Batman: Arkham Asylum is a good game. It has won many awards, including the Guinness World Record for the “Most Critically Acclaimed Superhero Game.” Before I go any further, though, I should note that this is not a hard thing to do. Most every superhero game up until this point has been a tie-in of some sort or just outright terrible, and quite often both. This is not the best game I’ve played this year, but it is a ton of fun.
As the name might imply, the game takes place entirely within the confines of Arkham Asylum. The background story describes a complex that was built as a hospital for the criminally insane, but by current times is a super-jail tailored to incarcerate the nemeses of the Caped Crusader. The game opens with Batman subduing and personally delivering his arch-enemy, the Joker, to the prison. The Joker reveals his capture to be a plot to take over the Asylum for his own, which proves to be the ultimate fortress against the Dark Knight. There is no shortage of inmates looking to exact revenge, and most of the major villains associated with Batman lore make appearances at some point.
Speaking of background story, this game has no shortage of it whatsoever. Batman comics have existed since 1939, leaving a gargantuan amount of source material to draw from. Throughout the game, the player will stumble upon patient interviews with each supervillain, messages from the Asylum’s founder, Amadeus Arkham, and plenty of other fun extras. The Riddler, known for his enigmatic nature, has scattered tiny riddles throughout the main areas of the game to get the player to notice the environment more.
The main story is very simple: The Joker is wreaking havoc and Batman must save the day. The guards and doctors have been taken hostage, leaving our hero to navigate some very tricky situations if he is to save everyone. There is no shortage of gizmos to aid his quest, but he needs every single one of them once the minions pick up guns. Batman is incapable of killing, so he has to rely on stealth and cunning to disarm a room of gun-toting henchmen one by one.
Speaking of combat, the hand-to-hand combat system is spectacular. It is an almost rhythm-based affair of crowd control and counter attacks. Executed properly, Batman will beat down a room of 15 burly men with his bare hands with grace and fluidity. As stated, the Dark Knight won’t kill, but that leaves plenty of room for bone-crunching brutality.
Another major selling point of this game is that it looks incredible. The character models are wonderfully overdone in a comic-book style without relying on cell-shaded graphics. The overall feel of the game is very dark, but still allows the player to see everything. Batman is the quintessential stoic, but as the game progresses his suit gets more tattered with each major enemy he faces. Rips in the Kevlar fabric, holes in the cape, and cuts across the iconic cowl definitely show the wear the experience leaves on our hero.
Now, atmosphere is a huge part of the game’s experience, but it fails when it tries to be scary. I was way more afraid of being spotted by a normal henchman with a gun than I was having Killer Croc charging full speed at me. The bosses have rather simple strategies to defeat, and seem to exist more for cinematic value rather than difficulty. Also, the encounters with the Scarecrow are mind-bending, but entirely formulaic. By far the hardest parts of the game are the “predator” levels where stealth is essential.
My only other major gripes are that the game is extremely linear and puzzles never pose more than a moment’s challenge. Throughout the entire game I couldn’t shake the feeling that my hand was being held just a little too tightly.
However, I did begin this review by stating that Batman: Arkham Asylum is a fun game, and I stand by that. I strongly suggest you play through it and finally rest knowing there is such a thing as a good superhero video game.