When Batman: Arkham Asylum was announced, a lot of video game fans were skeptical because most of the other Batman games have turned out to be very disappointing. There was nothing that fans wanted more than an excellent Batman game (who wouldn't want to be the Dark Knight?!), but they weren't getting their hopes up anymore. Then several announcements came out about Arkham Asylum, including that the voice actors from Batman: The Animated Series would return. Then, a few screenshots were released that rustled up some genuine excitement from the gamers. It looked pretty solid, and everyone knew that Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill were the quintessential Batman and Joker voices. Slowly, fans started to think "what if Arkham Asylum is actually good?" and the released videos of the storyline and action were all very positively received. Done correctly, this game could change everything, it could set the bar for comic book games from here on out.
Honestly, that is exactly what Batman: Arkham Asylum does. They have managed to beautifully tie in real Batman lore and story with engaging combat, puzzling side quests, and challenging gameplay. The story finds Batman bringing the Joker home to Arkham Asylum, but he's a little concerned since it was far too easy to capture the clown. It becomes clear this was all a trap when Joker springs to action, and the entire island is shut down. The prisoners are set loose on the guards, and only the Dark Knight can save them now. The design of Arkham itself is very true to the comics and visually stunning in a dark, gritty sort of way. The only character revamp that didn't quite work was Harley Quinn's turn to skankville; her original costume was so perfect for her character, and the new one seeks to show skin more than personality.
Yes, Harley is one of the main villains in the game, and you can also hope to see Killer Croc, Bane, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, and a scattering of other big name baddies from Batman's world. The Riddler does not make a direct appearance, but he's part of the major side quest. You can collect items about each villain as you wander through the broken down Arkham Asylum buildings, including character evaluations and excellent audio recordings of their therapy sessions at Arkham; Poison Ivy's is particularly amusing.
The combat is fluid and direct; you only use two buttons for the fighting, and one is primarily for counter attack. It might seem like a button masher if all you do is press X, but they've managed to turn Batman's movement into art. He does not punch or kick the same way every time, and each combination is different as he ducks under thugs or breaks their hand instantly. His fighting is brutal, fast, and completely believable. There are some straight-up fights, and sometimes you come up against thugs with knives or stun sticks that require different moves, but the best aspect of the fights is the stealth angle. This is when you hide out under the floor or on the gargoyles around the ceiling. You wait for the paranoid guards to wander underneath and then swoop down, knocking them out and then flying back up to the wall. There's also a move where you can simply hang down from the gargoyle and snatch a thug up before he can even scream. It's just as awesome as it sounds.
There are levels where you can't be seen at all or you lose, so stealth elements are very important to this game beyond merely the fights. It's a strategy which suits the darkness of Batman and how he isn't just a brawler, but a thinker as well. Another addition to the thinker's game is the Detective Mode. By entering Detective Mode, you can see the area in a whole new light and find clues to get where you need to go. This includes ways to follow certain prisoners, or knowing how many men are in the room next to you without even looking. The latter is especially helpful in trap situations. You can spend full missions just in Detective Mode, and it gives you clues as to where to go next or what can help solve each problem. The detective aspect comes into play again when Batman uses other toys like explosive gel and a frequency scanner within the missions.
Overall the best part about Batman: Arkham Asylum is that you use your brain as well as your brawn. He can fight anyone, but you won't get far in the game if you can't strategize. Beyond that, it is also a faithful adaptation of the Batman from the comic books, with plenty of inside information and fan favorite characters to make any Batman fan smile as they play. There are a few side quest options such as getting medals fighting certain situations, or following the many special riddles from the Riddler as you play. Nigma has a certain riddle for every room in Arkham Asylum, and you can get extra points by figuring each one out. This helps replay value and gives you plenty of after-game hours to play.
The only real drawback to the game is that the camera can get a little annoying. It does not always work the way you want it too and in some positions the entire room is visually blocked off until you find a different point. This is not surprising considering how often games have this problem, but it was disappointing in an otherwise excellent game. If you are a fan of Batman in the comics or movies and want to really feel like the Dark Knight for a few hours, this is the game to get.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for alcohol and tobacco references, blood, mild language, suggestive themes, and violence. It is also available on: PS3 and PC.