Batman is a character that's rather familiar with the video game industry as he's been involved in a plethora of titles over the years. This time, Batman is being brought to gamers by Rocksteady Studios, a relatively new company based in London, England, and he is involved in a completely original adventure based around the infamous Arkham Asylum.
The basic premise of the story is that Batman has managed to capture The Joker, and is transferring him to Arkham Asylum, a prison that's home to Gotham City's most dangerous criminal minds. However, things don't go to plan, as it appears that The Joker had planned everything from the start. He manages to escape, and immediately takes control of Arkham Asylum, leaving Batman to try and thwart his plans yet again.
The story is actually really good. Being a new adventure, the writers had free licence to invoke many of Batman's famous adversaries. As well as The Joker, there is also Harley Quinn, Killer Croc, Bane, Poison Ivy and more. Some who don't necessarily have a direct role also have small cameos and it adds a lot to the authenticity. Having that many super villains could have been overwhelming, but due to the setting the balance is perfect. All of their roles in the story feel necessary for it to develop, and they aren't just there for the sake of it. By the end of the game, the story will leave players more than satisfied and it's one that can certainly be experienced more than once without becoming monotonous.
Gameplay in Batman Arkham Asylum is essentially separated into two categories: stealth and action. Although they aren't specifically defined in the main game, certain sections demand a more refined approach to allow progression. If a room has 5-6 armed assailants, it will be very difficult to go in without much self preservation as they will have very little trouble mowing Batman down. Taking a stealthy approach is much better, and this is possible by using silent takedowns, and hiding up in the rafters.
However, the more melee-based fights are where the game really shines. Initially the Freeflow combat system might seem basic, as it essentially only uses one button for attack, but after progressing through the game it feels perfectly natural. Pressing the attack button and a direction performs an attack on the enemy there. There are usually quite a few enemies in a single encounter, and having a counter feature helps to level the playing field. It also helps to actually make the combat seem freeflowing, as attacks seamlessly link together. It's an extremely rewarding system, as special moves and weapons can also be integrated into combos to make it look much more stylish and effective. There is also a reasonable variety with the enemies that are encountered and they can't all be beaten by just mashing the attack button.As a nice departure from these two modes, there is also a third, more retro gameplay type. This mode is encountered a few times throughout the game, and it involves Batman attempting to get to the end of a level, in a more 2D plane. It's a much simpler form of gameplay, but does still involve usage of Batman's gadgets, as well as melee combat. The levels are also short, and it allows for a nice reprieve to break up the action. It may seem odd to change the experience of a game when the main elements are so successful, but if the scenario is engaging it can work exceedingly well, and that's the case in Batman.
With the IP so well established, presentation is a big deal and Batman Arkham Asylum passes with flying colours. Everything looks great, and the atmosphere couldn't get much better. There is also a huge range of locations, despite it being set on a small island. Each of the various sections has a completely different look and feel, with no two places feeling the same. It's also possible to revisit practically all of the locations in the game, but they don't necessarily look the same as when initially encountered. The voice acting is for the most part stellar, although Batman can sound a bit tame sometimes. The Joker is especially good, and The Riddler never gets old when his little quips appear.
For being a single-player focused game, Batman also has quite a lot to offer. The story-mode is of a reasonable length, and The Riddler gives Batman plenty challenges to solve. These can range from finding hidden trophies, to solving riddles about items found somewhere in that specific area. The amount of challenges is quite substantial, and will keep players occupied for a decent amount of time. They also allow players to experience the other types challenges. These put Batman in a specific situation which revolves around either combat or stealth. The combat challenges require the player to get the biggest combos, while the stealth challenges task Batman with nullifying a set amount of The Joker's goons. Each of the challenges is set in a different stage from the game, and there are also extreme versions for those wanting an extra challenge. Leaderboards can also be viewed, so it's possible to check out worldwide rankings. On the PlayStation 3 version, these challenges can also be played using The Joker, which adds an extra reason to replay as he has a completely different set of tools.
Batman Arkham Asylum ticks all the boxes. It has a great story, which is more than worthy of the Dark Knight. It also has a great combat system, which is broken up with stealth and other interludes. Combine this with a good amount of replayability, excellent graphics and a fantastic level of authenticity, it's definitely something that fans will surely appreciate. Simply put, Batman is a stellar action title and one that shouldn't be missed.