Tag Archives: Batman: Arkham Asylum

Best of 2009 #2: Batman: Arkham Asylum

One thing I can say with absolute certainty is that Batman: Arkham Asylum was the surprise of 2009. I had absolutely no expectations until the reviews started flowing in and, as a Batman fan, I fell in love with it almost immediately upon playing it.

Like Christopher Nolan’s films, it absolutely nailed the source material. It didn’t take the easy route and just copy his work, but rather picked the best bits from a variety of Batman media and created its own mythology to fit the game. It’s a common trick of comic books – good luck negotiating the minefield of different storylines and origins if you’re getting into a long-running character like BatmanĀ – and not many of their gaming adaptations seem to have picked up on it. Not falling into a common trap like that was only the first step, though, and thankfully Rocksteady built a bloody good game on top of it.

Arkham Asylum ticks the same boxes that made me love the Splinter Cell games, with the frequent rooms where you’re isolating and stealthily nabbing enemies as their buddies get more agitated really doing it for me, and I loved the endless character cameos.

It also helped that it was insanely pretty, remaining one of the few Unreal Engine 3 games not to just look like Unreal Tournament III or Gears of War. There was a fantastic sense of place and the plethora of Easter eggs and things to find – a Metroid-esque progression system of opening new areas in old stages when you gain upgraded equipment – that made exploring a joy. Throw in the way that it visually revamps pretty much everything towards the end and you have a massively impressive end product.

What I think it was, ultimately, was that you felt like Batman. If a Batman does this and is otherwise in any way competent I’m going to like it, and Arkham Asylum is more than simply competent. Bring on the sequel.

LTTP: Batman: Arkham Asylum

This game has blown me away. Whatever Rocksteady does next, I’m already interested.

I know I’m only a month or so removed from the game’s release, but that seems like a lifetime these days, when my entire friends list has already deserted this for Forza 3 and FIFA 10. We’re a fickle bunch with short attention spans, us gamers.

But anyway, my initial statement is an accurate summation of how this game makes me feel, now that I’ve got around to playing it as a belated birthday present. I remember saying, back when Zelda: Twilight Princess came out, that it was the first time in ages that I’d found myself losing track of time as I played, and Arkham Asylum has been one of the few games since to have done the same thing. The other day I sat down to play, intending to do so for an hour or so, and ended up stopping four hours later. The next day, five and a half. I started at 7:00 and literally the next time I looked at the clock it was 11:30. It’s scary when it happens, but it’s also the mark of a very, very good game.

Batman: Arkham Asylum

A lot of this game’s inspirations are obvious, but Rocksteady has certainly picked the right ones. Arkham has that same worn-down and dirty – not to mention suspiciously unsanitary for a hospital – look of BioShock’s Rapture, as well as discarded audio diaries to fill in the back stories; it plays to the strengths of Unreal Engine 3 – it’s really one of the best-looking non-Epic uses of the tech, with gorgeous character models and brilliant animation – by making its buildings and architecture look like they come directly from Sera, but still differentiates itself by looking like a Batman game.

Rocksteady’s carefully straddled the line between accessibility and fan service, presenting an almost-complete who’s who of Batman villains – Batman’s no killing policy and the ending leave the possibility for sequels open, of course – with hundreds of nods to famous characters and events in Batman’s past to be found, mainly through the Riddler’s challenges. I’m a bit of a Batman fan and I don’t recall anything that will cause the fanboys to lose too much sleep through the developer taking liberties, and there are a few elements that I know are drawn from the comics but drew confused rolled eyes from laymen who assumed that it was Rocksteady fabricating things.

Coming at the game late on, I’d heard about the saggy portion as the game approached its climax, but I didn’t find it problematic at all. The game moves at a fantastic pace, bringing in new areas and gameplay elements constantly, doing a superb job of giving you new and interesting things to do. A list of gadgets and new moves meant that stealthy confrontations with multiple enemies was something I looked forward to, because the game does a stunning job of making you feel like Batman, using your skills to isolate an enemy and take him down silently as his friends are made ever more anxious and jumpy – look at the scene in Batman Begins when he clears a room of thugs by darting around and hiding in the rafters and imagine how badass it feels to do it yourself.

And the aforementioned all-star cast of the Dark Knight’s nemeses is certainly done justice. Only a couple really strike me as feeling like your typical boss battles, and the rest are of extremely high quality. Without spoiling anything, the encounters with Scarecrow are stunningly well done, and I have high hopes that he’ll be back in the next one.

I heartily recommend this game. It’s running high in my provisional GOTY list and while it’ll do well to top the one to beat, it’s definitely one of this year’s best adventures.