By Duncan Voice
To the left of the desk where I am writing this stands a glass cabinet containing the complete line of Batman Hush action figures, including the Jason Todd as Hush figure, only one of two thousand ever made, pristine in the box of course.
To the right stands a bookcase holding about fifty pieces of Batman literature ranging from Frank Miller masterpieces The Dark Knight Returns, The Dark Knight Strikes Back, and the seminal Year One, to Jeph Loeb’s Batman:Hush and The Long Halloween, to the infamous Knightfall series where Bane defeats the Batman.
I left the cinema after both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight feeling particularly underwhelmed. Such is the plight of the fanboy, nothing is good enough. The films seemed to forget that Batman is the ‘Worlds Greatest Detective’. He’s a thinking mans Superhero. If Superman reads Nuts magazine, Batman reads Esquire.
I trust this gives some sort of weight to my claims of being a Batman fanboy (if one would want to claim such a thing is another matter!) A couple of months after Arkham Asylum’s release, my initial views of it being ‘the best game ever!!!’ have thankfully died down (I still stick with Little Big Adventure 2 for that title) and I can finally look at what Batman: Arkham Asylum really offers the more picky and critical among us; in other words, the fanboy.
First things first, the game is probably the most accurate representation of The Dark Knight in a medium outside of the comics. The combat system can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be, and typifies the precision fighting style Batman employs. The invisible predator sections are simply sublime. Now I cannot stand stealth in games, but it is employed in such a way the majority of my gaming at the moment is still spent replaying them in the Challenge mode. Each one plays out like a game of chess, intricately planning your moves, two, three downed henchman ahead. Exactly like Batman.
There has been a lot written about the boss fights, so I won’t go over them in too much depth. Bane however, whilst not one of the greatest villains in the Rogues Gallery, is sadly reduced to nothing more than a plot device to introduce his Venom (renamed Titan in-game) as the focus of Joker’s plans. It is sorely disappointing to see his boss fight mechanics reused a number of times throughout the game, considering he is one of the more successful villains in Batman’s history. The final showdown with Joker is truly awful when compared to the game that preceded it, and considering the impeccable combat system Rocksteady created, I cannot for the life of me understand why they decided to introduce the paint-by-numbers, learn the pattern boss fights.
There is plenty in the game to satiate the fanboys among us, with reams of character biographies, patient interview tapes and Riddler challenges to plough through. The Scarecrow scenes, whilst amounting to nothing more than pseudo two-dimensional games of hide and seek, delve into the inner turmoil of Batman. A simple cough forebodes the nightmarish sequences, where Batman’s two most prominent torments are thrust upon him, the responsibility he feels for the death of his parents, and the innate fear that he ultimately believes he belongs in the asylum.
A big tip of the hat to fans comes in the form of the history of Arkham, in particular Amadeus Arkham, founder of the asylum. Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum : A Serious House On Serious Earth graphic novel, whilst not being directly adapted here, is referenced a number of times and plays a large part in one of the back stories of the game. One of the Riddler challenges has you investigating Amadeus’ cell, which has circular inscriptions on the floor and the walls. In the book you learn that this is in fact a binding spell which the founder scratched into his cell, once he had completed his descent into complete madness, to protect Arkham from an evil spirit, of which we later learn is a bat.
The Chronicle of Arkham plinths you find unlock diary entries which play out like the narrative in the book. Whilst not word-perfect, it does retain the same theme of Arkham’s decision to turn the family home (hence the mansion, and the gothic flavoured Gargoyles littered around the place) into an Asylum for the Criminally Insane. An interesting point to note is the Beetle insignia which appears on the plinths. It refers to the beginning of the book where Amadeus’ mother consumes beetles, a symbol of rebirth to protect herself from the world of ‘fathomless signs and portents’. The Batman, then.
You could effectively use the game as an encyclopaedia , such is the level of detail Rocksteady have put into the game. I must admit, for as much as I bang on about how much I know about Batman, I even learnt about a few characters. Fanboy satisfaction box, ticked.
The few gripes I have revolve around the under-use of the Rogues Gallery. Whilst making an appearance in Riddler challenges, some of Batman’s greatest foes such as Ra’s Al Ghul, Black Mask and even Two Face to name but a few are sadly missing, but will no doubt appear in the inevitable sequel. Although if I see The Penguin hulked up on Titan in the next installment, I probably will end up playing the next Marvel Ultimate Super Friends Team Up game instead. No actually, I’m being ridiculous, but you get the picture.
As well as boss fights and overused mechanics, there is one glaring error which I was genuinely surprised to see, considering the amount of time Rocksteady must have spent pouring over the source material. If defeated by his henchmen, Joker will occasionally look down at you and instruct his boys to ‘finish him off’. Now, Joker defines himself by his conflict with Batman. It has been suggested that they are effectively one and the same, and to reference a popular book about a wizard going through puberty, ‘one can’t live without the other’. If Joker ever did decide to kill Batman, he certainly wouldn’t let a few faceless goons do it for him.
I may sound like I’m being picky for the sake of the article, but I couldn’t help but feel disappointed after the game ended. Yes, the Batsuit rips (in the same place, every time might I add), yes Batman grows stubble as the night goes on, yes, it probably is one of the games of the year, but from the vehement mind of a fanboy there are too many pitfalls to drag it down from levels of greatness.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved it, but just not as much as I wanted to. That’s probably to do with my ridiculously high criteria rather than it being a poor game, which it clearly isn’t. With free DLC being released soon after and the news that a bug was included to catch out pirates for the PC version, everyone now has a new favourite developer in Rocksteady, which in a way is better than the game itself.
Please note that this game review is an opinion piece, offered as an alternative to our original review, which can still be viewed here.