Review: Batman: Arkham Asylum (video game) for PS3

Games based on the Batman franchise have been mostly unspectacular.  From the platforming of Batman: Return of the Joker on NES to Batman Begins on Xbox, the games never really captured the feel of Batman.  Most have been panned by the gaming press, too.  But with the arrival of Batman; Arkham Asylum (available for PS3 and Xbox 360), that appears to have changed.  This review is based on the PS3 version of the game.

Based on a original story drawing heavily on (but not strictly adhering to) the comic continuity, the game opens up with Batman returning the Joker to Arkham Asylum after an attack on the mayor.  While the police are relieved that Joker surrendered easily and the guard at the asylum are anxious to get Joker secured, Batman suspects the Joker has more up his sleeve.  With the normally chaotic madhouse also housing dozens for prisoners from Blackgate Prison (thanks to a mysterious fire), the guards are having enough trouble as it is.  Once inside the asylum’s high tech security, Joker makes his move, aided by Harley Quinn who has taken over the security.  Batman is forced to go after the Joker, becoming trapped inside the madhouse.  The only way out is to go deeper into the Joker’s trap.

The game features a simple combat interface, with the face buttons used for combat: one for attack, counter, stun and dodge.  The L1 button, quickly tapped, unleashes a batarang to stun your opponents.  Some enemies are are huge, pumped up on a substance called titan, which give them enormous strength but little intelligence.  This mysterious substance is one of the subplots in the game and you find out more about it and Joker’s plans for it as you progress.

Not all enemies are easy.  Besides those with knives stun rods and baseball bats, some are armed with assault rifles.  For those guys, you go into “Invisible Predator mode.”  Using the shadows and your surroundings, you silently pick off you opponents with stealth takedowns and swooping down from above.  Later on the enemies are more easily alerted when you take one out so you have to quickly return to the shadows and avoid contact.

Then, there are the boss fights.  The game uses over a half dozen of Batman’s rogues’ gallery, including the Joker.  Some fights are easy, such as taking out serial kill Victor Zsasaz or Joker’s moll, Harley Quinn.  Other are tougher, such as Bane, Poison Ivy and Killer Croc.  There is also the nightmare levels induced by the Scarecrow, which you avoid his gaze until you get to end.  Of course, at the end, there is the Joker and things are rarely easy with him.

Besides the main game play, you can unlock challenge maps, which either tests your brawling skills against waves of enemies or the Invisible Predator challenges, which test how quickly and silently you can take out a group of armed goons.  The PS3 has a downloadable patch available for free which lets you use the Joker on some of these maps.  Using the joker is different from using Batman, and presents it’s own unique challenges.

All and all, Batman: Arkham Asylum delivers on a first rate Batman game.  The island is huge, the Riddler trophies encourage exploration and as you progress, you gain equipment that you can use to reach places that you couldn’t before.  The combat can get repetitive, but it can be challenging with the inclusion of Titan-infused goons and machine gunners.  All and all, this game is one no fan of Batman or superheroes in general should miss.

4.5 out of 5