Video Game Review: Batman: Arkham Asylum [PS3, 2009]

Batman: Arkham Asylum [PS3, 2009]

Batman: Arkham Asylum
System: Playstation 3 (also on Xbox 360, Windows and Mac OS X)
Genre: Action/Adventure/Stealth
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Release Date: August 25, 2009

I am not a big comic book or superhero guy, but I have always had a soft spot for Batman. I remember buying Batman trading cards (based on Tim Burton’s 1989 film) when I was a kid, and I even watched the ultra campy (but fun) 1960s TV show when it aired on daytime television. After some poor movie sequels in the 90s, Christopher Nolan revitalized the character with his acclaimed Dark Knight trilogy. This success has translated to the video game world, where we have Batman: Arkham Asylum, easily one of the greatest superhero titles ever made.

Arkham Asylum is gripping from the opening moments, as Batman (voiced by Kevin Conroy) escorts the Joker (Mark Hamill) to the eponymous institution. The Joker is restrained by handcuffs and surrounded by armed guards, but there is still that sinking feeling that shit is about to hit the fan. Sure enough, his accomplice Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) is there to override the security system, allowing the Joker to escape. Now it is Batman’s turn to regain control of the asylum, while also thwarting the Joker’s plan to create an army of Titans that threaten Gotham City. All in a day’s work for ol’ Bats, right?

Fans of the comic books (and TV shows and films and so on) will be pleased to see several recurring characters show up. Bane, Killer Croc and Poison Ivy are just a few villains that our caped hero runs into, and there are references to several others as well. In fact, for those who could use some refreshers on the series, there are dozens of newspaper clippings scattered around the game’s environment that can be picked up to learn about backstories for each character. Even non-fans will find it easy to get sucked into the world of Gotham.

Batman: Arkham Asylum [PS3, 2009]

Arkham Asylum’s gameplay consists of a mix of brawling combat, stealth and exploration. The combat, at first glance, seems almost elementary in execution, as just one button is used to attack. However, this “Freeflow” system is surprisingly well-crafted. Along with standard attacks, Batman has the ability to “stun” an enemy, as well as counter an opposing punch or kick. In order to string together long combos (which boost the overall score), he must flawlessly maneuver between each function, dodging enemy attacks while fighting back at the same time. High scores are eventually rewarded with XP, which can in turn be used to upgrade Batman’s gadgets. Many of these can be used in combat as well, such as the Batarang and Bat-Claw. The amount of depth that this simple brawling system has is outstanding.

The stealth aspects allow Batman to hide in the shadows and use his grappling hook to fly from pillar to pillar. Evasion is important in areas where enemies are rampant, particularly when they are carrying guns. Utilizing a healthy mix of brawling and stealth is the way to go to achieve maximum success.

For those who enjoy exploration, the game offers plenty to whet the appetite. There are countless items scattered throughout the environment, many of which give insight to the game’s backstory (as mentioned earlier). Most intriguing is the addition of a whopping 200+ riddles left behind by the Riddler. In every new area, the puzzle-obsessed villain leaves behind a riddle for Batman to figure out. Many of these are tricky and benefit greatly from the use of Batman’s impressive Detective mode. This well-designed feature highlights objects of interest and allows limited X-ray vision on anyone in sight.

Batman: Arkham Asylum [PS3, 2009]

Quite frankly, there is not a shortage of quality gameplay in Arkham Asylum. As an added bonus, there is even a separate Challenge mode that offers bite-sized levels to boost combat and stealth skills. The amount of options and replay value is staggering.

Although Arkham Asylum is now over two years old, its visuals still hold up well today. The game’s environment is very dark and gritty, not unlike Christopher Nolan’s films. This presents a sense of realism that is very welcome, and this is aided by a stellar voice acting cast. Batman, the Joker and Harley Quinn are all played by their voice actors from Batman: The Animated Series, and the other roles are filled by more-than-adequate veterans on the scene. In terms of aesthetics, everything screams high quality.

I won’t go so far as to say Arkham Asylum is the best superhero game ever made, as many have, but it is certainly up there. The gameplay is near flawless, the story is a worthy entry to the canon, and the presentation is superb. You don’t have to be a fan of the series to appreciate what this game has to offer. As a bargain bin title today, there really is no excuse to miss this.

9/10

Now, onto Arkham City, which I am VERY eager to play.

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20 thoughts on “Video Game Review: Batman: Arkham Asylum [PS3, 2009]

    • Eric says:

      I can’t think of anything better myself, but I am always wary of using the “best” moniker. There’s no denying how good the game is, though.

    • Eric says:

      Indeed. This game, more than any of the movies, shows, etc., has inspired me to dig deeper into the Batman world. I think that is a true testament as to how great Arkham Asylum is.

  1. jsicktheslick says:

    Arkham Asylum is such a fun, Weill crafted game. You got it right saying there’s no short supply of quality gameplay here. I remember spending hours with the game after I beat it to find all the Riddler trophies. This won’t be a game I’ll forget soon, that’s for sure.

    • Eric says:

      Completely agree, man. It’s not often that I take the time to go through and completely indulge with side quests and similar affairs, but I did not want to leave the world of Arkham Asylum at all. It’s just so incredibly well-designed.

    • Samantha says:

      So, I daebted between buying this version and the collector’s edition. This is the edition I chose because I read a line that said Joker is a playable character it said this even for this 360 version of the game. I probably should have done more research, but no Joker is not. Joker is only for PS3, sadly. I was very disappointed to find I had kind of been duped by Amazon’s general explanation of the game. That being said, I did enjoy the game. It was, to be frank, fantastic. Wonderful graphics, smooth gameplay, and multiple levels, made this game very addicting. I look forward to the sequel and hope that Joker (or something of equal value) will be given to 360 owners. Also, *DO NOT* just buy this game for the 3D. It uses green-red lenses and actually made me sick. The game looks okay, but not exactly the best with 3D. This game was still VERY fun. I highly recommend it.

  2. rtm says:

    I’m not a gamer but my hubby was listening to the soundtrack of it the other day and it’s REALLY good! NPR was talking about how the quality of game music are now almost as good as in movies, and there are lots of classical influence in it as well. In any case, if I were a gamer I reckon I’d enjoy this one, Eric.

    • Eric says:

      Good call on the music, Ruth! I neglected to mention Arkham Asylum’s score, which is fantastic and could easily work in a movie. If you like Nolan’s Batman films, I think it’s a safe bet that you would really enjoy this game as well.

  3. fogsmoviereviews says:

    “I won’t go so far as to say Arkham Asylum is the best superhero game ever made, as many have, but it is certainly up there.”

    I would. The only ones I’d put against it would be fighting games, but for those you need two players. This game was so replayable, it was just sick.

    Wondering if you have an alternate that makes you hesitate?

    I’ve literally avoided “Arkham City” as a potential “Death of my blog” game. LOL

    • Eric says:

      Nah, no alternate. I just don’t feel confident declaring the game to be the absolute best since I haven’t played *every* superhero game. You do make a good point, though — there are a lot of great fighting games that use them as characters. Superhero title or not, I think we can all agree that Arkham Asylum is badass.

      And I don’t blame you for skipping out on Arkham City so far. If you thought there were a lot of things to do in Asylum, well, the sequel is VERY intimidating.

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