Batman: Arkham Asylum


So, it turns out, I’m Batman. I know, I’m as surprised as you are. I didn’t realise until playing Arkham Asylum, but there’s no other logical explanation. I don’t see how I could possibly feel this much like Batman without actually being him.

I’m not sure exactly when I realised about the Batman thing. It might have been when I first strung up one of Joker’s minions by his legs under a gargoyle, or perhaps when I swooped down from on high to knock down an enemy without him seeing me. It might even have been when I realised I had truly gathered a gadget for every occasion, without feeling completely ridiculous (i.e. No bat-shark-repellent).1

Batman: Arkham Asylum is, against the odds, an awesome super-hero game. There’s several factors that make this happen, but key amongst them is that it isn’t actually tying into any particular Batman mythology, but just taking the bits that work for the game from whichever comic or movie it likes, and not fussing about the rest. The game happens entirely at Arkham Asylum, where the Joker’s up to some considerable mischief, and the story pulls Batman about through various locations. Balancing a plot which changes the world around you, yet retaining the sandbox nature of the game seems tricky, but Arkham Asylum makes it feel effortless.

Like any game you care to mention these days, there’s also collectibles hidden about the map which lead you down the hideously alluring path of achievement points. However, most of these ones elevate themselves from the usual pointless fare by unlocking histories of various Batman characters. Suddenly the pointless drudgery of wading through the map in search of blips becomes a lot like clicking randomly through Wikipedia. In essence, Eidos have managed to pick two of the biggest time wasters in the world today and marry them for a surprisingly satisfying effect.

The story is comic-book style ridiculous, but quite involving. Despite some pretty ropey dialogue, Mark Hamill’s deliciously over-the-top Joker keeps everything exciting, and even the more unexpected plot developments are still enjoyable — even if one in particular does find a way to recreate my least favourite video game cliche, the jungle level.2 My favourite dramatic moments of all, however, fell somewhat outside the plot with the impressive and ingeniously reality-bending Scarecrow encounters. Letting the game down somewhat is the generally cheesy dialogue, though in some instances the cheese at least feels appropriate, if not entertaining.

The actual mechanics of the game are generally pretty well realised too. I love a game with hang-gliding — a love that’s swelled in my heart ever since MDK — and Batman’s cape doesn’t disappoint, though as Yahtzee pointed out, it is awfully difficult to actually see where you’re going when said cape takes up almost half the screen. Diving about, swinging, and simple combat all works flawlessly. When combat becomes more involved, to the tune of ten or more henchmen, I did find myself sucking rather uncontrollably, but I’m almost certain that this is a failing on my part.

I used to scorn super-hero games. Suddenly, I’m desperate for more. I can only imagine what these people could do with Superman.

  1. Nasty buggers, bat-sharks.
  2. Not because I find them unoriginal, but because giant scary plants give me the heebie-jeebies.
Come on boys! He's just one man! One man dressed like a lunatic and armed to the teeth. — The Joker

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