Hall of Fame: Batman: Arkham Asylum
It’s that time again people, it’s time for us to celebrate another entry into the GodisaGeek.com Hall of Fame. We all know that video games are knocking at the door to be entered into our prestigious Hall of Fame but only a single game per month can actually make it. This month, the honour goes to…
People were genuinely shocked in 2009 when Rocksteady, a relatively unknown studio who had only developed a single game before this, released Batman: Arkham Asylum. The game went on to become Game of the Year for many publications, including GodisaGeek.com, and rightly so. Read on to see what we had to say about the game three years later as the game is inducted into the hallowed halls of the GodisaGeek.com Hall of Fame.
Tarak talks about how he almost dismissed Batman: Arkham Asylum altogether.
Tarak Ford: I guess I should start by saying I’m not a comic book fan, in fact I haven’t even seen this year’s biggest movies, The Avengers or The Dark Knight Rises. In light of this it should come as no surprise when I tell you that Arkham Asylum rather slipped under my radar. A new Batman game you say? Well I think I can miss another below average superhero title, the fact it was developed by relatively unknown studio Rocksteady, did little to boost my interest.
Then one day guess what arrived in the post? A friend had sent it to me demanding I give it a chance. From the very first scene that sees you escort Joker through the corridors of the Asylum, I was hooked. The visuals, voice acting and perfectly paced intro instantly told me I had been a fool to neglect the game for so long.
Of course graphics and audio are all well and good but gameplay is what counts, and it just so happens that this is where Arkham Asylum excels the most. Built around free flowing group combat that no doubt had Assassin’s Creed designers waking up in cold sweats, Asylum really made you feel like Batman. From the gadgets at your disposal to the satisfying way in which enemies coward from the shadows, you really felt like a predator. That’s not to say Arkham lacked teeth, you stood no chance against a face full of bullets, forcing you to really think, move and plan like the Dark Knight.
If I had to pick one stand out moment from the entire game, it would have to be the Scarecrow sequence that sees Batman revisit his past, and the death of his parents. Executed to perfection, I will remember walking down that rain soaked hallway for a very long time.
I really can’t say enough about Arkham Asylum, especially in the few of hundred words I’m allotted here, so I’ll sum it up like this. It is, undoubtedly, one of the best games I have ever had the pleasure of playing.
Mark talks about wish fulfilment and being “The Bat”.
Mark Bridle: By and large, games are about wish fulfilment.
Trouble is, the bigger the wish, the harder it is to fulfil. The Superhero fantasy, the one where you jump off a roof, fly through the air and win the toughest fights against the biggest foes, is the hardest one of all to fulfil.
Superhero games had been around for over two decades before a studio really got it right and, if for no other reason, that is why Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Asylum should go into our Hall of Fame. The London studio did it. They finally fulfilled the wish and gave us the chance to be the Batman, with gadgets, world and a story worthy of the character.
Paul Dini wrote a Batman story that was perfect for a game and honoured the long tradition of ensemble Dark Knight stories, from Hush to The Long Halloween to Grant Morrison’s inspiration for the game; Arkham Asylum. Amadeus Arkham’s grand folly was beautifully recreated by the team at Rocksteady. However, the real magic of the game was the seamless way that Batman was integrated with the story. The Knight’s battles tore his cape and cut his skin. You could hear the pain in his voice, but most important of all, the combat system was perfectly designed to define Batman’s relationship with his foes. Winning was, especially early in the game, largely a foregone conclusion, but nor was it truly the point. The simple combo system, mixing vicious strikes with gadgets and counter attacks, was designed so that the best players didn’t simply win, they dominated. The goal of the combat was to be Batman, with everything that entails. It was brilliant innovation, elegantly illustrating Batman’s strength compared to his rivals whilst managing to remain compelling and challenging for the player.
However, the true brilliance of Arkham Asylum was impossible to appreciate until its sequel, Arkham City, was released two years later. Many would argue that Arkham CIty was a superior game, with more gadgets, a larger world and more characters to interact with. However, with its more open world lacking the the direction of Arkham Asylum, Arkham City transposed the player’s weaknesses onto Batman. It was too easy to get lost and the overly complex controls made the otherwise excellent combat feel like trying to learn concert piano with no sheet music. The feeling of being Batman was lost under the weight of the new gameplay mechanics.
None of which diminishes the original. Batman: Arkham Asylum was, and is, the greatest superhero game ever made. More than that, it is one of the greatest games ever made, full stop, because it does what so few games ever truly do.
It grants your wish.
Robin talks about the similarities between GoldenEye 007 on the N64 and Batman: Arkham Asylum.
Robin Parker: It is something that has been said time and time again, as a rule of thumb, licensed video games based on TV, films or comics for example, are rushed and poorly thought out. By being tied in to a franchise in another form of media, most of these games have to be released within a certain time-frame in order to arrive alongside the source material. Either that, or if the game developer has more time, quite often they just don’t understand the material they are based on, or they meet resistance from the license holder and creative conflicts occur which damage the end product.
Of course there are the odd few games that buck the trend, such as GoldenEye 007 on the Nintendo 64, and, of course, more recently, Batman: Arkham Asylum. The difference with these two games is that the development houses weren’t given a strict deadline, and they were given full creative control of the product. However, most importantly of all, both Rare and Rocksteady seemed to understand the Bond and Batman universes. The games were authentic enough to please fans, but the gameplay was designed so well that gamers in general would still be sucked in, even if they didn’t normally enjoy the franchise.
Batman: Arkham Asylum successfully weaves together the brutal fighting, detective work and stealth that Batman utilises in comic book stories, and tied them up in a package that could successfully deliver a healthy number of impressive bad guys for gamers to take on. The idea that your hero is stuck in a prison with the criminals he put away is by no means a new one, but Rocksteady put a good amount of mystery and intrigue into the mix so that gamers were hooked and wanted to find out what happened next.
Of course, the inclusion of a great, free-flowing combo fighting system also helped a great deal. It was simple enough for anyone to pick up, but deep enough that you could master different levels of the system once you got better. This meant that everyone could feel like they were fighting like Batman; whether you are good at combos or not. Add in a whole host of gadgets that the Dark Knight is famous for, and you have a dream package for comic fans. Even down to the voicing, character design and the mini biographys you could read on each inhabitant of the asylum, the game is rich with content and, as such, it feels like a real, living game world, where you always have to be on your toes. This makes the danger more concerning and the reward for victory all the more satisfying.
Martin talks about his lifelong passion for comic books and comic book video games; even if they’re not all that great.
Martin Baker: As a lifelong fan of comic books, and of Batman, I’ve played quite a few superhero games in my time. One of the earliest ones I remember playing was the movie tie-in video game for Tim Burton’s Batman on my SEGA Master System and while I personally enjoyed the experience, going back to it now, I can’t see why. Over the years we’ve gotten some truly terrible superhero video games. Some of them have been tied into movies that have come out, and others haven’t. With that in mind you can imagine my lack of excitement when a new Batman game was coming out. “Oh, they’re trying to cash in on the release of The Dark Knight?”, “Right, so who’s developing it?” were just some of the quotes that I remember leaving my lips.
Needless to say I regretted those words when I finally got the chance to sit down with the game and play it.
From the moment the game started, with Kevin Conroy as the voice of Batman and Mark Hamill as the instantly recognisable voice of The Joker, I was hooked. The visuals were stunning, the fan service was simply amazing and I instantly regretted ever doubting that the game would be any good; as well as realising that people would forever know the name of Rocksteady.
The use of gadgets throughout the game was perfect, the use of characters, backstory and other aspects of what makes Batman “the goddamn Batman” was utilised to perfection. All that is even before we even touch on the combat mechanic, a mechanic that practically revolutionised the way hand-to-hand combat is done in all video games going forward (or at least, should be done).
If the Hall of Fame was purely for games that redefined gaming then Batman: Arkham Asylum is deserving of a place among its hallowed halls. Not only because it’s an instant classic with comic fans and non-comic fans alike, but because it showed that a third person action game can still be relatively linear, and still be amazing.
Lee talks about how good the game would have been, even without Batman.
Lee Garbutt: Before Arkham Asylum, I don’t think a game had ever captured the power-fantasy of the superhero genre as Rocksteady’s game had done. It was a genuine surprise to see a Batman game that just nailed everything, first time. Any of its major elements could be cited as a reason for its brilliance, but for me the thing that stands out most is the combat, with the freeflow combo system feeling more satisfying to me than many dedicated fighting games.
Then there’s the Predator sections of the game. Stalking enemies and taking them out in silence, before disappearing out of view is an incredibly empowering experience. You don’t feel like you are playing the role of Batman; you ARE Batman.
However, the thing that impresses me the most about Arkham Asylum, is that you could strip the game of its license and it would still be a stellar game. Yet with the brilliant voice cast (most are from the excellent animated series of the early 90’s) and the attention to detail in terms of the Batman universe, it becomes one of the most immersive licensed games that has ever been made.