Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Classic Review - Batman: Arkham Asylum [2009]

As much as I loved Insomniac's Marvel's Spider-Man Remastered earlier in the year, it reminded me that I hadn't played much super-hero video games at all. There had never been much overlap between them and game genres like RPGs or FPS so that did have a lot to do with it. Now as I embrace the actions-adventure genre more and more with the likes of Assassin's Creed, Tomb Raider, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and Sony's recent PC ports I felt it was time to check out something that's often lauded as among the better examples of a super-hero game, this of course is the Batman: Arkham series.

Batman: Arkham Asylum is the first in a trilogy of Rocksteady Studios Batman: Arkham games. It was followed by Batman: Arkham City and Batman: Akham Knight (Batman: Arkham Origins was developed by WB in house and is a prequel game to fill the gap in development time between Arkham City and Arkham Knight). While I had read about the games over the years, all I really knew was that you are Batman and you're up against his popular rogue's gallery of villains; but not directly associated to any comic-book, TV or film version of the caped crusader, much like Spider-Man Remastered.

As Batman (the late Kevin Conroy) you deliver The Joker (Mark Hamill) to Arkham Asylum but soon realise that it was Joker's plan to come to the titular asylum, stage a takeover of the island and turn everyone in Gotham into his personal Bane-venom-powered army! Naturally Batman has to investigate the Joker's plan and subsequently thwart it by taking down dozens of inmates and some of the other more infamous Batman villains Joker has placed in his path.

Batman: Arkham Asylum is an action adventure game and I can really only compare it to Spider-Man Remastered in so far as, like Spider-Man it's one of the only games I've ever played where you don't kill anyone; as this would of course be contrary to the character. Arkham Asylum isn't just a fighting game with a Batman skin on the characters and environment, the gameplay here immerses you as Batman and fighting is just one of the tools employed to get from A to B and complete your objectives. It's possible to bypass some of the combat and evade and sneak past your foes, but that didn't strike me as fun in this setting - everyone must be brought to justice and I subdued everyone I saw - that's "my" Batman.

Combat did take a little while to learn, fighting, blocking, jumping, stunning, evading and using powerful 'takedowns' were not easy to master but once you get the hang of each move they game becomes effortless and you can enjoy the more cinematic experience of Batman breaking the bones of the nameless denizens of the asylum. The enemy types were not too varied and some needed specific approaches such as stunning knife wielders or using the batarang to hit and evade brutes at the last second. Combat became furious if you had multiple enemy types in the same 'arena' and had to employ multiple tactics one after the other, but that was when the game was at it's most exciting.

What wasn't exciting was some of the 'boss' fights. These included Scarecrow's nightmare sequences or a fight against Poison Ivy who was inside a giant plant! The perspective of the game changed from the 3rd person over the shoulder camera to a view of the platform or 'arena' and your movement no longer followed the camera - forward was 'left' for example. It took one out of the game and it was difficult to navigate, let alone fight and evade when your controls no longer did what you expected them to. I got through them eventually but they took longer than I would have liked and didn't appreciated the control and perspective forced upon you.

Batman's most famous accessory is his utility belt with an array of gadgets. You start out with Batarangs and a zip line as standard but as the game progresses you fill the belt with an array of additional gadgets that assist in your progress such as the Bat Claw which can move obstacles or remove AC vent covers before crawling about in them (you do a lot of that) and a gun that squirts a plastic explosive onto a weak surface then manually detonate it to reveal a passage or a secret. Batman's keen senses manifest as "detective mode" where he can see points of interest highlighted in his vision and usually point to something that can be manipulated in the environment to use to your advantage. This can also be use in combat where you can see the bones of your enemies.

I said I would try out the tutorial level/sequence of this now 'old' game to see if it was going to be necessary to add in a new fan made enhanced textures pack. But I was met with vibrant well-modelled characters and atmospheric surroundings. To be honest while obviously not 2020s standards, graphically it was far greater than I would have expected from a 14 year old game. I decided against any texture upgrading and left everything as the developers intended for a change.

Final Verdict: Batman: Arkham Asylum was well worth a visit even if a little late, but it's combat was fluid, gadgets were exciting and your progress as a detective was meaningful as you progressed through a pretty straightforward Batman story. Annoying boss fight mechanics kept it from being perfect but I'm certainly looking forward to trying out it's sequels in due course.

Technicals: 15.5 hours through Steam. 3440x1440 @ 62FPS (game limit) on Nvidia 4070Ti under Windows 11

Bugs: None

Availability: Batman: Arkham Asylum Game of the Year Edition is available on Steam or GOG for €19.99. Review copy purchased in Feb 2019 in a bundle with Arkham City and Arkham Knight for €9.99.

Batman: Arkham series:

  • Batman: Arkham Asylum [2009]
  • Batman: Arkham City [2011]
  • Batman: Arkham Origins [2013]
  • Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate [2013]
  • Batman: Arkham Knight [2015]
  • Batman: Arkham VR [2016]
  • Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League [2024?]

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