That was absolutely awesome.
I’d heard the hype about this game, and eventually got to play the first few chapters at a friend’s place. I was so hooked that I decided to rent a disc and console so I could play it for myself. Everything about it is excellent, from the graphics to the gameplay to the story. Everything.
For one, the voice acting is first-rate: Batman, Joker and Harley Quinn are played by the same excellent actors as in the 90’s Batman animated series (oh, how I missed Mark Hamill’s demented giggles, and Arleen Sorkin cooing “Pudd’n”!). The other voices—Bane, Scarecrow, Riddler, Poison Ivy, Killer Croc, Commissioner Gordon, Oracle—are also all great. Hell, even the generic batarang-fodder henchmen sell their lines pretty well.
The visuals are beautifully done, from the brooding asylum grounds, to the oppressive Victorian architecture, to the crumbling sewers, and every environment is full of little details that add to the gloomy Gothic atmosphere. Batman’s hi-tech armor and toys looked very nice too.
The game controls are quite complex, and there’s no tutorial as such. That’s okay, though: the game introduces elements gradually enough—moving, looking around, fighting, etc…—that before you know it you’ll be tossing out Twin Batarangs with the best of them. All you have to do is remember which button does what. As for the upgrade system, it’s pretty cool, but I didn’t find that it gave you a lot of room to customise: in the end you’ll have pretty much all available skills, it’s just a question of which to get first. (hint: “Inverted Takedown” is the shiznit.)
Replay value? I’ve only gone through the game one and a half times so I can’t say for sure, but I could probably play it a couple more times, if only to see what the “Hard” difficulty level is all about. Also, I could try out some of the more advanced fighting techniques, and see how much of the bonus material I could get my hands on. On my one complete playthrough I only discovered about half the trophies and unlockable extras, including just under half of Arkham’s Chronicles.
Which brings me to the story. On the surface, it’s pretty simple: Joker and Harley Quinn have taken control of the asylum, and Batman must save staff and other innocents, all the while figuring out the Clown Prince of Crime’s true intentions. It’s an engaging story, bringing together many characters from the Batman universe. The writers’ love for the mythos is evident in the little details, like the iconic clatter of pearls when Batman, hallucinating on Scarecrow’s fear gas, is forced to relive his parents’ murder. And Harley Quinn telling a captive Jim Gordon, “Mama spank!”. Plus, nods to sillier villains like Scarface and Calendar Man.
But there’s more. A lot of the extra world building was clearly inspired by the graphic novel Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by Dave McKean in 1989. It’s the kind of deliciously trippy mind-fuck only Morrison can deliver, delving deep into Lewis Carroll, Jung, Crowleyian magic and other esoteric themes, yet (at least to me) never crossing the line into random pseudo-profound mystical babble. In this story, Batman is presented as hardly more sane than the Joker and other inmates, and Arkham as a cursed house, fed and made strong by the constant flow of violently insane souls.
The “chronicles” hidden throughout the game are each short chapters in the journal of Amadeus Arkham, founder of the Asylum. From what I’ve seen (ie: the first half) it’s not too different from the original Morrison story—toned down, because this is an action-adventure game, and players don’t want to spend too much time hearing about Crowley and the Tarot and whatnot—but still pretty darn creepy and disturbing. And though they only show up in Scarecrow-induced hallucinations, the game does drop a few nice hints that Batman has, shall we say, issues.
I wish I’d found all of Arkham’s chronicles, though, because I want to see how this version of the story ends. Forget defeating the Joker, I want to know about the Asylum’s history!
So, to recap: fantastic game. It’s fun, challenging, full of atmosphere and details that show deep love for the Batman mythos. Definitely a keeper. And hey, they’re making a sequel!