In 2009, Rocksteady gave fans around the world the chance to don the mask of the world’s favourite billionaire superman with Batman: Arkham Asylum. Having captured the Joker in unknown circumstances, you bring the Clown Prince of Crime to the ‘best’ institute for the criminally insane; the titular Arkham Asylum. In one night, things rapidly spiral out of control and you’ll need to use your skills and gadgets to set things straight.
As a premise goes, it’s pretty solid. Arkham Asylum is the first good Batman game in years, because of the strong focus on the combat mechanic that is, really, the core of the Batman mythos. If you can’t punch your way through a goon, you’ll just have to throw a baterang in his face and then punch him. The combat in Asylum is very rhythmic, focussed on timing hits to rack up long combos against groups of mobs. Punctuated with cracks and thuds, Batman can sweep across an arena swiftly and deliver justice punctually and with great satisfaction. The only thing that’s truly missing from the occasion are POW and BIFF logos.
As your combo meter increases, you can execute devastating finishing moves to rid yourself of some meatshields quickly. The pressure mounts up as you see the numbers hitting double figures, slowly crawling to 20, 30, more… Every button press counts and it can be damning to be knocked out of a combo by a mook with a lovetap to the temple. Still, it’s a brilliant set of controls and makes combat interesting and engaging.
The further you progress through the Asylum, the more gadgets you’ll unlock to stash away on your person – up to, and including, a whole new Batcave! That’s handy! It’s a fairly standard set of Bat-accessories, from your basic baterang, to a batclaw to a line-launcher; each will have their situational uses, much like a dungeon item in a Legend of Zelda game. Should your knuckles ache from all the punching you’ve been engaged in, you could use your future technology to solve puzzles around the island to get Riddler trophies – oh yes, it’s a collectibles gimmick in your Batman game. Go get your 100% now, completionists!
AN: You don’t actually carry a Batcave in your belt, that’d be absurd. That just pops up in a cliff and stays there.
The story has you traipse around the island in the search for the Joker, as he berates you over the intercom and makes promises of a party at the end of the night. There actually is a party, in the end, so you don’t need to worry about the Joker lying! You’ll meet some classic Batman baddies and a chance to have a go at them, from Poison Ivy to Mr Freeze, at the end of each ‘section’. As you delve further through the Asylum, you’ll learn what Joker is up to piece-by-piece…
Each boss fight you come to, you’ll need to keep a keen eye on what they’re doing to work out how you’re going to beat them; watch them move and attack, look for an opening and throw a baterang to gain the upper hand. You are a master detective learning on the move and taking out old foes with skill.
My favourite sections through the story are the Scarecrow sequences, which are completely different stages that offer a new challenge. At certain points through your journey, you’ll become infected with Scarecrow’s fear toxin and stumble into a manic world of convenient platforming tropes. To best the Scarecrow, you need to hide from his gaze, sneak around and smack him with the most powerful weapon known to man: the Bat Signal! These sections definitely add a new angle to the game and keep you on your toes.
It’s a bit of a shame that the game is entirely focussed upon the island. It’s understandable, of course, from Rocksteady’s point of view; with any Batman franchise, you start small and escalate. The Asylum fulfilled the adventure, as it needed, with different locations to hide away your villains and a story that took throughout them. But, beyond the halfway mark you will find yourself going back to the same places, albeit in different ways. There are only a few different sections to the island, with a couple of buildings in each. I’m not surprised that the areas were reused and it doesn’t completely ruin the experience for me – Rocksteady definitely upped the ante with their next games, pushing you into Arkham City and then Gotham itself (but I’ll get to that later).
On the ground level, you will probably tire of the repetitive sections of gameplay after a while. Because of Joker’s coup d’état, the inmates have applied some makeup and donned pipes to beat down the Batman, as long as he accidentally and inexpicably stops gliding directly above them – that’s all the mooks you’ll encounter through the game; some have guns, so you punch them first, some have snipers, so you hide from them. Granted, you do get to sneak up and stealth assassinate some plants later but anything human is one of Joker’s.
The final boss battle of Asylum is a little disappointing as well. After a long night of punching dudes, you end up fighting more dudes with quick breaks to punch a bigger dude. It’s not a thrilling finale to the game, as your nemesis spends more of his time gloating and showing off than paying attention to you. I expected more from the ending, but I was glad to finally tick Arkham Asylum off my list.
All in all I really enjoyed Arkham Asylum, for the nitpicking I may have made towards the end there! The combat is fluid and engaging, a different and interesting take on fighting in an action adventure game. I’ve heard that it is a holdover from the earlier versions of Batman as a ‘musical fighting adventure game’, which sounds absurd and probably for the best that they adapted it in a new way. It was certainly a brilliant experience, with twists and turns through the story that kept me hooked in. As I said before, the Scarecrow sections definitely kept me interested.
If you spot Batman: Arkham Asylum on a preowned shelf out there, pick it up. Get Arkham City as well, because I’ll be reviewing that next week!
I’d also just like to take a moment to promote some of the other things I’m up to at the moment. I currently do livestreams on my Twitch channel every Sunday, at 8PM GMT. I’ve been streaming various bits of the Legion Beta so far, but from this Sunday I’ll be running a Dark Souls ‘Deprived’ run – nothing but a club and a pair of pants to protect me from the demons of Lordran! So, please do drop by this weekend if you need a way to wind down.
Don’t worry if you’ve missed any of my streams so far, I’ve got a new YouTube channel created with all of my previous streams (plus some extras) uploaded, so you can catch up – check it out over here. As if that wasn’t enough, you can also follow me on Twitter: @JynReviews – I’ll post updates throughout the week, as I remember, and let you know when my latest post is available.
With all that admin out of the way, I’ll leave you to yourselves – until next week!