In 2008, the Dark Knight delivered arguably cinema's finest hour, and now, the caped crusader could represent the shining moment for gaming in 2009, as well. I just finished playing Batman: Arkham Asylum, which has been lavished in rapturous prose and superlatives since its release-even going down in the Guinness Book of World Records as the Most Highly Acclaimed Comic Book Game of All Time-and all I can do is add my voice to the choir: This is easily the best comic-book game ever created, and a front-runner for best game of the year. CGW will have an in-depth look into the making of the game in an upcoming issue, including an exclusive interview with art director David Hego from Rocksteady Studios.
While the game is faithfully rooted in the famed graphic novel Arkham Asylum, by writer Grant Morrison and David McKean, it plays out like a love letter to the entire 70-year mythos of the franchise. The story begins with Batman escorting the Joker to Arkham Asylum, an island prison for the criminally insane, where he eventually escapes and sets the inmates free, including Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy (in her painted-on panties), Killer Croc, and the Hulk-like Bane.
From there, the game immerses the player in a Gothic hellhole that's as unique and as fully realized a biosphere as Bioshock was in 2007, from the crumbling, gargoyle-adorned asylum, with its 1920s retrofitted look, to the murky waters lapping at the island shore, to the ghostly depths of the forest where Batman's cave lurks. It's a common setting for suspense and horror stories (reminding me a lot of Dennis Lehane's Shutter Island), and indeed the game veers, by turns, from action to suspense, to outright Silence of the Lambs-style horror. The audio logs containing dialogs between Arkham medical staff and the inmates show you just how disturbed they all are, fleshing out their backgrounds, and showing you how villains like the Riddler, Croc, and Harley Quinn went sideways.
The high-poly characters, modeled and animated using Zbrush and 3ds Max, are exquisite, and the pitch-perfect vocal performances by Mark Hamill as the Joker and Kevin Conroy as Batman (both reprising their roles from the animated series) really bring them to life. The detailed normal mapping on the faces is so stunning that I can hardly wait to see what the textures will look like on the PC version, which Hego says will be uniquely authored in 2048x2048 for high-end machines.
It's hard to imagine that this game could actually get better. But it will.