The beginning of the Arkham trilogy (though it won’t be a trilogy for long) is a great start to the game series we all know and love so well. While it’s not a perfect game– it certainly has its pros and cons– Asylum definitely set the bar high for the Arkham games, and for Batman games going forward beyond that!
First and foremost for discussion in Arkham Asylum is the mechanic that this series became known for: Freeflow Combat. This combat system, comprised of mostly attacks, blocks, and stuns (with some gadgetry thrown in at more advanced stages) relies on proper timing and combination to execute strings of attacks. As your combo count increases, Batman gains the ability to add takedowns into the fight, instantly removing enemies from the fray in a faster and more rewarding way than simply pummeling them. This sort of break from the button-mashing repetition that other superhero games rely on is where Asylum thrives; it takes an element (the standard beat-em-up) that had previously been tired and reinvigorates it rather nicely, putting its own spin on the old idea.
Asylum‘s stealth is also impressive, though not as groundbreaking as the combat. The closed-quarters rooms of the Asylum make for great, tight challenges, particularly in conjunction with Batman’s ability to use his environment to aid him. The game also does a good job allowing you to integrate the ever-growing arsenal of gadgets Batman has available to him as you progress in the story, as different technology and upgrades afford you greater opportunity to take down enemies in a variety of ways.
…And what better place to practice taking down enemies than in good old challenge maps? The above is from “Dem Bones,” a Scarecrow-themed combat map that was included on the disc of the Game of the Year Edition (but is free to download anyway, making the GOTY not all that different from the regular version of the game.) However, there are also stealth maps, and attaining a certain level of success on all maps unlocks harder versions of the challenges.
Finally (and I’ve saved the best for last) the narrative choices taken by the developers of Arkham Asylum are some of my favorite in the series. The lineup of villains is solid for a first entry, and the story weaves them together well, taking Batman on a whirlwind trip through the eponymous asylum on a night he’ll surely never forget. While the story excels, the game is a bit lacking in things to do aside from the core campaign; I may love the Riddler, but I’ll admit that collecting his trophies got a little redundant, though solving the actual riddles that form the other half of his challenge proved a pretty clever tour through the game’s many Easter Eggs.
Overall, Arkham Asylum is a great game all-around (though I wouldn’t recommend the GOTY if you can find the regular version for cheaper.) If you somehow haven’t given it a playthrough by now, then you’re definitely overdue for a trip to the asylum…
Check back in a little while for the review of the Arkham Asylum Collector’s Edition, and be sure to check out the rest of the “Video Games Week From the Batcave“ coverage, which continues tomorrow with Arkham City!