Batman is a universally revered spectacle. From his humble beginnings in DC Comics’ detective series to his now widely-acclaimed hard-edged persona at the cinema, the Dark Knight is easily recognized as one of the primary character archetypes that continues to recreate the comic culture. It would only make sense that a game such as Batman: Arkham Asylum would satisfy our lust for the darkness within the Caped Crusader. Despite the multitude of comparably lesser titles that have come and gone, this digital iteration of the popular comic book icon is by far one of the most memorable excursions for Gotham City’s lurking nighttime defender and some of the most notorious villains to ever inhabit Arkham Asylum – in those respects, the game is simply that good.
Without spoiling a great deal of the plot, it revolves around the Joker giving Batman one hell of a night at Arkham Asylum, creating a “genuine Batman experience” which lasts around eight to nine hours. That may not sound long, this digital adventure favors quality over quantity and never skimps on the good stuff. There’s a good balance between action, progression, and stealth mechanics to keep things intuitive and exciting. A fellow editor pointed out the similarities to both the Splinter Cell and Metroid Prime series, both masters of their respective genres and about as high a compliment one could give for a game that easily stands among them.
Instances such as combat require some degree of timing where repeatedly pressing the attack button is standard, but you occasionally must counter, stun, or evade oncoming attacks to maintain the flow of battle and use some finesse. The stealth elements make up for some of the shortcomings and also generate that authentic Dark Knight feel, depending on the situation and how you execute your stalking methods. Taking out a room of thugs might be as simple as waiting above and silently stringing them up or swooping in to land upon an unsuspecting tyrant. Even setting up traps with explosive gel or luring someone within your range with a stray batarang has its merits, especially when these tools and abilities can be gradually upgraded throughout your exploration of the asylum.
The campaign delivers plenty of things do to when exploring every nook and cranny of the criminal institution where various puzzle elements also round out the package. You’ll make extensive use of your detective vision which highlights enemies, items, and most environmental clues, and a plethora of gadget-specific puzzles to guarantee that backtracking is recommended if you want to fully complete the game. The standalone Challenge modes also keep things moderately interesting if only for the joy of knocking out swarms of inmates to meet certain objectives.
What makes the Batman universe truly come alive is the game’s presentation via both visuals and dialogue. The properties and locales within Arkham have probably never looked better than this and the character details look even better – the Joker’s chaotic face and the mentally warped aspects of the Scarecrow’s world are portrayed in such a way that would fit neatly right into the material’s nightmare-inducing comic realm.
Graphically, the game looks astounding in every sense of the word, as the Dark Knight’s world (or at least the asylum) has been meticulously recreated in stunning gothic detail. The characters look so impressive you probably won’t mind when the game takes over with the occasional cinematic. The vocal talents heard depict a well-tailored script from Batman: The Animated Series fame Paul Dini, as Mark Hamill, Kevin Conroy, and Arleen Sorkin reprising their roles from the animated series. What you end up with are performances from actors who truly care for these roles and that passion is certainly worth listening to. In short, much love and respect was put into making this game look and sound exactly as it should, and it does.
This review would be amiss if some mention of just how reverential and appropriate this game treats the famed Batman mythos, which to be fair have their own history of spotty treatment in various media incarnations. From the opening cinema to the various bits scattered throughout, Arkham Asylum is a work that treats this character and his history with such respect that its difficult to imagine any fan being disappointed with the results. The entire production is dripping with loving and devout Bat-admiration, culled from the character’s long history (with an obvious preference for the superlative Animated Series) to create a new chapter that fits comfortably alongside the very best interpretations of Bob Kane’s iconic and complicated hero.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is exactly what a comic hero-based game should be about. Not only do you get a convincing portrayal of the Dark Knight but everything else is so lovingly crafted that it is outstanding for what it is, even going as far as wondering if the premise for this title wasn’t originally intended for something else. Regardless almost everything is impressive in its own right and if you consider yourself a Bat-fanatic it wouldn’t make sense to miss out on, especially if the majority of prior games have disappointed. Most will find this the penultimate interactive Batman, while others may judge it the best licensed game ever. Decide for yourselves, but whatever you do, play.