Review – Batman: Arkham Asylum

September 2, 2009 — Leave a comment

Originally published in The Daily Toreador.

I’ve got to be honest. I’m not the biggest fan of “Batman.”

Sure, I loved “The Dark Knight” and have read several of the comics throughout my life, but he’s never been my go-to comic book hero. I prefer heroes that are more super, like Superman, Spider-Man, Iron Man … I guess you could say I’m more of a Marvel dude than DC Comics.

But those other heroes? Video games based on them have never really measured up to “Batman: Arkham Asylum.”

The game, which is available now for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC, takes the best aspects of a lot of games and fuses those to the things that make the Batman mythos so compelling for so many people. There’s some great brawling for the fighting sections, some great stealth elements, great exploration and great storytelling.

So let’s start with the story. “Arkham Asylum” begins immediately after Batman has captured everyone’s favorite villain, The Joker. He’s taking Joker to the famous Arkham Asylum psychiatric institute outside of Gotham City, but he’s worried that Joker gave up a little too easily.

These fears are far from unfounded, as Joker immediately springs a trap and locks everybody in Arkham – Batman included – with no way out and no clue as to Joker’s ultimate game plan. The only thing that’s clear is that the inmates are now literally running the asylum.

The story is mostly told through cinematic cutscenes, but there are also quite a few sections where Joker talks to you through televisions and speakers around the asylum as you explore, and you can pick up recordings of famous Batman villains for a little backstory. It all comes together in a nice narrative package that works really well, even if none of the elements are exactly original.

You’ll be facing off against plenty of Batman bad guys that even casual fans such as myself can recognize. Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow and Bane among them. You are also in constant contact with The Riddler, who has placed a large variety of riddles and challenges around Arkham for you to complete.

The game is very dark and atmospheric – something most people loved about “The Dark Knight” film. Rather than Christian Bale, however, the game uses fan favorite voices from the old cartoons. Kevin Conroy is the voice of Batman, and Mark “Luke Skywalker” Hamill pulls off a brilliant performance as The Joker.

Gameplay is nice and varied, and is truly greater than the sum of its parts. The stealth gameplay won’t beat “Splinter Cell” and the combat is no “God of War,” but they’re certainly good enough, and you’re never caught doing either for more than you’d like. Everything seems to be balanced extremely well.

You also gain experience points as you fight and explore, allowing you to upgrade different skills and abilities to help you around the asylum.

The game uses an open world which allows for plenty of exploration. This is complemented perfectly by the Riddler’s challenges, which are genuinely fun to seek out and encourage players to find neat little details that the developers put into the game.

The average player will probably complete “Arkham Asylum” in about 10-12 hours, but the Riddler challenges and Challenge Modes can keep you busy for a while after that.

It’s not very often that a video game based on a licensed property is any good, but “Arkham Asylum” isn’t just good. It’s fantastic. Even if you’re not a very big Batman fan, there’s a good chance that you’ll find plenty to love in this game.

Britton Peele

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Freelance video game critic for sites like GameSpot and GamesRadar. Amateur fantasy author.

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