Gruff voice, piercing blue eyes, looks great in a long leather cape; you know who he is – it’s me Batman and, for once, he’s not in some truly atrocious side-scrolling beat-em-up. Instead, he’s in a really good game that’s fully 3D and deeply attached to the darker side of the original comics.
Sorry if we’ve spoiled the review for you by the way, by already declaring Batman: Arkham Asylum to be a really great game, but it’s hardly a secret. The console version, which has been out for a few weeks already, has been so lavished with praise that it’s won what is possibly the most stupid world record we’ve ever heard of – "Most Critically Acclaimed Superhero Game Ever". Seriously, there’s an award for that.
What’s most unbelievable about all this though isn’t the idiocy of that award, but the fact that the hype is totally and utterly deserved. Batman: Arkham Asylum really is a game that is as good as we’d hope it could be, incorporating everything we always loved about the Batman universe and giving gamers a unique chance to feel like a superhero.
Batman would stay up all night on Christmas, hoping to catch Santa
The game itself starts at the end of one adventure, albeit one which is obviously about to roll into an even bigger one. Batman has once more captured the Joker and drags him kicking and giggling back to the eponymous Arkham Asylum so that he can be incarcerated, again. What nobody accounts for this time though is that the Joker actually wants to be captured this time, quickly escaping into the depths of the gothic sanatorium and unleashing all kinds of havoc. His goons take control of the facility, freeing all the inmates and sealing off the tiny island from the outside world.
And there’s you stuck in the middle of it all, caught entirely off guard and unable to rely on help coming any time soon. Not that you really need the help though – you’re Batman, afterall. You can handle this.
Already we’ve stumbled across one of the major successes in Arkham Asylum; the feeling of barely contained power and raw ability that Batman embodies and which is perfectly communicated to the player. That’s what makes Arkham Asylum so fun to play; the feeling that, even though you’re just one man (and not even a superpowered one) against hundreds of armed goons and vicious supervillains, you’re still the one with all the power.
Reason to play Batman #1
The Joker may have taken control of the island – but you’re going to take it back.
There’s no particular element of Arkham Asylum which is responsible for this, rather it’s created by a dozen smaller design decisions which are all working in harmony to create a singular result. Partly it’s the rough and level voice acting of Batman, which contrasts so brilliantly with the shaky waverings of the guards. Partly it’s the array of gadgets and options you can use to best your foes. Partly it’s the smoothness and simplicity of the control system, which lets you unleash takedowns and combos with effortless ease – but it’s none of these elements on their own. They all work together to create this empathy with your character that very few other games can accomplish so completely.
It’s a truly wonderful thing to see in a game, let alone to see it being done so well. After the first few hours with the game I stepped away with an unusual surety in my step, feeling like I had never known fear. The effect fell apart a few seconds later when I took a tumble in the stairwell admittedly, but the fact it was there at all is enough for us to already give Batman: Arkham Asylum a hearty recommendation.