Retro-review: Batman: Akham Asylum (PC)

With Arkham City coming up, it was high time I took a shot at Arkham Asylum. Can a game that celebrated ever stand a chance with the hype and praise lavished upon it? Yup.

I’m not a huge Batman fan.

When it comes to comics, I’m more of a Marvel man. And by that I mean Spider-man. I’ve always enjoyed a good sense of humor to a dark anti-hero. (Batman’s so dark the hyphen got scared and ran away).

It doesn’t help that because of Batman, comics are chocked full of dark, brooding antiheroes. That gets so boring. It is indescribable.

Still, Batman’s the hero that’s had the most success leaping off of the comic page and onto movie and TV screens. That’s because he has a few things going for him. First, Batman isn’t a superhero. He’s just a rich guy who uses embezzled funds to fuel his crime-fighting psychosis.  Second, he has a deep, colorful cast of villains. Finally, he has gadgets. Really, he’s kind of James Bond in a cape.

For some reason, the Batman experience has never been translated to the video game world as well as it could be. Arkham Asylum is the first to realize the strengths of Batman as a character (with his tools and intimidation alongside his fighting prowess) and channel that into a compelling story… into a faithful Batman experience.

You ARE Batman. You have his strengths and weaknesses. Darkness is your canvas. Fear is your brush. It’s the opposite of survival horror. YOU are the monster in the dark.

The gameplay is well documented. The fight system is simple to learn but has enough depth to keep you playing. The stealth system is the star however thanks to good level design. You can hide in the shadows and plan your moves. Yet you can never be too comfortable either.

The best part is you don’t have to be a huge Batman fan to enjoy Arkham Asylum. It’s game and level design that keeps you coming back. The fact that it’s faithfully represented in the world of Batman just adds another level of enjoyment.

There’s a LOT more good than bad, but I do have to mention the bad.

The environment, the atmosphere is constructed wonderfully. From the beginning you find yourself in a shadowy nightmare, not sure of what’s going to happen, how it will play out. However, by the end the story just can’t live up to the world it’s in.

SPOILERS

Joker’s trying to make an army of Venom-fueled soldiers. That’s it. For a game that exceeds the typical pedestrian Batman trappings so well, it’s rough when you realize the story is so mundane.

I was expecting a world-crashing, Bioshock-esque type twist. At least a story that would shake Batman to his core. Joker spent a lot of time setting up a giant rat trap to catch Batman. Apparently the whole idea was just to throw bigger minions at Batman. You can’t help but think that Joker could’ve easily made his army while in the asylum and simply broken out later.

The Killer Croc segment was also irritating. Having to walk over the floating tiles was okay for a few minutes. But after about 30 minutes I wanted to claw my eyes out.

You also get a bit tired of retracing your steps through the same few buildings and caves. Things do change a round a bit as the story progresses, but there will be a few areas you dread revisiting.

When the game’s over you can revisit the best parts of the game in the challenge and bonus segments. These are quick levels devoted to fighting or stealth. It lets you enjoy the two best parts of the game without having to play it again.

Arkham Asylum is so good that the few problems I mentioned feel very minor. It’s streamlined and addictive without losing the lore and environment that have gained Batman such a large number of followers. The worst part about finishing the game was realizing that Arkham City is so far away.

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