Iggy’s World: Batman Arkham Asylum
The month of Arkham begins with Batman: Arkham Asylum, but you already know that from reading the title of this post. It’s time to celebrate the demented mental institution which is now a immensely popular franchise, but now I will take a look at it’s origins (no not that Origins, that’s two weeks from now) as Rocksteady attempts to bring The Dark Knight into the sandbox genre. It’s also worth nothing that prior to Arkham Asylum’s release Batman didn’t exactly have the greatest track record within the realm of games. So did Rocksteady find the secret formula to make a great Batman game? (spoilers five games later and I think they did.)
When it comes to licensed games I have one big criteria that needs to be met. The game has to feel like an extension of the property but weaved into objective based gameplay. Obviously when translating one form of media to another not everything can be replicated 1 to 1, but keeping that in spirit to the original source is key. After playing through Arkham Asylum it’s clear that Rocksteady kept the original spirit of Batman in mind, delivering a playable Batman experience like never before.
It all begins with the story with a classic rendition of Batman Vs. The Joker with the latter hatching a scheme that has Batman hunting him down on the ruined island that hosts Arkham Asylum. Even though the structure of the story flows like any normal game would (go here, grab this, go here, then boss fight) the performances by Mark Hamill, Kevin Conroy bring their chemistry frpm Batman: The Animated series making the story feel more engaging than it had the right to. It’s a typical cat and mouse game between the caped crusader and the clown prince of crime, weaved elegantly into contrived video game tropes. Outside of a few divergent boss encounters the pacing is constantly moving forward in a way mirroring Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. Arkham Asylum’s story has a thrilling start a engaging middle act, all ending with a bombastic finish (excluding one main factor). Arkham Asylum’s story once again proves that simplicity prevails over something convoluted.
Enough about the story being able to play as Batman is why a majority purchased this game. Thankfully the core style of game for Arkham Asylum is split into three different types of games. Combat, stealth, and collectathon? Yes I ushered a word from the late 90’s that most major publishing studios want you to forget about. As much as I want to endorse how the free flow combat system makes the player feel like they are the Dark Knight after beating down a horde or thugs. Sadly the combat lost it’s luster quickly as each thug encounter became repetitive and by the end of the game, a plain chore. Yes they did replicate Batman being a badass, but it does become stale after while as the game offers only an attack button and a counter button. In compliance with the combat, Batman does have a upgrade system that allows for more stealth options and more body armor just in case. Sadly they felt merely obligatory and because you’re playing as Batman, it’s difficult to feel that sense of growth. Least the new gadgets were cool.
The aspect of that took me by surprised was how well done the stealth sections were. Here the combination of not only feeling like you’re Batman, while playing as him come to fruition. Finding different and unique ways to stop the different thugs who are patrolling the area, while also not being caught provide great tension and even greater satisfaction when you complete a stealth section. Add in the great atmospheric music that plays and you have the best aspect of the game.
I mentioned “collecathon” and one would never guess that a word like that would show up in a Batman game. However due to Riddler’s shenanigans in order to track down Edward Nigma, Batman has to not only find various Riddle trophies sprinkled on the island, but in keeping in touch with Riddler’s gimmick you have to solve various riddles that you need to zoom in and examine. Thankfully this is completely optional but here is one can actually feel like the master detective and some of the puzzles were hidden extremely well, but never vague. Same goes for solving the various riddles. It’s a fun diversion during the game or if the player is so inclined a great post game experience.
Sadly there was one aspect of Arkham Asylum that left me dissatisfied was the boss battles with the exception of Scarecrow. Boss fights offer little challenge and they each follow the same basic formula leading to some boring and in some cases tedious boss fights. Even a standout like Killer Croc’s feels tedious after the first five minutes.
Arkham Asylum isn’t the greatest looking game on the consoles but it does capture the moodiness of Arkham with the gothic architecture and dim lighting. It feels like you’re adventuring through a Batman comic (despite that you really want to be Batman in Gotham). The musical score ebbs and flows with the action rising when needed and blends with the back round. It’s not memorable but it work within the games world, which is just fine. Not every game score needs to be remembered outside of it to be good. There are a few issues of bad pop in when moving from one area to the next and the rag doll physics on the fallen thugs is off putting to say the least.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is easily one of the best games of the previous generation of console. Proving the a license game can stay true to the source while also still being fun to play. Chances are you’ve already played this but if you haven’t then go out and buy this immediately. This game is a must own for any Batman fans as well as people who have been curious to about the Dark Knight.