Retrospective: Batman: Arkham Asylum review

Time to regurgitate another of my old missives. I assure you that this current trend of mine is only in order to put some of my old material to good use. Normal service will most likely return at the weekend.

I hated reviewing Arkham Asylum. It was with tear-stained eyes that I hurried though the game, barely pausing to take in the game’s magnificence. When I put my hand up for the Games Console reviewing gig , as far as I was concerned Arkham Asylum was just another half-baked attempt to bring the Dark Knight Detective into the realm of the video game. It had been tried before and, as far as I was concerned – as with previous attempts – it was likely to be shite.

How wrong was I. Although it would be a couple of years, and on the PC, that I’d actually have the opportunity to leisurely enjoy the game, you can see from my Arkham Asylum review just how much love I have for the game. It’s simply stunning, like no other comic-book video game before it. Arkham Asylum is only likely to be topped by the sequel, Arkham City, due out later this year. Enjoy.

Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane has been the black beating heart of the Batman comic-book mythology for decades- a macabre, twisted mix of Victorian mental hospital and futuristic maximum-security prison. Gotham City’s infamous loony bin is also the setting for Eidos Interactive and Rocksteady Studios’ new game, Batman: Arkham Asylum.


The lunatics have taken over the nuthouse and it is up to you as the Dark Knight Detective, Batman, to provide the demented, unruly inmates with their therapy. Surprisingly, the game isn’t based on a particular movie or comic-book. Instead, the plot draws on Batman’s seventy year history and as a result never seems forced or clumsy.

The tight storyline has been crafted by top Batman comic book/animated series writer, Paul Dini. Batman is joined by a full and familiar supporting cast including Commissioner Gordon and a host of crazy bat-villains, including the maniacal Joker.

The gameplay is a fresh, rare treat and has something for everyone. Batman is up against hordes of thugs and villains who can be taken on either in a bone crunching, combo laden brawl or by stealthily picking them off one byone.

The Dark Knight Returns

Arkham Asylum is full of puzzles that will be familiar territory to fans of action adventures like Bioshock.  The CSI-style detective mode lets you use Batman’s keen eye to find clues and follow leads, an often overlooked aspect of the character’s persona as the world’s greatest detective.

The controls are intuitive, giving quick access to Batman’s arsenal of high-tech gadgets. Equipment, armour and physical ability upgrades can be purchased using experience points earned during combat and missions, allowing you to customise Batman based on your own playing style.

Rather than try to populate the whole of Gotham City, the game designers have focused on the corridors, cavernous rooms and Tomb Raider style catacombs of Arkham Asylum-a good choice that gets you right into the action

from the start. The game is packed full of secrets items and collectables that unlock achievements, 3D trophies and challenge maps (more about that later). Each area has a riddle created by Batman’s arch-nemesis, The Riddler, for you to solve. You may also come across the tragic diaries of the Asylum’s founder- Amadeus Arkham.


The main story mode is complemented by the fantastically re-playable challenge mode. In challenge mode you get to battle enemies using the two very different play styles on self-contained maps based on certain story mode levels.  The combat challenge maps are punch-ups pitting Batman against four waves of increasingly nasty bad guys. The predator challenge maps require you to use Batman’s stealth techniques to dispatch the bad guys using certain cool set pieces. Successfully completed challenges are entered into the online leader board. The inclusion of the challenge maps mean that you will be coming back to play Batman: Arkham Asylum again and again. The greyed out “Downloadable Content” button on the menus screen, makes me think that we’ll see more challenges in the future.

I’m really scraping the bottom of the barrel trying to find anything bad to say about this game. Batman does look a little wooden when walking around, but this is probably more noticeable when compared to the cool a n fluid combat and action animations. I found the Scarecrow’s, drug induced sneaking levels, whilst fun the first time, grated the second and third time around. Very minor niggles, really.

I’m happy to say that this game caught me totally off-guard. I wasn’t expecting much, but Batman: Arkham Asylum is quite possibly the finest comic-book video game ever made. It also stands up as a great action adventure game in its own right. The production values are very high and the game is presented in a very slick and polished manner. The whole experience is complete and uncompromising entertainment, something that we rarely see in games these days. I would be surprised if this game is a franchise starter, which would be great as I can’t wait for a sequel!


This review first appeared in the September 2009 issue of New Zealand’s Netguide magazine