Publisher: Warner Bros Interactive
Requirements: Windows XP/Vista, Intel Pentium 4 @ 3 GHz or AMD Athlon64 3000+ CPU, 1 GB of RAM, 9 GB of hard-drive space, 256 MB graphics card (GeForce 6600/ATI Radeon X1300 or better), DirectX 9.0c-compatible sound card
Release date: Available now
Ladies and gentlemen, if I may now draw your attention to the center ring, it is now time for something that everyone has been waiting for. Well, okay, maybe not everyone, but definitely Dark Knight fans: A Batman game that is actually good. No, wait, “good” doesn’t quite cut it. Let me put it this way: Batman: Arkham Asylum is awesome.
The game begins with Batman escorting the Joker to his new cell at Arkham Asylum. Joker has given up almost without a fight, and Batman suspects something is wrong. Sure enough, the Joker escapes… again. He wanted to come to Arkham. He’s planning something, and it’s up to you to use your keen detective skills and your “wonderful toys,” such as explosive gel, the Batclaw, a line launcher, a grapnel gun, and of course the Batarang, to find out what Joker’s planning and put a stop to his nefarious scheme.
Joker, Harley Quinn, Bane, Killer Croc, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, the Riddler…Arkham is a veritable Who’s Who for Batman fans. True to form, Batman’s martial-arts skills are enough to take on half a dozen of Joker’s mooks at a time, though if you’re not careful and don’t take advantage of stealth, you’re going to have a much harder time against mooks with guns. You begin with just the Batclaw and the grapnel gun. You receive the other gadgets during the course of the story, and you’ll have to use all of them at one time or another. You gain experience points for knocking out bad guys, with bonuses for long chains and a big bonus for defeating the major villains. When you reach certain thresholds, you can purchase one of 20 upgrades. Only some of the upgrades are available right away; many have prerequisites that must be bought first.
In addition to the main game, there is a side quest in which you try to solve 240 “riddles” that the Riddler has prepared. These take the form of collecting Riddler Trophies, using the detective mode in your cowl to scan specific locations, finding interview tapes with the inmates, and so on. Some of these unlock biographies of other villains, character trophies, or one of 16 challenges, which are tracked on online leaderboards. Each riddle you solve earns 200 XP. Arkham is one of the few games in which finding secret items is actually fun and not a chore, and the bonus XP is a big help in upgrading Batman’s equipment. Of course, you won’t be able to find some riddles until you have a certain gadget, so you’ll have to make a return visit to some locations to find all 240 riddles.
Arkham is not a lazy port of a console game, like some others that I could mention (*cough* Star Wars Force Unleashed *cough*). You can tweak the settings enough to make it playable on a system that is only slightly above the minimum requirements. On my rig, the frame rate only dipped below 20 in two or three places. Arkham still retains the checkpoint save system of the console version, but there are more than enough checkpoints, so this is rarely an issue. If you take too much damage, you’ll simply be returned to the most recent checkpoint with full health. Ultimately, my only major complaint is that, if the game crashes – and it probably won’t; my only crash was caused by excessive Alt-Tabbing to make notes – then you might end up having to re-collect a few of the Riddler trophies or fight a few bad guys again.
I’ll be frank: Batman: Arkham Asylum is one of the most enjoyable and most compelling games that I’ve played in a long time. It’s like a good book; once you pick it up, you won’t want to put it down until you’ve read it all the way through.