Batman: Arkham Asylum

Batman: Arkham Asylum
Batman: Arkham Asylum Cover
Platforms Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows
Genre Cinematic stealthy punching
MtAMinutes to Action 12
Keep Playing? For a while
Buy from Amazon

Before tonight, the only Batman video game I had ever played was Batman Forever, a seriously awful "game" that left me tossing my Super Nintendo controller across the room in disgust. You begin the game in a room where the only way out is up, and after pressing every imaginable button on the controller, you simply can not escape.(well, you can, press the Select button and then Up on the D-pad. Yeah Batman Forever, I hate you too).

So fast forward 15 years and memories of that travesty are all but forgotten and Batman: Arkham Asylum is in my Xbox 360. Everyone's been gushing on this game since its release in August 2009 so I've finally decided to give it a whirl. While I've enjoyed the recent films and filled my afternoons with Batman: The Animated Series, I know nothing about the comic world that the game is based off of. Arkham Asylum, from a non-reader's perspective, appears to be the ultimate love letter to all those Batman comic fans who have been waiting patiently for something... awesome.

But things are also a bit off for me: the Joker is different, the Commissioner is different, and even Batman is different. But Arkham Asylum is a stealth-action beat 'em up, a genre mash-up I felt worked brilliantly for a game like Beyond Good and Evil. So will the first hour of the game inspire me to keep playing, or will the stealth-based gameplay or unfamiliar world cause me to put it down for good? Let's find out on the Xbox 360.

Minute by Minute

(minutes are in bold)
00 - I select Start New Game and the first hour of Batman: Arkham Asylum begins. I set the difficulty to normal and the opening cutscene begins. It's storming outside, and the bat signal blankets the clouds. Joker has been apprehended and Batman is bringing him to Arkham Island.

01 - The Batmobile zooms around town at high speeds. The Joker is doing his normal freak out next to Batman, upset he's been captured, but it's probably all part of his plan. We get a look at the island as the camera pans over Arkham.

02 - Batman drags the Joker through the front door. Warden Sharp greets us, the Joker seems to know every guard in this joint! He taunts a few of them, seems like they know each other. Batman senses something is wrong and says he's going with them.

Batman Arkham Asylum Joker Batmobile

03 - I get control and follow the team of guards wheeling Joker through the asylum. Everything is very cinematic even though I have control and the camera just hangs behind my shoulder.

04 - You can press in the right stick and zoom in on things, all the characters are so incredibly detailed. Especially the Joker. Freakishly detailed.

05 - The Joker is narrating our entire journey so far. Pretty funny writing.

07 - The guards have permission to shoot and kill Joker if he gets out of hand. An elevator comes up and a giant beast gets out of it! What is that thing? Is he like a crocodile man? He threatens Batman, I'll undoubtedly be meeting up with him later.

09 - Batman seems to understand that things aren't what they should be, he thinks he caught Joker way to easily. The lights flicker and go out on the elevator. Batman has his hand on the Joker's throat. Not taking any chances.

Batman Arkham Asylum Thug Fight

10 - We enter the Intensive Treatment center and meet up with Commissioner Gordon, I lose control as a cutscene kicks off. They don't want Batman going any further into the asylum.

11 - Oh oh, it begins, Joker begins fighting with his guards, and Batman can only look on. Well, except for jumping through a glass window.

12 - And the fighting begins! Combat is incredibly fluid, just press the X button to punch guys, hard. Lot so slo-mo awesomeness.

14 - Holding A lets me jog around, and Y counters blows.

15 - The final hit on a group of guys always does a close-up knock 'em out punch or kick. Very cinematic.

17 - I find Eddie Burlow, whoever that is, and we begin chatting. He's a guard at the asylum, he gets radioed asking for help. Batman will go in his stead.

Batman Arkham Asylum Electric Chair Guard

18 - One of the guards is strapped to the electric chair with a crazy holding him hostage.

20 - Oh man, cool. I have to take down the inmate from above, so I enter detective mode and find some secrets of the building. I can grapple around the gargoyles on top of the room, and then leap down on the inmate from above, taking him out.

21 - A cutscene shows Harley Quinn holding the Warden hostage, Harley Quinn is hot, great to see her in the game. Batman chats with Oracle over the radio, Oracle is Gordon's daughter. Crippled by Joker, I believe.

23 - Now I need to escape from the room, the game hints that Detective Mode will help. There's a large grate Batman can crawl through, time to crouch.

25 - Detective mode can see enemy skeletons through walls and also measure their heart rate!

26 - The Joker has released his toxin and is killing a bunch of guards. I make my way above the room and rescue one guard. Luckily the toxin hangs at the bottom of the room. I even rescue an inmate and then punch him out, hilarious!

Batman Arkham Asylum Harley Quinn Warden Sharply

29 - I hit the fan controls with a Batarang and the toxin is sucked out of the room. Batman knows now that Joker has planned all this.

31 - I walk through a couple of hallways and encounter the Joker. Batman throws a Batarang but Joker ducks and then releases... something huge at me!

32 - This guy is ugly, and he throws dead bodies at me! I die after he hits me hard a few times when charging at me. All right, I can do this!

34 - Umm... after dodging him for a minute, the big boss just... dies. Joker laughs and says he needs stronger subjects.

35 - I've unlocked an upgrade! I buy Critical Combo Strikes, it doubles the power of perfectly timed hits.

37 - Joker has entered Extreme Isolation, Batman tells a guard he must follow him, and of course, Joker has things rigged so he can't. Joker shows up on the television, he has Gordon captured now too.

Batman Arkham Asylum Detective Mode

40 - My new objectives are to rescue Gordon from the guard Frank Boyle. I return to the Holding Cells and am told to use detective mode to set up a crime scene. Interesting.

42 - I scan a flask of whiskey the guard left, and Batman says he can follow the scent of the alcohol through the air. And that's why he's The Batman.

44 - After following the trail, I encounter a guard trying to figure out some contraption, and then Harley Quinn shows up. She sets off a bomb on an elevator that crash lands right on our level. She's insane.

45 - We have to climb up the old fashioned way instead of taking the elevator, using the grapple. All the way up, Harley is flirting with Frank, the guard who turned on Gordon. Frank shows up with Gordon on the surface, and evidently killed all his former co-workers. Batman heard all this over the radio.

46 - I need to shimmy along the wall to advance. I hate shimmying.

50 - Batman sneaks up on a group of guards and there's a great scene of fun fighting.

Batman Arkham Asylum Mutated Ogre Boss

51 - There sure are a lot of conveniently Batman-sized vents around. I see some inmates with guns through detective mode and decide to drop down behind them. We then Metal Gear Solid silent takedown them all out. No shots fired, no bat-blood drawn.

54 - I enter a large room with two armed guards. I grapple around the room on gargoyles and then launch kick myself down to the first one, taking him out. The other sees me, so I head back into the rafters to perform the same feat on him.

56 - A cutscene starts of some angry looking guards entering the room, reinforcements.

58 - Batman and his awesome stealth moves take them out. Joker continues to taunt me.

59 - I reach Officer Frank Boles... he's dead. Joker is one step ahead of me.

60 - The Joker radioes in, but then the Riddler intercepts our conversation and decides to send me some challenges. The first: "Don't cut yourself on this Sharply observed portrait." Well, the Warden was named Sharply, but there's no time left to investigate as that's the end of the first hour of Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Batman Arkham Asylum Warden Sharply Riddler

First Hour Summary

Minutes to Action: 12

What was awesome: The cinematic fighting was simply a wonder to behold, re-invigorating the rather tired 3D beat 'em up genre. I'm not sure if this would get old after 10 hours, but for one, it was very pleasant to watch. The extremely well detailed character models definitely help with this too, as the camera can get in nice and close without looking crappy. Combat was just so fluid, it felt as natural as can be during my first fight.

I also really enjoyed the detective mode and hunting around for clues. That small little alcohol trail I followed was a really great idea and it was executed in-game better than I could have imagined. Without this, I really think that Arkham Asylum would be a pretty, but repetitive fighter.

What I liked: Part of me wants to not like stealth based games for their plodding gameplay and often super smart or super dumb enemies that just ruin all the fun, but I'm continually returning to the genre looking for more. Batman: Arkham Asylum pulls off stealth fighting correctly: by awarding the really stealthy players with instant take-downs and quick escapes to the shadows. Gliding down from the rafters brings a smile to my face, but I'm honestly wondering here if the rest of the game has Batman hiding up on gargoyle perches waiting for someone to walk under him.

Before I started, I was a bit worried about how the comic-based characters would fare to a Batman film fan like myself, well, as long as you can accept the differences, they're great! The Joker is still maniacally evil and seeing Harley Quinn onscreen is a treat.

Gameplay: Great combat, fun detective work, and well-executed stealth gameplay, all wrapped up into one game.

Fun Factor: The stealthiness was beginning to wear out its welcome at the end of the first hour of Arkham Asylum, so I really hope things are mixed up a bit soon. It's a bit confusing whether bad guys can see Batman go up and hide in the rafters as they just kind of lose track of him immediately.

Graphics and Sound: This is a gorgeous, dark looking game with some amazing voice talent and score.

Story: I feel like I should have been more freaked out than I was being trapped in a place like Arkham, but being in Batman's boots makes me feel safe. This sounds like it'll be a fun adventure with all the popular franchise characters, but I think the environments will really shine. They have so far.

Would I keep playing? Yes, but this all hinges on the stealth gameplay. If I'm really just swinging from gargoyle to gargoyle for hours on end, I don't think I could go on. But as for the game's first hour, it has me convinced that Batman games can be done right. Props to Rocksteady for taking advantage of a tremendously interesting world of characters and locations while wrapping it in an awesome gameplay engine.

Batman Arkham Asylum Gate