I’ve been bred to be a Bat-Fan ever since I was three months old, when I saw Tim Burton’s Batman in theaters, and from there my love for the titular character took hold in my consciousness. As with any deep-rooted fandom, the Batman license has given us a plethora of video games over the years, but none have been quite as excellent as Rocksteady Studios’ Batman: Arkham series. Rocksteady really took a deep dive and presented what fans love most about the Dark Knight’s corner of the DC Universe: compelling storytelling, fascinating villains, over the top action, cool gadgetry, and Batman kicking ass. Top that off with an innovative combat system and Easter eggs galore, you have an instant classic.
I loved Arkham Asylum since the first time I played it, back when it launched in 2009. Naturally, when I heard that Asylum and City were given remasters for current-gen consoles, I had to get them for my Xbox One. I have a notoriously large catalog of incomplete or never-even-started games, so these remasters fell by the wayside while I played newer titles. But as summer kicked in and new releases began to dwindle, Batman: Arkham Asylum took hold of my attention all over again.
Batman: Arkham Asylum’s story centers around the titular loony bin that Batman fans are highly familiar with. Upon bringing Joker back after having previously escaped, Batman is roped into a whole new showdown with his arch nemesis. Joker unexpectedly escapes yet again, and has set into play a master plan that involves a large portion of villains in the Caped Crusader’s rogues gallery. The game takes place over one long night as players control Batman in order to stop Joker from thrusting Gotham into mayhem and chaos, the two things Joker loves most of all aside from fighting with Batman. Thus, our story is set in motion, and the Bat of Gotham must work his way through the various parts of Arkham Asylum to take down Joker, endless amounts of henchmen, and other super villains.
Arkham Asylum is an amalgam of a few particular pieces of Batman’s history, most notably Batman: The Animated Series. Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and Arleen Sorkin reprise their legendary roles as Batman, the Joker, and Harley Quinn respectively, and bring us back to those voices we remember hearing so often after school on Kids WB. Make no mistake though, this is not a kids’ game, with blood and horrific Arkham patient interview tapes that serve as collectibles to be found and picked up around Arkham. It’s almost as if the game is a continuation or a “lost story” that could have taken place in the same universe as TAS, but one that has also grown older and more mature with itsoriginal audience.
Other than The Animated Series, Batman: Arkham Asylum also takes influence from a 1989 comic titled Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth with a similar premise. If you haven’t read this comic, I highly suggest you do so, fan of the Arkham game series or not.
One of the first things players will notice in the Batman: Return to Arkham – Arkham Asylum remaster is how pretty the game looks. It was beautiful when it released back in 2009, but with updated graphics for our current-gen consoles, it looks as if it was designed specifically for newer systems and not too far behind Arkham Knight. The lighting is used to tremendous effect, from dimly lit caverns to white lights in the morgue, the realistic lighting in Arkham Asylum really immerses players into the derelict setting.
This feeds into how the Arkham series has always been one of my favorites on a stylistic level. I’ll never get over the way Batman’s cape flaps in the breeze while standing on top of a clock tower perched over Arkham Mansion. The graphics aren’t hyper-realistic, but the game finds its footing with a mix between realism and bringing comic book aesthetics to life.
You could throw in any story, new or rehashed, into a Batman game and people will play it. What keeps players coming back for more with the Arkham games is the fighting. Asylum’s combat system, which continues to grow and become further improved with each subsequent entry, just works. It’s simple to execute, yet utilizing it to its fullest effect can be complicated, and rightfully so. At it’s most basic level, there are two main buttons to use: one for attacking, one for countering. At its most complex, the player can use Batman’s many gadgets in the midst of battle, relying on the controllers triggers being used simultaneously with the face buttons, along with other button combinations for more devastating knock-out attacks to keep villains down for good. This style of combat has since been dubbed “free flow combat”, which is an apt name. Once you get the a feel for it, it’s completely rhythm based, and flows perfectly, allowing you to feel like the Batman himself.
At its core, Arkham Asylum is an action/adventure game. It incorporates player exploration akin to something like Legend of Zelda or Metroid where you might not be able to reach everything inside of a particular area at the time being. Players might need to come back later after they receive an upgrade to or after finding the line launcher gadget in order to 100% complete that specific area. Equally important, I believe, is Batman: Arkham Asylum’s influence on other games such as Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, Deadpool, and even the upcoming Spider-Man title exclusive to the PS4. There is something to be said about a game that rubs off on the industry in such a way that other creative forces take that into account and work into new games.
But perhaps my favorite part of Arkham Asylum is the Riddler side quest. He has placed riddles all over the asylum and its grounds. These come in the form of cleverly hidden Riddler trophies, or borderline maddening environmental puzzles. These riddles are where fan service and Easter eggs come into play. You may be tasked with solving a riddle asking you to find the Penguin’s iconic top hat and umbrella, but the game won’t tell you that outright. It will give you a one or two sentence riddle, sometimes vague, sometimes obvious, that you must deduce using your intellect or knowledge of Batman mythos. I find myself having the most fun with these, because as big a fan of Batman as I am, it’s nice to see these references to characters that didn’t make it into the game, both popular and obscure. Examples include Two Face, Firefly or even Maxie Zeus. It’s just tons of fan service done in a way that doesn’t interrupt the flow of the story whatsoever, and these are completely optional.
What makes Batman different from most any super hero out there is that he is the World’s Greatest Detective. Even though the story boils down to a run of the mill supervillain/Joker scheme, there is a level of mystery to it. While this mechanic was later refined and improved on in later Arkham games, Detective Mode is an interesting and plausible tool used for uncovering clues and advancing the plot. At times, you will be tasked with utilizing Detective Mode in various iterations, most notably when following footsteps, or even a particular tobacco that Commissioner Gordon uses to track down his location. Players can also use this mode at any time they wish. While there are arguments to be made that Detective Mode makes the game easier, as you can use it to pin-point Riddler trophies or even see enemies through walls, this is a tool that seems completely at home in Batman’s arsenal.
There’s a reason why the Arkham series have become modern classics in the eyes of gamers. Open worlds, perfect combat, interesting collectibles, and classic stories written by Batman legends all lend an equal hand in making each entry into this series masterful. But it all started with Batman: Arkham Asylum, and without it, we would never have received what many believe to be the best in the series, and arguably one of the greatest games of all time in Batman: Arkham City. I have beaten this game 100% multiple times, yet it keeps me coming back for more as not only an avid and passionate Batman fan, but as a fan of video games. If you have never played Arkham Asylum or any of the games in the series, I implore you, please do yourself a favor and pick it up. If this was a review, I have zero qualms about giving it a perfect score.
I’m working on finishing the game to 100% for the first time on my Xbox One, with only the Riddler challenges left to complete. Batman: Arkham Asylum is a treat, and is what has been keeping me busy lately while I wait for the fall video game season to kick into gear. Let Geeks+Gamers know your thoughts on Arkham Asylum and the rest of the games in the Arkham series. What have you been playing lately to hold you over until new releases come out? We’d love to know! For everything video games, comics, Batman, and more, keep your eyes locked on Geeks+Gamers!