In 2009 a small British games developer by the name of Rocksteady surprised the gaming world with not just a brilliant game, but a brilliant game based on (in my opinion) the world’s greatest comic book hero. Now with the third part of the Arkham saga being released later this month, we’re looking back at the previous installments of the series. First up, Arkham Asylum.

The game takes place over the period of one night, Batman has just captured the Joker and returned him to Arkham Asylum, but something’s not right… capturing the Joker was too easy this time, there’s a larger game afoot. The game? A carefully orchestrated plan to take over the Asylum using the inmates from Blackgate Prison (currently in Arkham due to a fire in Blackgate), use the secret formula called Titan, which has been synthesised by a doctor in Arkham and is based on the Venom syrum that created Bane, to assemble an army of super soldiers, all the while trapping Batman in Arkham with all the supervillains he’s helped imprison there. Got it? Good. Now let’s talk about what makes this game so great.

Batman - Arkham Asylum

Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and Arleen Sorkin. Cool names but why do they matter, you say? Because they make Arkham different to every other comic adapted game. Most video games based on a Marvel or DC character are made as generic movie adaptation, or just poorly made by a developer looking to make a quick buck from the name. What makes the Arkham series different and better is that they made a game not just for gamers but for the fans of the goddamn Batman! They wrote a brilliant story using Batman comics as source material, not a movie and the restrictions that come with it, and they ingeniously used voice actors from the original Batman animated series! Remember those names I mentioned? Kevin Conroy (Batman), Mark Hamill (Joker), and Arleen Sorkin (Harley Quinn). Talk about knowing your audience!

That’s something for the comic fans but what about the gamers? Arkham’s gameplay is simplistic, beautiful, and honestly makes you feel like a badass. The combat flows from one combo to another, one counter to the next, with the occasional bat-gadget mix up thrown in for good measure. You can choose to go in Batarangs blazing (which is often not a good idea) or to adopt the dark and stealthily take down your enemies, leaving them hanging from the ceiling as a warning to all the other thugs in the area. I loved taking out all but one goon in an area and watching the last man standing panic and begin randomly shooting his gun into dark with the hopes of hitting something, all the while knowing that justice was coming. The added subtlety of the Joker taunting his own men over the intercom highlights that the folks in Rocksteady really understood the characters and is frankly, pretty funny.

Arkham Asylum - Gargoyle

Holy Bat-belt, I’ve got a gadget for every occasion! As to be expected Batman comes prepared, from having his trusty utility belt and grapple hook to a Batcave on Arkham Island, there’s some cool gameplay mechanics to be had. Batman can use his grapple gun to swing from one gargoyle to another, or in combat use it to pull enemies towards him and knock them down with a close-line. Explosive gel which can breakdown certain walls is great when some thugs have unfortunately placed themselves on the other side. Detective mode has some nice features allowing Batman to analyse his surroundings, view through walls, and check the vitals of his targets (useful for when you’re trying to put the fear of God into you enemies and want to know how you’re doing). The problem with Detective mode is that it’s too easy to keep on. Often it’s easier to just use Detective mode in an entire area to keep an eye on thugs at the expense of missing the look and feel of the dark, ominous environment created for the game.

So far it’s all been good, but is there any part of this game that isn’t great? Well kinda… The boss fights in Arkham Asylum are just okay. Often they consist of fighting one giant opponent and then a random skirmish of generic goons. Fighting the two Titans, Bane, and Joker at the end of the game after he’s taken the Titan formula are pretty much just¬†rehashes of each other, and the Harley Quinn fight is pretty much just fighting a lot of thugs.¬†However, the Killer Croc and Poison Ivy fights are good enough, and probably the more interesting boss encounters are the Scarecrow illusion scenes. One of my favourite parts of the game is the dismissable cough that Batman has just before his first run in with Scarecrow. I remember thinking to myself, “That was weird, he’s never coughed before.. Ah, it’s probably nothing…”, queue crazy hallucinations, then the realisation, “Crap, I’ve been poisoned.”. It’s so subtle you could have almost missed it, but it’s the little details like that that set games apart.

Arkham Asylum - Final Fight

Speaking of the subtlely, there’s a bunch of little things in Arkham Asylum for both gamers and hardcore Batman fans. Since the game takes place over one night, Batman and his suit begin the show the wear and tear of the evening’s events as the game progresses. Joker’s continuous taunting of Batman over the intercom can be both disturbing and funny, all very true to the character. Collecting the Riddler trophies provides some fun side searching and a minor story between Batman and the Riddler. There’s also a bunch of easter eggs pointing to other villains that did not make it into the game, such as Harvey Dent / Two Face posters, Catwoman’s whip and goggles, and Penguin’s umbrellas. And then there’s this easter egg that show’s Rocksteady had an awesome gameplan from the start:

Arkham Asylum set the bar for the standard of comic book adapted games and how they can appeal to the comic fans and gamers a like. My brother, for example, who hadn’t played a game since Crash Team Racing saw Arkham Asylum and had to give it a go. He spent a week solid playing through the story, challenge mode, and even collecting all of the Riddler trophies (I have him to thank for a lot of the PSN trophies I have related to this game), all because Rocksteady struck the perfect chord between the two types of players. Next week we’ll be talking about Arkham City and how it pushed the bar even higher than Arkham Asylum. Same Bat-time, same Bat-site.

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