It’s actually quite hard to pinpoint exactly what makes Batman: Arkham Asylum so good. That’s not to say that there’s nothing to point at, but rather that there is so much to point at. Instead of reinventing the wheel, it seems developer Rocksteady just copied the original plans for that wheel four times and created a muscle car with it.
Hidden within its play areas are: Metroid‘s hidden items guarded by skills to come, a brutal combat-system that seems to understand God of War, Shenmue‘s Quick Time Events used in ways that make sense and don’t frustrate, stealth sections from Splinter Cell that empower you rather than annoy, Zelda‘s ‘overworld’ linking everything together andBioshock‘s atmosphere told through a powerful art direction and scattered audio-files. There’s so much in there that you can trace back as a successful experiment from another game. And then this is all covered in a thick Batman-sauce.
Now I’m not a fan of Batman; I’ve seen the last two films and I know who Adam West is, but beyond that I never really got into the franchise. Taking that into account, it’s absolutely shocking to notice how this gripped me. In the end, the game forced me to grow an affinity towards the franchise, whether I liked it or not. The game itself is quite impeccable: there are no rough corners, everything clicks and even though combat seems to be a breeze initially, it becomes quite deep later on.
But above all, it’s refreshing to find that you are not only playing a character but also acting like that character. Batman’s unforgiving attitude makes every hit against you pure drama, because that’s “not what should happen to Batman”. Every fight is there to make you feel stronger, every guard patrol is there to make you feel smarter, every gadget is there to make you feel more able. It’s a rare thing that such a well-known character is actually translated so well into a game environment, making it the best licensed game out there (for me at least).
And that’s just scratching the surface. There are far more memorable moments in the game, but they need to be experienced first-hand. So indeed, why reinvent what others have done before you? Why not refine and race past the opposition instead? Arkham Asylum may not be the most original game, but holy electricity powered muscle car Batman, it sure is the most polished one to pass by in a long time.