I’m going to come clean and say right up front that, although I have nothing against Batman, he’s far from one of my favorite superheroes. Instead, I’m more of a Spiderman kind of guy. I’m also not a big fan of stealth games like Splinter Cell or Metal Gear Solid. I prefer my action in the run-and-gun style, and while I tend to use a stealthy approach prior to the attack, I like my action nice and straightforward. I also prefer the first-person perspective; Batman: Arkham Asylum is a third-person game.
Finally, I’ve never really been into melee-fighting titles. Button mashing and timing my strikes do not represent a play style that has ever truly appealed to me. I tend to gravitate towards good shooters, real-time strategy (RTS) games, role-playing games (RPGs), and racing titles. Left 4 Dead, StarCraft, Fallout 3, and are more my cup of tea.
Thus, it seems strange to me that I have enjoyed my time with Batman: Arkham Asylum as much as I have.
The really odd thing is that I didn’t really like it right away. Sure, the visuals, detailed character models, meticulous gothic environments, quality voice acting, and generally high-production values impressed me. But it was a bit of an exercise to wade through the game until something clicked: I’m Batman!
Batman doesn’t charge in, guns blazing. Instead, he waits in the shadows. He uses fear to his advantage. He doesn’t kill his opponents, but is careful to restrain them until the proper authorities arrive. Batman is a vigilante with a conscience, with enough self-doubt to keep himself from going too far and enough relentless drive to prevent him from giving up.
I have enjoyed the Christian Bale flavor of Batman as portrayed in the recent films, but this game really helps you get inside the Dark Knight’s head more than any movie could. Once you’re there, the game becomes a lot more enjoyable and makes you want to experience more.
That isn’t to say that the game is flawless. My biggest complaint is Batman’s visor. There is no way to avoid constant use of it. The visor is vital to locate clues, track enemies, and keep Batman’s story moving. This isn’t a problem in and of itself, but the problem is that when the visor is turned on, all of the lovingly-crafted gothic environments change into something I’d expect in a noisy version of Tron 2.0. The universe becomes a purple-hued, low-contrast, and thick-edged representation of the environment, while important items or enemies are highlighted as brighter colors (usually orange). This is great when you’re trying to locate something, but crappy when I’d like to keep track of multiple enemies and enjoy the game’s great art direction at the same time. As a consequence, I found myself sacrificing the visual experience I wanted for successful play. Why couldn’t Batman have a heads-up display that overlaid important information over the regular view? How I wish I could have been present in the Rocksteady Studios board room when that design decision was made.
Aside from the drawback with the visor, there isn’t much to complain about, except the ultra-restrictive game-save system. I could also whine a little about the repetitive nature of fighting groups of unarmed thugs, I suppose. There’s more good stuff though, like a lot of trophies to collect, Easter eggs to see, and nifty details in the asylum while you’re on your quest. It’s a darned good game. Not the best title I’ve ever played, but I can’t think of a better licensed game off-hand.
Now that I’ve covered my thoughts about the experience, let’s move on to the meat and potatoes. If Batman: Arkham Asylum is a title you’re interested in, then you’re probably curious about how it will perform on your hardware. That is the focus of this article, so let’s move on.