Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009)

People say there weren't any good Batman games until Arkham Asylum. I wholeheartedly disagree, games like the Sunsoft Batman ‘89 NES game, Adventures of Batman and Robin for the Genesis, and even Batman Vengeance for Xbox/PS2 was a really well done version of the Dark Knight. So I didn’t have low expectations, and when I saw it at E3 that year, all I could do was tell everyone who would listen to me how amazing the new batman game was going to be.

The Joker takes over the Asylum is a story that has been played around with in the comics several times, the Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth is definitely used as a jumping off point for the game, but it was basically written from scratch by Paul Dini, the de facto Batman writer in my mind. The guy who wrote most of the Animated Series episodes, the man who created Harley Quinn, now sat down and wrote a full fledged video game script that rivals most other games, movies and comics combined. It’s a really interesting story that can be a bit frightening, with the atmosphere of a semi-rundown, taken-over Asylum by lunatics. But the way it interweaves so many classic Super Villains into the story so well, while introducing some new characters and plots is just one of the reasons this game works so well.  

Taking control of Batman and being able to have a Stealth game and take down enemies as you start stalking them through the shadows and high up on sem-out of place gargoyles all over the Asylum is not just a joy, but also something that was never done well in other games. “Stealth” based games were primarily focused on not being seen or using any weapons (e.g. Metal Gear Solid) and if you were seen, it would result in a game over. Not here… kinda. If you do mess up while stalking a bad guy down a dimly lit portion of a hallway, you can knock them out and grapple away, or use a smoke pellet to disappear. There is no hard stop to the flow of the game just because you weren’t stealthy enough. Which brings up another game changer not to just the Batman franchise but infected video games as a whole. Free Flow Combat.

The new combat mechanics of the Arkham games were so novel and innovative at the time, that it was something that was copied by every similar game for years and years. At times it almost felt like a rhythm game mixed in with the combat to where you were basically timing punches to the rich undertones of the bass of the soundtrack. The hard hitting thuds of bone and flesh bouncing in time with each beat is something that becomes deeply encoded into your memory once you experience. You start seeking out groups of thugs just to be able to start getting that combo meter up and get zoned out into an almost trance like state of punching.

The combat, the atmosphere, the story all came together in an intricate and perfectly balanced way to bring to life one of the best superhero games of all time, but there is still one thing that, for me, makes it something entirely special, and that is the Riddler Trophies. At 240 individual puzzles, riddles and hidden secrets and easter eggs, these time consuming achievements just add as a whipped cream, cherry on top of an already award winning Sundae. Being able to walk through the halls trying to find an environment puzzle that not only fills the game with even more special things for fans of Batman, but also delves deeper into the stories of some of the villains is something that isn’t like anything else in games. After playing the 2018 Spider-Man game, this is something that stood out. Not having much interesting touches to certain villains or places in the world. Sure Spider-Man did have a few strung out through the game, but it was a very shallow experience. It was just buildings in New York. Not pictures on a desk, or a cell with blood written on the wall of a certain phrase, that really bring home the “World’s Greatest Detective” to the gameplay. You are actually solving puzzles and riddles, deciphering codes and really deeply experiencing what it is like to solve these puzzles presented to you. Some of them make you really search and unearth the puzzles. Only people who know these characters would be able to solve some of them relatively easily. Most require searching and going out of your way, off the beaten path to gain these little bits of easter eggs, that do reward you with either some Character Trophies in the main menu, or audio tapes of the characters past or back story. If you are dedicated enough to grab everything you get a good wrap up to Riddler’s storyline as well. It’s worth it alone for the fun of solving them, but to 100% this game feels extremely satisfying.

Not enough good things can be said about this game. It’s classified in that “Metroid-vania” way that I normally hate. Backtracking back and forth through the same areas normally are extremely boring to me, but something about how tightly paced, interesting the atmosphere and the changes to the environment throughout the game makes it much more of a pleasure to play. This game is special, not just for what it did in game combat of Character Action/Stealth games, but for what it brought to Video Games as a whole. Licensed games no longer were looked at as quick cash grabs of low quality filler, but something that could be given the proper care and treatment and turn out to be something that everyone will remember as a Game of the Year instead of shlok and shovelware.