You don't need to be a fan of Batman to enjoy this excellent third-person action game.
The quality of the voice acting never falters for a second in Arkham Asylum, and while Mark Hamill's Joker is unsurprisingly a standout, there are great performances from other characters too. Listing them here would be to risk spoiling elements of the story for you, particularly where the other villains are concerned. You just need to know that every character in the game is well written, well voiced, and often well worth listening to--whether it's a supervillain, a thug, an ally, or a lowly security guard.
One character that you definitely want to listen to carefully is Edward Nigma, also known as Riddler. That's because there are no fewer than 240 "riddles" for you to solve on Arkham Island, and doing so not only earns you a good number of experience points but is also the only way to unlock character bios, character trophies (detailed character models that you can examine and admire at your leisure), and Challenge mode maps. The riddles come in a number of different flavors, many of which don't involve riddles at all, and the one thing that they all have in common is that they're rewarding to solve. For example, finding hidden patient interview tapes or chronicles of Arkham affords you additional insight into the asylum's history and inmates, while cracking a cryptic clue to locate an item that you need to take a photo of might make you feel smart and, if you're lucky, earn you enough experience points to purchase your next upgrade. The best of the proper riddles are those that lead you to photograph question marks painted around the island, which doesn't sound very interesting until you realize that these question marks can only be seen using detective vision from very specific locations. That's because these elusive punctuation marks are painted in two parts at different locations that are often quite far apart, so the solution requires you to find both parts and then figure out where to take the photo from so that they line up perfectly. It's clever and compelling stuff, though it does encourage you to spend more time than you'd probably like in detective vision mode.
In fact, it's likely that you'll spend a good portion of your time with Arkham Asylum in detective vision mode even if you're not looking for hidden question marks. In regular vision mode, you just get to see that this is a great-looking game with superb animation, excellent lighting, and impressive attention to detail. But when you switch to detective vision, you can immediately spot destructible surfaces, more easily locate hidden items, and spot enemies through walls. You can even tell at a glance which of those enemies have guns and which don't because they're colored differently. It's unfortunate that the predominantly blue-with-white outlines vision mode is so invaluable because, while it's an interesting look, it's akin to reading a black-and-white photocopy of a beautifully colored comic book.
If you're a fan of Batman comic books, you should feel very at home in Arkham Asylum. There are plenty of nods and winks to inmates who don't actually appear in the game, and even some of the minor characters have neat backstories that are faithful to their previous, infrequent appearances in comics. You shouldn't feel intimidated if you're not that familiar with Batman, though, because the game does a great job of giving you all of the information you need, as well as plenty that you don't. For example, taking the time to read prominent character Harley Quinn's bio and listen to her patient interviews offers valuable insight into her motivations that might add to your enjoyment of the game, while unlockable information on such characters as Prometheus, Calendar Man, and Humpty Dumpty just adds a little flavor.
More significant unlockable content comes in the form of eight challenge maps, which come in regular and extreme difficulties for a total of 16. The maps are based on areas that you visit in the Story mode, and the challenges are split 50/50 between purely combat-oriented sequences and stealth-based "Predator" gameplay. In the former, you're pitted against four increasingly tough waves of enemies and score points for performing combos, avoiding taking damage, executing ring outs, and using a variety of different moves. In the latter, you're dropped into a level where every enemy has a gun and your goal is to take them all down as quickly as possible. The twist is that to earn a respectable position on the online leaderboards (which you need a Games for Windows Live account to access) in the Challenge mode, you also have to earn medals, and in order to do that, you have to deal with some of your enemies in very specific ways. During a stealth challenge, for example, earning the maximum possible three medals might require you to perform a silent takedown from behind and an inverted takedown, as well as pull an enemy down from a walkway while hanging from a ledge.
The medals get even more demanding in extreme challenges, where you need to knock guys out while crashing through windows, pull floors out from underneath multiple enemies, and even cause three different walls to fall on three different thugs simultaneously. In regular stealth challenges, the wall-mounted gargoyles are your best friends, but on extreme maps, all of the gargoyles are booby-trapped to blow up shortly after you land on them. Robbed of these safe vantage points, you have to spend a lot more time moving around on the ground, which--because you have detective vision--you can do without needing to stop and peek around every corner. Stealth gameplay is almost never this fast-paced or action-packed, and it's rarely this fun.
Regardless of whether you're getting sucked into the Story mode or competing for high scores in the Challenge mode, Batman: Arkham Asylum does an outstanding job of letting you be Batman. Everything about this game--the impressive visuals, stirring soundtrack, superb voice acting, fiendish puzzles, hard-hitting combat--feels like it has been lovingly crafted by a development team that's both knowledgeable and passionate about the source material. Miss out on this one and the joke's on you.
- Player Reviews: 224
- Game Universe:
- Batman: Vengeance (PS2, GBA, GC, XBOX, PC),
- Batman: Dark Tomorrow (GC, XBOX, PS2),
- Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu (PS2, XBOX, GC, GBA),
- Batman Begins (XBOX, GC, PS2, PSP, GBA, MOBILE),
- Batman: The Video Game (GB, ARC, C64, GEN, NES, TG16, MSX, CPC, ZX),
- Batman Forever (PBL, GEN, ARC, GB, GG, SNES, PC),
- Batman Forever: The Arcade Game (SAT, PC, PS),
- Batman Returns (GEN, SNES, AMI, GG, LYNX, NES, SMS, SCD, PC),
- Batman: Return of the Joker (GB, NES),
- Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (PS, GBC, N64)