Have You Played… Batman: Arkham Asylum?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

I grew quickly weary of Batman: Arkham City and initially had no interest in Batman: Arkham Knight, but that game being released and then unreleased left me thinking about and eventually longing for the Bat. Batman: Arkham Asylum [official site], the first in the series, is where I choose to return. It’s still a remarkable game.

Arkham Asylum’s great trick was to take most of the innovations of the modern stealth game and find ways to make them The Most Batman They Could Be. You skulk around in shadow, using vents and high ground to remain unseen, but you’re the hunter rather than the hunted. The question isn’t whether you’ll strike but when and how. Though later games turfed you out into Gotham at large, Arkham Asylum is the perfect setting for that; you’re not locked in there with the criminals and thugs, they’re locked in there with you – and they know it.

When you string them up from a gargoyle to frighten all their mates, that’s very Batman. When you swoop down from a high perch and use your cape to slow your landing, that’s very Batman. When you then step seamlessly into to the now famous, rhythmic, gracefully animated punch-punch-dodge of combat, that’s The Most Batman.

66 Comments

  1. Fenix says:

    I have played Arkham Asylum and enjoyed it a decent amount, but not so much that it made me want to play the sequels right away (in fact I have yet to play any of the successive games).

    It’s a fun and well made game, nothing revolutionary or mindblowing but its never boring or repetitive. My appreciation for Comic Book heroes is at an all time low right now, but Arkham Asylum was good enough of a game on its own that it being Batman only helped it. Also the graphics are really pretty.

    • laotze says:

      The combat was pretty damn revolutionary. Prior to Batman AA the standard combat for third-person action games, particularly licensed ones, was almost exclusively something like a “Press X to punch, Y to kick, B to use charged power” kinda configuration. Boring, repetitive, stale. On the other end of the spectrum you had the limitless combos of Devil May Cry and its ilk which allowed for breathtaking fluidity and variation but required you to memorize a daunting number of combos and took lots of practice to get into the swing of things. You could argue things like Prince of Persia and God of War tried to walk a middle road, simplifying DMC-style hyper-acrobatics into a few simple button presses, but with a clunkiness and imprecision – or over-automation, in GoW’s case – that many gamers ultimately found unsatisfying.

      Batman AA bridged the gap. By taking inspiration from rhythm titles – essentially the Guitar Hero color-coded staff, as a certain podcast recently pointed out – it offered a way to achieve jaw-dropping, cinematic, crucially Batmanly attacks with basically just two buttons and a context-sensitive timing system. It was pretty damn revolutionary, and in the wake of a series of imitators all the way up to the Shadow of Mordor can safely be said to have become the new market standard. Yes, there were things kinda like it before – Assassin’s Creed and Prince of Persia being the most obvious sources of inspiration – but nothing that ever made it work as well as Batman AA did, to the extent that, for the time being, it’s really hard to imagine that sort of game doing anything else.

      • Fenix says:

        But the first Witcher game already had that combat system (although in a different genre), so I wouldn’t call it revolutionary.

        • Assirra says:

          What?
          The first witcher had not something even close it.
          Hitting mouse clicks at the exact same time every combo is nothing close to what the batman games combat is like.

        • laotze says:

          For all of The Witcher 1’s strengths, the combat is not among them. I guess it has some vague similarities to the AA timing system, but they’re mostly superficial. None of it feels as precise or fluid as what goes on in Batman, and it’s certainly not remotely as cinematic in execution. Witcher also lacks much in the way of meaningful interaction with surroundings, whereas AA allows you to incorporate the environment into your combat in novel, wholly three-dimensional ways. The Witcher’s combat is also, of course, restricted by a turn timer, one of the limitations of the Neverwinter Nights Aurora engine that the devs were more than happy to ultimately leave behind.

          Honestly the more I reflect on it the fewer similarities I can see between what Witcher 1 was doing in combat and what Batman AA achieved.

          • Darth Gangrel says:

            The Witcher 1’s combat was much more fun than in most other RPG’s I’ve played, but with my backlog I considered TW1 to be new and impressive when I tried it a few years after its release. I don’t like the QTE’s of The Witcher 2, but TW1’s QTE-like combat never bothered me, because the various animations were so fun to watch.

        • Smoky_the_Bear says:

          The Witcher’s combat was crap…lol. Nothing at all like Arkham Asylum. It was basically a really rubbish, stunted QTE style of combat.
          People really need to get off the Witcher and CDPR’s nuts. This hype is going all out of proportion and it’s making people delusional if they are remembering the combat in the first game as remotely good or anything like the Batman games.

          • Tresca says:

            I disagree. I’m sick that everytime The Witcher 1 comes into conversation, the only thing people highlight about the game is it’s combat, while ignoring every other aspect of the game that is good and that makes it worth a playthrough. It’s disappointing to think about the amount of people who have probably avoided playing the game altogether, solely because of the combat critique.

          • Darth Gangrel says:

            Response to Tresca: I think that a game with fun combat is generally a fun game, because combat is often the most abundant form of gameplay and thus makes or breaks a game. If I had known how bad Dragon Age: Origins combat was and how much there was of it I would probably never have bought it, despite people praising it as the best of the decade.

            With that said, I’m one of the apparently few that really enjoyed The Witcher 1’s combat, it felt much more varied and involving than previous RPG’s. Although, the ones I’m comparing it to are stuff like Knights of the Old Republic, Diablo 2 and Divine Divinity.

      • baozi says:

        I’d like another game with the combat of Oni.

        • thedosbox says:

          Heh, AA’s combat reminded me of Oni, but I would dearly love an Oni remake or sequel.

          • dethtoll says:

            Bungie — or at least 343 — really should revisit their older titles, yeah? I’d love to see a Pathways Into Darkness remake.

      • jk says:

        Also the counter based combat system from ass creed 2 was essentially exactly the same?

        • Llewyn says:

          However AC2 came out after AA.

        • Veles says:

          Not exactly the same, it is similar, but Batman’s combat controls are much tighter. You feel like you are the character rather than telling the character what to do.

          I’ve recently started playing ACIV, I used to really like the AC games but the combat is no-where near as good as Batman

  2. Pazguato says:

    Asylum is a perfect game. One of the best of last years. And City it’s not so far from it.

  3. DeepFried says:

    Arkham Asylum is the best of the series and just a damn good game, i’m not a particular fan of the genre but even I got through Arkham Asylum pretty quickly and enjoyed every minute (except one or two annoying boss fights, but then I hate boss fights)

    • thedosbox says:

      Preach it. Asylum’s boss fights are a perfect argument for adjustable difficulty. Lower it for boss fight trash, put it back up for the rest of the game.

  4. fish99 says:

    I just did the story missions in City which helped the story flow and kept the game to a reasonable length. I slightly preferred it to Asylum.

    Mark Hamill’s excellent Joker is worth a mention too.

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      Yeah same, I ignored all the sidequest, open world blip chasing in City and liked it more than Asylum, I just thought it was a more varied and impressive game, especially the out in the open “predator” bits which were less predictable than the incredibly setup indoor sections of Asylum where mysteriously all armed enemies in the entire game (apart from the courtyard snipers) decided to congregate in areas with gargoyles all around the room and vents in the floor.

      • DeepFried says:

        When you’ve played as many open world games as I have, open world in itself ceases to be a plus point. For me, all open world did for batman was dilute the experience, I liked the claustrophobia of Asylum, it felt right and it kept the game focused.

  5. mechabuddha says:

    While waiting for my Arkham Knight to be updated, I went back and 100%ed Arkham Asylum. Damn good game. Now I’m working on Arkham City…and it’s kind of a slog once you beat the main storyline and have to get all of the Riddler trophies. I do appreciate that they’re more puzzle-like, but there’s just so many of them.

    • w0bbl3r says:

      If I remember right (maybe I don’t, I can’t be sure), you will get a location on riddler before you get everything in the world.
      I got everything anyway, but I seem to remember (again, could be wrong, I have a bad memory at the best of times) I had already taken on Riddler before I finished.
      Harley Quinn’s revenge DLC is worth playing too. It’s short and doesn’t make nearly enough use of Robin, who is a nice change, but it is fun to play, has a couple of new gadgets with Robin (the shield is great fun if used properly), and again has a good story that is well told and acted.

  6. w0bbl3r says:

    Best in the series as far as atmosphere, storytelling, and location.
    Not the best in terms of gameplay, because they expanded on it excellently with city and now Knight.
    I played knight through to 100%, without too many issues (none of them game breaking, just some stutter when I enter batmobile sometimes), and it’s an excellent game. But it just can’t compete with that awesome atmosphere and sense of place being in the Asylum. It was just so well designed, a fantastic small and contained semi-open world. It also had the best story, and (only just) the best voice acting of the whole series, origins included.
    Anyone who hasn’t yet played any of these games, I implore you, go to the asylum first, then the city, then take on the knight (when it’s fixed of course).
    They are all awesome games, even origins is great in its way, but asylum just manages to stay in front purely because of how well they wrote it and how good a job they did creating the asylum as a working place you are walking around.

    • Aetylus says:

      I hadn’t played any, but having played and loved Shadow of Mordor and read that its combat was basically Batman goes to Middle Earth I thought I’d give arkham asylum a try. It was okay but certainly didn’t live up to the hype… I suspect SoM may have ruined it for me.

    • Perkelnik says:

      This. Ive played the demo, was ok, some time later bought the game in some sale. I went in expecting some cool combat game with nice graphics, but as I got deeper, the game got deeper as well. The story and atmposhpere make AA stand out from the other Batman games.

  7. Monggerel says:

    The boss fights in Asylum and City are tosh.

    Actually.
    The boss fights in all videogames ever except the ones made by Capcom employees are tosh.

    • laotze says:

      Hey now, let’s at least give Team Ninja and Team ICO their due.

    • popej says:

      Dark Souls :p

      • laotze says:

        It says something that I was mistakenly convinced From Software was a Capcom division for god knows how long before realizing Dark Souls had nothing to do with them. Probably because my first impression of DS was that someone had taken the Monster Hunter mechanics and built an actual RPG around them.

        • amateurviking says:

          Having now fallen deep deep deep down the Monster Hunter Rabbit Hole ™ it’s been interesting to see the effect that series has had on (particularly Japanese) game design over the past 10 years. You can see it’s influences all over the shop. Darks Souls and Final Fantasy 12 and the 13s being fairly big examples.

          • amateurviking says:

            I misspelled the name of the One True Game.

            I’ll see myself out.

    • Kitsunin says:

      No More Heroes is a good series made fantastic by superb boss design.

    • Vandelay says:

      The final boss is an absolute travesty, both in terms of how you play and how at odds to the character it was. I’m not really a comic book reader, but even from my minimal knowledge I could tell it was ridiculous to turn that fight into essentially Batman vs the Hulk.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      Nihon Falcom > Capcom when it comes to boss fights.

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      Perhaps it’s just because I like feeling powerful, don’t care about challenging myself and just want to create mass destruction where I kill/damage several enemies at once, but boss fights are rarely fun. It’s especially bad if you have use some convoluted boss-specific mechanic to defeat them.

      Of course, just pounding them until they die isn’t very creative or fun most people would think, but if the game allows you several different combat options, then why not take everything you’ve learned and put it to practise in a boss fight.

    • phelix says:

      But what about Shadow of the Colossus?

  8. Solidstate89 says:

    Still my absolute favorite in the Arkham series. I feel like the stealth is just much more enjoyable in the more confined settings of the Asylum vs. City or Knight.

  9. Zenicetus says:

    I enjoyed everything about the game except for a couple of the boss fights. The one with Scarecrow throws you into a completely different platforming mode than the rest of the game. I know it’s supposed to be a hallucination, but I still hated it. Then there was a boss fight later in the game (Croc, I think?) where you have to do a series of timed moves.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t enjoy that kind of thing. When I play a game like this, I want the encounters and the basic combat mode to be consistent throughout the game, so I can leverage what I’ve learned about how to fight. Sequences like that just break immersion. And it’s usually the result of the game designers saying “ooh… we can do a cool encounter that looks just like a movie!” The Batman series isn’t the only offender… there was that Kayran fight in Witcher 2, but CDPR seems to have learned their lesson in the new game.

    Anyway, yeah…. those gripes aside, Asylum was probably the most fun I’ve had in a Batman game. It was a great setting for the story. I’ve only played one other, Arkham City, but I think Asylum is better for being more tightly focused.

    • Asurmen says:

      Both of those use what you’ve already learned and just apply a fixed camera. There’s nothing unique about them them other than that.

      In fact none of the boss fights in it were unique other than camera.

      • Asurmen says:

        Except Bane which also was training for future enemies.

      • Zenicetus says:

        The change to a fixed external camera and platforming wasn’t exactly a minor difference. It felt like I was playing a completely different mini-game within the main game. Maybe some people like that as a break from the main game? I dunno. For me, it’s an immersion breaker. Instead of allowing me to immerse myself in role-playing Batman, the game goes out of its way to remind me I’m just playing a videogame.

        Any boss fight that’s too heavily scripted does that too, like the ones where ‘ya gotta do X, then Y, then Z, and it’s the *only* solution to a puzzle for winning the fight. Not a big fan of that, and there tends to be a lot of it in the Batman games.

        • Asurmen says:

          It’s entirely a minor difference because you’re doing precisely the same things you would do throughout the game. It’s still 3rd person camera. Surely a 3rd person PoV breaks immersion anyway then?

          Infact Croc doesn’t even change camera.

  10. Borodin says:

    It’s always nice to be able to click and find another fresh Have You Played? recommendation each morning. Thank you Graham

  11. SuicideKing says:

    Yes I have. Disliked the scarecrow sections and boss battles. Rest was fun enough.

  12. jonfitt says:

    I really liked Arkham Asylum, and it got me to play the next two (everyone is deliberately ignoring Arkahm Oranges). But I have to say that City was the peak so far (haven’t played Knight).
    It wasn’t quite so constrained and linear that it allowed you to create your own spontaneous Batman moments. Asylum criss-crosses you across the same locations, but essentially you’re following a completely linear path and the baddies respawn in locations with new weapon X as you come back around with new power Y.
    City still had the excellent Predator rooms, but it gave you more toys to play with. There were more ways to stealth take down enemies.

    The combat was also improved in city. None of this was in Asylum:
    Simultaneous counters so you can fend off two, three enemies at once.
    Projectile counters, throwing objects back at enemies.
    Beatdowns, that can finish an enemy off without you having to use a takedown.
    Using your gadgets in combos: the Bat claw, the Explosive Gel, REC, the Freeze Blast.

    Playing City’s predator rooms as Robin is great too.

    • jonfitt says:

      I believe that Asylum was the proof-of-concept and City was the fulfillment of the idea.

      Also the boss fights all suck. Arguing which game had the best boss fights is like arguing about who has the best herpes.

  13. Risingson says:

    I was not able to enjoy it. Perhaps it was the frustration of wanting to explore and finding Metroid-like walls everywhere that only would fall later, with backtracking. I hate this kind of design. But everyone seems to have enjoyed it a lot, so I know it is me, the weird guy with glasses that sits in that corner and talks to no one.

  14. apa says:

    Hm. The game had good parts (how the fights look, stealth, iconic characters, lighting and textures, the asylum itself) but a lot I didn’t like:
    – The “plot” was unnecessarily drawn out just to increase the time it takes to play it through and this lead to massive grind.
    – The boss fights. Even more grind. Who on earth thinks they are ever a good idea?
    – The famous fight system turns into button mashing.
    – Those annoying riddles and other searchables

    • Asurmen says:

      How was it grindy?

      • apa says:

        I felt that I had to repeat “go to this building, beat all baddies, do the special thing at the end, come back outside” sequence like a million times. Backtracking to already visited buildings later was also boring, even if the map had been altered due to plot items.

        • Asurmen says:

          I guess? Although as long as you’re enjoying the fights another continuing story I’m not sure how it’s grindy.

  15. TheSkiGeek says:

    I thought the story elements of Arkham Asylum — other than that last, extremely terrible boss fight — worked a lot better than in Arkham City or Arkham Origins (haven’t played Knight yet). The game’s much more linear, but IMO it also did a better job of telling a coherent story. I really liked the scarecrow hallucination elements, although I can see how some people could get frustrated by the hiding/platforming sections.

    The combat got much more polished as the series went on, and the predator room designs were more varied and interesting, but the core of it was an amazing experience even in AA.

  16. Det. Bullock says:

    What a coincidence, I started replaying the game a couple of days ago because of the addition of theachievementes and the subtraction of Games For Windows Live.

    Contrary to many here I always collect everything before finishing the main story, if not for the 100% completion for the satisfaction of putting that annoying Nash behind bars.

  17. PancakeWizard says:

    I love Asylum, I love City and god help me I even love Origins.

  18. TheAngriestHobo says:

    You really ought to do a few of these for ancient games. Like, Commodore 64 era. I’d love to read “Have you played… Pitfall?” or “Have you played… The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy text adventure?”. It’d be an interesting challenge for you as a writer you try to sell us on games that probably belong in a museum, plus it’d add some fun variety into the lineup for us as readers.

    • Rikard Peterson says:

      You really recommend H2G2? I haven’t played it (only tried it a bit, up to the famous Babels Fish puzzle – as I grew up on LucasArts games I tend to prefer games to be more forgiving), but generally when I read about it (in circles of text adventure playing people, in IF forums) it seems to be one of Infocom’s least beloved games.

  19. mao_dze_dun says:

    I started playing the series only recently. Already finished Arkham Asylum and currently playing Arkhan City. While the first one was alright I really didn’t see what was so amazing about it. It’s a good game, mind you, but nothing more. Now the second one – I fell in love with it instantly. I find it vastly superior on every level.

  20. Fredrik Sellevold says:

    Have I played Arkham Asylum? Have I!? Yes! Yes I have!

    Let me tell you of what happened after I’d finished the story and I was merrily fighting my way through the challenge rooms: Games for Windows Live broke my save. After 15 minutes of wailing and gnashing of teeth I sighed and thought to myself “Well… I still haven’t played it on Hard difficulty”, so I did. And it become one of the very, very few games I’ve 100%ed.

    That’s how good it is.

  21. dethtoll says:

    I just played through this last month. I was expecting Arkham Knight to be a bit of a mess anyway (though I couldn’t have guessed how bad!) so I decided I’d tackle the Batman games on a quarterly basis, starting with Origins in December (I like it, so sue me,) Blackgate in March (I got it for Christmas ’13 and didn’t actually play it until this year… kinda not worth revisiting but alright in itself), and then AA in June. Will be tackling City in September and since getting Batman games for Christmas is a tradition at this point…

  22. noodlecake says:

    By far the best in the series. Claustrophobic, tense, atmospheric, creepy. All things that Arkham Asylum has that it’s sequels don’t. I hate how developers seem to think making something open world and adding tons of scale is always the best way to go, particularly when you’re not really doing a great deal with most of that space!

    That being said I did watch my friend play a bit of Arkham Knight and the story seemed pretty engaging compared to the last two, and it got pretty rave reviews on the consoles where it wasn’t broken, so I may pick it up in six months to a year when it’s working.

  23. Amazon_warrior says:

    I have not. But I want to. Bought it in the Steam Summer sale, and am just waiting for the opportunity and time to set my computer up and have at it.

  24. amateurviking says:

    I have and it’s bloody brilliant. AND it’s the perfect length.

  25. Iratedgamer says:

    Yes, and I didn’t like it