You’ve heard of Batman no doubt, but if you don’t read comics, it’s conceivable that you might be unfamiliar with Arkham Asylum. The iconic psychiatric hospital is essentially Gotham City’s Alcatraz, and it has housed just about every villain Batman has ever tangled with at one time or another. Now, thanks to Eidos and developer Rocksteady, Arkham is also the setting for a great third-person action game in which the lunatics take over the asylum and only you can stop them. As Batman, you not only get to go toe-to-toe with thugs in fast-paced punch-ups, but you also employ satisfying stealth tactics, play with great gadgets, solve some remarkable riddles, and do a decent amount of detective work. In short, you get to do all of the things that you want to when you don a Batman costume in a game, provided you weren’t hoping to get behind the wheel of the batmobile.
Because just about everything else needs to be unlocked, the first time you boot up Batman: Arkham Asylum, your first port of call will inevitably be the Story mode. Here, you learn that Batman has captured Joker, and as the lengthy intro sequence plays out, you see him being returned to the asylum under Batman’s watchful eye. Joker doesn’t seem at all perturbed by his predicament, and it quickly becomes apparent that he has deliberately allowed himself to be captured as part of a grand plan that involves taking control of Arkham Island and throwing a party there with Batman as the guest of honor. Clearly it’s a trap, but as Batman (and as someone who demands more than two minutes of gameplay before the credits roll), you just can’t walk away from it.
As you take the controls, Arkham Asylum wastes no time throwing you into the thick of the action. Almost immediately, you’re rushed by a few of Joker’s goons and encouraged to knock them out using both basic attacks and counters. Using just two buttons, you can perform a huge number of moves from Batman’s superbly animated repertoire, and it isn’t at all difficult to string together combos worthy of Hollywood’s finest fight coordinators. That’s because for the most part, at least early in the game, combat requires you to do little more than mash the attack button and then hit the counter button anytime you notice an enemy with an “I’m about to attack you” icon above his head. None of the thugs that you encounter pose much of a threat individually, but you rarely encounter fewer than three or four of them at once, and often, you’ll be up against six or more. Furthermore, the vanilla thugs are joined by enemies with knives, cattle prods, and guns later on, who force you to raise your game and incorporate stun attacks and evasive rolls into your deadly dance routine. Boss battles against supervillains like Scarecrow and Harley Quinn are definitely among the game’s highlights, though it’s a little disappointing that there aren’t more of them. One supervillain in particular makes a number of appearances, but you never actually get to fight him.