Reviewers and gamers are going c-r-a-z-y over Batman: Arkham Asylum. The game, which went on sale today, is terrific: It masterfully weaves together a compelling storyline by veteran Bat-scribe Paul Dini, bone-crunching fisticuffs, vintage Bat-gadgets, oft-neglected detective work, and a satisfying turnout by the Dark Knight’s colorful rogue’s gallery (headlined by a Mark Hamill-voiced Joker). But I’m still surprised by how much attention it’s getting.
The shocker, of course, is that the game has risen above the skepticism people usually have with movie- and comic book–licensed games. Just in the last few months, games based on Wolverine, Transformers, Terminator, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, G.I. Joe, and Ghostbusters have underperformed, underwhelmed, or have flat-out flopped. Some of the backlash against these games was overly harsh — I actually enjoyed a lot of them, and I think the majority of the gaming audience didn’t give these games much of a chance because these types of titles have been so bad for so long. So for a game like Arkham to rise above the stigma of its middling forebears and create such positive buzz is an amazing achievement.
Now for the snap judgment: I’m not ready to toss Arkham into the mix for Game of the Year quite yet. That could change once I finish the game (I’m almost there), but I just see other games being even better before the year is over. Even with anticipated games like Bioshock 2 getting pushed back to 2010, ’09 is very competitive with the likes of Killzone 2 already out and games like Beatles: Rock Band, Halo ODST, Uncharted 2, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 waiting in the wings. If even a few blockbusters live up to their hype, Arkham Asylum will have a problem cracking my top 3.