Game Review: Batman Arkham Asylum - The Best Batman Game Ever

The best game I've played all year.

Go buy it now.

There have been a lot of super hero games (I myself helped make one), and there have been even more games based on licensed properties. Most of them have been bad, disappointing, or insulting in some combination. Batman Arkham Asylum is great, totally satisfying, and utterly true to the source material. It is, quite simple, the best super hero game ever made.

No, it's not perfect. There are a few, rare false notes and some brief, needlessly frustrating sequences but fade into smoke in the face of a game that really does make you feel like you're playing Batman. Others have called it a Batman Sim or even a Batman RPG, and they aren't wrong – Arkham Asylum not only offers some leveling-up mechanics and upgrades – but what we really mean when we say that is that the game captures the essence of Batman. He's sneaky. He's a detective. He's bad ass in a fight. He's fearless. As you play him you become all those things as well, and the only thing that sucks is that it has to end.

Arkahm Asylum is the mental institution where Gotham City houses its criminally insane super criminals. Its rusty, dark cells and brooding Gothic architecture set the scene for a classic confrontation between Batman and his arch-nemesis, The Joker. The game opens with Batman bringing the Joker back into custody, but it immediately becomes clear that The Clown Prince of Crime (voiced expertly by Mark Hamill) is setting a trap for the Dark Knight. He seizes control of Arkham with the help of Harley Quinn, setting in motion a long night of battles, puzzles, and bat-gadget use that brings Batman into conflict with hundreds of thugs and some of his greatest foes.

The game play is pretty evenly split between fighting, sneaking, and puzzle solving. The combat system is fast and elegant, almost like a cross between a rhythm game and a beat 'em up. Stringing together combos and counter moves, Batman can take on a dozen punks at once and never suffer a punch (if you're good enough), just like it should be. But he's not Superman, and when the baddies have guns, the indirect approach is called for. Here the game becomes a sneaker, although the game describes it as predatory, which is much more accurate. Batman stalks through the shadows or swings from gargoyles to stay get position on the thugs while their alone, taking them out one at a time. This sends them into an ever increasing cycle of panic – just the way a Joker-thug should feel alone in a room with the Dark Knight. The puzzles come in multiple flavors, from figuring out how to use Batman's gadgets to sneak around Arkham Island to solving riddles and puzzles set out by, who else, the Riddler. There's a nice variety here and the pacing is excellent. It's the only game I've played in years that I actually took an extra couple hours to go through and solve all 240 Riddle Challenges (which offers a couple of cool story rewards for your effort).

This is, for me right now, the Game of the Year. Absolutely. There are some exciting titles coming out in the next few months that could steal the crown – Brutal Legend, Assassin's Creed 2, Modern Warfare 2 – but it's Batman's race to lose. Batman Arkham Asylum is $60 on X-Box 360 and Playstation 3 and $50 on PC.

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