As 2009 comes to a close, I and my new Gamefly subscription are going to get started catching up with some of the games from 2009 and earlier. Today we ring in the New Year with Batman: Arkham Asylum, a game that has been lauded by other members of the gaming press as the best Batman game of all time. Well… being that I’m not other members of the gaming press, let’s see what I think.

Company Information:

Title: Batman – Arkham Asylum
Developer: Rocksteady
Publisher: Eidos Interactive (now Square Enix)
System: X-Box 360, PS3, and PC
Release Date: August 25th, 2009
Game Type: 3rd Person Action game.

Available from Amazon.com

The Premise:

After re-capturing the Joker, Batman delivers him to Arkham Asylum, though he suspects that the capture is much to easy, and that the Joker is up to something. Lo and behold, he is. The Joker stages a breakout of some of the inmates and some members of Joker’s crew who were transferred there from Blackgate temporarily after a “mysterious” fire. Batman must get to the bottom of The Joker’s plan and rescue the asylum staff.

Content Notes:

The game received a Teen rating from the ESRB, due to some profanity from Commissioner Gordon (referring to Harley Quinn as a “crazy bitch”, violence (Batman beating the stuffing out of people), plus some disturbing and slightly gruesome imagery.

The High Points:

The Scarecrow levels. Being that The Scarecrow isn’t much of a physical opponent, the game designers did come up with a pretty good way of making the Scarecrow a threat, with some particularly ingenious level design. Also, combat in the game is incredibly fun, between stringing massive combos against groups of thugs in hand-to-hand combat, to picking off thugs one at a time in the stealth segments.

The Low Points:

When (in a few places) you can’t do the sneaking amongst the rafters stuff in the stealth segments, it’s not as fun. Also, it’s difficult to tell what “level” opponents are in when you’re using Detective Vision during the stealth segments (but you need to be using Detective Vision to tell where everyone is). Also, to be honest, I understand why they used the Unreal Engine, but visually it doesn’t look quite right for this game.

The Scores:

Originality: This is probably the most original video game take on Batman I’ve seen (particularly with the sort of semi-open world/Metroidvania look the game has). The game gets a lot out of the Rogues Gallery without feeling like they’re hunting down excuses to include characters. The game’s combat system is also fairly original (though it sounds like it uses a similar system to Assassin’s Creed, though I can’t be sure because I haven’t played Assassin’s Creed yet). 4 out of 6.

Story: The game’s story is on par with some of the better stories of the Batman comics, and incorporates a lot of characters from the comics aside from the Rogues gallery (including some of the characters from the Arkham Asylum comics), while introducing some new members of the Arkham Asylum staff who I wouldn’t mind seeing show up in the comics as well. It helps that the story is by Paul Dini, who worked on Batman: the Animated Series, and is also writing Gotham City Sirens & Streets of Gotham. 5 out of 6.

Graphics: The graphics are okay. There is some noticeable texture pop-in, but nothing really bad. My main complaint is with the visual look of some of the characters, but I don’t know if that’s an art design thing, or a Unreal Engine thing. 4 out of 6.

Sound: The sounds in the game (and how they’re used) are very good. I have this habit with some video games of turning the game sound down and starting a podcast playing – but not here. Here the game sounds weren’t just good, but they were also done in such a way that they were helpful to playing the game. That said, this could cause problems for people who are deaf or otherwise hard of hearing, as there are certain instances where you need to react to something, and all you get is an auditory cue that an attack is coming. This is probably worst in the sewer stage where you’re trying to deal with Killer Croc. Also, the music is very good, with a lot of overt nods to the scores of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight (which is not a bad thing), and the voice acting cast is excellent (with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprising their roles as Batman and The Joker respectively). 5 out of 6.

Playability: The combat controls are very good, and I didn’t find it very difficult managing groups of opponents or otherwise building up combos – usually. The main difficulties I ran into there (that I would consider to be negatives) were two types of enemies – knife wielding opponents, and stun baton wielding opponents. These opponents require you to do specific actions to take them out – specifically you have to stun the knife wielding opponents with your cape then attack them, and stun the baton wielding opponents with your cape, flip over them and then attack them. When you’re trying to manage a combo string, these guys at best will disrupt it, and at worst will disrupt it and then get a several hits in for themselves and those around them. 5 out of 6.

Immersion: This game has the best HUD minimization I’ve seen recently. When you’re just wandering around the enviroment, there’s basically no HUD. Then, elements of the HUD pop up when you need it – if there are objects in the enviroment you can reach with you’re grapnel, or can climb using the action button, the appropriate button cue comes up (with maybe a circle around where the grapnel will be going). When you’re in combat your health bar comes up, and when you gain XP, which is used to buy weapon upgrades and a few special moves and can be earned either in combat or by completing Riddler challenges, the XP bar comes up. Then, the player can go into Detective Vision, which highlights enemies in the environment, marks whether they’re carrying a gun or not, and it also highlights Gargoyles you can lurk on, vents you can crawl through, and walls you can destroy. All of this kinds of sets up this whole “I’m Batman” feeling. 5 out of 6.

Overall: This is one of the most fun action games I’ve played in a while, the best superhero game I’ve played in a while, and (possibly most importantly) – Best. Batman. Game. Ever. 6 out of 6.

In total, Batman: Arkham Asylum, gets 32 out of 42