You Need To Play Batman: Arkham Asylum Again
For the longest time, video games based on comic properties were seen as a joke. Infamous games like Superman 64 or cheap movie tie-ins were the only representation that the genre seemed to get.
There was the occasional game that wasn't total rubbish, like Spider-Man 2 for the PlayStation 2, but even the novelty of those wore off quickly, as it felt like gamers would never get a worthwhile attempt at inhabiting their favourite heroes in the interactive medium.
That all changed in 2009, when Rocksteady Studios released Batman: Arkham Asylum. The entire industry finally grasped that comic book games weren't destined to fail, they were just never given the development they deserved.
Welcome To The Madhouse
Batman: Arkham Asylum sees Batman just doing his job like any other day, saving Gotham from a menagerie of crazy villains. The Joker has taken over the asylum with the help of Harley Quinn and his gang, who have been moved over from Blackgate Prison after a curiously timed fire.
Mr. J is planning on releasing a deadly toxin into the water that transforms people into monstrous titans. Arkham Asylum has an incredibly strong opening scene where we follow Joker deep into the asylum as he's wheeled along by guards, cracking his twisted jokes and making his explicit threats.
This entire section makes for a great introduction to the gothic and rundown asylum we'll soon be trapped inside, while also setting up the unique and unhealthy relationship between our protagonist and antagonist.
Obviously, things soon go wrong. Joker escapes, Harley takes control of the asylum security, all the criminals and patients get out, and Batman gets trapped inside as he's forced to figure out what's gone wrong and how he can stop it.
It's a very simple premise to begin with, but as you explore the asylum and come across new characters, the narrative does take interesting twists and turns - making for a darker and more psychological take on the character.
One of the most iconic aspects of Batman: Arkham Asylum is the free-flow combo system, which for the time, was a complete breath of fresh air when it came to hand-to-hand combat in games. The system was designed to facilitate fast-paced, flowing combat, where you built up a combo and score to become more powerful and perform moves even quicker.
Batman would also jump around with the tilt of the thumbstick and the attack button, launching himself at an enemy across the room to land a swift knee to the jaw. It was responsive, smooth, and you felt the impact of your strikes when cracking the bones of the enemies. While it's been appropriated for a number of games since then, it just feels right for Batman.
Fighting isn't the only thing Batman is good at though, as he's quite famous for his stealth and detective abilities. Stealth is a big part of the experience here, and there are entire sections dedicated to skulking in the shadows and taking down enemies one by one to clear a room.
During these parts, the enemies are equipped with guns, necessitating the use of predatory tactics to pick them off quickly and quietly. There is a plethora of options for these encounters, and they highlight Batman's less in-your-face but equally brutal clandestine ways.
Detective work makes up a small but important portion of the game, though this is much less fleshed out than the other systems. You can activate detective vision at any point to highlight enemies through walls or track down collectibles, but there are dedicated sections where you need to solve something.
These typically are reduced to just activating the vision mode, looking around, scanning what you need and then following a trail. It's all really basic and isn't an engaging way to tackle the "world's best detective" aspect of Batman, but it does break up the combat and stealth segments.
It's also worth noting the unique level design of Arkham Asylum, as it was pretty much abandoned for the following sequels. The game follows a Metroidvania progression system, where parts of the world can be visited from the start, but not accessed without the right gadget or upgrade.
This helps to keep the relatively small asylum fresh too, as every time you revisit an area or backtrack, it's recontextualised by the new gadgets that can be used to unlock new areas or grab a previously unreachable collectible. It's also the perfect feature for a game about Batman, a hero notable for his various gadgets, allowing Rocksteady to wrap gameplay in with the narrative seamlessly.
A Super Experience
Batman: Arkham Asylum changed gaming when it released, and we're still feeling the effects nearly 15 years later as big-budget superhero games are a lot more commonplace. While this is also partly due to the rise of the MCU and heroes becoming more mainstream than ever, we have Rocksteady and the Caped Crusader to thank (or blame, depending on how you feel).
In the end, Arkham Asylum is a tightly structured masterpiece of action-adventure video game design, enhanced at every turn with a stellar voice cast, mature writing, and thrilling gameplay. Very few games have the lasting legacy that it does, and in another 15 years, we'll still be singing its praises. That's why you should play Batman: Arkham Asylum again.