Retrospective Review: Batman: Arkham Asylum (PS3)


I have a lot of respect for Rocksteady Studios. After years of having bad outings in the medium, the studio actually made a decent Batman game – for the most part. It’s a very big turn around, and what they’ve done is impressive, despite it being their second project. With this breakout game, they show a lot of growth and potential as a studio and will most certainly be creating bigger and better games in the future. They just need to fix a couple things first.

The biggest thing they get right is the whole atmosphere – the feel of the game. Playing the game, I felt like I was in Batman’s universe, not just playing a game with his name slapped onto it. It was his world. The characters are also spot on as well. Batman’s just as much a do-gooder as ever, while Joker just seems to be enjoying all of the chaos and madness. Harley Quinn acts just like I wanted to see her act, and to call Scarecrow’s persona menacing would be an understatement. Since the game’s written by Paul Dini, the guy behind Batman: The Animated Series, and is voiced by many of the same people as that series, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. They know Batman front to back.

One other aspect that this game really has a grasp of, is the use of the Bat’s numerous tools. You’ve got the Batclaw, the Batarang, and all the things you’d expect of course, but the thing is that they’re used very, very well in the game’s environment. None of them are under-utilized or shoe-horned in. They all fit perfectly within the context of the game and are essential for completing the game one hundred percent.

In the game, Bats tends to attack with his cape just as much as his fists and gadgets

I just wish that the other elements of the game were all equally as great. Especially the gameplay. A lot of it relies on the player’s ability to act stealthy and strategically. In many cases, planning ahead is vital and expert execution of these plans means the difference between success and Batman being viciously gunned down. Now this sounds intriguing, I know, but keep in mind that this is when things are going well. When things aren’t, and the player is forced to act quickly and unexpectedly…the game kinda wets itself. It gets clumsy. Controls in tight situations are nowhere near as accurate as they need to be, and this is quickly pounded into the player’s head from relatively early on.

This is thanks to the repetitive level design. The game works very hard to make all of the buildings on the island to seem natural, but the way they repeat designs for certain rooms ruins this. One type is the gigantic, wide-open room where it’s obvious that a brawl will break out at some point in the game. Then, there are the narrow hallways to offer a moments reprieve from the fighting, a breather. Another room, an especially egregious example of what I mean, is like the wide-open one, except gargoyles line the walls. In these rooms, Batman is supposed to take down the enemies – all of them usually armed with guns that kill Batman a bit faster than I liked – while not being seen. There comes a point in development, I suppose, when certain environments must designed to make the game more exciting for the player, but the attempts to string things along here are annoyingly obvious. It would have been better to let give it a more organic design, to let it breathe. Not the purposeful shoehorning that’s been done here.

Mark Hamill is in top form as the Joker, as always

These rooms made me realize rather quickly that I’m also not a fan of the stealth in this game either. If I’m playing as Batman, I don’t want to take one guy down and then just swing around on a bunch of conveniently placed wall ornaments while the AI shoots at me with dead-on accuracy until it magically looses sight of me. That’s not my idea of fun. I understand that blending in with the darkness and giving the illusion that he could be anywhere is one of the core concepts to the Bat’s character, but this game handles that aspect poorly. It feels artificial, and makes me just want to go in and just beat up some dudes – a problem, I might add, I don’t find myself having with games like Metal Gear Solid or Splinter Cell.

When I’m able to do that, just going in and beating dudes up head-on that is, I find myself liking the game much better. However even here, there are quirks. For example, I could never get the feel of the combat down. There’s some sort of rhythm to it that I couldn’t figure out. As a result, my combos usually ended a lot sooner than I wanted them too, or kept getting interrupted because Batman was locked into performing one move, even though I’d hitting the counter button for several seconds. Perhaps it’s because I have a tendency to queue up attacks when I don’t mean too, but that’s more of just me not getting it though, not entirely the fault of the game itself.

This game is, sadly, sans Gary Oldman

One last problem I have with the game is that it’s dark. Too dark for its own good, really. I found myself relying on the Detective Mode, where the environment is covered in a blue sheen and enemies show up as a nice reddish color, just to see. Not because I had to for an objective, but because the lighting system isn’t doing its job. Simply turning up the brightness a few notches would have fixed all of this, but I guess the team was too busy making the Joker playable in the Challenge Maps as a PS3 exclusive feature. What are those? Just rehashes of the gargoyle rooms and open-spaced rooms where huge brawls take place. They’re alright at best, but playing as the Joker can make it dreadful.

For me, Batman is two for three, with a bit of extra polish. The atmosphere is right, and the writing and acting for the game is what it needed to be. It just falters at the idea of making the player feel like the hero himself. The tools are there (literally), but the gameplay doesn’t back it up. The extra polish comes in the form of all of the little extras and side-objectives available in the game, as well as the great leveling system. This, for the most part, manages to balance out the lighting issues, but fails to smooth over the level design and gameplay.

Arkham Asylum is good; it’s a solid game. Rocksteady deserves credit for this alone. But, I was just hoping it would be even better than that. Perhaps Arkham City will be better.

Score: 7.5/10

Batman’s character model changes over time, which is an admittedly nice touch


The Good: Ultimately, Rocksteady gets the most important things right. The atmosphere is spot on, as is the writing and and voice acting. There are plenty of secrets to find and the RPG progression-style only enhances this. It also looks pretty good, even if it is dark.

The Bad: At least the game offers a way to brighten the world without adjusting the TV.

The Ugly: The level design really got to me; it just feels too artificial. Plus, the stealth combat isn’t as good as it could be. Reacting quickly also creates a quite a few mishaps with the controls. Putting all three of these things together, in the form of the gargoyle rooms, represents the worst that the game could throw at the player. During these segments, it’s simply not fun.