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Full Steam Ahead – Batman: Arkham Asylum

Time logged before Full Steam Ahead: 46 Hours

Just so that we’re clear beforehand, I love comics, and heroes, and good storytelling. The character of Batman is one the earliest memories I have, and the fact that Batman has always sort of been at the front of many aspects of geek culture has been particularly good to me and my interests. So make no mistake, there will be many other opportunities to talk about what that means to me, and what Batman means to me, and how I feel about the Batman games in my steam library, as well as introductions and more in-depth explanations of various aspects of the Batman mythos. But that’s not what I want to use this post to talk about.

You see, I’ve already played Batman – Arkham Asylum many times. I love this game. I’ve played the story, I’ve played the challenge maps, I’ve completed all the Riddler’s challenges. So I want to try something different with this game. In my mind, without a doubt, the Batman – Arkham series of games by Rocksteady Studios do a better job of capturing the feeling of being Batman. So, if that’s the case, how good a Batman can I be?

Nana nana nana nana…

In the first game of the series, Batman – Arkham Asylum, Batman is able to thwart the plans of an escaped Joker in a single night in Gotham City. Gotham, the home of Batman and the setting of the game, is based on many real life locations. As such, there is some debate as to where specifically the fictional city is located. However, many interpretations put Gotham, and therefore Arkham Asylum, somewhere on the east coast of New Jersey.

The game never specifies what time of the year the game is set in. However, Batman begins his mission to recapture the Joker, under the cover of night, and is able to achieve this before the sun rises.

Assuming that the city of Gotham has similar sunrise/sunset times to the city of Elizabeth, New Jersey, this means that I would have 14 hours and 44 minutes on the winter solstice, December 21. On June 21, the summer solstice, I would have only 8 hours and 54 minutes.

So here’s what I’m going to do. I will start a new game of Batman – Arkham Asylum on hard difficulty. I will be playing with a stopwatch right beside me. As long as the game is running, so will the stopwatch. I can’t skip cutscenes, and if Batman dies or is captured, I’m clearly not good enough to be Batman. If I complete the game, I will check my time against the sunrise and sunset times of Elizabeth, New Jersey, to find out exactly what day it would need to be for me to succeed as Batman.

Time: 0 Hours, 0 minutes, 0 Seconds.

It’s raining in Gotham. This does not bode well for me. If it was snowing, it would mean the game was set in winter, giving me a longer night. But it’s raining.

I’m delivering a recaptured Joker to Arkham Asylum for the criminally insane. He is taunting me and the Arkham guards with bad jokes and reminders of previous escapes. What’s more, Joker was remarkably easy to capture this time. Seeing as Joker seems to make it his life mission to inflict misery and suffering, it’s safe to assume he’s setting a trap.

Time: 0 hours, 10 minutes, 45 seconds

Welp, that didn’t take long.

Curiously, all that went through Batman’s mind at this time was, “Oh no, not again.”

Time: 1 hour, 14 minutes, 30 seconds

Havoc reigns in Arkham. The Asylum’s criminally insane population has escaped, seeking to take revenge on the staff, guards, and caretakers. What’s worse, several inmates of the infamously violent Blackgate Penitentiary were transferred to Arkham after a fire; it is by now very obvious that Joker was responsible for this fire.

Amidst this chaos, Commissioner Gordon was captured by Harley Quinn, accomplice to the Joker and former psychiatrist of Arkham Asylum. While trying to track down Commissioner Gordon, I end up getting attacked by Scarecrow, another former psychiatrist. Scarecrow uses a toxic plend of chemicals to induce fearful hallucinations in his victims. After some nightmarish visions, I’m able to shake off gas, and keep moving forward.

I swear, at a later date, I will talk about the level design of the Scarecrow levels. They are brilliant.

Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes, 20 seconds

A researcher at Arkham has been performing cruel experiments on the inmates. Taking money under the table from Joker, Dr. Penelope Young has been experimenting with the active ingredient in venom, a powerful steroid which powers one of my most fearsome opponents. It appears this incident is Joker’s attempt to secure the research for his own use, threatening to release a horde of super-powered psychopaths on Gotham City.

Just doing some research. Definitely not downloading new songs for my Bat iPod.

Time: 2 hours, 37 minutes, 05 seconds

I’ve died. After a second attack from scarecrow, during which I relived the brutal murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, Batman was captured by Scarecrow in the midst of his hallucinations. Doctor Crane taunts as I lose consciousness, “After fear, oblivion.”

I’m not good enough to be Batman. At least, not this time. To be fair, I’m not a multi-millionaire, detective, martial arts expert, with a team of allies backing me up and a belt full of bat-themed gadgets. However, this isn’t the world of comics. So, when I die, I get no more tries…

So… how many tries would it take?

Health bar’s lookin’ a little low there, bud.

Attempt #2 – 43 minutes, 31 seconds

Maybe I’m still rattled from my last attempt, but I get taken out by a group of Joker’s thugs in the hospital. They spot me, shoot me, and that’s game over.

Hello again.

Attempt #3 – 2 hours, 10 minutes, 22 seconds

Died in the exact same spot as the first attempt. However, with all my previous experience, I’m getting pretty good at the first hour or so of the game. I’m also getting much better at combat. This is good, because fighting more than one person at a time? Turns out it’s pretty damn hard! And Batman regularly takes on groups of four or more. Still though, having trouble with the Scarecrow parts.

Taken down by his greatest nemesis, Three dudes with pipes.

Attempt #4 – 2 hours, 35 minutes, 12 seconds

I made it past Scarecrow… and then got taken out by some of Joker’s thugs on my way to the island’s penitentiary.


This style of playthrough suddenly makes this post-death taunt from Joker a lot more annoying.

Attempt #5 – 4 hours, 45 minutes, 20 seconds

Serious question: why does an island prison holding a person who can telepathically control plants even have a greenhouse? Anyway, the Joker and Poison Ivy have teamed up. Her plants have been modified with Joker’s chemicals. The island is being choked by vines, and filled with poisonous spores… But it’s the sniper outside of intensive treatment that gets me.

Attempt#6 – 6 hours, 20 minutes, 59 seconds

I made it past the spores. And the snipers. And a third run in with Scarecrow. Then I get eaten by Arkham’s resident cannibal, Killer Croc.

Six attempts. I have been, in no particular order, beaten, bruised, stabbed, shot, mauled, hit with pipes, trampled, blown up, and I’ve nearly had an elevator dropped on me six bloody times. That just covers the physical damage. Add the psychological trauma of Scarecrow’s attacks, as well as the imposing, chaotic, gloomy setting of Arkham Asylum itself, and you’ve got a terrible night for Batman.

In lots of games, it can be easy to ignore the damage suffered by our virtual avatars. It’s a credit to the developers of Batman – Arkham Asylum that when Batman gets hurt, I feel for him. The way the world momentarily goes out of focus after he is hit with a lead pipe, the way his cape, cowl, and suit get battered and torn as the night progresses, all these elements serve to make the damage he suffers feel real. It makes me feel bad for him. It makes me sit behind a corner, looking around at a group of enemies I can’t evade, and there fore have to fight, and say, “I don’t want to do this.”

It’s also a credit to many very talented writers and storytellers over the years that my immediate gut reaction to that is this: Batman wouldn’t quit.

This playthough, with it’s live, die, repeat pattern reminds me of one of my favourite Batman stories, Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader by Neil Gaiman. In this imagined last Batman story, the ghost of Batman attends his own funeral, listening to stories of his death and life told by his closest allies, his most bitter enemies, and everyone in between. The stories change with each telling, but they all eventually coalesce on one theme: Batman never gives up.

This post started as a naive attempt to be as good as Batman. It then became a bizarre alternate universe where Batman has timeloop powers. And it concludes thus: I am not good enough to be Batman, plain and simple. But it sure was fun trying.

This moment, when Batman first emerges onto the grounds of Arkham Asylum, remains one of my favourite in gaming. Even six times later.

Next Episode: The month of Adam begins!

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