2009 is not a year I look back on fondly.
My first job out of university in 2007 was in the telephone customer service industry, and it paid the bills while also allowing me to afford things I never could afford before, but it didn’t take long for me to loathe going to work everyday. A co-worker and I joked while looking at our pay stubs that we could see the point where we stopped caring as our pay went down in contrast to our days calling in sick that kept going up. I was frustrated, angry, and, being a university graduate with a business degree under their belt, felt like I deserved more, not yet grasping the concept that I wasn’t owed or deserved anything. Early in 2009 I left my job, deeming it fate and the motivation I needed to go out and change my life and make things better.
I was horribly, horribly wrong.
I didn’t work throughout a large portion of 2009, but not for a lack of trying. The rejections just kept stacked up on top of one another to the point where I became so insufferable even I didn’t want to be around me. I pushed away someone who’s the most important person in my life today and I count myself lucky that I’m still still with them now. In many ways I feel like I’m still making up for that entire year.
It wasn’t until the end of the summer that I would land a regular job again. After failing to find funding to go back to school and missing out on a job that I desperately wanted at the time, I found myself right back where I started: at another company, with a headset strapped to my ear speaking to customers over the phone. Before I would even get to take calls though, I had to go through weeks of training that started at 4PM in the evening and lasted until 12AM at night. What helped me get through this tough time was a game that’s ten years old today: Batman: Arkham Asylum.
I first became aware of Batman: Arkham Asylum in one of the last issue’s of Electronic Gaming Monthly, issue #235 that featured a Watchmen: The End is Nigh cover, before it was shut down in its original incarnation in early 2009. The piece written about Arkham Asylum by author Philip Kollar said a lot of the right things: its gameplay was to be a mixture of brawling and stealth, the Batmobile could make an appearance which obviously didn’t happen, and most importantly Paul Dini, one of the minds behind Batman: The Animated Series, was crafting the story. I was still largely skeptical that it was going to be any good though. Despite a new found resurgence in Batman’s popularity thanks to Batman Beings and the ground breaking The Dark Knight which landed in 2008, Batman had been floundering in the video game industry for quite some time. There were a few good Batman games from Ubisoft, and the tie-in game for Batman Beings was a respectable Splinter Cell clone, but none were what you would call great. The last time someone also tried to make a Batman game not tied into a movie or animated property, the result was Batman: Dark Tomorrow, widely considered to be one of the worst Batman games ever made. For those reasons, Batman: Arkham Asylum wasn’t even on my radar for most of 2009.
When I realized that Batman: Arkham Asylum was going to be something truly special was when a demo was released for the PlayStation 3. The specific moment I knew that it was going to be more than just a licensed game during the predator sequence of the demo. I had Batman perched on top of a gargoyle, and a prompt came on the screen to press triangle to perform an inverted takedown. I watched as Batman swooped down, engulfed an enemy in his cape to then pull them upwards only to then release them on a cable as a warning to those who think they could best Batman. This was something I had never done in a Batman game that I didn’t know I wanted until I did it.
From that demo I knew I had to buy Batman: Arkham Asylum, but the problem was, I was too broke to buy it. I was to start training the day before it came out in North America, but I wouldn’t get paid until a week or two after than. During an ice breaker activity on the first day of training, we played a game of two truths and a lie. We started training on a Monday, and my lie was that I was going to buy Arkham Asylum the next day but everyone assumed that was the truth when it was in fact the opposite. I did not hide even one day in how much I loved video games.
It was then that one of the rare instances of good fortune came my way that year. Through some clerical error I’m assuming, Wal-Mart in Canada put the price of Batman: Arkham Asylum to $40 in Canada instead of the usual $60. My mom was visiting the city I live in and I spent sometime with her before I had to go to training at my new job. Sensing that I wanted the game, she agreed to buy it for me. Needless to say going to work that day was very hard as all I wanted to do was stay home and play my new game. Time passed so slow as I took in hours upon hours of dry, boring training material until it was time to leave. For most of my first week of training, I would take the bus home back to my apartment at night, play Arkham Asylum until I couldn’t stay up anymore, and the second I woke up, I picked up where I left off and kept going until I had to go back to work.
There are many things about Batman: Arkham Asylum that made me infatuated with it. I’ve always wanted to play a superhero game of that caliber but I never thought it would happen. The freeflow, one button combat was easy to understand and made you feel like the character in a way that no other Batman game did before.As someone who loved Nintendo’s Metroid series, the way Arkham island opened up as you built up your arsenal just made it a joy to explore. Helping a lot is the way the collectibles were constructed, as challenges placed by The Riddler, that both fleshed out the story and never made the act of collecting feel like busy work to stretch out the game’s length. Even today when I replay Arkham Asylum, I still stop to pick up every Riddler trophy and solve every puzzle.
Arkham Asylum probably has some of the most memorable moments of any comic book game ever produced. Game makers have been trying to recreate the iconic Scarecrow nightmare sequences, even in last year’s Marvel’s Spider-Man with how they chose to use the character of The Scorpion. The tension of slowly working your way through Killer Croc’s lair while being terrified that he could pop out if you made one wrong step. Who could also forget the incredible introduction as you slowly work your way into the titular asylum next to your nemesis, The Joker, as you simply take everything in, including the many inmates and super criminals who are thirsty for your blood. The sequence where this is flipped when Batman is strapped in, helpless to do anything while your next to The Joker is the closest anyone has come to surprising the player since the insanity effects in Eternal Darkness on the GameCube.
For those who have played Batman: Arkham Asylum, which given that the series has spawned a mega franchise, that number is very high, it’s not a long game. Playing at the pace I did, it was probably the first weekend after it was out that I was crashing The Joker’s party and putting the Clown Prince of Crime back in his place. For as long as it lasted though, Batman: Arkham Asylum helped me take my mind off of a job that I really didn’t want to do and kept me from mentally punishing myself over how much I had messed up my life. I’m thankful for Batman: Arkham Asylum for many reasons: for how it helped me through a tough time, for showing game makers what a AAA comic book game could look like, and for its sequel inspiring me to start a website dedicated to comic book video games.
To everyone at Rocksteady who helped put together Batman: Arkham Asylum I say thank you for giving this gift to the world ten years ago today.