Have you ever loved a game so much you've actually tried to push your head into the television screen to try to be a part of it? What - oh, uh...no, m-me neither! But if I was going to do that to a game I'd do it to Batman Arkham Asylum!
This is one of the only games out there that actually makes you 'feel' like Batman! I used to get the same feeling when playing the old commodore 64 official licensed game based on the Tim Burton movie, until I realised that Batman wasn't entirely made up of large grey blocks! You get to stalk around a creepy asylum in big boots, a cape and exposed purple pants (for some reason) beating up ridiculously 'beefed up' goons while you try to hunt down the Joker and, well...beat him up a bit! The whole game feels like it's straight out of the Batman comics (the newer, darker comics, not the 40's ones where he hung around with a teenage boy in skimpy yellow tights and smiled a lot).
The game starts out with big boots bringing the Joker into Arkham Asylum for incarceration purposes and you even get a nice pre-title sequence in which you control Batsy as he tags along while the Joker is being transported to his cell by the asylum guards.
Things go a bit wrong quite quickly, however, when it transpires that the Joker has set this whole 'being captured' thing up and escapes into the depths of Arkham! There then follows a brief fighting tutorial that lets you get to grips with the simple, but surprisingly entertaining combat system as you `duff up' a number of the Joker's goons! After you've finished off the massive thugs with slow-motion, painful looking attacks you guide Batman inside the main entrance of the asylum.
The game is extremely atmospheric overall and the core stealth game play is well executed (much like many of Batman's enemies). You can hide in the shadows and use your grapple to swing around the moody environments, as well as lowering Batman down to any nearby unaware enemies and stealthily dispatching them. If this doesn't work you can always chuck a batarang at them or flying kick them in the side of the head when they aren't looking.
Although batarangs aren't the only gadgets Batman has access to. He has zip-lines, remote control batarangs and gel based explosive devises! Batman can also switch to `detective vision' at the push of a button, which gives a sort of x-ray vision effect (more Superman than Batman, but never mind). This makes it easier to spot enemies through walls as well as seeing if the enemies are `packing heat' so to speak, or whether they're unarmed and therefore easier to defeat. You can then start to plan your attacks and take down the lethal gun-toting villains before the less dangerous ones armed with pipes and bits of stick. Whilst in detective mode, you can also spot hiding places, grapple points (for a quick escape) and weaknesses in structures easier. These cracks in the walls, floors etc can usually lead to different areas and also be used as traps or `takedowns' to knock out any passing thugs! `Knock out' because true to the comics Batman doesn't actually kill anyone, though most of the things he does to the enemies in this game would knock them out....for good.......um, it would kill them!
There's a nice (if that's the right word) selection of Batman's enemies present in the game, all of which must be tackled (if that's the right word) as a one on one boss fight, although you usually have to take on a handful of weaker enemies along with them. The Scarecrow sections are particularly well executed (like Batman's enemies, oh, wait, I've done that one). The scarecrow manages to subject Batman to his special scary gas (or whatever it's called), causing him to enter a world of hallucinations and nightmares which you must guide him through before he completely loses his mind! This ends with an epic battle against some skeletal Batmen and a huge scary scarecrow! The player also gets to face off against Bane, Poison Ivy, Harlequin, the crocodile (or whatever he's called) and of course the Joker!
In conclusion this is an extremely well constructed game, with a solid (if fairly simple) story, excellent graphics and game play which expertly combines stealth and satisfying, straightforward combat. There isn't too much backtracking or other overly used tricks to extend the game's length and you don't feel like any of the locations or enemies are simply `thrown in' to make the game appear longer, everything feels like it's leading up to the conclusion of the story. This game won around a million game of the year awards in 2009 and it definitely deserves them. This is probably the best comic book game ever made and certainly the best Batman game, at least until the upcoming sequel....