Batman: Arkham Asylum Collector’s Edition (PS3)
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Release Date: 08/25/2009
You know, when Batman: Arkham Asylum was first announced, I actually had no interest in the game. After all, it was an Eidos game. Eidos is best known for their horrible Tomb Raider games and an utter lack of ethics when it comes to trying to buy, bribe or bully high scores out of reviewers. I can’t think of a game by Eidos I’ve ever actually enjoyed. Plus, the last time there was really good Batman game was back in the NES days with the Keaton-Nicholson movie tie-in. Batman: Vengeance for the Gamecube is probably the runner up and even then… it had issues. So Eidos plus a licensed title equaled a must miss in my mind.
Then things started happening. Rocksteady got a large chunk of the voice actors from Batman: The Animated Series to do the voices. What can I say, Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill were enough to get my attention. Then the game actually looked pretty good from screenshots we were shown. Then the collector’s edition was announced. My own batarang, some bonus content and a leatherbound book? Okay, my interest was piqued and I decided to review this. Then the demo for the game came out and, shock of all shocks, it was a lot of fun and the controls were exceptionally tight. I was shocked and now really looking forward to Arkham Asylum and its eventual release date.
So now it’s out and here we are. How does Arkham Asylum hold up? Is it yet another Eidos title destined for the garbage dump, do we have the first high quality Batman title in twenty years, or maybe, just maybe, do we have a solid Game of the Year contender?
The story of Batman: Arkham Asylum is written by Paul Dini, the writer of many episodes from B:TAS, but also the current writer of Gotham City Sirens and the upcoming Zatanna series. The man’s responsible for the greatest Batman film of all time, Mask of the Phantasm, so I had high hopes for the plot of this, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Basically, this is supposed to be the worst day of Batman’s life. Now I know this has done before. I mean there’s Knightfall and War Games. There’s also the recent Batman: R.I.P and Final Crisis where they kill Bruce Wayne, and by kill, I mean the Omega Sanction from Darkseid. So really, this idea is neither original nor innovative. However, it is HOW the tale is told that makes this stand out.
Batman is returning The Joker to the revolving door known as Arkham Asylum. At the same time, Arkham is full of prisoners from Blackgate Prison due to a massive fire that broke out there. Once Batman enters with Joker, Joker breaks free thanks to some crooked cops and inmates posing as Asylum workers. Before you know it, Joker has taken control of the entire island Arkham is based on and he lets loose all the supervillains. Now Batman has to save the staff of Arkham, Commissioner Gordon and a few cops, along with taking back Arkham single handedly while kicking bad guy butt.
Everything is written beautifully and characters sound exactly like you would expect if you are a fan of the cartoon or comics. Dini’s even kept certain characters as they are in the comic, such as Riddler being a quasi-good guy now, and even Bane is a sympathetic character here, with you only having to fight him because Joker filled him with so much Venom that he has gone mad with range.
I was ecstatic with the characterization, and it was great to see even little known Batman characters like The Great White Shark and Aaron Cash showing up (read Dan Slott’s Arkham Asylum: Living Hell mini-series.). They even have cameos by characters like Jack Ryder AKA The Creeper. Awesome!
The modes are fairly standard. You have Campaign Mode, which is a little too linear to be a Sandbox game, but you will spend about thirty hours collecting items, rantings of a ghost, inmate interviews and Riddler trophies. Think GTA or Infamous, but with a quality story, likeable characters and not killing anyone.
Then you have Challenge Mode, which gives you a choice between Freeform and Predator. With Freeform, the goal is to take out four waves of enemies. Each wave features smarter and harder enemies than the last and your goal is to survive and get a high score. In Predator, you’re trying to take out enemies as quickly (and quietly) as you can. With the PS3 version, you also have a JOKER challenge mode where you play as The Clown Prince of Crime, which is pretty awesome. As this is the collector’s edition we also have two downloadable maps: Crime Alley and Dem Bones. Crime Alley is just a generic Freeform battle, while Dem Bones puts you under the influence of Scarecrow’s fear gas, so you’re beating up skeletons. This has an added challenge where you aren’t allowed to take even a single blow, or it is game over. This is definitely a bit of a challenge, but a really fun one.
All in all, there is a lot to Batman: Arkham Asylum, and the game approaches RPG levels of timesink. I spent eight hours straight playing the game without realizing how much time had flown by, and found I was only at the 20% completed mark. Impressive. Batman: Arkham Asylum gives us one of the best super hero stories ever to hit gaming along with an amazing amount of content. Colour me impressed.
Story/Modes Rating: Unparalleled
Batman: Arkham Asylum is one of the best looking games I’ve played on the PS3. Although it is somewhat jarring to hear the animated cast voices come out of a darker and more realistic set of visuals, I can’t deny that the cast and crew of Batman have never looked better in video game form. There are some pretty big costume changes for a few characters, most noticeably Scarecrow and Poison Ivy, but there’s no denying the amount of detail and texturing that went into this game, from costumes to background, is stunning. There are only two complaints I can make, and both are minor. The first is water in the game, especially waterfalls, looks more than a little off. The other is that I wish we had a choice of Batman costumes. What can I say, I miss the yellow oval, and it would have been fun to do this looking like Terry McGinnis. I believe the PC version has this option, due to some creative hacks, but for the PS3, we’re stuck with just one Batman suit in the Campaign and an armoured suit if you unlock it for the Challenge Maps.
The animation is fluid and realistic. Everyone moves, reacts and dies in such a lifelike manner that it’s quite impressive. There IS some slowdown, although I’ve only encountered it in the Bane boss fight; the game slows down in a way that is neither comfortable nor helpful, so if this slowdown is planned, then it was poorly implemented.
Backgrounds are very well done, and I really like the subtle but noticeable shifts the graphics take when you turn Detective Mode on. You can also hit the R3 button to get a close up of things, and I was impressed with how much detail went into the smallest and most obscure of details. Whether it’s a readable newspaper article on an Arkham escapee or seeing Tommy Elliott’s name on a board on a wall for Arkham staff (Uh oh…), Batman fans will be gobsmacked at how many little touches are put into this game and how amazing it looks. I can’t help but be impressed yet again with the level of quality Rocksteady put into this game. It’s hard to believe it’s only their second ever title.
Graphics Rating: Great
You probably won’t be surprised at me giving the audio top marks here. When you’ve got Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill playing Batman and the Joker yet again, you know there will be nary a complaint from Batfans the world over in this department. The rest of the cast performs marvelously. There isn’t a bad actor in the bunch, from the lowest thug used for cannon fodder to a few special surprise characters who appear by voice only. Although we don’t get a full repeat of the original cast and crew from Batman:The Animated Series, the replacements are so good, you won’t even care unless you are exceptionally anal.
The soundtrack for the game is quite good. In watching the bonus disc with developer interviews, I was surprised to hear that the team was told not to let the game sound like an Elfman soundtrack, the animated series or the Nolan films, especially since they wanted the animated voice acting cast. Still, the score really accentuates the mood of the game and you won’t be disappointed, even if you do instinctively expect a certain theme to play every time Batman uses his grapple gun.
My favourite part in the game comes when you are in the morgue after getting hit with fear gas. Just the creepy whispering over and over again was the perfect thing to have for music/sound effects for that situation and location.
With a stellar soundtrack and top notch voice acting, Batman: Arkham Asylum is what everyone would want a Batman game to sound like.
Sound Rating: Unparalleled
4. Control and Gameplay
I generally don’t like 3-D action games due to camera and control issues. Usually one or both sucks big time, but thankfully, Batman: Arkham Asylum does a pretty good job with both.
Let’s handle combat first. There are only three buttons you really need for combat. The square button is for attacking, the circle button is for using your cape to stun opponents and the triangle button is for counter attacks, which are ALWAYS telegraphed by your opponents, so you can always pull this off. As such, the game really feels like a high quality beat ‘em up from the 8 and 16 bit era like Streets of Rage and Double Dragon. As you earn experience to upgrade Batman’s moves and items, the game ends up feeling more like the almighty River City Ransom.
You also have your Batarang, which can be used as a weapon, your grapple gun, the batclaw for pulling off grates, explosive gel to blow up walls and more. You can also upgrade your batarang and costume protection, and even hang upside down to take out thugs in a creepy and yet awesome way.
Best of all, the game offers you a detective mode. You’ll use this mode to see through walls via x-rays or infrared sighting. It also lets you scan the air for gases or traces of things like whiskey or nicotine. This is a lot of fun, and it gets even better thanks to the Riddler Challenges. Riddler has hidden 240 things all over the island. We’ve already covered a lot of these earlier, but Riddler also has several actual riddles he poses you, and you’ll have to scour the island for what you think is the answer, then take a scan of it in detective mode. If it’s right, you’ll be told, and if it is wrong you’ll be told you either need to get in better alignment, close in on the item, pan back or that it’s not the right thing. There are also a lot of question marks you’ll have to align with your field of vision. Maybe the second floor of the building has a question mark minus the period at the bottom. You’ll have to break through a glass floor and then you’ll be able to see the dot. Then it’s just moving Batman and the camera so the two line up to make a perfect question mark. I had a lot of fun with these.
I love that the gameplay is exceptionally simple and yet so much fun. It ensures that anyone who picks up the controller will be able to play and have fun with the game. That doesn’t mean the game doesn’t offer you some challenges; just try to do a 20 or 40 hit combo. The closest thing I can come up with to a complaint is that in boss fights, there seems to be a bit of lag with the jump evade button (X).
Batman: Arkham Asylum should invoke memories of your favourite old school beat ‘em ups, albeit it with better graphics, sound and story. It’s not a button masher per say, as skill and timing does play a part, but if you decided to play the game as one, you’d still be able to muddle through things. Huge props here for returning life to a subgenre nearly dead and dormant.
Control and Gameplay: Great
There is no New Game+ option once you beat campaign mode, but anything you unlock or upgrade is available in the challenge maps. The game is somewhat linear, but for the most part you can explore the entirety of Arkham Asylum unabated. You can enter locations before you’re supposed to, but some things will be off limits, while you can go back into places you’ve cleaned out to finish collecting items and the like. Finding all 240 hidden items for all the Riddler’s Challenges will take a lot of time, but it’s a lot of fun. The detective aspect of Batman was always my favourite bit about him, so I actually spent time ignoring the main plot of the game and trying to solve Edward Nigma’s riddle-fest.
As you proceed through the game and/or solve specific Riddler Challenges, you’ll unlock challenge maps. There are well over a dozen challenge maps to unlock (with the PS3 version having more than the 360 thanks to the exclusive Joker maps). Although many of the maps are repetitive, it’s a lot of fun to replay them multiple times to try and beat not only your score, but your friends and the PSN network’s scores as well. I’m currently #1 on all my unlocked maps compared to my friends list and I was ecstatic when I made the top 200 from Crime Alley across PSN my second time doing it. Again, this is old school arcade beat ‘em up at its finest, while also being updated for modern day gaming.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is a nice change of pace. Most action games are only 8-12 hours long and those that go over tend to get stale pretty quickly. Batman: Arkham Asylum can easily reach 30-40 hours if you’re trying to 100% Campaign Mode, unlock all the challenge maps and score three batarangs on them. I’m still a little taken aback at how much content there is in this game and how big Rocksteady made Arkham Island. This is definitely a game that you can play for longer than some RPG’s and still not have finished the game. Batman fans, action game fans, and gaming fans in general will easily be getting their money’s worth, and you’ll definitely be coming back to this time and time again, even if it’s to solve one last riddle or outdo your high score on a challenge map.
Replayability Rating: Great
Batman: Arkham Asylum offers three different difficulty levels, and there’s a subtle but noticeable difference between them all. Enemies seem to have more health, you seem to take more damage and you either get less experience for actions or it takes more experience to get an upgrade. Still, the rank and file enemies that make up the majority of the game are actually very easy if you grew up with beat ‘ups or have gravitated towards modern ones like Watchmen: The End is Nigh or Onechanbara: Bikini Zombie Slayers.
Boss battles are actually quite different from each other and require a little bit of thinking. You need stealth for Poison Ivy, stealth and timing for Scarecrow, and all out violence and dodging for Bane, and there are many more examples. Harley Quinn is a one hit KO for you, but to get to her, you have to take out four thugs with assault rifles through stealth. If even one sees you, Commissioner Gordon dies. It’s really neat to see how varied the boss battles are, and you’ll probably die on several or most of them at least once, especially the stealth missions, until you learn patterns and what you’re supposed to do. Even when you die though, it’s pretty awesome. If you die against a Boss, that boss will give you a taunt before you’re allowed to restart. Bane, for example, breaks Batman’s spine ala Knightfall and yells, “The Bat has been broken.” Awesome. If you die from a fall or regular gunplay, it’s the Joker that taunts you.
The game is never hard or frustrating ala SNK End Boss Syndrome, but it does offer you a nice amount of challenge. I found finding some of the inmate tapes harder than most of the battles, but the fact the game balances detective work and mindless violence just shows you how much Rocksteady actually cared about giving the Batman mythos the respect it deserves.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is sure to test the mettle of any gamer who picks it up. How much depends on both your reflexes and your inductive reasoning. Again, there is something here for everyone and I feel a little dirty saying that about an Eidos and a licensed game.
Balance Rating: Great
This is Arkham Asylum‘s only real weak spot, as the game doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. There are a lot of games with Batman out there. The story of “everyone gets out of Arkham and Batman has to round them up” has been done multiple times before in the comics, and even to a degree in other video games. Still, this is the first real free roaming Batman game where everyone is stuck on the island trying to kill him, so that’s something. It’s also the first game where you can actually play as the Joker, which is a fun little twist.
The challenge maps are a nice change of pace and it’s fun to have simple little mini games like these. Due to the different environments and tiny changes between each one, they all manage to stay fresh and fun.
At the end of the day though, there are many Batman games out there, there are many free-roaming action games out there, and there are many beat ‘em up brawlers. Batman: Arkham Asylum has definitely done this combination better than any game before it, but it can’t even claim to be the first. The more recent Activision Spider-Man games hold that distinction. Still, even though Batman: Arkham Asylum is a bunch of the best parts of many different genres, it still stands out because it’s so well made. Plus you know, the PS3 lets you shoot people in the head as Joker. Ouch.
Originality Rating: Mediocre
In my ripe old age of 32, I find I can’t play video games for long periods of time like when I was in high school or college. I don’t have time, and even when I do, I find I get bored quickly. Even games that I have loved this year like Devil Survivor or Crimson Gem Saga are titles I can’t play for more than two or three hours in a row.
With Batman: Arkham Asylum, I turned the game in on launch day at 1pm and didn’t stop until 11:30pm. My only breaks were for bathroom, making dinner and chasing my rabbits away from my 150 year old Amish rocking chair. The game was just that amazing, and if I didn’t have to get up the next morning for a dentist appointment and work, I’d have just kept playing.
Batman: Arkham Asylum just combines my love of comics from childhood with my love of Batman: The Animated Series from high school coupled with my cranky old man needs for games with a well built engine and solid gameplay. I couldn’t put the controller down, and more importantly, I want to keep playing it, even while writing this. It’s definitely something that’s staying in my collection for some time to come.
Addictiveness Rating: Unparalleled
9. Appeal Factor
Honestly, who doesn’t like Batman? The Dark Knight is one of the highest grossing movies of all time and Heath Ledger won a posthumous Oscar for his role as The Joker. Batman is a piece of Americana, one of the most recognizable pieces of pop culture in the world and is one of those things people still love, even when they stop being an avid comic reader.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is arguably the best comic book game ever made. It’s easily one of the best games released in 2009. It’s got the voice acting cast from the animated series. It looks amazing. It has simple controls that let anyone enjoy the game while also offering three difficulty settings so you can have as much of a challenge as you want. It’s got Batman.
It’s going to be hard to find someone who DOESN’T enjoy this game, if not outright love it. It’s one of those rare gems in gaming: an exceptional licensed title that not only does the license justice, but is also a cross platform title that deserves to be a GOTY contender. I honestly can’t think of the last time I encountered a cross-platform licensed title that deserved GOTY consideration, can you?
Appeal Factor: Unparalleled
Usually we talk about the extras in this category. Instead I’ll talk about what you get with your Collector’s Edition of Arkham Asylum and if it is worth the extra forty dollars.
First off, there is there is the large Batarang shaped hard case the game comes in. While neat looking, it’s actually really big and takes up more space than I would prefer any one game to have.
There’s a blu-ray disc of interviews, which is pretty underwhelming. Although there’s a lot on here, most of it is boring hype. I’d have rather heard about who threw the game together, how they approached and got Dini to write the game, what the voice actors think about returning to these characters with totally different visuals, and so on.
Third is a 48-page “journal” with notes by Dr. Young (a major character in the game) and her thoughts on Gotham’s rogue’s gallery. Most of this is already in the game under files cards, so it’s once again, a bit underwhelming.
The batarang that comes with the game is pretty kick ass, but alas, you can’t remove it from its stand. I suppose this is to prevent injuries and lawsuits. Still, it’s pretty sweet and I’d have paid twenty bucks just for that.
Finally we have the two DLC challenge maps: Dem Bones and Crime Alley. I actually prefer both of these to the other Challenge maps you have for the first half of the game, and I’m assuming they will go for about $1.99 – 4.99 when more DLC for Arkham Asylum is made available. I think more than three dollars for Challenge Maps will be pushing it greatly, but I can see it happening.
So is the upgrade really worth the extra forty bucks? Well, the batarang is nice and the DLC is cute but nothing mind blowing. The other stuff is really just swag that takes up space. Honestly, I guess I’m still a bit spoiled by the awesome stuff that came with Working Designs’ games. Both of the Lunar’s and Arc the Lad Collection came with a lot of stuff, and there was only a ten to twenty dollar price tag increase.
So let’s see, hypothetically I’d pay $26 for the challenge maps and the batarang. That puts us at $86. So is a bulky case, a journal of rehashed info and a behind the scenes disc that is a bit pants worth $14 bucks? Well *I* wouldn’t pay for it, but a lot of Batman fans will, and that’s the point.
Of course, I got mine set for free through Gamestop’s 25% trade in bonus and so I traded in three crappy games I didn’t want anymore for what is currently my front runner for GOTY, and in this case, going for the CE was definitely worth it.
Overall, skip the collector’s edition unless you are a really big Batman fan or NEED the DLC and/or a batarang, but otherwise it’s overpriced crap to clutter up your closet accompanying a very awesome game.
Miscellaneous: Above Average
Control and Gameplay: Great
Appeal Factor: Unparalleled
Miscellaneous: Above Average
FINAL SCORE: INCREDIBLE GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary
Batman: Arkham Asylum is a type of game so rare that I have to strain my brain to think of another of its kind: a multi-platform licensed title that is actually so good it deserves serious Game of the Year consideration. It’s a wonderful blend of old school button mashing beat ‘em ups like River City Ransom, sandbox elements and some familiar voice acting talents sure to delight Batman: The Animated Series fans . The fact this is also an Eidos game that has achieved this level of excellence has left me with an irrational need to go to www.weather.com and enter the zip code for the City of Dis to make sure it’s not in the midst of a blizzard. Make no mistake about it – Batman: Arkham Asylum is a must buy.