Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009)
- Paul Dini
- Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Arleen Sorkin, Kimberly Brooks
There is a truism in video game fandom and criticism that games based on movie and comic book licenses tend to be bad. Some a little bit bad and some mind-bogglingly bad (ET and Superman 64 being the classic examples). Trying to disprove this theory, Rocksteady teamed up with Batman: The Animated Series (among others) writer Paul Dini to create Batman: Arkham Asylum. According to Guinness, who certified Arkham Asylum “the most critically acclaimed super hero game ever”, they succeeded.
Arkham Asylum takes place in the titular mental institution, where the Joker (Mark Hamill) is taken by Batman (Kevin Conroy) after an attack on the Mayor’s office. After a fire at Blackgate Prison, a large number of their prisoners have been temporarily moved to Arkham, and with their and Harley Quinn’s (Arleen Sorkin) help, Joker takes over the Asylum. Aided by Oracle (Kimberly Brooks), Batman must stop Joker and take back control of Arkham Asylum.
The gameplay of Arkham Asylum is third-person, with a large focus on a combo-heavy fighting system (reportedly based on rhythm games) and sneak-em-up. Batman has various gadgets, including a grapple gun with which to scale conveniently-placed gargoyles and the classic batarang (which can be upgraded to a remote-controlled batarang, which as a concept has a lovely Adam West feeling to it). Additionally, there’s something called “detective mode”, which switches Batman’s bat cowl to a kind of bat radar, and is used to find clues.
Unfortunately, while the combat system is a lot of fun, as is the sneaking (though hampered a bit by poor enemy AI — enemies forget you exist if you just swing from gargoyle to gargoyle a bit), the “detective mode” stuff is disappointingly shallow; it basically amounts to following glowing signs that might as well be shouting “This way! This way!” It’s a shame, when the other aspects of the gameplay are so sharp, that the detecting portion of a game about “The World’s Greatest Detective” is about as sharp as a sack of bowling balls.
The plot is about as good as you could expect (it’s silly, sure, but it’s silly in a good way), and the voice acting is some of the best I’ve heard in a video game. And, despite the oddly helpful scenery (seriously, what’s with all the conveniently-placed gargoyles?), the level design is pretty clever, using an evolving landscape to make the most out of a fairly limited space, and the game is short enough that it never has a chance to feel samey. Is it the best licensed game ever? No, of course not, The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the best licensed game ever, but Batman: Arkham Asylum is a solid second.