Like Psychonauts (and Aquaria), I've had Arkham Asylum in my playing list for a long time. When doing research for examples of games the you shouldn't have preordered, I noticed that I somehow had Arkham Knight. That was news to me! Turns out that it slipped into a recent Humble Bundle, a long time after another Humble Bundle gave me some other Arkham games. I've heard some good things about the Arkham series for years, namely, they are some of the best superhero games ever made. I resolved to continue to complete games on my list.
Arkham Asylum starts with Batman handing off Joker to Arkham Asylum. Batman said that Joker practically gave himself up, and suspects that Joker wanted to be captured. He was right. Things go upside down in about 5 minutes. The inmates take control of the place alarmingly fast, and Batman is the only one stopping them from releasing a chemical that transforms people into super-soldiers.
With that, you're set off to run around Arkham Island. You'll run across countless hundreds of thugs, mutated thugs, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Bane, and (my favorite) Scarecrow. I love how Scarecrow makes everything extremely surreal. When leaving a spot for another objective, I noticed some gas blasting in front of a door. I tried to maybe ignite it, but seeing that Batman doesn't carry a lighter, I couldn't, so continued along. The hallway I remembered getting in there slowly transformed into an alley. Another time, it looked like the game completely glitched out, then looked like it was starting again, but intro cinematic had mixed up some very important details.
I noticed that Batman's suit gets more scratched and torn up as the game progresses. His face even gets scratched and bloodied. Speaking of, I never figured out why superheroes usually wear underwear on top of their clothes. At least Batman has the excuse of being an orphan: he had no one to explain that underwear is called underwear for a reason.
Speaking of: Batman needs to get over his dead parents. I swear, every time there's a piece of media about the guy, it always has something in it about his parents! Can't he be a more normal person? He needed to build a bridge and get over it a long time ago. Do that, and Batman has effectively disarmed a villain. (Get back to the game review, Andrew!)
The gameplay was quite satisfying. Even though I don't play fighting games that much, I think that's what this game feels like, since Batman is always punching, kicking, countering, and getting combos on dudes. (For that reason, I played this with a 360 controller.) The combat system is a beautiful cascade of action that flows from one punch to another. I admire how Batman uses the environment in some finishing moves. For example, if there's a pipe or table just behind this guy I'm finishing, the combat system knows it, and I just love how often the game has a move that incorporates that into combat, instead of just kicking the guy's face in all the time.
OK, it might not be a fighting game, because Batman has some cool toys, like a grappling hook, zipline, explosive gel, throwing stars (Batarangs), and a cape. Batman also has a 'detective mode' that highlights important items, like mission objectives, vent covers, and enemy skeletons (x-ray vision, basically). Unlike many other games, Arkham Asylum seamlessly incorporates stealth and investigation into the gameplay loop. There's plenty of scenes from comic books and movies that makes stealth a recommended approach to a situation. Fortunately, the game acknowledges that Batman has a utility belt, and, as the trope goes, there's a tool just for that situation.
It felt awesome to swing around most everywhere. When there's henchmen with guns, you might have some problems. Indoors, there were gargoyles to perch on, and wait for victims to walk directly underneath, then string them up. Other times, you need to sneak around and take them out silently. There was one room where they put explosives on the gargoyles, which I thought was clever of them, but that was never done again. (Maybe they were short of explosives after?) Some enemies will always block your attacks, until you stun them. For the big ones, you'll need to throw batarangs when they charge, then quickly duck out of the way.
When you're not able to swing around, you'll probably be in some air duct, because Arkham is filled with them. There were several branches that didn't lead anywhere (no register or grating at the end), as if someone was laundering money through their HVAC contractors. There were many rooms that were otherwise beautiful if it wasn't for the exposed duct work on a wall. While crawling around them, I realized that F.E.A.R. had a lot of this, and it was also published by Warner Brothers Interactive. Is this how all of their games are like? I have Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor; I wonder what I'll find. It made me wonder if the original Warner Brothers weren't movie people, but HVAC technicians.
Built on Unreal Engine 3, the graphics are astounding for a game from 2009, and don't look bad at all. It had to have given Crysis a run for its tears. The art style is fantastic, too. Every nook and cranny oozes a realistic, gritty, industrial-era vibe. There were many times that I paused to take in the gorgeous Gothic architecture on which I was perched. They don't build buildings and cities like that anymore.
This is a fantastic game that I don't know why I didn't play through it sooner. Maybe it came at the right time. I certainly look forward to the other games in the series, even if I know that one of them might still be a technical dumpster fire.