"t's safe to say that Arkham Asylum is carried by the Joker. He isn't just your main adversary — his presence is EVERYWHERE. Due to all the monitors and stuff that's part of Arkham's security system, you'll see his face and listen to his taunts everywhere you visit. If he's not verbally ripping common thugs a new one for their inability to take you out, he'll be cackling over the next deathtrap that's been placed between you and him."
Arkham Asylum is one of those places that could only exist in a fantasy world. I mean, if you have a slew of deranged geniuses with the cunning and resourcefulness to break out of any jail at any time, why would you try to collect them all in one place? Predictably, inmates escape on a regular basis to go on crime sprees which leads to Arkham looking more like a place these guys visit when they need a vacation from murder and robbery than an actual institution. One could say that the only person who truly benefits from this nuthouse is Batman. Since he has a obsessive desire to bring criminals to justice, the fact that guys like the Joker, Riddler, Scarecrow, etc. break out whenever they feel like it keeps the Dark Knight busy and gives him a reason to exist.
Or, in the case of Batman: Arkham Asylum, the baddies just take over the place. After returning the Joker for probably the thousandth time, Batman can do little more than watch his archenemy effortlessly escape captivity and instigate a full-scale revolt. All the Caped Crusader can do is take Arkham back piece by piece, as the cliche "the inmates are running the asylum" has become a reality.
It's safe to say that Arkham Asylum is carried by the Joker. He isn't just your main adversary -- his presence is EVERYWHERE. Due to all the monitors and stuff that's part of Arkham's security system, you'll see his face and listen to his taunts everywhere you visit. If he's not verbally ripping common thugs a new one for their inability to take you out, he'll be cackling over the next deathtrap that's been placed between you and him. Either way, everything going on in this game revolves around the Joker, which creates a sort of joyous insanity permeating Arkham Asylum. As Honestgamers' resident lunatic, I appreciated this.
Another thing I liked was the combat system. Batman can approach enemies in two different ways. Against unarmed thugs (or those with melee weapons), you'll likely enter "manly brawler" mode, wading into their midst to deliver one beating after another. Perhaps to be tricky, you'll use a Batarang to knock one guy down. The really dangerous shock rod-wielding dudes can be neutralized by using your Bat-Claw to disarm them. In the comic books, Batman rarely was remotely tested by the average generic criminal and you'll likely find this to be the case for much of Arkham Asylum, as well. The enemy has a distinct numbers advantage, but you'll be so superior to them in combat that, at times, it seems carelessness is far more dangerous to the average player than anything else.
Give these guys guns and that all changes. No matter how good a brawler Batman is, a few bullets will tear him to shreds. This forces players to take advantage of the game's stealth elements. A lot of these foes are met in large rooms with all sorts of hiding places. You can remove grates and vents to scurry under floors and through walls. Also, a number of gargoyles are conveniently placed high in these rooms, allowing you to quickly grapple onto them and jet away from land-locked foes in an instant. These battles were extremely fun examples of psychological warfare. I'd swing from one gargoyle to another until one criminal separated himself from the others. In an instant, I'd glide-kick him off his feet and quickly deliver a knock-out blow before zipping back up to my perch. The remaining criminals would gradually get more and more terrified as I depleted their numbers. It was an entertaining game of cat-and-mouse where I'd whittle away at the thugs and watch them lose their nerve until they started shooting at shadows. Good fun!
As the game progresses, Batman gets new ways to take out his opposition. You get experience as you progress and earn new powers with each level gained. You can upgrade your armor, so Batman can take more punishment; throw multiple Batarangs and enhance his other tools. While I didn't find many of these upgrades (except for the life meter additions) particularly necessary, a number of them added to the fun -- particularly one which gives you the ability to snare any criminal walking underneath a gargoyle you're perched on and string him up to the thing.
Arkham Asylum has a bit more going for it than just finding inventive ways to kick the crap out of somebody. Occasionally, you'll have to track down a villain or hostage. To do so, Batman enters "detective mode", which bleaches the screen with a bluish tint. Not only does this make things like the alcohol fumes of a corrupt cop visible, so you can hunt him down...but it also assists in combat. You'll be able to see the locations of enemies through walls AND determine whether they have guns or not.
Here's where I started to have a few issues with Arkham Asylum, though. Detective Mode is useful...VERY useful (especially if you're relatively new to the game). And so, the overall excellence of the graphics were blunted greatly for me. If you ask me what this game looks like, odds are the first thing out of my mouth would be, "Uh...it was blue. Very blue." It was just a minor annoyance, but I didn't like how a feature that makes strategic combat easier and is supposed to be used to direct you to certain objectives also served to detract from my enjoyment.
More distressing to me was how this was a very linear game that didn't utilize as much of the Batman mythos as I'd like. Virtually all of the optional stuff you can do involves scouring Arkham on a scavenger hunt for the Riddler. You find his icons and solve his riddles...he insults your intelligence. This goes on for the entire game. The con's snide commentary about my successes was entertaining, but this aspect of the game was pretty forgettable.
Many of the Riddler's riddles revolved around minor Batman villains such as Prometheus and the Tweedledee/Tweedledum duo. After playing the game, I found myself wishing that some of these characters played an actual role in the game. Having everything revolve around the Joker was awesome as far as creating a demented vibe -- it's not so great when only a small handful of other villains play any sort of a role and Batman is spending 90 percent of his time battering nameless goofs. And when I spend a good deal of time chasing Harley Quinn through a building, fighting off wave after wave of thugs, I WILL be disappointed when my eventual "victory" over her is delivered via cinema. The few villains that showed up didn't let me down (with one in particular making a trio of "awesome acid trip" appearances), but as I played through the game, I did think it would have been nice to replace Generic Thug Battles #48, #123 and #187 with a few minor comic book antagonists serving as mini-bosses to mix things up a bit.
I'd describe Batman: Arkham Asylum as the perfect rental...but not a game I'd want to own for the purpose of playing through it regularly. The presentation is slick and the diabolical glee the Joker takes in leading Batman around the island worked to carry me through a very entertaining game. But the Riddler's scavenger hunt didn't interest me and I eventually got bored with having non-stop fights against nameless grunts...while only five or six actual foes of the Caped Crusader deigned to make more than a cameo. It was a great joyride, but not one I have much desire to take again.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (February 17, 2010)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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