There were high hopes but not a huge amount of expectation from Rocksteady's Batman game. Bat-fans had learned to be sceptical. Their cherished hero had been misrepresented and the star of many mediocre games for far too long that anybody could be confident Arkham Asylum would be any different.
Thankfully for gamers everywhere, what Rocksteady delivered was a Batman game like no other. Free from restrictions in development time and story that had marred previous cash grab tie-ins, Arkham Asylum boasted an original narrative, inspired character designs, mechanics that actually made players feel like Batman and excellent voice work from Animated Series veterans Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy.
It achieved the gold-standard of adaptations, faithful enough for existing fans to revelled in nods to classic stories and well-crafted enough for those less familiar to enjoy as a tight action adventure in a rich and interesting world.
Players were thrown into a vivid comic-book world. Batman had captured Joker and brought him to Arkham Asylum. Taking control of the hero they walked the crazed clown through Arkham's corridors, tolerating his jibes, weary of his every move. On the way Killer Croc stopped to threaten the Dark Knight - a threat he later lived up to. It's not long before Joker played his hand. He inspired asylum inmates to violent rebellion, captured Commissioner Gordon and took Batman on a twisted chase through the institution packed with Gotham City's most dangerous criminals.
The Asylum was impressive in its scale. Areas were varied and multi-tiered buildings broken up by mazy gardens. An old manor house, maximum security cells, medical wings, clock towers, sewers and botanical gardens all waited to be explored. Each area was littered with secrets and with challenges. For the first time in a video game the Great Detective did detective work, utilising his many gadgets to solve riddles, unlock hidden areas, tear down walls and zip-line across chasms. When drawn into combat he stalked his enemies from the shadows, isolating them and pacifying them one-by-one. On occasions when stealth wouldn't work, fast paced and exciting combat let players experience Batman's martial arts prowess.
Boss battles were truly exciting. The promise of going toe-to-toe with each villain was enough to keep players persevering through even the most difficult challenges. Whether it was Bane- bulked up on venom and charging at Batman, Killer Croc trying to throw him into the water and snack on his flesh, or Poison Ivy attacking with giant plants and enthralled guards, each encounter was captivating. Player skill was tested, and each challenge was a joy to overcome.
Perhaps the stand-out villain, aside from Joker himself, was Scarecrow. Rather than physical attacks Scarecrow sent Batman into terrible hallucinations. It was impossible to see his attacks coming until Batman was already under his thrall. From seeing the dead body of a friend to reliving the defining moment of Bruce Wayne -the death of his parents - these sequences truly stood out.
No Scarecrow hallucination was more effective than when the fourth wall was unexpectedly shattered. Having just cleared a room of thugs Batman is walking to his next destination. Suddenly the screen distorted and flickered to black. My jaw hit the floor as the game reset to the opening sequence. It was the worst glitch imaginable at the worst possible moment.
Many expletives emanated towards the screen as I sat through the opening again. Just like before, the Batmobile drove through the night and up Arkham Asylum's long driveway. But through sharp eyes I noticed that something was different; the moon sported a menacing smile. As the driver cackled everything fell into place, it wasn't a glitch but a cruel trick. This time it was Joker behind the wheel and the lunatic being led into the deepest parts of Arkham Asylum was none other than Batman himself.
Arkham Asylum was brilliant because of the passion that the creators instilled into every element of the experience. The source material was honoured throughout with genuine consideration paid to the fictional universe. It proved that adaptations could work given the right developer and the opportunity to create the experience they want to. A great character, utilised perfectly to create an enjoyable experience- it was as good a Batman adaptation as there ever has been.