In Batman: Arkham Asylum, Batman truly feels like Batman: swinging between overhangs, tracking evidence and confidently taking on half a dozen henchmen at once. This is essentially the closest any normal, non-psychotic person can come at this point to actually being Batman.
In combat, Batman strikes, counters and swoops, fluidly bounding from thug to thug so that a gang of eight baddies makes for a fun distraction. Simple controls are enough to progress through most conflicts, while advanced moves provide greater satisfaction. There is weight to every strike and the combo system rewards timing and precision over mindless button mashing. One can’t help but feel like an absolute badass when Bats knocks the final bad guy out with a thunderous elbow blow to the skull.
Perhaps more important to a true Batman experience is the inclusion of the “detective mode.” Batman, at his core, has always been an investigator first. Arkham Asylum lets the player search areas for important data, alternate routes and secret locations, giving a sense of discovery to pulling down a wall and opening a new trail to utilize B-Man’s outstanding array of tools and movements. Perhaps the simplest fun is in Arkham’s grappling hook, vanishing into the distance, swinging way around the room, striking unseen and disappearing back into the shadows. There are few things more enjoyable than hanging enemies one-by-one from stone gargoyles as their allies panic over which one of them is next. (Answer: It doesn’t matter.)
Arkham’s story is simple, suitably dark and offers a wide swath of Batman’s rogues gallery to enter the proceedings. Boss battles often unfold in memorable ways. While the encounter with Killer Croc is an intense, believable approach to such a confrontation, the definite highlight are the Scarecrow sequences, which not only offer varied gameplay but provide insight into the thin line between superhero and super villain. While the controls of both of these encounters take some adjustment, the payoffs more than make up for inconvenience. Unfortunately, too many other boss battles boil down to repetitive waves of faceless goons divided by strikes against the big bad.
What is most wonderful about Arkham Asylum is its attention to detail, especially in the environment. The creepy hallways of Arkham create claustrophobic sensations, placing a premium on effective use of the environment. Meanwhile character models are uniformly outstanding, from Harley Quinn’s sexy, evil nurse motif to the way Batman’s suit takes damage over the course of the game. There’s a feeling that every single item placed in the game is there for an exact purpose, either for the game or for the immersion. This game is widely considered a classic already and for good reason. It’s superb.