We’d been down this road before. Beloved superhero property, unproven studio, lack of a movie licence (though that could be seen as as good thing); all portents that suggested Batman: Arkham Asylum was destined to end up at the receiving end of a critical crowbar ala Jason Todd, the second and subsequently offed Robin.
Gaming as a medium does have a tendency to surprise, however, and when those first screenshots of Arkham Asylum appeared, all beautifully lit, with interesting characters and polished design, there was that moment of hesitation and, dare we say it, tentative apprehension. The first developer diary, narrated by Sefton Hill, pretty much dispelled any lingering reservations that remained. Then we got to play it.
Basing a Batman game on the comic series rather than yet another movie adaptation while also injecting as much recognised talent into the project bore dividends for London-based Rocksteady. Written by Paul Dini, a veteran Batman scribe, and comprising the vocal talents of Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and Arleen Sorkin (Batman, the Joker, and Harley Quinn, respectively), it was obvious from the get go that Rocksteady had a different idea about how to make a superhero game. Attract talent, focus on qualities such as story, character and action, and thanks to not being hamstrung by a looming unmovable deadline of a tie-in you have no control over, you’re on to a winner.
A sequel to Arkham Asylum was as predictable as a Gotham City hospital crammed full of goons in traction. All we really wanted to know was: who were the bad-guys? Are we still in the Asylum? And will there be Catwoman? (See above. That’s an affirmative.)
News came first that the sequel would be called Arkham City, the plans of the next title’s location actually available in Warden Sharp’s office in the first game. Unfortunately, the designers hid the easter egg a little too well and had to actually come out and announce its existence themselves on their Game of the Year podcast. Regardless, now that Arkham Asylum is obviously not up to the task of housing nut-jobs (see the first game’s events), and as Blackgate Prison is also out of the question, the aforementioned Warden, now Mayor of Gotham, cordons off a section of Gotham slums to contain the inmates. Employing psychiatrist Hugo Strange to oversee the project (that was your first mistake), the deranged doctor just so happens to have his own agenda regarding the Batman. You can imagine where this is going.
Despite critical acclaim, the first Batman game does have its detractors. Some found the fighting a little monotonous and, let’s face it, a lot of people never once turned off Batman’s “Detective Mode” vision, somewhat ruining the experience for themselves. Expect combat to be tweaked, while the game’s signature detecto-vision has been replaced with a new augmented reality mode.
It’s no real surprise Batman: Arkham Asylum has featured so highly on our list of Top 100 for 2011. We’re self-confessed comic-geeks, the first game was awesome, and this one has Catwoman in it. What more could you want? Smoke bombs so Bats can vanish in the confusion? Okay, it has them, too.