|System: X360, PS3, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Rocksteady||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Eidos / Warner Bros.||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Aug. 25, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Matthew Walker
Batman is something of an enigma. He works really well in comic book form, but generally when his world is brought to life in other mediums it is, at best, hit or miss. The campy 60s television show, the later Tim Burton films, the god awful Joel Schumacher films, the successful animated series, all the way up to the recent feature films of The Dark Knight series all highlight that point.
Interspersed within this roller coaster of success and question marks, video games have cemented themselves as Batman's greatest enemy. None of the games based on the animated series or the feature films have ever captured the meaning of being Batman. Most of the time, they only tried to cash in on whatever successful video game trend was happening. It's been a long time coming for Batman to have a video game that is even remotely enjoyable. After all, Spider-Man has a couple, so why not The Dark Knight?
The story of Arkham Asylum won't turn over any new leaves in the world of Batman; however, this is part of the magic and skill Paul Dini brings to writing The Caped Crusader. As most know, Dini is one of the creative forces behind the Batman: The Animated Series from the 90s. Thanks to him and several others, we were able to wash the bad taste of Batman Forever and Batman and Robin out of our mouths. At least Batman was good on television. This is no different.
The premise is simple: The Joker is causing trouble, and Batman captures him without much of a struggle. But once he's back at Arkham Asylum, all hell breaks loose - Joker style. With the help of Harley Quinn and a few of Arkham's finest resident rogues, the fabled Asylum is overrun by the inmates. It's up to Batman to bring The Joker down and put everyone back where they belong. The basic plot doesn't really stray too far from that. What happens in between the main arc is where the art of story-telling really takes shape. For instance, you'll learn more about the characters you are facing and their "reasons for madness" unlike you have before in this medium.
One of the ways this is excellently conveyed is by the voice talent in the game. Kevin Conroy has been Batman longer than anyone else in Tinseltown, and it is preserved here. He brings back the graveled-voiced Batman, rather than sticking to the throat cancer growling that has become associated with Batman since his portrayal in the recent feature films. You can understand everything he has to say, and it makes the story and banter between he and The Joker that much better. Speaking of The Joker, Mark Hamill reprises his role as The Clown Prince to perfection. It's been a while since people have heard Mark's Joker, but no one can deny that his portrayal is the best by far from any actor to every portray him (sorry Mr. Ledger). The maniacal laughter alone should win him an Oscar. The voice work is superb from everyone involved, and having a few of the animated series actors and actresses, most notably Arleen Sorkin for Harley Quinn, return to their roles adds a certain fandom layer to the dialogue of the game. Additionally, the creepy themes established by the score fit the atmosphere and action nicely.
Just like the mood set by the orchestral track in the background drives home the eerie presentation of Arkham Asylum, the visuals are also amazing. This game is a beautiful. The character models standout out as the comic book characters we have come to know and love, but they never reach past the fourth wall of unbelievable (well except for maybe Batman's arms, which are bigger than the Governator's, but you can dismiss that). While I have been on the fence more than once with how a couple of the characters look in this game compared to how they normally look, their redesign seems to fit in better with the surrounding Arkham, especially Harley Quinn. When her new costume was first revealed, I doubted the reasoning in her redesign. But once you are in the world of Arkham Asylum, it makes sense.
None of the story, graphics, or voice talent would matter if the gameplay was not there. Thankfully, my doubts about the gameplay are no longer present. Arkham Asylum has one of the best combat systems I have ever played. Rocksteady named it FreeFlow, and that is exactly what it does. The simplistic approach to the way you fight just flows naturally. It doesn't try to over complicate things, and it allows you to really feel like Batman fighting about twenty enemies at once, taking them all out with elegant ease. This is a great reminder that Bruce Wayne may be the World's Greatest Detective, but he's no slouch in combat either, he did spend years refining martial arts and various other fighting techniques after all. While you will be able to mash the buttons and get satisfying results in the takedowns animations, there's also a little more to the combat system than just the mashing.