Hobby Hole: Batman: Arkham Asylum Review (PS3)

Note: There should have been a completely different post here, but due to technical difficulties (aka, leaving the file in a place impossible for me to access), I'm posting this instead. So, next week there'll be two separate updates. Fun stuff, this technology.

It’s been just over four years, and nearly two sequels, since Batman: Arkham Asylum dropped, but it was only recently I delved into its immersive and groundbreaking—at least in regard to superhero videogames—storyline thanks to a hefty PlayStation Plus discount that dropped the title to the ungodly price of $4.99. After hearing such wondrous praise regarding the Arkham series from gaming sites and a number of my peers, such a massive discount was hard to pass up.

After recently claiming the game’s Platinum trophy, I’m certainly glad I didn’t.

Arkham Asylum manages what nearly every similar genre title has failed: it creates a plausible situation stripping you of all your powers and resources while simultaneously restricting your environment (though the play area, an island segmented into four locations with their own unique settings, never felt small) to a serviceable scope without ever feeling forced. Too often I’ve been left wondering why, when playing as a character like Spider-Man for instance, I couldn’t simply swing across the city to escape danger or douse someone in web fluid and forget about them. With Arkham Asylum, developer Rocksteady not only allowed me to play and evolve the Batman I always imagined from the comics and movies, but through the innovative presentation, for the first time I felt as though I was Batman.

Although the effective combat and brilliant use of weaponry promoted this effect, much of the immersion was no doubt due to the abundance of voice acting, most notably that delivered by series veterans Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill—arguably the definitive voices of Batman and Joker, respectively, for the last few decades—as well as Arleen Sorkin (Harley Quinn). Coupled with an animation style that fluidly combines the realism of The Dark Knight, the absurdity of The Animated Series and the dark, nearly subdued nature of the comic proper, Arkham Asylum’s presentation is easily its best feature.

The storyline, which sees Batman struggle against the Joker and a number of other adversaries to regain control of the asylum, is relatively strong, managing to nimbly walk the fine line between redundancy and brevity. Though some sections may feel like momentary diversions from the main quest or appear unnecessarily bloated, each serves to promote and evoke the threat behind the game’s events.

Outside of the main plot, Arkham Asylum will devour your time with three sets of challenges: Riddler, Combat and Predator. Riddler Challenges are abundant in the game proper: a combination of hidden trophies, Jeopardy-like riddles, character interviews (offering several more doses of the fantastic voice acting) and more. Most can be found easily and naturally as the story progresses, though several are quite obscure and difficult to find.

One note: due to the prevalence of Riddler Challenges throughout Arkham Asylum (there are 240 total, with one additional hidden item), I found myself playing the majority of the game in “detective mode.” This visual mode, accessible from the beginning with just the push of a button, bathes the game in a drab blue, makes Batman’s eyes appear almost demon-like, and highlights hidden areas and objects in bright orange. While not necessarily a true detraction from the game, it often removed me from the experience in a way playing through the asylum’s intended atmosphere wouldn’t have. This could have been rectified, and avoided, by offering the mode only in the latter half as a means of re-analyzing locales already visited (something already forced upon the player, as many of the Riddler Challenges are only accessible after late-game upgrades).

Your reward for completing Riddler Challenges, besides several shiny new trophies, is the addition of Combat and Predator challenges. Though they repackage some of the moments from the game—especially the Predator challenges, which are practically lifted beat-for-beat—the addition of unique objectives (such as ripping the floor out from two thugs at once or knocking an enemy over a ledge in the Predator challenges, and reaching high scores and combos in the Combat challenges) ramped up the difficulty. However, in my experience the Predator challenges are those more difficult, especially the extreme versions, which removed the aid of gargoyles (with which Batman can easily swing away and avoid detection). Though admittedly it took a few plays to finish some Combat challenges, only one provided any semblance of true difficulty as it was an immediate loss if all enemies weren’t defeated in a surprisingly short time limit.

As mentioned above, combat felt very Batman-like, with a combination of stealth, outright badassery and unique tools to approach a confrontation in any number of ways. It also rewards those with patience, as mashing the attack button (which I attempted from the very start) only serves to break combos—mastery of which is absolutely required by game’s end—and lead to an early death, while planning the perfect stealth takedown may take a few failed attempts or, at the very least, a momentary pause and contemplative assessment. I do wish I had reason to utilize the variety of tools more often; as it was, several were virtually ignored while a few others seemed constantly employed.

Arkham Asylum comes off entirely enjoyable, if somewhat belabored with establishing its universe. There are dozens of Easter Eggs and cameos strewn throughout the game, and Rocksteady could easily develop several of these into future sequels. One, Batman: Arkham City, has already been released while a prequel, Batman: Arkham Origins, is forthcoming. You can bet I won’t be waiting another four years to play these.

TLDR Summary: Batman: Arkham Asylum is a great game, though its dependence on “detective mode” and world building, as well as some repetitious content and combat, detract from its perfection.

Hobby Hole score: 9.1/Fantastic