A triumph for not just licensed games but gaming overall-
Lets be honest here Licensed games have a bad reputation and superhero games have always been some of the worst when it comes to licensed games. Batman: Arkham Asylum is not a bad game, its not an average game, its a stellar game and one of the standout titles of the year.
When B:AA was announced it was partially shunned for being announced around the time of "The Dark Knight" release in theaters and some assumed the game would just be a crappy tie-in. Thankfully this is not the case as the game has nothing to do with the recent Batman movies and instead takes most of its elements from the plethora of graphic novels about Batman, it then combines these elements with good game design and throws in some original ideas into the mix and this creates a compelling Batman story that is accesible as well as true to the fans.
The plot is that Batman has captured the Joker and is bringing him to Arkham Asylum were he breaks free and proceeds to incite chaos all over Arkham freeing hundreds of inmates and embarking on a sinister scheme. The story is compelling and it (like the gameplay) is constantly changing directions. The game features tons of Batman characters ranging direct encounters from Bane, Scarecrow and Poison Ivy to hints about and cameos from other Batman villains like Clayface, Mr Freeze and Even Calander man???
Part of the story is told using audio logs similar to Bioshock and other back-story is delivered as rewards for completing the Riddlers challenges, this variety in story delivery mechanisms gives the player a complex and cohesive story that is rarely seen in games these days.
One of the key parts of Batman: Arkham Asylum is the way it truly captures and gives the player the Batman Feel, you aren't a brutish superhero, you're Bruce Wayne the one of the worlds greatest minds but on the flip-side you're Batman a vengeful being who preys on the wicked. The Detective elements of the game primarily come in the form of utilizing the many gadgets Batman has as well as solving the Riddlers Challenges which can be remarkable clever and the staggering 240 challenges add a great deal of replayablity to the game despite the games relatively short campaign, HOWEVER It's not a short Campaign were you are left wanting more(Halo 2) its much more of a solid experience that you will enjoy every second of(Portal).
The graphics, level and sound design are fantastic the game has its own unique graphics style with amazing cinematic values that truly show the world of Batman in the way it was meant to be seen. These Graphics are accompanied by a stellar score which always changes to fit the mood and really suits the action well. These Cinematic elements would be nothing without good level design and the game delivers this in spades with stellar level design that allows power gamers to push forward whilst with a constant challenge whilst giving the opportunity of greater rewards to more strategic players, particularly in combat.
The combat in Batman: Arkham Asylum is one of the more standout things in the game with a brilliant system for combat that cleverly combines the mix of action hero approach for the casual player to the more strategic approach for strategic and Batman fanboys. You can either run head on witht he groups of inmates and take them down with Batmans Martial arts skills(the game is very accurate in this respect as a couple of thugs vs Batman isnt going to end well for the Thugs) or you can perch on the gargoyles in rooms and stealthily pick off each of the thugs in a room and watch them as they become more and more terrified.
Whatever style of combat you choose you'll find it very cinematic, assecible and constantly changing, eg. brute force players will content with more and more mixed types of enemies which require specific moves to take down. Whilst in contrast strategic players may use gargoyles to quickly move around a room but when later in the game gargoyles become explosive, this causes you to have to adapt and this constantly changing gameplay pace and style keeps the game fresh the whole way through.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is not just the best superhero game ever made, its not just one of the best games this year, its not just a solid game that appeals to all gamers. Its a game worthy of the Dark Knight and in that puts it up in the annals of gaming history as a brilliant game.