Batman: Arkham Asylum is a game that crawls inside your head and rearranges the furniture.
While other superheroes merely catch the crooks and then parade around with smug smirks, Batman goes out of his way to get inside the criminal mind and twist it into submission; that alone makes him one of my favourite comic book characters. Similarly, Batman: Arkham Asylum is a game that crawls inside your head and rearranges the furniture.
It's a triumph of mood and psychological tension, and devoted fans will find a great deal to excite them. But they're also bound to be disappointed by its reliance on repetitive combat and a shortage of villains worth the big man's attention.
Batman: Arkham Asylum - Welcome to the Madhouse
Play begins as Batman escorts the bound Joker into the depths of Arkham Asylum's Intensive Treatment ward. It seems that our hero has foiled another of the Joker's bizarre plans, but Batman's suspicious of the ease with which the cackling wing-nut allowed himself to be captured. Of course, Batman's hardly a paragon of sanity himself. Anyone who runs around the filthy streets of Gotham in the dead of night in a cape and mask has some deep issues to sort out, so the howling mad world of Arkham Asylum could easily pose a dire threat to the dark knight's remaining marbles.
These early moments make a remarkably strong first impression. Batman's imposingly broad physique certainly calls to mind the exaggerated features of the comics more than any matinee idol, Mark Hamill's voice-over work breathes the full spirit of insanity into the toothy green-haired mastermind, and I cheered openly the first time I planted a boot straight into a rampaging inmate's kisser in slow-motion.
Oracle, Batman's disabled former partner, guides me through an introductory encounter with Victor Zsasz, and a little exploration earns me the first few of the Riddler's 240 simple puzzles and hidden collectibles. The stage is set, and my blood is pumping.
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See also: LEGO Batman: The Videogame review