Why is Arkham Asylum Good?

Sure it’s an all-around good game. Hours and days lat­er, I keep think­ing about Arkham, and I recon­sid­er what you can guess about my devel­op­ment expe­ri­ence (offi­cial­ly: no com­ment).

On this face of it, design­ing a Bat­man game presents sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges at the high lev­el. First, you’ve got this Bat­man guy. He’s a great char­ac­ter — in fact he’s too much of a char­ac­ter.  How do you decide what your video game Bat­man can do, what tone and mood to set… when there’s been at least four Bruce Waynes on film in the last two decades? Add in the tele­vi­sion ver­sions — the ani­mat­ed series that’s been around in dif­fer­ent forms for a while — and even Adam West’s ver­sion. Don’t for­get the com­ic books that exist­ed on paper for far longer than you’ve been alive. The print­ed Bat­man is the cre­ation of so many artists and writ­ers, each with his own take on the caped cru­sad­er, how can all of this come togeth­er cohe­sive­ly? It real­ly doesn’t.

When an audi­ence expe­ri­ences a sin­gle source, they often come away with strik­ing­ly dif­fer­ent opin­ions of what a char­ac­ter is about —  along with how seri­ous or real­is­tic the sto­ry is. With its strik­ing vol­ume of  mate­r­i­al, Bat­man sim­ply means dif­fer­ent things to dif­fer­ent peo­ple. What’s impor­tant to the char­ac­ter and fran­chise? Brawl­ing? Gad­gets? Solv­ing crime? Sneak­ing around? Rooftop chas­es? Vehi­cles? Side­kicks? Vil­lains? Gotham itself?

So, there’s too much there to even try to be com­pre­hen­sive. To their cred­it, the devel­op­ers of this title didn’t real­ly try.  I don’t doubt there was con­sid­er­able pres­sure to do more — inter­nal, exter­nal, fans  — since  every­one thinks they know Bat­man. To include more vil­lains. To include vehi­cles. A love inter­est. A side­kick.

On the sur­face of it, if some­one told me that a new Bat­man game would com­bine sneak­ing, brawl­ing, plat­form­ing, and puz­zle solv­ing, I’d prob­a­bly have told them: that can’t work. Cut some­thing.

And yet this title pulls it off. It also remains loy­al to their char­ac­ter pret­ty much all the way through. None of these game­play modes is com­plex or deep, and that’s why I think it works. Brawl­ing is based around a high­ly direct­ed “use-this-but­ton-against-this-type-at-this-time” sort of whack-a-mole. Plat­form­ing con­sists large­ly of  jump­ing and ropeclimb­ing, no dif­fer­ent from what we’ve seen before. Sneak­ing is guid­ed through obvi­ous hid­ing spots, kept fresh with amus­ing AI. So it’s cin­e­mat­ic, fast-paced, and easy to learn.

The result is  hybrid game wor­thy of praise (and, in my case, envy).

Well Done, Guys

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