Game Review: Batman Arkham Asylum (PS3)

With Arkham Knight due in the next few weeks, it gives me an excuse to revisit the three Arkham games so far – Asylum, City and the prequel Arkham Origins. These are the only decent superhero games out there atm, and I enjoyed all of them immensely, but i suspect Arkham Knight will be the best of the four (how can it fail to be when you can drive the bloody batmobile in it???)

But back to the first game in the series: Arkham Asylum, starring the voices of Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as The Joker. The Joker’s been the main villain in all three Arkham games so far, played twice by Mark Hamill (who has voiced the character many times for TV and animation) and once by veteran voice actor Troy Baker. Hamill is possibly my favourite version of the Joker, he’s more menacing than Nicholson and closer to the comics than Ledger (though both of them gave great intrepretations), and this game’s success is largely due to how well the characters like Joker are realised. Alongside the Joker there are numerous other villains, with Harley Quinn, Scarecrow, Bane, Poison Ivy and Killer Croc all making appearances, and the Riddler is a constant presence throughout, leaving you various puzzles to solve all over Arkham Island as a sideline to the main story. The Asylum itself is a great environment and the game has the best, most comic-book esque atmosphere of the Arkham games so far, helped by its tense soundtrack. The plot is also good, with Batman left stranded in the Asylum, which has been taken over by the inmates and Joker’s thugs, with only a few guards left to help him. Thus, the characters, setting, plot and soundtrack combine to make the first genuinely good Batman game. There is, however, a problem.

While the game was ground-breaking when it first came out, it had a few issues – which its more polished sequels show up all the more clearly. While you have several of Batman’s gadgets available in this game (Batarangs, Batclaws, Explosive Gel etc.) you have half of what the later games give you, and there are fewer enemy types to deal with. Gameplay, as with all the Arkham games, is split into two types – a combat sim beat-em-up where you use Batman’s fighting prowess against various thugs, and a stealth takedown sim where you have to incapicate Joker’s armed followers in various ways (silent takedowns, knocking them off ledges, stringing them up from Gargoyles etc.). While the stealth segments are still good fun (helped by Batman’s ‘detective mode’ vision, which lets you keep track of where various enemies are), the combat isn’t as slick or free-flowing as it is in the sequels (though it’s by no means bad). Some of the boss fights also are somewhat dissapointing (especially Bane’s and the final one with Joker) though this is countered by the nightmare platformer sequences you have to play through when fighting Scarecrow (which are brilliant) and the challenging fight with Poison Ivy (surprisingly the hardest boss in the game). There isn’t any multiplayer, but there are various challenge maps for both stealth and combat which you can lose a couple of hours on.

Ultimately, while this was a breakthrough game and is still an enjoyable Batman sim, it has dated somewhat. For completionists who want to playthrough the entire series or Batman fans who will love the story and characters, it’s a good choice. For the more casual gamer however – i’d recommend starting with prequel Arkham Origins, then playing Arkham City and Knight, as those three all have superior gameplay.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Next: Arkham City – a game which improves in almost every way and introduces Two-Face, Penguin and Ra’s al Ghul to the series…

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