing with presentation, the rest of the sound is moody and tight; there aren’t a lot of ambient noises where they don’t need to be, and tension is managed nicely. The graphics are phenomenal; when outside the Asylum buildings, you can easily see across the entire outdoor area with great detail. The character designs, tweaked slightly in some cases and rather drastically in others, fit this version of Gotham nicely. Many of the design choices were clearly made to make these villains larger-than-life for your TV screen, and it all comes off perfectly.
But what about gameplay? Well, this is definitely the game that puts the player in Batman’s costume. Most of the gameplay is divided into four main types: detective mode, stealth, “freeflow” combat, and exploration. What’s amazing about the game is how seamless these all flow together. There’s no mission or objective wherein you won’t use Batman’s entire skill-set. Moving from tracking minute traces of tobacco to taking down four thugs to using gadgetry to get to an otherwise blocked off area and finally taking down a boss using cunning and martial arts all makes perfect sense, and no individual part ceases to be fun through the entire game. To add to replay and give completists some extra fun, there are tons of hidden areas and collectibles to discover, some of which require you to go back to previously explored areas once you’ve unlocked the right ability or gadget.
PlayStation 3 players get the exclusive special treat of playing as the Joker in unlockable challenge levels. Joker moves differently than Batman, going for the kill and using much more brutality; it was a pleasant surprise that he wasn’t simply a skin-swap, and gives PS3 owners a clear edge in their version of the game. These challenge levels get quite challenging indeed, offering more replay as players can go through them as both Batman and the Joker for different experiences.
This game, without a doubt, is the best Batman game ever to hit the market. The developers at Rocksteady managed for the first time to put the gamer in Batman’s costume and let them use all the tools available. There was no point in the entire game that brought real complaints to mind, though if there has to be one, the Scarecrow “fight” missions were a little cheesy. The moments leading up to those, with Batman under fear toxin however, were creepy and chilling enough to more than make up for it.
Batman fans, and really gamers of all sorts, need to get this game and play it all the way through and then all the way through again. My only hope is that WBIE sees just how good a job Rocksteady did and lets them make the next five or ten Batman games. Simply, “Batman: Arkham Asylum” is an amazing gaming experience.