There has been so many Batman games along the years that I've lost count. I do remember the very first one (an isometric 3D adventure on 8-bit platforms back in the 80's) but since then they have all been mostly forgettable licensed trash. Not this time. Batman: Arkham Asylum is yet another example of a licensed game that is actually a great game even if you'd take all the licensed bits off!
21c9 The atmosphere of Arkham Asylum can be described as dark, gritty and serious. The story puts Batman on an island full of nutjobs and supervillains as Joker executes yet another cunning plan, taking over the whole institution. Have no fear - Batman is a professional and hardly even flinches when confronted with the situation. This theme continues throughout the game - it is yet another mess for Batman to clean up, with grim determination.
The story is linear, as is to be expected, but the play area is not. Granted, early on you move as if on rails as all aspects of the gameplay get their introduction through practical examples - a tutorial of sorts, but already part of the story and very well done. Even afterwards your path is mostly pre-determined by the story, but Arkham Asylum manages to do it right. After the opener, the path only directs you from one spacious location to the next and it is up to you to find the optimal route, take care of all the henchmen and do the task at hand. Locations feel real and everywhere you find alternate routes and hiding places that mix well with the stealth aspect of Batman. While Arkham Asylum is not a sandbox game where you are free to do whatever you want, the play area is immersive without invisible walls and feels internally consistent.
Retaking the Nuthouse
Story starts out with a bang as the Joker and Harley Quinn together take over Arkham Asylum, which just happens to have a large number of Joker's henchmen around. It turns out Joker ensured that they were temporarily transferred from another facility and the whole thing is a devious plan to trap Batman on the Arkham island. And it ain't just The Joker Show - Poison Ivy, Bane, Zsasz, Scarecrow and Killer Croc round out the a long list of his villains running loose.
Gameplay is a tasty mix of puzzles, sneaking and melee combat, with a small bit of character building thrown in. Experience points flow from just about every activity in game and each "level" allows you to unlock a new ability through "WayneTech upgrades" - additional combat moves, upgraded gadgets and upgrades to Batman's body armor. Story is carefully paced with exploration, detective work, combat and to mix things up you get the usual boss fight from time to time.
It all works out quite perfectly up until the very last bits as you end up facing several long boss battles in very short succession. In fact, the pacing until then is so perfect that it almost feels like some later bits of the game may have been cut at some point and the final part was then compressed to a series of epic battles. In any case, the story is quite good and very true to Batman, which shouldn't be a huge surprise as the story is co-written by Paul Dini (one of the Producers of Batman: The Animated Series)
Games: Batman: Arkham Asylum
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