I don't think it's possible to truly convey how obsessed I was with this game. If I wasn't playing it, I was thinking about it. I skipped meals; I lost sleep. I remember starting a session as the sun was just starting to set and ending it because I noticed the sun was just starting to rise. My roommates would loudly discuss whether to give me an intervention or just kick me out and replace me with someone less nerdy.
So what is it that made this game so addictive?
Punching dudes in the face in Arkham Asylum feels as polished and satisfying as jumping in Super Mario Bros. or shooting in Modern Warfare. It's in the way Batman leaps to your next target to keep combat flowing seamlessly and quickly. It's how responsive the whole system is, allowing you to counter incoming hits even if you're mid-combo. It's how those combos are based around reflexes and intuition rather than rote memorization. It's how Batman's boot sounds as it smashes into somebody's teeth.
Even though Batman can't shoot electricity out of his hands or turn his arm into a tentacle blade or even kill two guys at once with hidden blades, he still ended up feeling like 2009's most powerful character.
I'm usually a bigger fan of the idea of stealth in games rather than the execution. There's something supremely rewarding about taking everybody out without being seen, but most stealth games are just so boring or make you feel so weak or are so shoddily put together that it's usually not even worth it. But Batman does stealth in a way that other games don't: You are the aggressor. You are the predator. You aren't hiding because you have to; you're hiding because it scares your enemies that they don't know where you are.
I'm completely confident in saying that Batman: Arkham Asylum is the best stealth game ever made.
Every year, we get one virtual world that stands head and shoulders above the rest, embedding so much life and history into the very walls themselves that they become a fully realized character. In 2007, it was BioShock's Rapture; in 2008, it was Dead Space's USG Ishimura. Now it's Arkham Asylum.
It's a world that feels like it existed before you got there. It feels like Arkham Asylum. You can see Wayne Enterprises off in the distance. There are old passageways only Batman knows about. There are patient interviews and biographies littered everywhere. There's evidence of almost every villain having been there at some point. My reaction upon stumbling across Calendar Man's cell? Pure joy.
Not even Renaissance Italy felt this real, and that place was real.
Oh, man. There were so many great moments in this game. Remember when Batman tells Bane he's going to break him this time? Or when you find out that Batman made a second Batcave? Or the party that Joker throws for Batman? Or the Scarecrow stuff? Dude, the Scarecrow stuff.
To top it all off, the stars aligned with the voice cast to remind us how amazing the Kevin Conroy vs. Mark Hamill matchup is. And boy, is it.
I played it, then I played it again. I perfected all the challenges, then created new challenges for myself. I solved all the riddles and found all the Riddler trophies. I played the extra Joker content and the free DLC maps. I earned that Platinum Trophy. I have seen and done everything that game has to offer, and yet, I still want to go back and play it all over again.
No other game put a stupid grin on my face like Batman: Arkham Asylum did, and that's why it's my Game of the Year for 2009.