Batman: Arkham Asylum puts you in shoes of the Dark Knight. The Joker has been captured, and he’s being booked into insane asylum on Arkham Island. Of course, Batman wants to see this through to the end, so he’s along with the escort. However, getting captured was simply part of a devious scheme by the Joker to wreak havoc on all of Gotham. Soon after arriving, Arkham’s security is overridden by Harley Quinn, and all hell breaks lose. Members of Joker’s gang that have been captured are set free, as well as a host of insane inmates. The game itself is a 3rd person beat-em up. Batman’s primary weapons are his fists, but other equipment is available as well, such as bat-a-rangs and a grapple. Though these are used more for navigating the environment than they are for combat.
Beat-em up type games have a history of being very repetitive with bosses that are extremely difficult compared to the rest of the game. Arkham Asylum fails to be repetitive. First of all, combat is infrequent. Other games in this genre simply put the hero up against too many bad guys at once. This game will only pit you against a few opponents at a time, and the combat mechanic is very well executed. Rather than simply being attacked from all sides, by multiple enemies, only one opponent will attack Batman at a time. This gives the player to opportunity to defend themselves, retaliate, perform combo moves, and take down the enemies.
Combat is different in this regard. Simply hitting an enemy over and over will not defeat that enemy. It will knock them down, but they will get back up again. To permanently disable a foe, Batman must perform a take-down move. There are two ways to do a take-down. One is to knock the enemy down, then a key combination will execute the take-down move, however, this method leaves Batman open to attacks from other enemies. The other way to perform a take-down is to build up enough combo moves to enable an instant take-down move. This take-down will leave Batman free from assault until the move is complete. At the beginning of the game it takes ten combo moves to perform an instant take-down, but later in the game this can be reduced to five.
The general strategy, then, is to perform combos, including defending and retaliating, until an instant take-down is ready, then perform the take-down. This type of strategy can be difficult at first, and part of the fun of game is learning to time your button smashing just right. When you master this, Batman will be able to take down an entire hoard without so much as a scratch. Well, that is an exaggeration. You never have to face an entire hoard at once.
As stated though, encounters with the enemy aren’t too frequent, just enough of them to keep you interested. The rest of the game is more of an adventure, you’ll spend plenty of time exploring the various buildings of Arkham Island, seeking out various secrets, and otherwise figuring out how to reach your goals. You’ll often use what is called “Detective Mode”, which changes Batman’s vision. It allows the player to see through walls, identify exactly where enemies and other clues are, and locate secrets. Truth be told, you’ll probably spend most of your playtime in detective mode, because there is no benefit to turning it off, except that you’ll be missing out on the beautifully rendered, yet dark, environment.
The game also features a good collection of Batman enemies. You’ll face the sexy but deadly Poison Ivy, the even sexier Harley Quinn, the not-so-sexy Bane, and of course the Joker, the least sexy of them all. To be honest, though, the boss battles are pretty generic, most involve fighting off enemies while simultaneously throwing a bat-a-rang at the boss character. They are somewhat frustrating, but satisfying to get through. Ultimately they are not the best feature of this game.
The biggest complaint is the story. The entire game is limited to one island, and except for psychopaths running around not much is happening there. On occasion, Batman will receive radio transmissions from someone known as Oracle, and these are the most annoying part of the game. During a transmission, Batman puts his hand up to his ear and he can only walk while talking on the radio. Very annoying, because you can barely get Batman to move, and the transmissions aren’t that interesting, and seem to last forever. They seem to be less and less later in the game, however.
The final word is that this is a game that is worth playing. It’s fun, which is the most important thing about video games. It also stands out as one of the best beat-em ups ever designed, a good balance of combat and exploration, with only minimal frustrations. You’ll easily be able to put hours into this game, just running around the island trying to figure out the secrets.