Batman: Arkham Asylum Review
Back when I collected comics in my elementary, middle and high school years, four of my top 10 favorite storylines starred the Dark Knight – The Dark Knight Returns, Dark Victory, The Long Halloween and Hush – with countless others almost equally fondly remembered. But it's been awhile, so I wasn't as excited for Batman: Arkham Asylum as some fans were. Now that I've finished it, I've been digging out all my old comics and rereading the stories with the voracity I did the first time. Arkham Asylum reawakened my love for the DC Comic's character and his best-ever rogues gallery; the graphics, gameplay, story and the best voice acting I may have ever heard combine into not only one of the best games of the summer, but the best Batman game ever created (In case you are wondering, the previous best Batman game was Batman: The Animated Series on the SNES. It's been that long.).
Batman: Arkham Asylum tells a brand new Batman story that is every bit as good as some of his best comic book adventures. After the Joker breaks out of Arkham (again) and allows himself to be easily captured by Batman, it becomes clear he has a larger, more complicated plan in mind. What follows is arguably the worst night of Batman's life; the supervillains inside the prison are set free and the Clown Prince of Crime is single-handedly running the whole show. It might seem like a cookie-cutter plot for a comic, movie or video game, but the graphics and voice acting make this almost stale story the coolest, most original thing you'll see for a while.
Before we get to how it looks and sounds, we have to talk about how Arkham Asylum plays. In no uncertain terms, the game makes you feel like you ARE Batman. You'll spend most of the game exploring the gigantic island where Arkham Asylum is housed; from medical buildings to sanitariums to a botanical garden and even a localized mini-Batcave. The locales, though, are just a setup for some seriously great Batman action. Of course you'll be fighting goons with an easy to learn but difficult to master hand-to-hand combat system, but the game truly shines when you are forced to play more with the detective aspects of the character. Using a "Detective Mode" toggle allows you to pick out places and things you would not ordinarily be able to see. You'll follow trails of fingerprints, find secret paths and strike at enemies from the shadows – all things that Batman is known for. The stealth portions are particularly satisfying as you watch goons discover fallen comrades and begin to freak out, allowing you to play off their nervousness and fear. The people behind Arkham Asylum have created less a video game and more a fully-featured Batman simulator.
Even though the gameplay is top-notch, the graphics and sound really steal the show. Arkham Asylum is as pretty a game I've played in some time; Killzone 2 still holds the award for best-looking console game ever, but this one comes pretty close. The characters and surroundings are immaculately detailed, right down to the tiniest of touches and flourishes. With the island being as big a star as the heroes and villains themselves, comparisons to Bioshock's underwater world of Rapture have been flying all over the Internet; the parallels are most assuredly there. For my money, though, Arkham Asylum is slightly more captivating. Every inch of the game's environment offers something to find or take in, and the open world that you uncover bit by bit never feels anything less than completely real.