This week, Morgan reviews Batman: Arkham Asylum, in order to postpone the horror of having to get an actual job
Hello, national St Andrews’ audience. Just your daily reminder that I’m a Batman fan and would be willing to kill if it meant I got the chance to bring Bob Kane back from the grave and thank him for the great service he has done this world.
“You’d kill just for a cream cheese and chive Pringle, Morgan.”
Again, that was one time, and it was a statement against the jerk-off eating them more than anything.
I never fully completed Arkham Asylum the first time I set about playing it, though I for the life of me have no idea why. Maybe it was inherent distrust on my part: after all, it promised to be the ultimate Batman experience that any audience, niche or mainstream, would adore, which immediately made me suspicious.
Oh, you’re promising the appearance of a wide array of his rogue’s gallery, do you? Well, I bet there won’t be so much as a reference to the lesser-known characters that more regular fans can get all smug at – oh, it does have those.
Ah, and you’re also promising a game world flowing with the gothic architecture and dreary environments that have been a staple of Batman ever since the release of the animated TV series? Well, I bet that will crash and burn as quickly as a high-speed freight train on a rail made of banana skins as soon as we get at least fifteen contextual button prompts per “boss fight”, as seems to be the arbitrary trend with film and superhero tie-in games – oh, it has none of that.
…alright, Rocksteady Studios, what are you up to?
This is what I imagine it would be like if I was handsome and people liked me; having a woman or particularly attractive crossdresser sidle up to me on a night out and say “hey, good-looking, I can’t help but notice you’ve been waiting for someone like me. How about we hang out for four hours, then maybe you can buy me a drink. Then take out a mortgage to also buy me a house.”
But after what felt like a relatively short game and the startling realisation that time had flown by, I can only reach the conclusion that maybe I need to be a little more open to optimism. Not everyone is out to rob you, some of them just want to get back at their Dark Tomorrow – I mean, their dad.
The game follows the titular Batman finding himself trapped in the titular Arkham Asylum, so full points to the naming department; not a word wasted. After stopping the Joker from another insidious plot that involves horrific murder, as is the standard Gotham City Tuesday, what should be a simple process of returning him to prison and going back out into the night to cripple some fly-tippers soon escalates, as it’s only but the first step of Joker’s master plan.
Predictably, everything goes tits-up and as Fun Boy Three once said, the lunatics have taken over the asylum. All the notorious villains that Batman has spent every night defeating have broken free, meaning everyone there is in danger: there’s rot, carnage, and death everywhere; it’s like Dark Souls but slightly less depressing. Batman himself will have to spend maybe ten per cent more energy than he usually does putting them right back into their cells, accompanied as always by his two most trusted allies, Strike Stottie and Knuckle Sandwich.
Arkham Asylum absolutely nails its atmosphere. The sound and environmental design are an absolute peach; the good kind that’s all soft and juicy, not those hard-as-a-rock ones that have the potential to shatter cartilage if dropped on your foot. The many corridors feel both sterile and creepy, adding to a sense of claustrophobia and even giving certain parts a slight horror vibe.
Not all the available space is imperative to the story, mind, it’s more of a way of showing the development of the background situation over time. Not to mention providing hiding spots for trophies the Riddler has left for you to pick up (and if you say you can’t imagine some sadistic bastard at Rocksteady hunched over the keyboard, smiling as they picture the mental breakdowns this inflicts on the 100%-completion nutters, then you’re lying). It’s not a sandbox, but neither is it a glorified commute between objectives, so congratulations, Arkham Asylum, you’ve escaped my wrath again. But be forewarned, you’re on thin fucking ice.
The combat system is fairly basic by today’s standards, but let’s remind ourselves that this was the game that essentially birthed the whole “strike, parry, use special moves” concept and everything still has the right amount of kick to it. There’s a satisfying weight to the punches you pull and blows you land on hapless henchmen who just thirty seconds ago were looking forward to getting back home with a full set of teeth. New enemy types are similarly introduced throughout, which means you can’t automatically put them into a full body cast for six months without some forward planning. Pulling off four different pummelling techniques and managing to keep your combo up is better than any orgasm and makes you feel like you’re still facing a challenge, even if you’re only a cannon and pair of treads away from being a M1A2C Abrams battle tank.
There are stealth sections too, which were much more my speed. In layman’s terms, they work because this where the real spirit of Batman’s crime-fighting style comes alive: you can blend in with your surroundings and get the drop on about three or four guys before their mates even have time to figure out what’s going on. Then you’re off again, crawling around ventilation ducts and jumping over ornamental gargoyles, looking for the next thug who probably won’t have much use for his writing arm for the next couple of months whilst everyone else is three or four rooms away, feeling the first few loose drops of piss start to fill their underwear.
However, bear in mind that sometimes stealth is your only option; in a room full of gunmen, you’re about as effective in a toe-to-toe scenario as a house spider with seven legs missing, even when you’ve spent the better part of the game getting nothing but armour upgrades. If I had to complain about something (and you know damn well that I do), it would be that it all sort of flounders a bit when it comes to the boss fights, most of which involve frequent dodge rolling and tricking enemies into running headfirst into walls. Even if closer to the end it gets a bit harder to do so – that Poison Ivy battle in particular was like trying to dry paint with a folding fan – it’s the only part where things become stale.
No doubt you all expect some bias regarding the final verdict, but I’m maintaining the stance that Arkham Asylum is a well-made game that deserves all the merits it earned. Even if you’re just looking for larger-than-life characters and some surprisingly decent writing, I’d recommend a purchase for those factors alone. And maybe a purchase of the next three games in the franchise, too.
Hey, I never said I wasn’t a corporate shill for DC.