If all the stellar reviews for Batman: Arkham Asylum aren't enough to move you to preemptively declare it Game of the Year, how's this clip of nutcase Batman eating a dead rat grab you:
I glanced backward at all the games I've played this year, and I can't see any of them coming close to being a great as Arkham. Madworld, Deadly Creatures, Ghostbusters, Rhythm Heaven, Little King's Story, Resident Evil 5... all great games (except Ghostbusters), but none deliver what Batman delivers. Looking ahead to the games I have pre-ordered or those I am confident I'll pick up... and I don't see competition there either.
Maybe Uncharted 2 will top Arkham. Maybe Scribblenauts will be mind-blowing. They both have a long way to go.
Batman does so many things so right, that you forget that the game also stands as a redemption for all the sub-par super-hero games we've had for so long. It's not just a walk-and-brawl, like so many arcade games. It's not so heavily stylized that it becomes a broad pastiche, like LEGO Batman. It's not a licensed cash-in, like just about everything else. Sure, there have been little successes over the years. The web-swinging in Spider-Man 2 was aces, and I know some people really liked one of those Hulk games. But they still carry the caveat that they're good "for a super-hero game." Which makes the entire genre no better than Sonic.
The cutscenes are not told in a cheesy stillframe "comic book" format! That by itself is enough to label Arkham an unqualified success. Here's some other salient points:
15 second startup. All the company vanity slides (seriously, who decided we give a crap about the rendering engine's brand name) take up no more than 15 seconds, without you hammering on a button trying to force-advance it.
A smart storyline that keeps things very interesting without trying to over-satisfy. I'm sure there was a temptation to include every single Bat-villain to date. Arkham wisely keeps things to a handful, while escalating the pressure on Batman.
The perfect setting. Arkham Asylum is built for a video game world. It's on an island, so the world boundary is natural (no invisible wall barriers). It's an asylum/prison/hellhole that would of course contain electric fences and bolted doors. So the usual "you can't open this door yet" trope makes a bit of sense.
Fan service. Most of this comes from the collectible Riddler trophies hidden throughout the island (240 of them!). Bane's teddy bear. Jack Ryder. Calendar Man's cell. Sometimes it pushes too far - like, I don't think the Penguin has ever been an Arkham inmate per se, but yet his trick umbrellas are enshrined in one of Arkham's glass cases. But mostly it just makes me giddy. Great voice work on Riddler as well. The voice and the dialogue capture the modern take on Riddler as a cocky, suave genius determined to prove he is smarter than Batman.
Great details. Once you get past the fan service - which is the detailing you're supposed to notice - then you start seeing the details that fill out the world. Batman's stylishly unrealistic shadow while in an air duct. The way his costume progressively takes damage as the game goes on. And so many, so many, combat animations.
Brilliant moments. I'm coming up on the end and can easily identify at least two jaw-dropper sequences where storyline, comics fandom, and gaming conventions combine to great effect. They both come along with Scarecrow bits, so when you see him, be ready.
This game has learned from the best. There are elements borrowed from Metal Gear Solid, Uncharted, Eternal Darkness, Legend of Zelda and probably a half dozen others. But thanks to the strength of the Batman franchise, it never feels derivative. Even though you're crawling through air ducts or using a hookshot, the presentation is all Batman.
Not that the game comes up short every now and then. The ragdoll physics on knocked out enemies does what ragdoll physics always does to knocked out enemies: makes them look stupid. I don't know who decided that ragdoll physics was the way to go in gaming, but it needs to be stopped. When a body gets punched into unconsciousness, it doesn't suddenly lose all muscle tension and break down marionette-style.
And personally, I think Batman's posture is way too stiff. I like a haunting, hunched-over Batman. All the character models are too hard, actually.
And why does Arkham Asylum have a huge Botanical Garden building? Seems like asking for trouble.
I heard developer Rocksteady could be working on a new Tomb Raider game. F that. Get to work on a Batman sequel. I worry that Gotham City will not be as great a match for gaming as Arkham, which could result in the Raccoon Citification of Gotham, but I'll give Rocksteady the yard to try.