Batman: Arkham Asylum is a single-player, action-adventure game that was originally released in 2009. It was developed by Rocksteady Studios and Published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. Since its initial debut, it has been released on multiple platforms, with various editions, and is considered to be one of the best video games ever made.
Batman: Arkham Asylum follows the World’s Greatest Detective as he personally escorts The Joker back to Arkham Asylum upon his capture. However, things go terribly wrong when Joker gets free and takes control of the age-old mental institution. Now the only person who can fix the chaos before the island is utterly destroyed is the man himself, the Dark Knight, Batman.
My first experience with Arkham Asylum occurred when the game originally released over 10 years ago. I remember waiting in line at Best Buy for the clock to strike midnight so I could pick up my pre-order of the Collector’s Edition. People were in costumes, some were watching the films on their laptops, and others were chatting excitedly about the different villains they loved and the variations of the comics they thought were the best. It was a celebration of what we hoped would become the best fucking adaptation to date of this phenomenal franchise. The game ended up being as iconic as the Dark Knight himself.
Following my passionate share of some of the best Batman comics, I felt inspired to revisit one of my favourite titles with the added benefit of experiencing it on the PC with the Game of the Year edition. After playing through the first two hours, I can safely say that this version has just completely transformed the title for me, and I love it even more than I thought possible.
My very first impression after the introductory cut-scene ended and we began escorting Joker down the filthy halls of Arkham Asylum was, “Holy shit, this is still stunning.” I’ll admit off the bat (pun intended) that the cut-scene visuals did not age very well. It was slightly pixelated and shows age-worn issues that you won’t find in most modern video games. (To get a much sharper and crisper rendering of those, you’d have to invest in the HD remaster of the game called Return to Arkham Asylum, which includes both Arkham Asylum and its sequel, Arkham City.) Yet, aside from that, the gameplay aesthetics were even more beautiful than when I first played through the title on my PlayStation 3. The textures on the floor and walls were immaculately detailed and didn’t look like cheap, fabricated skins or blatantly obvious stills that meshed with the moveable items and individuals. Every seam on the Bat-suit is visible and the capture of facial expressions during conversations is great. While the level of detail work isn’t as meticulous as, say, Observation, it’s still beyond fucking good for a 2009 game. (Please note: I played this with maximum graphics on a state-of-the-art gaming PC.)
The second thing that I noticed was the ease of camera controls. If you’re using a mouse and keyboard versus a standard controller (my preferred method of gaming as I royally suck at using controllers), the camera is manoeuvred via the mouse, and depending on the sensitivity settings (I use a Rat4 with the third highest sensitivity), the effortlessness of sliding the mouse around made it much easier for me to take in my surroundings, particularly for silent and vertical takedowns. It also makes it more intuitive to perform combos when fighting baddies. Just rotate the camera in the direction of the dude you want to beat up next and Batman naturally follows suit.
The only time the camera was an issue was when Camera Assist was turned on. Then it makes the angles very clunky and less intuitive, forcing the focus into some awkward positions. This was something that I had issues with when playing the game on the PlayStation 3. Plus, being able to move from one asshole to the next during a brawl with over 20 guys had a smoother transition via the keyboard than it does using thumb-sticks typical of controllers.
The fighting was an element of Batman: Arkham Asylum that pretty much revolutionised modern-day gaming as we know it. It was the very first game that introduced the brawler method of fighting, especially with button-specific counters and reversals. Depending on if the enemies were armed or not (and what they were armed with), different combos of buttons would need to be pressed. This whole concept took off and became pretty common in titles with similar mechanics (see Spiderman). The further you got into the game, the harder these exchanges became, and it really amped up the skill necessary to keep the combos flowing (the higher the combo, the more experience points garnered). Since the fighting is such a huge aspect of Arkham Asylum, I was worried that it wouldn’t hold up well, but it does. I was much better at being stealthy and sneaky all-around than I ever was before. The added benefit of the free-flowing camera movement I mentioned earlier assisted a lot in my covert shenanigans. If there is anything that I could place critique on, it would be that the final takedowns for some of the baddies (not including Vertical takedown) would get messed up if the angles weren’t precise enough.
The takedowns that I’ve mentioned are fucking glorious. They are finisher moves that knock the enemy out completely with no chance of them getting back up. Once they’re down, they’re out, so to speak. There are quite a few different kinds. However, since I’m still in the beginning tides of the story, I’ve only unlocked two or three of them. Silent Takedowns happen when you crouch or sneak up behind an enemy undetected. It allows you to attack them from behind without inciting any attention. Inverted Takedowns (my favourites because they are so fucking fun) is when Batman hangs upside down from a ledge above (just like a Bat) and then envelopes the unsuspecting enemy in his cape, swoops ‘em up and knocks ‘em out, leaving ‘em to dangle like a fleshy Christmas ornament. Another element of takedowns that I find to be immensely gratifying, mostly during stealthy endeavours, is watching the vitals for the remaining enemies go absolutely haywire with terror, which can be viewed in Detective Mode.
Detective Mode was a whole new concept back in the day, and when the game was announced, I had always been curious as to how they (the developers) would execute this component as it’s a humongous part of what makes the Dark Knight’s investigative savvy feel so omnipresent. On the PC, you tap X to go into Detective Mode. Depending on what it’s being used for, it changes the vision to different colours. When exploring, a blue digitised screen, similar to night vision but not as blaringly bright pops up. Different things of import shall be highlighted in different colours. All people are cyan blue, armed enemies are red, things that can be interacted with (i.e.: walls that can be blown up, places for Batman to hide, vents, etc.) are orange. When searching a particular crime scene for clues, the same blue pops up but with a zoom focus so Batman can concentrate on a specific clue and then scan it for information. Then the clue is used to further his investigation. For example, in one instance he tries to find an ally to save them before they get killed off. Batman scans something of this person’s and when he finds something, such as scent of perfume in the air, a purple screen appears with orange wisps of the scent leading him towards said person.
The beauty of Detective Mode is that it creates a truly interactive and whole-heartedly engaging analytical experience. When used creatively, it can help the player to formulate fun and devious ways to sneak attack enemies. Or, when combined with the open world set-up of Arkham Island, it aids in the search for the incredible plethora of collectibles that are available; a lot of which are cleverly situated and require a multi-step process of Batman-ing to obtain.
Overall, Batman: Arkham Asylum is proving to be an outstanding gaming experience, more so than my original playthrough, which says a lot because that playthrough was a couple dimensions beyond phenomenal. Now, if you’re wondering why this is a first impressions rather than a full review, well, that’s because I’ve only played through two-hours so far. There are tons more techniques and gadgets to unlock, the DLC to check-out, and I haven’t even had a proper boss fight yet. While there is much to love, I can’t sufficiently say how those elements shall fair later on, especially via PC controls. Plus, I also really want to dive into the narrative prowess of Arkham Asylum when the review goes live next week. That’s where the true power of this game truly lies.
If you have ever been curious about this game, but have forgone playing it, thus far I would highly recommend that you do so. It’s a masterful work-of-genius (I know that’s a bit redundant, but it makes my point quite clearly). Of course I recommend the PC edition above all else because it’s far more engaging and interactive, and the controls kick bloody ass, but the console versions are super swell as well.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is available on almost all the platforms, which are listed below.