Since the earliest video game, levels and enemies have been specifically designed to intimidate you. But that wouldn't work in a Batman game, would it? Bruce Wayne is trained to the peak of physical perfection and an expert in all known martial arts - he doesn't get intimidated. And that's what's great about Arkham Asylum; it makes you feel in control. You're the hunter. The silent predator. The mythical crime fighter who stalks the shadows and who every n'er-do-well fears. And in that respect it's the most authentic Batman game ever made.
This sense of superiority over your enemies is a product of the game's slick controls. Batman's actions feel organically linked to your own, not robotically directed by a series of 1s and 0s, in a combination of responsiveness, beautifully smooth animation and an ability to scale pretty much any surface with your grappling hook. You can traverse the asylum's huge gothic halls and climb its towering spires with a self-assured, empowering freedom. But that doesn't mean it's easy. He may be able to effortlessly beat down armies of thugs with his bare hands, but when it comes to bullets, Bats is just as vulnerable as the rest of us. Rocksteady have struck the perfect balance of giving you the confident power of a superhero, but with enough weaknesses to make the game challenging; a remarkable feat of balancing and design.
When Joker takes over Arkham he sets loose a small army of homicidal psychopaths holding a serious grudge against Batman. These Venom-enhanced maniacs are your main obstacle in your battle to take back the island and come in two flavours: armed and unarmed. The unarmed kind can be fought toe-to-toe using the game's 'freeflow' combat. It only uses two buttons, but its timing-based counter system makes it challenging. Regular kicks and punches are dished out with stabs of Square, but when an enemy gets behind you a lightning bolt will flash above his head, which is your cue to hit Triange. Batman will then counter in a number of randomly-generated ways including grabbing their arm or sweeping their leg. As the game goes on, the timing of the counters get much narrower. Later goons with knives are cattle prods are introduced, requiring deeper tactics to defeat them including stunning them with your cape.
Then there are the armed thugs. To deal with these guys you have to use stealth. Batman grapples up to a gargoyle high above the level and flicks on his detective visor with L2. This flags up gun-toting guards as red, complete with details on their heart rate and mental condition. Now, there are a number of ways to approach this situation. When a goon separates from the group, hitting Square lets you glide towards them with your cape and knock them unconscious with a mighty kick. Or you could throw a sonic batarang to distract them. Or maybe wait for them to pass under a gargoyle, grab them and string them up by their legs. And if you do that, you can drop him on any of his pals who come to investigate.
If you get spotted, providing you survive the volley of gunfire, you'll need to grapple between gargoyles to the other side of the level so they lose sight of you. But, of course, that'll get them spooked so they'll huddle together in panic, making taking them out more difficult. They'll even blindly fire into the ceiling as their nerves get the better of them.
It's a joy to be part of these moments; they offer a slow-burning, cerebral challenge as a counterpoint to the brutality of the regular combat.