So it's all the more impressive that Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham Asylum is one of the best games of the year, one of the best superhero games of all time, and one of the best licensed games ever made. With the failure of Pandemic's ambitious Dark Knight movie tie-in game still fresh in our minds, Arkham Asylum's strategy for success should have been obvious: simplicity. Instead of building an open-world Gotham City, they built an intimate (and immediately captivating) Arkham Asylum, as full of history and lore as you'd expect the comic book icon to be. There are no driving levels, no flying levels; really, there aren't any levels at all. Just Arkham Island.
The clever script, penned by longtime Batman scribe Paul Dini, propels Batman through a series of elaborate traps laid out by Mark Hamill's expertly voiced Joker, battling beefy baddies along the way with the game's excellent "FreeFlow" combat system, solving dozens of the Riddler's pesky riddles, and learning about the entire decades-deep mythology of the Batman universe, worn into every rock on Arkham Island. This isn't some licensed beat-em-up starring The World's Greatest Detective; this is a Batman simulator. Stealth, strength, and smarts (and a belt full of wonderful toys) are your tools.
Perhaps the greatest compliment one can pay to Rocksteady is this: it reached into the oft-abused Batman license, brushed off our lowered expectations, and pulled out a classic that doesn't simply trade on Batman's name but does something far more difficult: enhances it.