Is this it? Do we finally have a Batman game less than a decade old that does the Caped Crusader justice?
Excuse us for being skeptical, but after a long string of flops like Batman: The Rise of Sin-Tzu and Batman and Robin, we had pretty much given up hope of there ever being a good 3D Batman game. When Warner Bros. and developer Rocksteady first stepped up to the plate with Batman: Arkham Asylum we were cautiously optimistic, though sudden delays earlier this year were taken as a bad sign.
Was all of this worry warranted, or has Rocksteady succeeded where so many developers before them had failed? Let's ask that most heinous of all rogues galleries - the game critics.
While other superheroes merely catch the crooks and then parade around with smug smirks, Batman goes out of his way to get inside the criminal mind and twist it into submission; that alone makes him one of my favorite comic book characters. Similarly, Batman: Arkham Asylum crawls inside your head and rearranges the furniture. It's a triumph of mood and psychological tension, and devoted fans will find a great deal to excite them. But they're also bound to be disappointed by its reliance on repetitive combat and a shortage of villains worth the big man's attention.
(Arkham Asylum) uses the heritage and tone of the license beautifully, with a great setting, brooding atmosphere and an all-star line-up of characters, and importantly, Batman doesn't feel like just another hero in this game. He's The Bat. What does that mean? It means that you're not mashing your way through combat; you're methodically and stylishly beating your enemies to a bloody pulp with a character who's weighty and powerful and can handle multiple attackers simultaneously. You're using gadgets to help you in combat and to move through the world like a high tech assassin.
Batman himself, played with chilling calm-under-pressure by Kevin Conroy, comes across exactly as he should; unyielding to a disturbing degree, so resolute in his pursuit of justice that the pain and agony being thrust upon him only serves to empower his ultimate wrath. Likewise, the Joker is evil incarnate-a homicidal maniac able to kill unconscionably and indiscriminately…except for "Bats" of course, whom he lives to torture. I'd love to say more but spoilers be damned on this one. Let's just say that Batman is in for one really, really long night.
Some situations allow you to play up your "demon of the night" legacy, by striking from the dark and instilling such a degree of fear into your opponents that they shoot at the shadows and fall right into your traps. Batman's detective skills are also used in a variety of entertaining ways, such as using his high-tech gadgetry to follow a DNA trail, or employing his perceptive skills (which in turn are yours) to solve the Riddler's many riddles. Through a beautifully designed melee system, Bruce Wayne's years of martial arts training are highlighted with brutal efficiency. Even when the odds are stacked against you ten to one, you are empowered with the feeling that you will wipe the floor with them all.
Sound is even more impressive with the cast of the animated series lending their voices to the mix. Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy reprise their roles as Joker and Batman respectively, and both deliver outstanding performances. They are accompanied by a voice cast that includes talent such as Ron Perlman, Clancy Brown and of course the return of Arleen Sorkin in her role as Harley Quinn. In addition to the stellar voice performances the game features a marvelous score that mixes the heroic tones of Batman with the dreary vibe of Arkham perfectly. Music fades in and out at just the right moments to create a suspenseful atmosphere.
I really enjoyed this game, so much so that I would have its babies if such a thing were possible. Sure, the last two boss fights sour the attraction a little, but all relationships have problems. Just look at Batman's list of lovers and Robins if you want examples. Seriously, though, Batman: Arkham Asylum is an excellent game. Buy it, play it and bask in the glow of the brightest Batman game to date.