‘Batman: Arkham Asylum’ Gets an Unreal 4 Remake
- Assets modeled in Blender, textured with Substance Painter.
- Warner Bros may not yet be aware of the project.
- Bonus review included.
Roughly a decade ago, the original Arkham Asylum was created in the Unreal 3 Engine. Now, 3D tinkerer Zach Jaeger has begun working on a project to recreate the game in Unreal 4. We can the early stages of this development demonstrated as a series of hallways in the trailer above. If this project ever reaches completion, veterans and newcomers to the game alike could play through Arkham Asylum with the awesome voice acting of the original game, and vastly improved graphics. If you’ve never played Arkham Asylum, check out this review I wrote for it many a year ago.
Arkham Asylum is a mostly mediocre game that does one thing really well—makes you feel like Batman. Whether stalking from the shadows, disarming some thug with the flick of a batarang, or swooping through the night with the grappling hook, Batman’s abilities look and feel like they should. The Dark Knight has even picked up some new tools of the trade, such as the explosive bat shaving cream, and something called “detective vision,” which would more aptly be named, “The Predator wishes it had vision this advanced,” or “Why would you ever not be using this vision?” It really is never beneficial to use normal vision compared to detective vision, which is a damn shame because this ruins the carefully crafted aesthetic of the game. Gone are the foreboding shadows and gothic architecture that were created to lend depth to the asylum, replaced by a monochromatic filter through which to view Batman: Attack of the Many Glowing Skeletons.
Many of the original voice actors from the animated Batman series in the 90s have reprised their roles. Mark Hamill stars as the Joker, who doesn’t go more than two minutes without saying something all game long (something only Mark Hamill could get away with). Arleen Sorkin reminds us all again why hero girls will never be as fun as villain girls, and Kevin Conroy gives us the overly obvious declarative sentences and constipated groans of our childhood. It all functions to serve the game’s greatest strength—making you feel as if you’re really taking part in a Batman story.
The story is about what you’d expect it to be from a Batman game. The Joker is up to no good and Batman’s got to stop him. It’s all just a pretense to pave the way for being able to dole out knuckled tonsil massages to the Joker’s henchmen. Speaking of which, the requirements for employment under the Clown Prince of Crime are apparently being able to bench 400 lbs, three percent body fat, and a blatant disregard for ones own safety. At several points during the game, the henchmen mention the Joker randomly killing them off, and yet they go to great lengths to work for him, even so far as being purposely incarcerated. I guess seven hours a day at the gym limits their job prospects.
The good guys are just as useless in their own way. Nearly every interaction with any adult male not trying to kill Batman can be summed up in the following exchange:
Guard: Oh, Batman… things are really quite unpleasant.
Batman: Hush now, daddy’s here.
Guard: Shall I perhaps do something… anything even the slightest bit productive?
Batman: Yes, I need you to slump down and stare ahead with doe eyes.
Guard: One step ahead of you, Batman.
James Gordon threatens to be helpful once or twice, but for the most part, people that aren’t Batman are just there to be rescued or punched. Everything is an extension of Batman, a showcase of his abilities. None of it is reflective of anything real, no depth, only function.
Some of the story is delivered through the ever-popular mechanic of discovered audio tapes, this time in the form of patient interviews. But each of these is a series of naive questions specifically crafted to allow the villain brief clips of characterization, a transparent function, laughable in its repetition.
The gameplay is highly engaging, if not a bit repetitive. It takes three main forms, exploration, stealth, and combat. Exploring the glowing monochrome of Arkham Asylum is further incentivized by collectibles, trophies left by the Riddler, and the resulting insults he gives you for finding them. Oddly enough, there are also maps that reveal the general location of secrets, left by the Riddler himself, and while that might seem like cheating (because it is), collecting these maps is necessary in order to score 100 percent in exploration. It becomes even more backward when the Riddler starts questioning how you’re finding his secrets, and says that you must be cheating. Collecting hidden secrets also unlocks 3D models of characters that you can look at and spin around, which must be amazing to console gamers.
Stealth is satisfying, though perhaps a bit too easy. With the ability to see people through walls, even the hardest difficulty presents no challenge in sneaking around. But you’re given so many extra tools on top of that, and further upgrades made available by snapping your enemies’ bones, which also happens to be the way that Batman recovers lost health. Still, dropping from a gargoyle and snatching up a henchman like some poor insect, only to leave him suspended upside down, feels like something you’d see in a Batman movie… if it was monochrome and full of glowing skeletons. It is a little silly that there are so many random gargoyles along Arkham’s ceilings. Gargoyles are part of an irrigation system; the word gargoyle comes from a word meaning throat, because they spit water. They wouldn’t be indoors like that unless the architect was also a patient.
Combat is easily the most fun part of the game. Batman moves like Batman, grappling, striking, and whirling with simple, yet brutal motions. With the ability to string tool use in between punches and kicks, combat becomes a free flow sort of art. When you find your rhythm, the inmates are no longer your enemies, but your bodybuilding dance partners. Every strike, every counter, becomes another step of the dance, and Batman navigates slashing knives and oncoming blunt objects with the same acrobatic grace as he moves through the asylum itself. You will often find yourself hoping that another thug takes a swing at you, just so you can keep your combo going, and when you manage to weave in and out of a group of enemies without taking a single blow, you will inevitably consider taking up crime fighting in real life. But then you’ll remember that in real life, murderers don’t stand around in large groups waiting politely to take a swing or two, and you’ll shake your head at having so thoroughly enjoyed something so silly.
The boss fights are incredibly disappointing, and often force Batman to swing his fists in the direction of the boss instead of the psychopath just behind him, causing him to get swatted in the back of the head and stumble about like a senile old woman. There’s also no manual save feature, no way to configure controls outside of manipulating text files in the game directory, and for some reason, cartoon bats constantly fly out of things—punch a thug down, cartoon bats, grab a pickup, cartoon bats, break a pair of mechanical teeth wandering the halls of the asylum, cartoon bats… that’s just plain stupid.
All in all, if you’re a fan of Batman, especially the animated series from the 90s, you’ll enjoy this game. But strip away the brand name, and the gameplay elements themselves are only decent, not great, not terrible, and a bit repetitive. I recommend Arkham Asylum because there is fun to be had, silliness aside. But the game is careful to hedge that fun in laughable justifications. Batman isn’t killing his enemies with those brutal blows to the back of their heads, he’s only incapacitating them. You can tell because their chests can be seen steadily rising and falling after you’ve kicked them face first into an electric wall. He doesn’t enjoy dance-fighting through a mass of psychotic Mr. Olympia contestants, so it’s ok if you do. Even the violence of the villains is often cartoonish and safe. At one point, a female doctor is held with a knife to her throat. If you fail to save her, you hear her scream as the screen carefully fades to black, but if she dies later in an explosion, she is seen lying down with hardly a scratch on her. The game takes its inspiration from comics, with all the limiting regulations that have plagued them throughout the years. Only in such a world could Batman comfortably live with himself after villains kept escaping and killing over and over and over. Only in such a world could the shadows of Gotham hide the blood on his hands.