Prior to 'Batman: Arkham Asylum' great licensed games were few and far between.
'Spider-Man 2', 'The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay', and 'Goldeneye 007' are the exceptions that prove the rule, but 'Batman: Arkham Asylum' can lay claim to being perhaps the most influential game of them all.
The influence and legacy of the game is simple; if you've played any third-person action game over the last 10 years, chances are the combat system requires you to wait until an enemy attacks you, and you finish them off by parrying.
Batman's 2009 video game outing pioneered the system, with some aplomb.
In picking a game to cover for the 25 biggest games of our lifetime series, a few factors come into play.
Does the game still hold up? Did it influence or represent a certain trend in gaming at the time? Did it do anything differently?
In the latter case, 'Arkham Asylum' did the combat system so well that 'Ghost Of Tsushima' was using it as its main combat system in 2020.
That's a feat that could even make Bruce Wayne smile.
Bat To The Future
We took a look at Batman's video game outings prior to the release of 'The Batman', and by and large, the caped crusader didn't receive a video game worthy of his status until 'Arkham Asylum'.
In the landscape of 2009, the cover-based shooter was at it's peak, and 'Modern Warfare 2' was about to launch 'Call Of Duty' from popular to "mainstream hit that kids play."
The market conditions were right for something different to take audiences by surprise, and Batman had enough name recognition and cache to launch a game by himself.
The bigger surprise in this instance was that the game was superb.
Games based on pre-existing properties are by and large mostly rubbish.
Batman love was at a high following the release of 'The Dark Knight' in 2008, with Christopher Nolan's Oscar-winning blockbuster making Batman one of the biggest figures in all of pop culture once again.
And we have the failure of a game based on 'The Dark Knight' to thank for 'Arkham Asylum'.
The late, great Pandemic Studios were contracted by EA to make a game based on Christopher Nolan's film, but the developers significantly over-estimated their technical chops, and a mid-development engine change killed the project.
The game was set to be an open-world game that Pandemic Studios were exceptionally good at ('Mercenaries' and 'Destroy All Humans', we hardly knew ye) but set in the world of Christopher Nolan's game-changing film.
In simple terms, Pandemic Studios were too ambitious for their own good, and they ended up missing the release window for the film.
'The Dark Knight' game was contracted to be released by the end of 2008, but Pandemic Studios didn't have the technical chops to get the game out the door in time, and owners EA were said to have missed out on a $100 million payday as a result of the game never seeing the light of day.
While never confirmed, the cancellation of the game and EA missing out on a substantial payday was a factor in the studio being axed by EA the following year.
This caused a tremendous butterfly effect in video gaming, as up until that stage most blockbuster films had a tie-in video game attached.
The video game landscape had a Batman-shaped hole to fill, and the success of 'Arkham Asylum' is a combination of "right place, right time," and a genuinely brilliant game getting the love and respect it deserved.
Development on 'Arkham Asylum' was being developed concurrently with 'The Dark Knight', but towards the end of production rights to games based on Batman reverted back to Warner Brothers Interactive.
After the success of 'Arkham Asylum', video games based on films simply stopped being made, and if they were made at all, they ripped off 'Arkham Asylum'.
Sometimes in gaming history, a game hits because of a very specific set of conditions.
Because I'm free, free-flowing
There is no understating how superb the combat in 'Arkham Asylum' is.
The term "much-copied, never bettered", springs to mind in this instance, and seeing Batman in full flow dispatching of his enemies takes on an almost balletic quality.
In replaying the game for the purposes of this piece, it is striking how perfectly Rocksteady Games nailed the combat system.
Games like 'Sleeping Dogs', 'Assassins Creed', and 'The Witcher 3' all use 'Arkham Aslyum' style combat, but none flow as well.
There is a bubblewrap-popping quality to the combat in 'Arkham Asylum', and the challenge isn't defeating the enemies per say, it's racking up the big combos that serves as the meaty challenge.
The maxim of 'easy to play, hard to master' is in full effect here, and when you play the game on the highest difficulty with no indicators from the enemy, it truly makes you feel like Batman as cliched as that statement sounds.
Batman pinballing off his enemies never gets old, and the camera swooping in to show the caped crusader dispatching of the final enemy in slow-motion is as white-kunckle inducing as it was in 2009.
The fight scenes in Christopher Nolan's 'Batman' films received some criticism for being somewhat lifeless and languid, and one wishes that the British auteur implemented some of the free-flowing and fluid combat that was seen in the 'Arkham' games.
Another point in favour of 'Arkham Asylum' is enlisting the voice talents of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill.
Conroy's authoritative voice makes him the perfect pick to play Batman, but Hamill's turn as The Joker is a treat to listen to.
The game's memorable opening sequence sees The Joker being wheeled through the prison like Hannibal Lecter while Batman follows behind, but it soon becomes clear that Joker is running the show.
The opening sequence is a great bit of world-building, and it would have been simple for Rocksteady to have put the opening stroll through Arkham in a cutscene, but by giving the player agency and letting them control Batman, it's a subtle way of establishing that this is your adventure.
And what an adventure it is.
All Mapped Out
Subsequent 'Arkham' games took on more of an open-world approach, with 2015's 'Arkham Knight' dropping the pretense and making the game fully open-world, but there is a certain level of focus and tightness with 'Arkham Asylum' that makes the game shine.
The game has some elements of Metroidvania, meaning that players can return to locations after they've become more powerful or levelled up to finish any unsolved business they have in an area.
However, 'Arkham Asylum' didn't have tougher enemies or block off parts of the story until you were sufficiently levelled - the appeal in coming back was to find the trophies left by The Riddler.
There are so many different elements that make Batman so cool to the public at large - as one Twitter user dubbed him last year, he's a "Kennedy with karate lessons" - but what the recent Matt Reeves film got so right was the detective elements.
By allowing the players to mix it up as Batman, 'Arkham Asylum' is perhaps the most complete Batman experience.
The game requires you to use your brains as well as your brawn to solve those Riddler challenges.
Batman possesses maybe the best villains roster in all of comic books, and 'Arkham Asylum' takes full advantage of this with Scarecrow.
The Scarecrow segments would be the highlight of any other game, but in 'Arkham Asylum' they are the cherry on top of the experience.
Scarecrow's segments are more unsettling and scary than most horror titles out there, and riffs on the 'Silent Hill' style of psychological horror which is infinitely more disturbing and unsettling than anything 'The Evil Within' or 'Dead Space' could pull off with their million-dollar budgets.
'Arkham Asylum' even manages to pull something from the Hideo Kojima rulebook by breaking the fourth wall.
The segment where the game pretends to freeze and crash is utterly inspired and ingenious, and helps underpin that the game is a war of the mind as well as a war of the body.
Silicon Knights pulled off a similar trick in 'Eternal Darkness' in 2002 by using all these tricks on the player to keep them on edge, but 'Arkham Asylum' plays on the most simple fear a gamer has - the game crashing and you fear losing your progress.
The Christopher Nolan films featured Cillian Murphy in the Scarecrow role but failed to truly do the character justice with his brand of psychological terror.
In video game form, Rocksteady were able to give us an unforgettable version of the character that leaped from the pages of a comic book to the world of video games.
2009 was something of a vintage year for games, but if we did retrospective Game Of The Year awards, 'Arkham Asylum' would easily take the crown.
'Uncharted 2' is undeniably a special game and a turning point in the PlayStation 3's fortunes, but 'Arkham Asylum' effortlessly balances so many elements to make an unforgettable experience.
When a game's combat system is still being ripped off over a decade later, you've done something right.
Apart from the influential combat system, games based on licensed properties started to put the effort in.
In the 2010s, games based on 'Alien', 'The Lord Of The Rings', 'Star Wars', 'Spider-Man', 'The Walking Dead' and 'South Park' became critical and commercial best-sellers once developers realised that it wasn't merely enough to slap a recognisable name on a game and call it day.
If the work was put in, you could help birth a franchise that was of high quality and not just an easy cash-in.
Subsequent games in the 'Arkham' series were strong, but like most sequels, the self-indulgent nature goes against what made the original so pure.
With sequels there is always a weight of expectation to top what was done the first time, so the original always wins by default because the developers weren't burdened by expectation.
That isn't to say that Rocksteady didn't have a lot riding on 'Arkham Asylum', but it is clear they had a vision to make a 'Batman' game that returned him to his roots as a crime fighter and not the Saturday morning cartoon character he had become in the culture.
Rumours have abounded over the years that Rocksteady pitched a spin on Superman similar to how they reinvented Batman, but Warner Brothers were said to have vetoed the idea.
It's a shame - Rocksteady's incredible world and character design and stellar gameplay chops would really make you believe a man could fly.
The studio are hard at work on 'Suicide Squad: Kill The Justice League', and based on their past form, here's hoping the studio can do for the Suicide Squad what they did for Batman back in 2009.