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. It is one of my favourite additions to the Batman franchise and is also considered to be one of the best video games ever released, which is a perception that I wholeheartedly agree with.
In my First Impressions, I chatted about the essentials of what makes this game so bloody brilliant, including the graphics and visuals, controls (PC), basics of the fighting, and my overall musings on Detective Mode, which is one of the core facets of the gameplay for this action-adventure gem. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to carefully play through the entire game, including obtaining all the collectibles, I wanted to share my final thoughts in this review, which shall concentrate on more of the concrete elements that give Batman: Arkham Asylum so much dimension and fantastic re-play value, such as the techno toys, the open world and collectibles, and just the overall story that the game is centred on.
Whenever I see Batman on television, whether it’s a live-action film or an episode of The Animated Series, I’m always in awe of his nifty little gadgets and gismos. When Arkham Asylum released, I was over-the-moon about finally being able to experience what it must be like to appear and disappear like an omnipresent being, not to mention utilising them in solving crimes. Because this is such an inherent part of Batman’s identity, these contraptions also, in many ways, craft the backbone of the entire Arkham Asylum playing experience.
Initially when I saw that there were so many tools to unlock, I felt rather intimidated by the prospect of all the button combos I would have to memorise. Thankfully, due to their accessibility via the keyboard where they are mapped to the number keys across the top (I played the PC edition), utilising them was seamless and beautifully intuitive. Of course, this shall be a personal preference as a lot of players favour using a gamepad or controller, but my small hands and nimble fingers definitely enjoy the mouse and keyboard setup the most. The variety of gismos that are unlocked helps in preventing the game from getting a stale and repetitive taste to it. Add in the benefit of puzzle-like scenarios where the Dark Knight has to decipher which tool shall help him accomplish the task in the most efficient manner possible (as well as the stealthiest), it makes the gameplay marvellously immersive. It’s a splendidly fun take on the Metroidvania-style of platform gaming in a contemporary format.
A few of my favourite ways of using the Bat’s expensive techno-toys include battle strategy and just gliding around, taking in the vast scenery that makes up the surroundings and setting of the game. For example, in fights I loved using the explosive gel to strategically take out the baddies whenever I could. This almost becomes vital in the later parts of the game as The Joker gets crafty in avoiding the Dark Knight’s handy little abilities.
The versatility of the sheer variety of options that became available later on in the game become even more apparent when one goes collectible farming through the gorgeous open world setting of Arkham Island. With the night-time skyline of Gotham in the background, it’s luminescence giving the ocean an eerie glow, it’s positively picturesque. My favourite parts of the exploration bit were when I was gliding over the whole island after leaping off the highest building, or when I was fleeing a certain situation by grappling over to the nearest cliff over a huge drop to the choppy, grey seawater below. It’s as freeing as it is nerve-wracking (falling takes you back to square one, unfortunately). As more and more places open up, being able to check out every corner and hidden section becomes practically euphoric, making it so easy to lose time in the adventure of it all.
The collectibles themselves unlock different things. Some of them are just trophies scattered about by The Riddler. If you find all of his trophies a special audio scene is unlocked that I would have loved to see a video of because it sounded glorious. Solving other puzzles exposes titbits of information on the prisoners and patients of Arkham, including but not limited to Victor Zsasz, The Scarecrow, and Harley Quinn. These factoids are ripped straight from the original comics and come with little in-game cards that even highlight when these characters made their comic-debuts. So, if you’re interested in reading the comics, especially for specific characters, this is a great place to get some reference material on where to begin. The best revelations, in my personal opinion, are the ones involving Amadeus Arkham, the founder of the institution.
While you don’t need to have all the morsels of character information to understand the general story and connect the dots between certain individuals, having it really helps to flesh out the narrative as a whole and brings more dimension to the story that is being told in the thirty-ish hours of gameplay that goes into finishing it, including trophy and collectible acquisition. That backstory gives the player incredible insight into why certain characters hate Batman so much, beyond solely because he’s the beefy boy in a batsuit trying to kick their arses. (Killer Croc’s and Bane’s are quite excellent and are the ones that inspired me to revisit the comics again.)
The story on the surface does feel somewhat thin and flimsy, however, as you make your way through it, it gathers decent layers to it. You have The Joker with his master plan to take over Arkham Island and then eventually to conquer Gotham. The manner of which he hopes to accomplish this ambitious feat feels a bit outrageous until you begin to unlock those pieces of data that I mentioned earlier and start learning about how he implemented this unbelievable plan to begin with. The meticulous planning and patience and foresight to see this thing through to the end—it shines a big spotlight on the intellectual prowess of his character, which is one of the many reasons why I’m so fascinated with him (he’s my favourite character from the franchise, which probably isn’t a surprise for folx who know me well.) I love stories that acquire more depth as players uncover secrets and hidden objects. For me, it’s a superb way to ensure that a game will have replay value, making it worth the dollars that I sink into it, as well as giving value to all of the time and mental energy that I devote to it as well.
I don’t think any of these things would feel so brilliantly crafted if not for the astounding voice acting. Veterans from The Animated Series return and pick up the mantle to make Batman: Arkham Asylum the work of genius that it truly is. Mark Hamill’s Joker is positively unbeatable on virtual stages, and no one can capture Bruce Wayne’s broody yet self-entitled, arrogant disposition the way that Kevin Conroy can.
If I had to criticise something, it would be the gameplay with regard to a couple of the boss fights. They aren’t the gigantic bosses either, more like mini-boss encounters. They are done in a specific manner, which is basically prep work for the final fight with Joker at the end. My only gripe is that it became slightly tedious at some points and tiresome in a way that was uninspiring. If they had cool twists to them and evolved more with each new encounter, I would have appreciated them far more than I did. They still aren’t bad, by far, more so when you consider that most main boss fights are quite different. Nonetheless, I wish they had more creativity to offer.
All in all, Batman: Arkham Asylum is most decidedly one of the best fucking games that I have ever had the pleasure of playing (and replaying) and I’m so happy that I took the time to review it. My appreciation for the franchise and also for what this title has accomplished, not only for said franchise, but also for the art of video games in general, has grown quite exponentially. It’s just such a damn good and wonderfully fun experience to sink into. If you are a fan of the Batman universe but haven’t ever played Arkham Asylum, then I highly, highly recommend that you check it out. If you’ve been interested in getting more acclimated with Batman, yet haven’t for whatever reason, maybe because you’re unsure of where to begin, I think this is a nice place to start. As I mentioned earlier, the game does provide information on which comics to read for certain characters and villains, and would make a terrific platform for newbies, as well as hardcore, diehard fans.