Batman: Arkham Asylum – You Are The Knight


Tiger Media Network

When it comes to superheroes, few can match the popularity and commercial success of Batman. Only really matched by Spider-Man, the Dark Knight’s endearing legacy has seen him in virtually thousands of comics, a classic 90s animated show, and him redefining the entire Superhero movie genre with Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy. 

Then, there’s the video games. Batman has appeared in numerous games over the years. Unfortunately, not all of them are zingers: 1997’s “Batman and Robin” and 2003’s “Batman: Dark Tomorrow” are some of the worst superhero games the market has on offer. However, Batman is also the star of quite possibly the greatest series of superhero games ever made: The “Batman: Arkham” series, and the perfect place to start with this beloved series is with the first entry, “Batman: Arkham Asylum”. 

Much like the “Dark Knight” trilogy of films, “Batman: Arkham Asylum” redefined everything about superhero games and made people realize what they were truly capable of, something that really hadn’t happened since 2004’s “Spider-Man 2”. With an excellent story that pays homage to the original mythos, an amazing atmosphere and level design, and excellent combat and stealth mechanics, you have a game that, from the very beginning, really makes you feel like the Dark Knight himself. 

Release and Additional Info:

  • Released in August of 2009 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and for PCs in September of 2009
  • Developed by British developer Rocksteady and dual published by Eidos Interactive and Warner Bros. Games. 
  • Paul Dini, the lead writer for “Batman: The Animated Series,” was heavily involved in the game’s story. 
  • Featured the voices of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as Batman and the Joker, respectively, returning from the animated series.
  • Remastered for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One as “Return to Arkham Asylum” on October 18th, 2018. 
  • Followed by “Batman: Arkham City” in 2011. 

“Arkham Asylum” starts off with Batman taking his arch-nemesis, the Joker, to Arkham Asylum, a psychiatric hospital off the coast of Gotham City, where many of Batman’s greatest enemies are kept. Upon arrival, with the help of his sidekick/girlfriend Harley Quinn and a large number of his men transferred from the Blackgate Prison Facility, Joker quicks take control of the entire Island, killing and capturing numerous staff, including Batman’s close friend Commissioner Gordon. Left stranded on the island, Batman makes it his mission to take back the island from the Joker, and defeat his nemesis once again. His mission causes him to discover the creation of TITAN, a potent steroid that can give its users incredible strength and durability at the cost of a heavy physical toll. Batman also encounters numerous other members of his rogues gallery, including Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, Killer Croc, Bane, and the Riddler, who presents the Dark Knight with a series of optional challenges and trophies. 

Whether you’re a die-hard Batman fan or have no idea who he is, the story presented here is simply a blast. It really benefits from telling its own original story instead of being tied to any movie or TV show, allowing Dini and the main writers to do pretty much whatever they want in the narrative. The main focus is obviously the dynamic between Batman and Joker, and hearing Joker taunt Batman over the Facility’s PA really never gets old. Plus, Batman’s stone face and cold remarks toward Joker and the rest of the island’s inhabitants do an excellent job at portraying just how menacing Batman is. 

This really couldn’t be possible without two excellent voice actors. The late Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill absolutely own their roles. From Conroy’s deep, brooding voice and tone to Hamill’s perfect blend of insanity and comedy, the chemistry between these two really makes this game that much more enjoyable. There are plenty of other great voice performances present: The late Arleen Sorkin delivered an excellent performance as Harley Quinn, also returning from “Batman: The Animated Series.” Among these include Steve Blum as Killer Croc, Dino Andrade as Scarecrow and, for the good side, Tom Kane as Commissioner Gordon and Kimberly Brooks as Batman’s info broker, Oracle, all of whom do an amazing job at bringing their characters to life. 

The design of “Arkham Asylum” is something to behold. In the game, Arkham is a series of interconnected islands and buildings that can be freely explored, with new areas being unlocked as Batman acquires new gadgets. This makes it somewhat in the vein of Metroidvania, allowing players to backtrack and acquire different collectibles and trophies that were previously inaccessible. The island also changes as the story progresses. At one point, the Asylum’s most mentally unstable patients, known as Lunatics, are set free and freely roam the island, attacking Batman on site. Later on, Poison Ivy becomes affected by the TITAN formula, resulting in massive veins and plants covering the island and blocking Batman’s progress. The overall atmosphere present in “Arkham Asylum” is also very well done, with Joker’s messages over the PA and the genuine sense of isolation, especially as you see Gotham in the distance. Plus, some sections feel straight out of a horror game; The first encounter with Scarecrow and sneaking through Killer Croc’s lair still freak me out to this day. 

Then, there’s the gameplay itself, which is really what set “Arkham Asylum” apart from other superhero games and has since inspired numerous other games of its caliber. There are two main factors in gameplay: combat and stealth. The game’s free-flowing combat is one of the defining aspects of the “Arkham” series and has only improved as the series progressed. Because of this, the combat in “Arkham Asylum” is immediately really bare bones and can even be pretty clunky, but is never bad. 

The basis of combat is pretty simple, with Batman beating up enemies while countering incoming attacks, indicated by a flashing icon above their head. At first, enemies are knocked to the ground, and in this case, must be permanently knocked out with a risky but rewarding ground taken. But oftentimes, you’ll completely knock out a thug after a few successful hits, and there’s really nothing more satisfying than that massive CRACK sound the game makes following a successful KO. Batman can also, of course, use his gadgets during combat. However, in comparison to future games, it is extremely limited, with only the Batarang and bat-claw, a hook that can pull enemies toward Batman, being used. 

The stealth is another important aspect, and it’s really here where the game taps into just how terrifying Batman can be. Aptly named “Predator” sequences, there are numerous times where groups of armed thugs will be situated in a large room, requiring Batman to stick to the shadows and take them out one by one. These sections are some of my favorite moments in the game, as they really make you think and plan your next move. This is made easier thanks to “Detective Vision,” a special mode that reveals the positions of enemies and points of interest in the environment. 

Batman can sneak up behind them and take them out silently, glide, kick them from a high vantage point and use a ground takedown at the cost of high noise, or, of course, the Inverted Takedown. This takedown allows Batman to grab an enemy from a high vantage point, leaving them dangling from the air as their partners at the sight. This singular move is so fun to pull off, and combined with everything else, makes for some of my favorite stealth mechanics in any video game. Plus, seeing thugs’ condition go from Calm, to Nervous, to Terrified really makes you realize just how scary Batman would be to deal with. 

Aside from combat and predator sequences, exploration is also a major part of “Arkham Asylum.” Players are free to roam the Asylum, whether it be the individual facilities and buildings or outside on the island’s mainland. Some sections will be inaccessible until a certain gadget is acquired, such as the Explosive Gel, which can destroy weak surfaces, or the Cryptographic Sequencer, which can overload security doors and unlock new passageways. The main collectibles in “Asylum” are Riddler Trophies, question mark-shaped trophies hidden by the Riddler, which can be found in various locations across the island, often requiring a specific gadget to collect. 

There are also various riddles players can solve in specific areas, which act as Easter Eggs for various Batman characters and villains, unlocking character bios for classic characters such as Alfred, The Penguin, Mister Freeze, Catwoman, and Two Face, as well as more obscure Batman villains such as Calendar Man, Ratcatcher, Maxie Zeus and Humpty Dumpty (Yes, I’m serious). Aside from Riddler-related collectibles, players can also find The Spirit of Arkham, audio clips that delve into the backstory of the asylum and its founder, Amadeus Arkham. Exploring the Asylum is a great time, due to the layout of the facility and the large number of secrets that can be found. 

Other highlights: 

  • Fantastic graphics and art style 
  • Excellent and often intense soundtrack 
  • Combos and stealth challenges outside the main story which are very fun to complete 

Unfortunately, “Batman: Arkham Asylum” is definitely not perfect, and is one of many games that very much suffers from being the first game in the series. One of the biggest criticisms leveled at this game is the boss battles, and I can’t deny this is “Asylum’s” weakest aspect. This isn’t helped by the distinct lack of villains. Compared to future entries, the five prominent villains in Joker, Harley Quinn, Scarecrow, Killer Croc and Poison Ivy just don’t hold up as much. Characters like Bane and Victor Zsasz do make appearances. However, they are present for brief periods, and the Riddler, despite providing the main side content of the game, never makes a physical appearance. 

Even if there were more baddies, however, that wouldn’t stop the few boss fights the game has from being beyond basic; Bane, alongside three titan-infused thugs, is a simple case of dodge and attack. The most unique encounters are with Scarecrow and Killer Croc, especially the former, who straight-up tricks the player into thinking their game has crashed at one point. However, these are more unique encounters than actual boss fights. Easily, the best fight in the game is against Poison Ivy, as she presents unique gimmicks and a good level of challenge. But then, there’s the final boss fight against the Joker himself, who uses Titan to transform into a massive monster. It is one of the most baffling, out-of-character moves I’ve ever seen. The actual boss fight itself isn’t much better, simply requiring you to pull Joker with the now-modified Ultra Batclaw while he cheers for a news crew. It really is a shame just how underwhelming a lot of the boss fights are, especially when you look at the battle against Mister Freeze in “Arkham City” and Deathstroke in “Arkham Origins.” 

Other minor criticisms 

  • Astonishing lack of post-game content in the main story 
  • Very easy to get lost 

With all that being said, “Batman: Arkham Asylum” is still as close to a masterpiece as a game can get. Its story and characters pay so much respect to the Batman mythos, and is endlessly enjoyable to play through, while its main gameplay loop, from its combat, stealth mechanics and traversal, make it so much fun to explore the Asylum and defeat bad guys. Even if it would have benefited from more villains and much better boss battles, “Arkham Asylum” is nevertheless an absolutely incredible superhero game that really defines not only what superhero games should be but what a Batman game should be. 

Nick McCoy is a senior at Fort Hays State University, studying digital media and journalism. An avid gamer and music listener, he reviews video games and songs and hosts the radio show “The Understanding of Nick” for KFHS.