The best Batman video game is a title with no meaning. Lackluster quality is a characteristic often tied to games that license creative properties. The hook for the consumer is that they can play as characters they enjoy in a universe they’re already familiar with.
Spending money on acquiring a license with a built-in fanbase seems like a much safer risk than spending that same capital on developing an innovative gameplay mechanic or unique aesthetic design that will help a title stand out from the pack. One only has to take a look at the best-selling titles of this generation to see that even games not based off a pre-existing creative property in another medium are milking franchises firmly established in gaming.
So Batman: Arkham Asylum is the best Batman video game ever, and thankfully it is also a very good game. It really doesn’t do anything new, and it has its share of flaws, but its still quite impressive that a game based on a comic book franchise can contend with the other big games coming out this fall.
Piecing Together Batman
Batman is a character who stealthily picks off his enemies by setting traps and using the environment to his advantage. Of course, the vast majority of Batman games portray him as a hulking brute who is content on pummeling waves of goons, occasionally mixing things up by dispatching his foes with bat-shaped weaponry. So it makes sense it took this long for someone to make a Batman game that feels like Batman because the mechanics appropriated here had to be developed and proven in other titles.
Arkham Asylum is a pot luck of gameplay mechanics that players have likely seen before. The game’s point of view is framed just over Batman’s shoulder much like in Resident Evil 5 or the Gears of War games, among numerous other next-gen titles. The multiple scanning modes Batman uses to evaluate the environment have been plucked straight from the Metroid Prime series. The combat is a near carbon copy of Assassin’s Creed‘s combat that allowed players to smoothly transition from attacking one enemy to another by holding the control stick in a different direction. Arkham Asylum even throws in the stylish counter maneuver that defined that Assassin’s Creed melee combat.
Above all else, the game draws the majority of its inspiration from the Splinter Cell series.
From the takedowns to the variety of gadgets to the general stalking of enemies in the shadows, controlling Batman feels like controlling a caped Sam Fisher. Even Batman’s glowing eyes in Detective Mode bears more than a passing resemblance to Fisher’s trademark neon-green night vision goggles.
More Videogame, Less Comic Book
Batman: Arkham Asylum‘s story is unfortunately trapped within its medium. The game very much is a Batman video game, crafting a scenario where the Dark Knight must face several of his famous nemeses interspersed between mobs of criminals and puzzles. The player is dropped into Batman’s boots after successfully arresting the Joker and bringing him into Arkham Asylum. Things quickly go awry, with Joker escaping and Arkham’s prisoner population being released.
Whereas the game successfully creates an interesting setting for Batman to explore, the player is locked into a linear path. Typically the Joker will create a problem and Batman will have to solve it, leaving little reason to explore the beautiful world the developers have created aside to pick up bonuses like Riddle Trophies or recorded interview sessions with the game’s villains.
The majority of the game is solving Zelda-esque puzzles and following clues (usually in the form of trail only visible in Detective Mode) interrupted by swarms of lunatics or the occasional boss battle with a staple from Batman‘s rogue’s gallery.
The game chooses not to offer a wide variety of villains (most likely due to time constraints) but focuses on Batman running into the same foes over and over again. This wouldn’t be a problem as the villain selections are all good but the battles with each villain are slightly more difficult rehashes of the previous fight. Oddly enough, sometimes a new boss will play almost exactly like an old one. The majority of these encounters have the player facing off with a gigantic, musclebound enemy content on charging mindlessly at Batman and the solution to these battles is always to blind the boss with a Batarang and watch him crash into a wall.
The world of Arkham Asylum is very much realized, filled with references and details that fans of Batman will likely eat up. Aside from the aforementioned interview tapes, there are biographies for every character referenced in the game (even if they never actually appear in the game), and little nods like Two Face’s half-shredded cell and an appearance by Clayface players could miss completely.
There’s also a series of challenges that focus on the stealth and melee combat, which are Arkham Asylum’s best points, where players can compete for fastest time.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is a solid game because of what it drew from other video games but misses being a great game because it does not draw enough from comic books. Although the typical narrative formula of a video game can work for a lot of titles, it hurts Arkham Asylum with repetition and a lackluster plot.