Timmo Tuesdays: A Review of Arkham Asylum
The stars aligned: the new Batman movie was about to come out, a dirt cheap Steam sale appeared, and I’d been long overdue to play Batman: Arkham Asylum since it was released. The action adventure pits Batman against the Joker, who has seized control of the island fortress prison known as Arkham.
“And me without my bat-umbrella!” (Source)
There’s a nice amount of exploration as Batman navigates the island. I wouldn’t call it a sandbox game, but there’s still a sense of freedom as you move around sub-areas on a larger map. The strong atmosphere has this feel that reminds me of the cartoon from the 90’s, and even though there’s a mish-mash of villains each with their own themes, it comes together to feel natural. Also most of the mechanics feel like they belong as well, such as the “detective mode” feature. By activating this mode the view changes so you can more clearly see hotspots you can interact with. You also can see the outline of the enemy’s skeleton through walls and in some cases track a substance. The game also has some rpg-like mechanics where you gain exp for defeating foes and accomplishing objectives. The exp is spent on upgrades, such as increasing the number of bat-a-rangs you can throw simultaneously.
The movement of Batman is really what makes this game fantastically fun. There’s a big emphasis on stealth, with many situations where if an enemy has guns then you need to sneak around. You often swing on conveniently placed gargoyles, swooping down on your foes before they know what hits them. Anytime you fall from a height you can hold spacebar to glide, and later in the game you get a zip line gun that adds another mode of flight-like movement.
Using the batclaw to pull enemies off cliffs or into traps is also ridiculously fun. There’s a number of Scarecrow sequences throughout the game that take the good atmosphere to “holy shit awesome” atmosphere. One moment in particular is just a piece of art that I won’t soon forget. The performance of Mark Hamill as the Joker also cannot be understated. He gives life to a twisted, dark, hilarious villain and he’s the “real deal” in every way.
When not sneaking about tying up criminals upside-down, Batman faces many big battles against unarmed thugs (well not armed with guns anyway…). These kung-fu battles, while very visually appealing, are sluggish and tedious.
There are countless Matrix-style moments filtered into combat. “Look how cool it is when Batman finishes off this meaningless flunky reaaallly slowly!” Mechanics like “bullet time” can be pretty awesome in games and add a layer of strategy, but there is no such thing here. Just many many moments where the game wants to show you how cool something would look if it was slowed down. When you’re fighting 10 guys at the same time you’ll constantly be knocking them down and then using a finisher move to ensure they don’t get back up. Luckily doing things like setting bomb traps and twirling your cape to stun them helps keep it interesting enough while you wait to get back to the parts of the game that are awesome.
The borderline tedious combat is forgivable… except they rub it in your face every time there’s a boss fight. The first real boss I encountered I thought the approach was kind of neat and I liked it. The next 5ish “boss” encounters were essentially the same, fighting these things that require the exact same pattern again and again and again.
To make matters more annoying, just about every boss just throws those flunky brawl fights at you at repeated intervals instead of coming up with more interesting boss forms. I swear, if I play the sequel to this game and there’s more bosses infected with the Bane super drug, using that same pattern of “throw a bat-a-rang in his eyes when he charges” I may go absolutely batty. There are some good bosses, but the best ones tended to be where you maneuver obstacle courses instead of using the clunky combat.
Despite combat grief, this game was a blast. An even bigger environment with more side quests would put it over the top. But thanks to its comic-book magic, great voice acting, and really fun exploration, it is certainly worth playing.
I’d rate it 8/10