Game Review | Batman: Arkham Asylum
Game summary: Batman fights to subdue The Joker and his fellow inmates when they seize control of Arkham Asylum. (IMDb)
Contrary to recent movie reviews, I do have plenty of experience with Batman, and especially the Arkham series of games - in fact, Batman: Arkham Asylum is one of just a few games that I immediately restarted on finishing to begin a second play-through as soon as I could. While it doesn't hold up quite that well now, it's still remarkably good for a game that has been out for over a decade.
How good is Arkham Asylum now? The only criticisms I have is that it's lacking the improvements that later games in the series brought in. The most noticeable difference is with the combat, which was amazing at the time, but now feels limited and strangely jarring compared to how flowing and silky smooth it came to be in the sequels. What's here is perfectly fine still, but I was left cursing my own muscle memory as I attempted to perform actions not yet available to the Dark Knight.
Similarly, the gadgets and equipment Batman has at his disposal seem very limited, but are genuinely all you need to succeed in taking back Arkham Asylum from the inmates. If you're new to the series, you'll have no issues at all with what the game gives you and how it spaces out acquiring new tools to play with - again, muscle memory from the sequels is my only complaint.
On the other hand, one area where Arkham Asylum remains unmatched is the setting. Later entries in the series had larger environments, but the entertainment value didn't increase proportionately. Everything here is focused on a single island that you can crisscross easily to hunt down challenges, trophies and enemies to fight - larger worlds in later games made those searches tedious.
As for the story, the restricted setting also keeps things tight as far as the narrative goes, with practically everything you do feeding back into the central plot. Yes, some sections do feel like they were added just to feature a specific villain in the game, but those sequences are still all very well done and, while gratuitous if you take a step back, don't feel too out of place while you're doing them.
Regarding said villains, most encounters with the big names from Batman's rogues' gallery take the form of set pieces in special environments, which is a little bit of a shame. You'll spend most of your time taking on regular thugs of varying types in encounters that either turn into sprawling brawls, or predatory arenas where you get to play the part of ninja striking from the shadows.
The problem with keeping the big names to specific sequences also slightly dampens the ending, with one encounter with Killer Croc leading to another with Poison Ivy before leading into the final showdown with the Joker. I don't think any of these battles are particularly bad, but they do feel a little out of place by effectively replacing regular gameplay for the finale.
There are other modes and challenges to try out once the main story is complete, but with three more games in the series, I'd say they're only now worth a quick try just to see what they're like before moving onto the next game in the series. Again, there's nothing wrong with these extras, but there's better to come.
And that remains the biggest weakness of going back to Batman: Arkham Asylum after completing the other games in the series: it's just lacking those little quality-of-life improvements that built up over multiple games and many years of development. In all other respects, it's astonishing how well it holds up to this day.
One last word of praise for the voice cast, Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy in particular as they once again prove that they are the best performers for Joker and Batman in any medium outside of the comics, carrying on their brilliant work from the animated series. Of course, they were helped hugely by Paul Dini, who also wrote for the animated versions of these characters, writing the story here too.
Batman: Arkham Asylum still holds up as an excellent game even after more than a decade since its first release. It is lacking some of the improvements of later games, so it might be initially tricky for experienced players to go back to, but newbies to the series should be just fine. The excellent voice acting from the cast of the animated series almost make this the most perfect version of Batman in any medium.