This is it. We’ve reached the conclusion of the countdown of my personal picks for 2009. At #1 we find just one man, dressed like a lunatic and armed to the teeth…
1. Batman: Arkham Asylum (360, PS3, PC)
So, Batman is my game of the year. The strange thing is it took me a while to warm to it. I loved the subdued opening as you escort the Joker deep into the bowels of Arkham, the stark contrast of his hyperactive chatter and Batman’s monosyllabic responses serving brilliantly to establish the setup and unsettle you at the same time.
But the next hour or so felt too linear, my actions too prescribed. I wrote back in July about a scene in a preview build that made me feel like the designer was holding my hand and leading me throughout. No one, I argued, should be holding Batman’s hand.
When I finally got my hands on the complete game, however, things changed. I started from the beginning again. I took my time to explore and soak up the atmosphere. I paused to listen to the interview tapes I found and read the character bios I’d unlocked. The more I played, the more I wanted to immerse myself in this stunningly detailed recreation of the Batman universe.
I soon grew to love the pacing. Arkham Asylum builds a steady rhythm with its beats of exploration, melee combat and stealth, punctuated by timely boss battles and other less conventional sequences.
I found myself returning to areas with each new tool I’d unlocked, eager to track down the Riddler trophies, scan the Chronicles of Arkham and hear more of Amadeus’ mad tale, and solve the often exceptionally clever Riddler Challenges. The first time I realised there was a giant question mark to align and scan from the Penitentiary balcony was an awesome revelation.
I began to love the fluid, devastating combat and master the timing of my counters. The way each new combat set-piece would slowly escalate, adding more enemies and throwing different types into the mix, meant I constantly felt like I was learning new approaches and having to improve. Soon I would relish the opportunity to test myself against as many thugs as possible.
I would experiment with the stealth areas, marvelling at the breadth of possibilities to eliminate the Joker’s henchmen. A favourite tactic was to glide kick an isolated thug, then spray some explosive gel on the ground next to him. By the time his companions had rushed over to investigate, I’d have slipped away and could detonate the gel and knock them all out.
I got a thrill out of the boss battles because they seemed so ridiculous and yet, ripped from the pages of a comic book, utterly appropriate. But better were the Scarecrow stages – an unexpected delight that grew increasingly surreal upon each return visit. Couple those with the shocking scene in the Morgue, and then the later, mindfuck sequence in Intensive Treatment, and Batman gave me many of the year’s most memorable – and surprising – gaming moments.
Most of all, I loved Batman for the way it somehow managed to pull all these elements together in coherent fashion and ensure every single thing you did made sense in the context of Arkham Asylum. It’s just so good at everything it attempts, it’s terrifyingly close to being the perfect game.
Kotaku AU’s Games of 2009 are my personal picks for the best games of the year. I make no claim to have played everything released this year, nor do I pretend to be any way objective in my rankings. I look forward to debating my choices with you in the comments.