The Game Awards gave us a new look at “Suicide Squad: Kill The Justice League,” Rocksteady’s next game, and a continuation of “Arkham Knight.” While I have high hopes for the game all around, they confirmed that Batman would be returning with this new trailer, and that got me thinking about the Arkham games, so I thought it’d be a good idea to take a look back at the immaculate Arkham trilogy, which is perhaps the best superhero game ever made. Let’s take a look at these games, one by one, and see what made them so special and stand out in their own regard. We’ll be going through them in chronological order, so we’ll start with “Arkham Asylum.” I am sorry, but I won’t be covering “Arkham Origins,” as there’s no way to play that game on modern consoles unless you have an Xbox.
In 2009, WB Games released “Batman: Arkham Asylum” to the world. Developed by a studio called Rocksteady alongside Virtuos. Before its release, the game had a lot of hype, but people were cautious because a good superhero game, especially a Batman game, was pretty much unheard of. The game was a smashing success, with praise being thrown at it from every direction. The world wasn’t ready for what Rocksteady had created, which blew everyone’s socks off and cemented Rocksteady’s name in the hall of great developers. Everything just worked for the game: the action, the story, the characters, the design, the world—all of those things practically screamed Batman and showcased how much Rocksteady knows, understands, and loves this character. Let’s take a look at all of these things one by one and see for ourselves what made “Batman: Arkham Asylum” a game worth playing. We’ll be taking a look at the game from the “Return to Arkham” remaster, as that is more accessible and can be played on both the 8th and 9th generation of consoles.
‘Batman: Arkham Asylum’ Premise
The story was penned by none other than the legendary Paul Dini himself and took place in the confines of the infamous Arkham Asylum. The game opens with a gorgeous cinematic, featuring Batman capturing and escorting The Joker to Arkham Island, aka Arkham Asylum. We get a glimpse of Gotham City, and it is as you’d expect. After reaching the asylum, the doors open, The Joker is tied to a gurney, and you take control of Batman. You walk along the halls of Arkham Asylum alongside a bunch of security guards, escorting Joker to his cell. The Joker, on the other hand, is mocking, taunting, and trying to get under everybody’s skin as he does. Along the way, you also come across Killer Croc, who tells Batman that he has his scent and threatens to kill him soon. Going down the elevator, the power suddenly goes out, and you hear the Joker’s maniacal laughter and the sounds of everyone panicking, only for the lights to come back and Batman holding Joker by his neck. Further inside, you come across Commissioner Gordon and part ways with The Joker. Gordon shakes Batman’s hand and remarks how The Joker is back where he belongs, to which Batman responds that he gave up without a fight and he doesn’t like it. Batman and Gordon keep an eye on the Joker through the looking glass as he headbutts the guard and calls out to Harley Quinn, “honey, I am home,” he says. Batman breaks through the glass and drops down, but he is a few seconds too late as The Joker runs behind the electric doors and taunts Batman. Suddenly, a horde of goons surround Batman, and once he beats them, everything turns to chaos. This is the setup for the game, and I must say the ambiance and the tone the game sets up in the first 15 minutes are incredible, and they carry through your journey. You get to know this in such a short period of time that you are in for a ride with this game. While the story itself isn’t something that’d win an Academy Award, it’s a Batman tale through and through that just works wonderfully for the character and its world. All the crazy art and the world are brought to life thanks to the stellar voice cast, which also includes Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprising their roles as Batman and The Joker, respectively. When it comes to the setup and the presentation for this game, Rocksteady spared no expense.
‘Batman: Arkham Asylum’ Gameplay
The gameplay in this game focuses on exploration, mild puzzle solving, and beating people’s faces. Looking back at it today, it’s funny to think that Rocksteady’s “freeflow” combat system would become a mainstay and the perfect example of how third-person action combat is done across the industry. Funnily enough, Rocksteady originally planned to have combat that is rhythm-based. I wonder how that would have worked. It’s crazy to think that we wouldn’t have gotten the incredible freeflow combat we have today, used across so many games with each bringing their own tweaks, had Rocksteady gone with their original rhythm-based solution. Would the Arkham games even be what they are if they had done that? The combat, in general, is easy to learn but has surprising amounts of depth under the hood. You press one button to attack, and Batman’s fist magnetically connects to the closest enemy and flows from enemy to enemy as you keep pressing the button. There is another button you press to counter enemy attacks when you see a glow on top of their heads. With these simple two buttons, you can pulverize your enemies into a pile of mulch as each blow that lands, looks, feels, and sounds like it’d hurt a lot.
The depth comes in when you combine your moves with all the gadgets Batman carries around in his utility belt and all the ways you can use skill points to upgrade him and his gadgets. You can use ground takedowns, grab enemies and throw them, throw a Batarang at someone’s face, and pull them close to you using the Batclaw, among so many other things, mid-combo, without breaking a sweat. The combat just flows with no hitches or pauses, with your combo meter going up with every hit you land, letting you make more brutal moves and making you feel like a badass, just as Batman is. While you can button-mash your way across, the real skill comes when you land perfect hits and perform perfect dodges and parries while maintaining your combo and clearing out an entire room, never getting hit once or whiffing an attack, just like Batman would. You can also expect some basic but crazy-fun boss battles sprinkled across the game. There is nothing to write home about here, but for a Batman game that came out of nowhere, is this good? These fights are a good start and do their job right.
Stealth (the Predator) also plays a major part in the game, as you’ll be in rooms where your best course of action is to take your foes out one by one without ever getting seen. You can perch on the gargoyles above the room and stalk them or take them out from there. Or you can sneak up behind someone and quietly take them out. You can even use your gadgets, like the explosive gel, to blow up weak surfaces on somebody as they walk by. It’s very creative and fun, and the way the enemies react as their numbers dwindle and panic turns to terror perfectly showcases why Batman is something to be scared of. There are even challenge maps that you can unlock, placing you in the same situations from the campaign with varying difficulties and added challenges that you must complete. These are fun additions, as they test your understanding and mastery of the mechanics the game has taught you so far.
Finally, we have exploration. The grounds of the asylum are yours to explore across its various wings. An open world of sorts with different areas to see and find mysteries in, the structure here also plays like Metroidvania, as with each new gadget and upgrade you unlock, you can go back to the previous areas and check out places there that were previously inaccessible. Throughout the asylum, you’ll find collectibles, audio tapes, easter eggs, Riddler trophies, riddles, and challenges that you can indulge in. The grounds of the asylum are really fun to roam around in, with its spooky, gothic atmosphere and a ton of hidden easter eggs paying homage to different villains and characters from across the Batman universe. All in all, this game is nigh perfect when it comes to the gameplay department, and while it may feel dated and limited when compared to the next two games in the series, it’s a solid foundation that is fun to play, get lost in, and perhaps even 100% complete.
I’ll quickly go over the characters that are featured in this game, as the Batman rogues gallery is perhaps the best one across all superheroes, with so much variety and charisma that each villain brings with him/her. We all know the Batman villains, and we all have our favorites, so there’s no need to explain any of them, but you can expect to find the usual suspects here, like Batman, the Joker, Alfred, Gordon, and Harley Quinn. Other than them, you can expect to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Bane, Killer Croc, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, Victor Zsaz, and Riddler, who challenges you mentally with his puzzles and trophies. There are more villains that are mentioned but not shown, but if you like, you can find their character art in the menus to see how Rocksteady designed them. Each villain looks awesome, comes with his or her own charm or personality, and is handled with care and respect. Again, the roster here may seem short, but it is perfect in every sense of the word.
Let’s touch upon the world a little while we are at it. Arkham Asylum is scary, spooky, and eerie, and it looks exactly as you’d imagine it. The inspiration that Rocksteady went for was very gothic, with its towering buildings, fog/smoke-covered grounds, and interiors that told the stories of the horrors the patients go through here. Arkham Asylum is isolated and isn’t a place you’d want to go, and you get to see clearly why that’s the case as you explore the island at your own leisure. The character design here as well is very befitting of its world, with everyone being bigger and beefier than a normal human would be. The music also blends perfectly with the surroundings and gives the whole place an air of menace and mystery. All things considered, Arkham Asylum isn’t a place you’d want to go to in person, but you should definitely see it through your eyes by playing this game.
The Technical Stuff
The visuals, sound, and art here are timeless and gorgeous. You can pick this game up a decade from now, and it will still look good and feel nice to play. That’s no easy feat to pull off, but then again, Rocksteady somehow did it. On consoles, the game’s resolution and framerate may not be that impressive, with them being locked at 1080p at 30 fps, but it still doesn’t take away from how gorgeous this game is. The music and sound design, in particular, deserve special credit, as the music sets the mood perfectly while the sound design shows just how hard Batman hits. The voice acting is just “chef’s kiss,” and the character design and models are truly a love letter to the Batman universe as a whole. Despite its age, “Batman: Arkham Asylum” is a game that looks, sounds, and performs incredibly.
It should go without saying at this point that “Batman: Arkham Asylum” is a solid recommendation. Suppose you are one of those few people who still haven’t checked out the Arkham series or have only played “Arkham Knight” and not the previous two games, do yourself a favor and play this game. See with your own eyes the foundation of the greatest video game trilogy ever made and how special and truly incredible it is even today. The next two games built upon this formula and made it even bigger and better, and we’ll be covering those games as well, but “Arkham Asylum” deserves special love and credit for being the one that started it all and showed us what a team of talented developers who love this character so much can do with him. A good story combined with crazy action and stealth, amazing villains in terms of their design, writing, and voice, and an art style that oozes personality make “Batman: Arkham Asylum” a must-play for Batman fans and gamers in general. Rocksteady did the unthinkable and cemented their names and legacy among some of the best game studios with this game.