It comes as little surprise that within a week of its release Batman: Arkham Asylum shot straight to the top of the sales charts. Back in 2009, it was also reported that the Xbox 360 version saw stronger sales than the PlayStation 3. This was most likely down to a simple fact of numbers. Or “install base” to quote the vernacular. Opposed to the Xbox 360 release actually being received better. My, how times have changed.
Batman: Arkham Asylum – Do you even Rapture?
The game is a linear adventure of almost immaculate pacing. Set entirely within the confines of Arkham Island, home of the infamous Arkham Asylum. Batman is on a mission to bring order to the inmates sprung free in an elaborate plan by The Joker. Scarecrow, Bane, Harley Quinn, Croc and many more provide challenges. Along with subtle cameos from numerous other famous Gotham City villains, and a special appearance from The Riddler.
With the asylum being a headline for the game it would be a surprise if the location wasn’t incorporated into the gameplay with some delicate suspension-of-disbelief techniques. However, quite how immersive the environment can become is by far the greater shock. Having taken inspiration from Metroid Prime and BioShock‘s Rapture, the level of detail in the environments was unprecedented at the time of its release. From cell blocks to botanical gardens, hospital wards to graveyards and much more besides. Arkham Asylum was elegantly recreated as a unique and inspired playpen for gamers to embark upon a thoroughly enthralling adventure. Platform, combat and puzzle solving sections comprise the bulk of the game, and each is very well presented in their own way.
Batmen Can Jump
The platform sections comprise of some basic acrobatics to begin with. However, soon the player is asked to mix-up freshly earned abilities to reach exits that become less and less obvious. Further to this are challenges under pressure from time and enemy placement. Or even scaling dizzy heights while remaining undetected. A lot of the combat relies of the player using the shadows to their advantage. While unarmed guards rarely present a substantial challenge, just a single enemy with a firearm can cause some serious damage to Batman’s wellbeing.
Health is recuperated by downing enemies through a variety of stealth attacks and the much touted FreeFlow Combat system, which proves to be as fluid in practice as it’s name would suggest. This system has been so welcomed throughout the years that we can still see it in the roots of Gotham Knights‘ brawling. Experience is granted through combat, Riddler Challenges and reaching designated points in the adventure, and is used to upgrade both the series of available combat manoeuvres and certain pieces of equipment.
The puzzle solving element of the storyline is rather minimal, in all honesty. The biggest tasks generally involve navigating beyond groups of armed enemies or a set pattern of jumping, climbing and gliding. The ‘Detective Mode’ featured in the game is not an altogether different gameplay proposition. Instead it’s a view mode highlighting interactive environmental objects, such as vents and the collectable Riddler Trophies.
Riddle Me the Best Part of the Game
Indeed, the Riddler Challenges themselves typically provide a more mentally taxing objective than anything the main story offers. Coming in the form of the aforementioned Riddler Trophies, BioShock-esque backstory filling recordings and hidden question marks are included for completionists. These often demand a great deal of acrobatics to correctly line-up. In addition are the riddles themselves; a number of riddles will be spread throughout the many areas Batman will travel through, appearing at the moment each territory is entered. The player must find and scan the object of scene that provides the correct solution. Sometimes the answers are relatively straight-forward. Others will see players wandering back and forth past the answer before it becomes clear.
The presentation of Batman: Arkham Asylum is fantastic. While the incredibly – and interestingly – detailed asylum itself steals the show, the character models are very well animated. The cutscenes are smoothly presented, and their slightly crisper character models are perhaps the only noticeable mark between the two console versions. While the PlayStation 3 offers little to complain about, the Xbox 360 cutscenes do appear of a slightly higher quality. The score and vocal qualities are of a similarly commendable quality, with a notable performance from Mark Hamill.
Batman: Arkham Asylum – Foundations on Which to Build
Batman: Arkham Asylum is a fine example of planning and execution. The game delivers intrigue and challenge around every corner. Players will be drawn through every step of the plot by that all important need to see what may lie beyond. And in a similar fashion to the best Metroidvania titles, it will always be rewarding enough. Batman: Arkham Asylum is a cohesive adventure that never fails to impress even 13 years after release. In doing so it has become one of the greatest the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 generation of had to offer. Whether or not Gotham Knights can live up to the precedent set here is something we’re very excited to find out.