As we use the explosive gel to enter the medical facility through the ceiling, we see that the interior of the building is significantly more drab and dreary than what one would expect a hospital to look, with those Gargoyles all across the wall, and cracks everywhere, which one of the henchmen even comments on, which is funny. The dialogue of the henchmen isn’t as advanced or interesting as it would be in City, and feels a bit bland in this first instalment, but I suppose it does convey their thuggish personalities well enough. We also see that the henchmen now have their faces painted to more closely resemble clowns, showing the increasing control Joker has over the Asylum. It doesn’t however change the distracting fact that our enemies have a very repetitive look, the same character design over and over again, a very muscular bald man, either black or white, sometimes with spiky hair but that’s it. Again, this game was probably made on a tight budget, so corners would have had to be cut, but it does take me out of the realism that the game was going for.
After we save a group of doctors being taken hostage, our next objective is to save three separate doctors, who are each locked up in different rooms which allow us to showcase different forms of rescue. Dr Kellerman is locked inside a room with Aaron Cash where there’s poisonous gas outside, meaning that we use our puzzle solving skills to throw a Batarang at the controls for the three fans to clean the air. Dr Chen is strapped to a table as bait for us to be attacked by multiple thugs to beat up, and Dr Young is inside a room filled with armed enemies that we take out by exploding the fragile walls around them while avoiding being seen. The player can choose which order to do these in, the only requirement is that they all need to be completed before we head back to the other room. Despite the dreary look of the facility, the textures of the walls and floors do feel especially lively, and the presence of physical plastic curtain in the hallways is a nice touch.
You know, this game’s attention to detail is really something to behold. I’m not just talking about the references to the outside universe in newspapers scattered across the building, or the fact that the doctors we encounter can be heard interviewing the villains in those tapes we find. Or the foreshadowing to later on in the game when we hear about something called the TITAN formula being spoken of on the screens in the corridors which we hear Dr Young mention in said interview tapes, alluding to the fact that it will play a bigger role in the story with when she mentions needing to return to her work after she is saved. No, I’m actually talking about the fact that after you have taken out those Joker teeth with your Batarang, it spits in half, left on the ground for you to kick if you walk on top of them. Seriously, I was impressed with that little feature when I replayed the game that such a little afterthought feature would be included, especially since the rest of the environment isn’t as interactive, with leaves on the ground outside staying unrealistically still.
Going back to the hostage mission, an impressive element I found in that was that each time we saved a hostage, there was a box which released those Joker teeth (they aren’t instantly in locations when we first see them). The final times we do this, we are introduced to a new enemy type, the knife attacker who is dressed in a red straight jacket wielding knives which help them to block our attacks. It adds some nice diversity to the combat, whose only issue so far has been that it can get a bit repetitive, so now that problem is solved too. As is the lack of diversity in the enemy’s appearance to an extent.
After a second Predator section for the Medical Facility, we are invited into the lift. The joker speaks to us over the screen, something about “facing our fears” as a vague, brown gas seeps into the lift, and Batman coughs. The way this is shown on screen is a lot more subtle than how I’m probably describing it, as the sound editing which highlights the sinister music to mask the coughs, does an excellent job of preparing us for what is about to happen. That being the highlight section of the game. In a quick cutscene, we see Batman sees people in another room seemingly succumbing to a gas which causes them to go crazy, with one individual in a hood with large teeth for some reason being emphasised, they come a little later but it’s basically a cannibal. Diehard Batman fans will know which character we’re encountering here form just the name “Crane” being mentioned.
We can tell that something isn’t right, as the camera has been titled, and the vision our movement becomes a little bit more blurry. We see Gordon getting attacked by that hooded figure in the distance, and then he seems to be dead when we reach him, but something clearly isn’t right still, as Batman’s eyes are glowing red and if we turn on Detective vision we see that the corpse has no skeleton. So we follow a sound into the corridor over to the morgue. The morgue is empty other than whispering background voices telling us to get out. When we comply, and go out the same door we came in, we see the Morgue yet again, the main difference this time around being that those riddles we usually see when we enter a new room are nowhere to be seen. Oh, and I suppose there are also body bags in the centre of the room. Regardless of which order we open them in, the first one we open we see a corpse of Batman’s father telling us how much of a disappointment we are. In the second, we see his mother asking how he could let them die. I swear the third one before I opened it seemed to have switched to more of a breathing motion than the previous twitching motion.
And yes, when we open the third bag, we get a jump scare from my favourite Batman villain, the Scarecrow. Joker may be Batman’s opposite, but I’ve always thought of Scarecrow as being something of a mirror to Batman in how they both use fear to get what they want. In addition to that, Scarecrow is just creepy, and this section captures the character perfectly, taking Batman into a surreal nightmare where he has to run through a platform from a side-camera view while avoiding Scarecrow’s field of vision. The section helps to bring a nice change of pace to the gameplay, with the music complementing the frightening atmosphere. Every thing about this section, from Scarecrow’s character design to the brief glimpses where we see Batman transform into Scarecrow while we play as him, are so well done that they distract us from the fact that the cockroaches on the ground are just thick red dots with little attention paid to their rendering.
After the section is done, and Batman goes back on the trail for Gordon, who he can confirm is still alive, we don’t take long to get to him after an easy stealth section where we get around the armed inmates surrounding him and Harley Quinn. Along the way, we get the easiest access to the Riddler map for the Medical Facility, which exists to show us where the challenges are, but it isn’t entirely reliable as it doesn’t specify what the challenges are, meaning we may have a different type of challenge in mind. It only shows us a top-down view of the map, meaning we could be looking on the wrong floor, and while we do know the location of the challenges, we still don’t entirely know how to get to them. It’s impressive to me how the map for the game, while useful, isn’t something we’ll keep going back to because the environment is challenging enough for us to have to figure out where to go, but still easy enough to understand where exactly.
So Batman smashes on top of Harley, and instead of capturing her there and then, which he should do, he leaves her on the floor for her to escape easily once he and Gordon leave (facepalm!). Drawn by the suspicious glass construction in the centre of the room, the two find an extremely skinny Bane, who has had all the chemicals drained from him. While the detail about the TITAN formula is meant to be part of Joker’s grand plan, the real reason Bane is here is to provide us with our first real Boss battle (since the Scarcrow section was more of a Stealth level). The Boss battles in the game are one of it’s main criticisms, this one in particular is somewhat similar to that brief encounter with the TITAN enhanced creature from earlier as we find ourselves repeatedly dodging a series of charges from Bane. The trick is to throw a fast Batarang at him while he is charging, and then dodge, and then beat him while he is out of consciousness.
The boss fight does get terribly repetitive after a while. I originally played this game in easy mode, where his crashes into the wall took an entire one of his three life bars. In the medium mode, it seems to take half a life bar from him instead, which does make it a little bit more challenging but on the whole, once we figure out how we are supposed to defeat Bane, the fight becomes frustratingly easy, and it never changes the pattern at any point in the fight, causing it to become terribly repetitive. Well, except for the waves of lesser enemies who come down to assist Bane, which is a cheap way to make the fight more challenging but on the whole doesn’t change anything.
I might as well also talk about the location of the fight, which looks like it’s meant to be some sort of boiler room, shaped uncharacteristically like an arena. The location we went to after Bane smashed into it through the wall, but it never appears again on the map, because it was only designed for this Boss battle. But the room itself simply feels out of place. And while it is cool to watch Batman pull out those pipes from Bane’s back, the fact that it doesn’t defeat him in the main story does cause the fight to feel somewhat inconsequential. The actual defeat occurs in a cutscene outside, when Bane grabs Batman before Batman remote controls the Batmobile to drive into Bane, pushing him into the water. Considering how strong Bane is, I question how effective this attack would really be, and how deep the water just next to the coast would be. Moreover, although Bane wasn’t exactly someone we could have an intelligent conversation with, the fact that he clearly knows a lot about what is going on does make it feel like Batman wasted some valuable information. I suppose the developers just wanted to have an exciting action setpiece to send the character away, but it instead feels like a bit of an anti-climax, and a waste of a perfectly good Batmobile.
After Batman sends Gordon off the island in a conveniently placed boat, he deduces from Bane’s words that Dr Young is involved in this somehow. In a conversation with Oracle, he decides to head to the Batcave, apparently there’s a Batcave on Arkham island that he built years ago. “It’s best to plan ahead for situations like this”, makes me wonder how many other Batcaves there must be in Gotham City. And the location of this Batcave is well hidden enough for me to believe that no one would notice it, as we travel through some abandoned catacombs which includes a well covered in human skulls. We then get yet another cinematic of the island, this time showing the edge of the island, with Gotham city off in the background, as Batman then glides off the edge of a cliff, into a cave near the bottom, where the secret entrance to the Batcave is located.
The batcave itself is fairly small, and it’s presence in the game does sort of defeat the idea of Batman being trapped on the island all by himself. Still the details such as a door which scans his identification to allow only him access is nice (although the way that the computer casually refers to him as “Bruce” leads me to wonder what he would do if someone were to follow him into the cave), as well as the presence of a ridge he goes to the computer from by gliding from it, so that people without gliding capes can’t go there. So we discover that Dr Young apparently unknowingly worked with Joker on the TITAN formula, which Joker has been planning to use to create an army of super strong criminals, and so our next objective is to go to Arkham Manor, where Dr Young said she was going earlier.
While we are in the cave, we also obtain our latest gadget, and probably the most enjoyable one to use, the Batclaw. This is a device slightly similar to the grapple gun in how it grabs objects. We get to test it, first by pulling a bunch of miscellaneous boxes off the edge of the floor, apparently they only exist in the cave for that purpose as Batman has no problem letting them fall several feet below into the fog. Then we get to use to open vents which are too high up for us to use our hands on. Making our way into the sewer system and encountering a group of thugs, we also get to use this gadget in combat, using it to pull one of the enemies into our directions so that we can punch them when they get close, adding a new enjoyable feature to the combat.
While in this section, we can optionally go to a locked door which, if we try to open, will give us a nice jump scare featuring Killer Croc, who continues to threaten us with the possibility of eating us. Croc’s dangerous presence in the game is clearly being built up for an encounter later on, and we can only hope that it delivers. This section even has a few interview tapes specifically about Croc scattered to further tell us about his character. Out of this section, we see some underground ruins, which we are meant to climb up rather than grapple onto, as the buildings are apparently too fragile and slippery for that, which does mean we are meant to change our exploration game. I myself like how many Riddler trophies there are in just this section. And inside here, we get messages from Oracle informing us of Dr Young’s past with the Joker’s alias, including a dark joke about a dead baby, because Joker.
Once we make our way outside, back into Arkham North, we see that the inmates have by this point attained a firm grip over the island, being armed with sniper rifles now, and standing on top of the observation points, thus encouraging the player to up their stealth game in order to quietly take out these particular enemies, while on the ground continue to be the regular fist fighters. The theme of how much control the inmates now have is further demonstrated when we see that they are also guarding the Manor, having apparently taken control of it. After we defeat all the available enemies in the East, we still can’t get though he front door of the Manor because of that electric fence blocking our way, something which the enemies on the other side boast to us about. Once we use the Batclaw to remove a ventilation shaft outside, which allows us to enter the building, we can hear them continuing to boast about their safety, thus making our sudden attack from above much more satisfying.