To say I was excited about the release of Batman: Arkham Knight would be a extreme understatement. I have been a true fan of Rocksteady’s series since the very beginning, and everything about this final chapter in their trilogy–I don’t count Arkham Origins since it wasn’t made by them–just looked glorious.
Having just completed it, I can say that it certainly lived up to the hype–but we’re not here to discuss Knight we’re here to discuss the game that started it all, Arkham Asylum
In 2009, the idea of a new Batman game seemed largely unnecessary. Why? Because any effort before that–of which there were 26, give or take–were, for the most part, utter failures. Each failed to capture the essence of what it was like to be Batman, and without that, there wasn’t much else to go on.
To be fair, given that Batman is a very human superhero, the entertainment value was hard to get spot-on. Yeah, you could beat the snot out of henchmen left and right, but third-person combat games were few and far between and the mechanic had grown stale.
Unfortunately, being a big Batman fan, none of this mattered to me, and I preordered the game immediately upon announcement. Fortunately, however, the game turned out to be pure gold.
Based on the DC comic series of the same name, Arkham Asylum sets off the trilogy of events when Batman captures the Joker and takes him back to his all-to-semi-permanent home, Arkham Asylum. Oddly, as Batman recalls, the Joker seemed all too willing to be captured, and for good reason–it was his goal all along to get Batman into the Asylum and then release every prisoner inside. This, of course, includes the famous heavy hitters in Batman’s rogues gallery (i.e. Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze, The Scarecrow, Bane, Killer Croc, etc.), and everything just spins out of control from there–in, arguably, the best way possible.
Shortly after Arkham Asylum debuted, I had managed to complete it, and review it for my college’s newspaper. Having looked back on that review prior to writing this shorter one, I found that my opinion on the game hasn’t changed all that much–and that’s not a bad thing.
Firstly, and most importantly, the gameplay innovations introduced in Arkham Asylum changed third-person brawlers forever. Hand-to-hand combat in this game is advertised as “free-form” with an emphasis on bat gadgets and the environment around you. Since every area you enter is usually only slightly different than the last, you will have an endless supply of ideas on how to bring the fear down on all the hapless baddies between boss fights.
As a salute to the long-term fans of the caped crusader, the tale is not only penned by Paul Dini–the creative force behind the acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series, but voice actors Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and Arleen Sorkin reprise their roles as Batman/Bruce Wayne, The Joker, and Harley Quinn, respectively.
Arkham Asylum also introduces elements of the survival-horror genre You may be the world’s greatest detective with an arsenal of gadgets at your disposal, but you really do feel lost and alone in the strange halls of Arkham. Never knowing exactly what’s around each turn really keeps things on edge for most of the game.
Of course, no game is perfect, and as close as this one comes, even Batman isn’t above some criticism.
While the fighting is intuitive, the AI is fairly stupid and will frequently lose track of you if you swing to a gargoyle, even if they are still looking right at you. In addition, you’ll likely end up spending the majority of the game in “Detective Mode” as it allows you the most information on the areas around you–but the trade-off is the enemies are reduced down to skeletons, and everything is just sort of, well, blue.
Also, trying to use a 2D map to navigate a 3D world is increasingly difficult and will lead to Batman getting lost and back-tracking frequently to get past barriers when there are typically much simpler solutions.
But if those are the biggest complaints overall, its clear you’re doing something right.
Why You Should Play It
This may seem like an odd reason, but because it only helps you appreciate just how amazing the two sequels, Arkham City and Arkham Knight, truly are.
When Asylum was the only game out I truly believed it was the closest to perfection I’d ever experience in a superhero game–and I was gladly proven wrong by City and then again by Knight. The amount of time, love, and dedication that Rocksteady has put into each of these titles shows, and that’s why, for the most part, they are must-plays on most people’s list.
In fact, the trilogy as a whole is an absolute must-play in terms of the superhero game genre, and Arkham Asylum–while dated at this point–is really just an absolute joy to play from beginning to end. Plus, if you’ve never heard Mark Hamill’s Joker or Kevin Conroy’s Batman you’re doing yourself a disservice, and even if you have, why would you keep yourself from a chance to hear more of them?