Well before the MCU and DCU took over cinema, superheroes were finding their way into video games. From X-Men to Superman and more, there have been a variety of games that have provided joy for players who love comic books. Some of these games are absolute gems, providing excellent gameplay that makes you feel immersed in the character. Take 2004’s Spider-Man 2, its open-world allows you to swing around New York, giving you this incredible feeling that you are Spider-Man.
But we’re here to talk about another video game based on an iconic superhero. We’re here to talk about Batman: Arkham Asylum.
When I first saw the trailer for this game 10 years ago, I was blown away. Not only were the graphics awesome, but the vibe itself caught me off guard. Up until Arkham Asylum’s release, I was used to seeing superhero video games in a more “kid-friendly” light; some titles may have tossed in a dark reference or theme there and then, but for the most part, the narratives associated with these games were simple and clean cut.
So when I got to see Arkham Asylum in all its creepy, gothic glory, I was amped.
The game begins with Batman taking the Joker into Arkham. Batman gets the sense that something is not right, as capturing the Joker was too easy. Not too long after initially bringing the Joker in, he is able to get away from the guards, revealing that it was his plan to be brought back to Arkham. Joker threatens to blow up Gotham City if Batman does not stay within the asylum to chase him down. As the player takes control of Batman, it is up to them to navigate the asylum, taking on thugs and part of Batman’s rogue’s gallery.
The game’s intro is pretty incredible; not only does the player get to take in all the lovely graphical detail, but it also does an excellent job presenting the overall atmosphere. It’s a gloomy night as you drive towards Arkham in the Batmobile; when you finally get into the asylum, you’ll notice the dim lighting and industrial coldness that make up Arkham. There’s even an awesome moment where you cross paths with Killer Croc, who looks terrifying in this game (and makes for one of the tenser boss fights later on).
Arkham Asylum’s narrative plays out to loads of epic moments that exude adrenaline and suspense. Along with an awesome cast of characters, one of the best components to Arkham Asylum is playing as Batman, for this is the first game to make you really feel like you are Batman. This sensation is primarily done through the game’s mechanics.
Combat feels powerful throughout Arkham Asylum; whether you are beating foes down with your fists, or catching them off guard with gadgets, it always feels satisfying to enter a brawl. But speaking of gadgets, there are several moments throughout the game where direct combat is not the best idea. In these cases, the game has the player take a stealth approach, using their grappling hook to latch onto nearby ledges and gargoyles, stalking their prey from above. When the moment is right, you can swoop down to tackle your foe, or pull them up to a ledge and knock them out up there. Strategy makes for a big element in Arkham Asylum, for if the body of a defeated foe is found by other thugs, they will all be on the alert. As Batman, you have the ability to jump into small passages, hiding in the darkness until the time is right to reappear.
Enemy types involve your typical thugs in various forms (sometimes with shields or additional weaponry). As these enemy types begin to mix later on in the game, the player has to keep in mind strategy as they move about; even though combat remains fluid from beginning to end, the pacing in which challenge is presented allows for the player to feel a sense of success in each confrontation.
On top of this gameplay immersion, the game also has Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and Arleen Sorkin providing the voices for Batman, the Joker, and Harley Quinn respectively; this is pretty awesome if you grew up watching the Batman Animated Series, given that these actors voiced the characters for the show. As a whole, Arkham Asylum offers a terrific sincerity and makes the player feel like they are Batman in the Batman world.
Arkham is a truly grungy, chilling setting. As you run around and climb up its gothic structure, you can’t help but take in its ominous vibes. There’s also this great element of feeling trapped within its walls; since Arkham is meant to be an institution to keep mad criminals locked up, the game does a splendid job providing bits of anxiety and surprises along the way.
Along with this chilling presentation comes the Scarecrow segment; when it comes time to confront Scarecrow, the game’s environment goes to some surreal, nightmarish places. At one point, Batman will begin to see bizarre hallucinations of his dead parents (having ingested some of Scarecrow’s fear toxin). Shortly after, the game drops the player into this trippy world full of broken structures they must jump to and from. In the middle of all of this is a giant Scarecrow looming over everything. In this platforming section, the player must avoid Scarecrow, making their way to the end to properly defeat him. The Scarecrow segment makes for an excellent way to catch the player off guard and add upon the overall creepy atmosphere.
Each boss fight is intriguing; along with the Scarecrow encounter, you’ll go up against other baddies like Bane, Poison Ivy, and Killer Croc. These encounters make for theatrical set pieces, each utilizing different strategies to defeat the opponent. Personally speaking, Killer Croc is a standout moment among the boss fights.
You encounter Croc in the sewers; you find yourself on these wooden boards as you walk up and down various pathways. Croc eventually makes himself known, threatening to take you out before diving underwater. From there, you must navigate the sewers on these boards, being mindful of how fast you are moving and when Croc may appear. Too sudden of a movement will alert Croc as to where you are. If he hears your footsteps, he springs up from the water and jumps onto the boards, charging right at you. You have a limited amount of time to hit him with a batarang before he grabs you. The visual of this hulking humanoid reptilian man is terrifying.
Along with its numerous collectibles and easter eggs, Batman: Arkham Asylum is one of the most sincere Batman video game experiences to date. Upon its release the game received waves of commercial and critical applause, with many praising its gameplay, design, and authentic presentation. The Arkham series has gone on to spawn numerous additional entries (Arkham City, Arkham Origins, Arkham Knight, Arkham VR, and two mobile games).
Batman: Arkham Asylum is not only a brilliant action-adventure title, but also one of the truly best comic book video games of all time. For its ability to make players feel like the titular hero, along with its fun story, excellent gameplay, and a great environment, Batman: Arkham Asylum is how you create a captivating superhero experience.