Over the last few years, thanks to a selection of fantastic films, Batman is once again at the forefront of our imagination. Yet in the gaming world, the caped crusader hasn’t truly had a title worthy of his epic name etched on the front cover. At least until Batman: Arkham Asylum anyway.
Set in the titular Arkham Asylum, where all of Gotham cities meanest, most sadistic, and downright crazy criminals are kept well hidden, you start the game helping lock the Joker up once again. Unsurprisingly things take a fairly swift turn for the worst, and you’ve a good 12 hours of exploration, combat, and goon pummelling to take in before those closing credits roll.
Appearing like a traditional third-person title - though with Batman mysteriously way off to the left which can feel a bit fiddly for the first half hour - the Dark Knight obviously has quite a few tricks up his sleeve in order to bring peace back to Arkham Island.
The first, and most often used, is Detective Mode. A quick stab of the left bumper and the world will start to glow, with bits of the landscape you can fiddle with suddenly glowing orange. Now instead of being totally lost as to how to get out of a room, you have a nice glowing grate just waiting to be ripped off the wall. Nice.
Similarly in Detective Mode, your enemies will show up bright and bold too. If they’re simply waiting to give you a slap across the face, they’ll glow blue. If they’re packing a hefty projectile weapon, they’ll shine red.
Thankfully Batman has all kinds of goodies to keep these criminal sorts in check. First and foremost, you’re packing a whole heap of moves and counters in order to take out these goons. With only a couple of buttons used to attack, counter, and stun, the action is fast and free flowing. It is reminiscent of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which packed a fantastic set of brawling mechanics. Yet it feels somewhat tighter, and a whole heap more fun too.
It’s not just about the power in your fists of course. The game drip-feeds a long line of special pieces of weaponry and machinery to utilise against the criminal hordes, allowing you to clear rooms exactly as you wish. You can, if you want, go in swinging your fists like a madman. Or you could treat things like Solid Snake, and get lots of stealthy silent takedowns. Or you can leap from the skies, silence an enemy, and get right back to the rooftops before anyone realises you were there. There’s so much potential, and although the game does introduce ways to narrow your selection as it gets towards the latter stages, the fighting is truly brilliant.
Now although this might be Batman, and the idea of comics to some means "for kids", Arkham Asylum isn’t for little Timmy. This is pretty dark and adult. The language can be colourful, the humour leaning towards the psychotic, and some of the recorded tapes you discover (much like BioShock) certainly urge towards some incredibly murky stuff going on in Arkham Asylum. There’s a lot of story to discover, with lots of extra info for those willing to go out of their way to explore a little more of the world. And it’s all top class writing, and voiced excellently.
The only minus point against the whole package is the somewhat dull boss battles. After the free flowing moves with normal enemies, suddenly finding yourself in the good old gaming tradition of jump, run, hit, repeat, does irritate. It’s a shame, but these battles don’t take up more than a modicum of your total playing time.
Plus, to add to all this lengthy single player story mode, you have well over 200 Riddler riddles to solve, ranging from finding hidden trophies, to actively discovering the answers to actual riddles. As well as all that, there are the Challenge rooms, which offer a wide range of gaming, with leader boards ready to show just how "Batman" you are in comparison to the rest of the world.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is the closest us gamers have come so far to feeling like the Batman. All the detective, fighting, and gadget mechanics are there just as we’d have hoped for. And it’s all wrapped up in such a fantastically brilliant story that you simply can’t fail but fall in love. Highly recommended indeed.