Though it's meant to house Gotham City's numerous villains, Arkham Asylum feels like it was built for and around Batman more than anyone else, his calculating mind and stoic heroism casting a pointy-eared shadow over every important decision in the game. It's never a question of what would make for a cool game, but what's right for the dark knight. That's Rocksteady's one rule, and they almost never break it.
Of course, it helps that Batman, being a gadget-toting vigilante billionaire martial artist orphan, makes for a cool game anyway. But Arkham never panders to the cheap thrills of tossing batarangs and breaking arms without motive, instead growing its adventure -- a carefully constructed sequence of events, really -- organically from Batman's expected behavior. When his quest to capture The Joker takes a detour past civilians in need of rescue or other villains stirring up trouble, it rarely feels like you're being tossed a bunch of new mission objectives. Batman's just doing the right thing.
The game's slavish and clear devotion to the character has an interesting, but expected effect: very soon, you start to think just like Batman. And once that happens, the lines delineating Arkham Asylum's various parts -- a little bit of Super Metroid here, a bit of Splinter Cell there -- become invisible, and the question of whether it's an action, a stealth or an adventure game becomes irrelevant. It's none of those, because it's a Batman game.
And who has the most fun in a Batman game? There are few experiences as thrilling or rewarding as becoming the caped predator, quietly observing from the shadows and slowly turning unbeatable, well-armed odds into one whimpering, paranoid sod. You don't want The Joker's minions to see you, but in Batman's unique approach to stealth, you want them to know you're there
. It's no wonder Batman's so keen on freaking people out -- it's fun!
Hand-to-hand combat also bears the unmistakable mark of the bat, with the game emphasizing moderation in attack and calm anticipation of incoming blows. Rocksteady could easily have opted for a Devil May Cry
-esque flurry of air juggles and pleasing somersaults, but it would be a poor fit for Batman's circumstances. These are the kinds of punks
Batman wouldn't waste a second punch on, so why not opt for the most efficient beatdown?
It's only after donning Batman's cape that you realize just how heavy it is, particularly in the flickering light of Arkham Asylum. The inspired choice of location reflects not only Batman's numerous victories, but the challenge he faces every time he leaves the comfort of Wayne manor. The warden, guards and doctors are all in agreement and repeatedly share their contempt with Batman, and even The Joker poses an uncomfortable question. Why not just kill these monsters once and for all?
"That would be breaking Batman's one rule!" is the correct answer (with the exclamation point), but knowing it and willfully obeying it are two very different things. Yes, it's technically impossible to actually break the rule, but the best way to fail in a role-playing game is by acting out of character.
Branching Dialogue is written by Ludwig Kietzmann. He regularly writes posts on Joystiq and also wrote the highly narcissistic blurb you're reading right now (well done for making it all the way to the end, by the way). He can be written to by means of this fairly uncomplicated e-mail address: