Originally Published: September 4, 2009, on Lundberg.me, 1050ESPN.com (now ESPNNewYork.com), Examiner.com, and Comicvine.com

After many delays, Batman: Arkham Asylum has finally arrived. Written by long-time Batman comic and cartoon writer, Paul Dini, this original Dark Knight tale might not only go down as the greatest comic book video game to date, but it is my current choice for the 2009 Game of the Year.

The basic premise of the game is that our hero has caught the Joker once again after he broke free to wreak havoc on Gotham. As Batman helps the Arkham guards escort the Joker to his comfy corner cell, the Joker, in a unique haphazard way all his own, breaks free from their grasp and reveals that his true plot was to lure the Dark Knight into his grandest trap yet, an asylum run by the inmates.

Now the Dark Knight must fight his way through some of his most fearsome foes on their home turf along with a few hundred of Joker’s cronies from Blackgate Prison (that just so happened to be transferred to Arkham in time for Joker’s “surprise party”) as he tries to restore order in the most chaotic situation he has ever been immersed in.

Any Batman fan immediately knows the implications when any story arc will weave its way through Arkham Asylum, never mind an entire video game plot. This is where Batman drops off his degenerate villains after he disrupts their “master plans” to destroy, torment, or conquer Gotham, no matter what they might be. So for the Dark Knight to be surrounded by hundreds of these thugs, lowlifes, and insane super-criminals for an extended period of time, does not bode well for the Caped Crusader as his mind will be tortured just as much as his body.

The look for this game is anything but torture for the player though. The first and most striking aspect of this game is how beautiful it looks. From the gothic architecture of the Old World style buildings of Arkham to the movement of Batman’s cape, the graphics for this game are unreal. You could, for a minute, forget you are playing a game and fool yourself into thinking you’re watching one of the movies.

After you examine the looks for a game, the next thing most people notice is how a game sounds. With an orchestral theme worthy of the movies and superb voice acting from many of the same people who voiced the characters from Batman: The Animated Series including Poison Ivy, Killer Croc, Harley Quinn, and, of course, Batman and the Joker and you have the most pleasant audio experience you could hope for from any video game.

So the peripherals for the game are superb. But what about the gameplay? I can say with full confidence that this was the most engrossing and intense game I have played in a long time. From the FLAWLESS fighting mechanic where you can just string together amazing, free-flowing, bone-crunching combos on thugs to truly stepping into the Dark Knight’s boots as you prey on unsuspecting, gun-toting criminals from the shadows and stringing up goons from gargoyles as a sign for others that you are coming for them and no amount of Joker face paint will save them from your righteous vengeance, there is not a more pleasurable gaming experience to be had from any game I’ve played in the recent past.

Not to mention that the more foes you pummel, the more gadgets and combo moves you can purchase with experience points to give yourself an arsenal truly worthy of Gotham’s Guardian. It is a great feeling to take a thug out of a fight permanently by breaking his ankle or dislocating his shoulder with some upgraded counter moves or bringing an armed henchman to his knees from the shadows with a special sonic emitting batarang without him even knowing you were ever there.

The only weak point the game might have is in replay value. Although it is wonderful to explore every nook and cranny of the massive Arkham Island, once through is really enough to get the full story. There are special collectibles that the Riddler leaves in order to try to test your detective skills, but any decent Batman fan should be able to crack the references rather easily on the first time through.

There is an extra challenge mode where you can step into the boots of the Dark Knight (and the purple wingtips of the Joker if you pick up the PS3 version) as you try to either pummel as many thugs as you can while building up a high score or sneaking around and taking out as many thugs as stealthily as you can as you race the clock, but they grow stale quickly so the only drawback would be that this game just doesn’t give you enough to keep bringing you back for much more.

In the end, the game probably offers a solid 15 hours of gameplay even if you solve all of the Riddler’s riddles and the live up to the challenges of the Challenge Mode. The game is a beautifully crafted masterpiece that plays out like an awe-inspiring comic arc. I would’ve liked more villains to fight aside from Croc, Ivy, Bane, Harley, Zsasz, Scarecrow, and Joker considering their referencing almost 40 villains as you progress through the asylum with special emphasis on Mr. Freeze and Clayface’s cells, but I guess that just means we’ll have to have a sequel to this spectacular gaming experience.

Ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best.

Graphics: 10.0: From little details like battle damage to your batsuit as the game progresses to the way your cape flows as you run across Arkham Island makes Batman: Arkham Asylum the most beautiful game I can remember seeing in a long time.

Audio: 10.0: Bringing back a lot of the original voice talent from Batman: The Animated Series brought back some great memories from my childhood as Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy are the definition of the Joker and Batman. Along with a musical score worthy of a motion picture and the audio couldn’t help but bring a smile to my face.

Plot/Plot Development: 9.0: Although the plot was superb and the development of things kept you guessing at every turn, I dock a point because I’ve seen the “Batman trapped in Arkham” line before, just to a lesser degree. It has never been flushed out like this, but I had flashbacks at certain points of the game to the Knightfall storyline and a few episodes of the cartoon. It was still spectacular to see it portrayed like this though.

Gameplay: 9.5: Only a couple of minor glitches that I can remember if I accidentally swung around a corner too tightly or was forced into a corner by a crowd of thugs. These can be forgiven though considering how smooth the fighting engine is and there is no greater feeling than swooping down from a gargoyle and stringing up a thug as he screams for help.

Replay Value: 5.0: The Riddler collectibles are easy to find, especially as you go back after unlocking certain devices for your utility belt and the Challenge Mode isn’t very challenging so this is the only aspect I thought the game lacked in. Batman: Arkham Asylum is very much a one and done kind of game.

Overall (not an average): 9.5: Aside from the replay value, this game is spectacular in every aspect. It is my choice for the 2009 Game of the Year as of right now and I can’t stress enough that any video game fan, not just Batman fan, will probably fall in love with the awesomeness of this game. I would’ve liked more villains for a longer game also, but I’m just being picky.

Batman: Arkham Asylum is out now for PS3, Xbox 360, and PC.

-Ray Carsillo