The lights are on
Redemption can be a powerful thing, and Batman is no exception. Through thick and thin, The Caped Crusader has endured countless titles of mediocrity over his long history. With Rocksteady’s release of Arkham Asylum, Batman emerged all the better for it. Starring in a perfectly crafted world of depth and artistry, Batman’s iconic image is reborn with artful grace unlike any other superhero title. Simply put, Arkham Asylum is not only an excellently made game, but an amazing tribute to an iconic character’s legacy.
On the night that Batman is returning the Joker to the notorious confines of Arkham Asylum,the Joker launches an ambush that releases all of the asylum's demented prisoners and locks Batman inside the madhouse. Batman must then face some of his worst villains amidst the chaotic scene as the Clown Prince of Crime readies a plan that threatens not only Batman, but all of Gotham City.
From the moment you step foot in Arkham Asylum, you’ll be introduced to a beautiful and frightening world of complexity and mystery. The gloomy corridors of Arkham ring with the sneers and shouts of its maniacal prisoners and its nearly countless cells and laboratories hold a thrilling amount of secrets referencing their infamous inmates. The asylum’s expansive grounds look out onto a gothic visage of wondrously crafted architecture and its towers rise into the night sky with awe-inspiring size and beauty. Thanks to the workings of the Riddler, every inch of the asylum is worth exploring as for their riddles and hidden trophies that'll have you combing the area for collectibles for many more hours to come. All of these elements combine to make for a dark, immersive world of killers and psychopaths that draw you into it as Batman pulls it apart piece by piece on his path through the asylum’s dark heart.
Just as engaging are the people that fill the asylum. From its psychotic prisoners to its helpless staff, the asylum's residents are animated with a remarkable amount of graphical detail that makes them feel human amidst their overly fantastic situations. In spite of the often bad lip-synching and twitchy motion-capture, Whether in the billowing of Batman’s cape in the night breeze or Joker’s hysterical laughter, Rocksteady masters its use of the Batman universe. At times it ends up looking more like a graphic novel than a game, but in the end, that’s more than all right for the source material that it tries to emulate.
Better still are Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill’s respective performances of Batman and Joker, which prove to be some of the best incarnations that their characters have ever seen. Whereas Conroy's strong and stoic Batman embodies strength and confidence, Hamill's freakish and menacing Joker pays tribute to the character's wicked sense of humor. Both look and sound like you imagine them and from their entertaining banter to their very costumes, they remain incredibly faithful to their comic-book inspirations while retaining their own equally captivating interpretations on the two characters. All these factors make the two's delightful rivalry something special and carries the story's weight while paying marvelous attention to the two's legendary histories.
The most immediate aspect of Arkham Asylum’s terrific formula is that of its solid gameplay. Rocksteady studios went out of their way to make you feel and play like the Dark Knight, and this effort rubs off in Batman’s fast and brutal gameplay. Aside from mere punches and kicks, Batman can acrobatically dodge and maneuver around any attack with merciless precision. Batman can further chain up his attacks in his combo attacks to produce crippling counter attacks as he bashes 10, 20, 30 of Arkham's prisoners row by row with entertaining slo-mo finishes. Though these feats sometimes involve less than perfect hit detection, they make this otherwise fantastic system feel utterly satisfying as you creme your opponent with flair befitting age old comic-book whams and blams.
What Rocksteady does best is in its stealth mode. Harnessing all of Batman’s trademark ninja prowess, the game’s missions often requires Batman to rely more on his brains than on his brawn. Smarter enemies will frequently stalk you from their hiding places, and for that, Batman will silently take them out one by one. Attacking from the shadows is both challenging and entertaining, especially from the reward of viewing your tidy handiwork. Seeing your target yelp in surprise as you string him upside down from a gargoyle only to cut him down and surprise his friends never gets old and you feel all the more of a bad-ass for it.
On top of all that, Batman is armed with an arsenal of gadgetry, from grappling guns and batarangs to explosive gel. From combing the environment for collectibles to progressing through boss fights, all of these handy items are immensely useful and matter to the task you need to get done. Need to get to a higher ledge? The grapple gun will do that. Need to get to that secret room on the other side of the rubble? Blast you way into it with a spritz of gel. The most impressive of these by far though is the “Detective Mode” allowing Batman to x-ray and identify friendlies and targets from a distance. As simple as this is, its immensely helpful for clearing sprawling rooms of enemies and only another great part of how Arkham Asylum fully uses the tools its given.
For more ambitious players, Arkham Asylum also includes a challenge mode along side the main story. Players can either hone their skills or compete against other players' on-line leaderboard scores in a mix of combat and stealth missions designed to test your speed and agility in their challenges. Many of these are difficult and although they're a fun concept, most will probably bail on its them in favor of the main game's attractions.
For Batman fans, the grand prize of Arkham Asylum comes in the package of its excellent story and unforgettable characters. Right from the game’s opening credit sequence, Arkham’s twisted plot of chaos and revenge leads players across a fantastic story filled with thrills, chills, and scares that will entice any and all hard-core comic fans. The plot hardly drags as you fight your way through the asylum’s rogues gallery and the plentiful appearances by Bane, Poison Ivy, and Harley Quinn will keep you interested as you learn more and more about the nature of your locale. The Joker undeniably steals the game as its all-star host and makes up for any slow moments with his trademark humor and menace, delivered with all of Mark Hamill’s bravado. It's unfortunate that the rest of his fellow villains fail to rise to such a levels of enjoyment, but nightmarish sequences of Scarecrow’s in particular will provide some of the game’s most mind-blowing sights. The only true disappointment to be found in Arkham Asylum, alas, can be found in your final boss with the Joker. In what can only be described as the game’s most bizarre twist, the fight ends up stretching the game’s already shaky sense of logic and fans might not feel satisfied by its uninspiring finale.
Note: If you’re a PS3 owner, as am I, the PS3 version should be well regarded for its inclusion of its exclusive Joker levels and challenge maps. Though they aren't long, getting the very rare and very fun opportunity to play the Clown Prince of Crime himself is highly entertaining for die-hard fans and will be more than worthwhile to consider over the X-box 360 version for its charm alone.
Despite its minor flaws, Arkham Asylum is a gaming triumpth that comes around only a few times in a generation. Though Arkham Asylum may offer little in terms of accessibility to the casual superhero fan, its great preservation of Batman lore will have hard-core fans raving and wanting for more. The latter owe it to themselves to play this classic and the majority won’t be disappointed. It reestablished my faith in the superhero genre and other licensed titles should take note. Having paved the way for the superior sequel of Arkham City, even in retrospect, Arkham Asylum can still be praised for having laid the groundwork for one of the greatest superhero series of all time.
No one has commented on this article.