Pass The Controller* is a Slice of Culture series where we highlight video games, both AAA (blockbuster) and indie. Llanes will share honest and balanced opinions on what could be your next favorite game as well as some random tips every now and then!
With another Batman movie hitting theaters soon, I thought it would be the perfect time to replay this gem that came out over a decade ago.
The year is 2008.
Comic book films were having a huge resurgence. “Iron Man” and The Incredible Hulk” paved the way for what is now the highest grossing movie franchise, the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Additionally “The Dark Knight” was released which changed the way many viewed the comic book genre. This gave Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment the opportunity to cash in on the superhero hype in the form of a video game.
In 2009, “Batman: Arkham Asylum” launched to critical acclaim.
I remembered loving the game back when I was 12. But does it still hold up today?
The premise is super simple.
Batman is ready to send the Joker back to the prison-like island, Arkham Asylum.
While being escorted by the guards, the clown prince of crime breaks free and wreaks havoc.
Over the course of one long night, Batman must stop the Joker and many other villains that are running loose.
This game introduces a style of fighting known as the “freeflow combat” system.
It felt incredibly smooth and became addicting pretty quickly back in 2009 and it still holds up today.
There are the basic attack, counter, stun and dodge buttons. Throughout my playthrough it becomes clear what button to press and when during each fight fairly quickly.
In a way, the hand to hand combat feels like a rhythm game. It’s also extremely fun to watch Batman break everyone’s bones during these combat sequences.
At certain sections on the island, there are enemies that all have guns that could easily take Batman down.
This is where the stealth sections come into play. There are a variety of ways to take enemies down.
Batman can take advantage of the environment as well as his arsenal of gadgets. Explosive gel can be used to blow up goons who come in contact with it. Batman can perch on a gargoyle and do an inverted takedown in which he grabs an enemy and leaves them dangling on top of a higher surface. And of course there is always the option to glide down at an enemy and kick them in the face.
It becomes satisfying to see the fear in these enemies build up as I take more and more of them down.
The third and my least favorite gameplay section are the investigations.
Whenever Batman needs to track someone down, he will need to investigate an area to find a trail to follow. This means that detective mode will need to be turned on.
This is a gameplay functioning which this ugly looking filter pops up over the game that highlights any clues or trails to push the story further.
I found that these investigation sections slowed down the game’s momentum and physically made my eyes sore having to look at the ugly detective mode filter.
The worst part is that this is one of the first games to have a feature like this. And for some reason, many AAA titles have their own variation of detective mode, heavily inspired by games such as this one.
Rocksteady Studios had a massive budget when it came to the voice acting. It is top tier.
They managed to get some of the cast from the 90s animated series to reprise their roles. This includes Kevin Conroy as Batman, Mark Hamill as the Joker and Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn.
Although the Joker is the main villain, Rocksteady does a great job at giving a spotlight to all the other villains such as Killer Croc, Poison Ivy, and especially Scarecrow.
The segments involving Scarecrow are what stuck out the most.
Batman would be hit with his nightmare gas which would lead to these trippy and creative sequences.
This is a nice looking game for 2009.
Many studios decided to give their games an art style that tries to scream “dark and gritty” by simply desaturating the color but usually ends up everything looking bleak and boring.
However this works for “Arkham Asylum” because Joker’s various acts of vandalism such as the graffiti and decorations throughout the island ends up heavily contrasting the lack of color.
Another thing about “Arkham Asylum” that surprised me back in the day was how Rocksteady amazingly introduces newcomers to the Batman lore.
The dialogue and various sequences are expertly used to give exposition to the various origin stories to these characters as well as Bruce Wayne’s motivations.
There are collectables throughout the island that reward players with files as well as recorded interviews that act almost as an encyclopedia to various characters in this universe.
Upon exploring Arkham Island, I’ve come to realize that this game acts as a museum of Batman’s rogues gallery.
There are numerous Easter eggs and cameos to find. There’s even a small reference to Ratcatcher.
A decade ago, most people had no idea who Ratcatcher even is.
Though many will now when playing this game today thanks to 2021’s “The Suicide Squad” (By the way, If you haven’t seen “The Suicide Squad” I highly recommend it)
Fortunately, “Batman: Arkham Asylum” still holds up pretty well.
I had a blast playing it again. Though back when I played it in 2009, I thought that the game leaves a lot to be desired. I wasn’t sure if it was due to budget restrictions or Rocksteady under delivering.
The batmobile does appear in the game, but it can’t be driven. Many villains are referenced but they don’t physically appear. Gotham City can be viewed from across the river, but it can’t be explored. Would we ever be able to do these things?
The sequels provide answers to these questions. Maybe I’ll revisit them too in the future.