The Dark Knight had a viral marketing campaign unlike anything before. It was called Why So Serious? and it ignited a fervor in our fan community that hasn’t been matched since. The immersive experience didn’t just hype up the movie or “put you into the world of the movie,” no, it literally brought the movie into our world. There was Joker skywriting, marches through real city streets for Harvey Dent’s DA campaign, we raced to secret locations to be the first to dig a cell phone out of a cake… It was a thrilling labyrinth of real world and online puzzles that not only provided glimpses at the upcoming film but it supplied additional backstory and earned fans quite a bit of cool swag like real Gotham newspapers, defaced dollar bills, Gotham City voter registration cards (with your Gotham City address printed inside), and more. I was so invested in Why So Serious that my friend and I were surprised by a creepy (but amazing) package in the mail after completing a challenge to dress up like the Joker and take a photo some place public.
So why am I bringing all this up? Because many of the folks responsible for that marketing campaign created The Arkham Asylum Files, which its company, Infinite Rabbit Holes, sent us to review today. So, yeah. Get excited! If you missed out on The Dark Knight‘s viral marketing campaign, you want to relive the magic of one of the most exciting times to be a Batman fan, or you just love great board games, The Arkham Asylum Files: Panic in Gotham City is here to offer a captivating convergence of narrative storytelling and escape room style puzzles enhanced by the latest in AR technology. It’s awesome.
Get your family and friends together and unbox an epic BATMAN mystery featuring HARLEY QUINN and THE JOKER.
This is augmented reality like you’ve never seen before!
BOARD GAME + ESCAPE ROOM + PUZZLE BOX + ANIMATED/LIVE-ACTION SERIES + MYSTERY ADVENTURE + MOBILE AUGMENTED REALITY GAME — ALL IN ONE AMAZING EXPERIENCE!
100+ Game Elements – Top-secret Arkham Asylum documents, classified GCPD evidence, custom game boards and game pieces, joker cards, surprise collectibles, and more
Build GOTHAM CITY – Construct a physical GOTHAM CITY out of 3D puzzle pieces on your table-top and make it come to life
Augmented Reality Mobile App – Free companion app download for iPhone/iPad featuring THE JOKER, guides you through the adventure and unleashes amazing augmented reality game play (*mobile device not included)
Brand-new BATMAN Story – Unlock all 7 chapters of a new thrilling adventure featuring never-seen before animated and live action cut-scenes
Special Edition Mask – Each Panic in Gotham City box comes with a randomly packed JOKER or BATMAN mask. What will your fate be?
1-6 Players / Ages 13+ – Game night fun for everyone! Get the most out of family time and friend hangouts by working together to solve the mystery
Re-settable – High-quality components can be used over and over again (when handled with care/normal use) with complete reset instructions provided
To describe it in the simplest way possible, The Arkham Asylum Files is a box full of increasingly challenging puzzles dressed in a Gotham City skin. But that doesn’t do the game justice. Not by a longshot. It genuinely feels like the cutting edge of tabletop gaming. Now, I’m not a newbie to at home escape room style games. I’ve subscribed to Escape the Crate and Hunt a Killer and even picked up a few of those Unsolved Case Files games you’ve probably seen on a Target endcap. Believe me when I say that the production quality of The Arkham Asylum Files COMPLETELY blows those out of the water.
For almost $200, my wife bought The Melancholy Killer by Hunt a Killer, which was a 5-6 hour experience that included a cheap little briefcase, a bunch of documents to read, an ink pen, and a little fox figurine made out from yarn. That’s it. And in the end the experience wasn’t half as good as another box they had released called Camp Calamity which was only $60 bucks and I highly recommend that one (even though it cannot be reset). The Arkham Asylum Files costs $150 and is a 7-9 hour experience that includes a collectible mask, a 3D model of Gotham city, a deck of Joker cards, a black light, and much more that I don’t want to spoil.
It also goes far beyond printouts and webpage articles to tell its original narrative (which draws a surprising amount of inspiration from Dan Slott’s Arkham Asylum: A Living Hell). Rather than tell its story solely through text, the game employs a free mobile app that, in addition to providing gameplay instructions and incredibly cool AR effects, plays live action and animated cutscenes like what you’d expect from a video game. And the game even has a musical score and atmospheric sound effects that play in the background as well! Having its own music and ambient sounds of the city really enhances the experience and I hope to see more themed board games take note and offer a soundtrack (games like Betrayal at the House on the Hill could really use one) in the future.
What You Need and How Many Can Play
Get a pencil and paper handy, and a roll of Scotch tape (there was one puzzle that asked me to tape something once, but it’s not a permanent change that kills the chances of resetting the game for future playthroughs). Other than that, you’ll need an iPhone or iPad (Android devices will get the app soon!) and I can’t stress enough that playing in a room with a TV you can cast the app to will make the experience way better if you are playing with a group of friends.
Cooperative board games are some of my favorite, but anyone who plays them knows that when you hit a certain number of players you run into the problem of some folks being left with nothing to do while everyone else is contributing and having a blast. I know some of the marketing for this will show teams of six or more, but I wouldn’t recommend going over five players in the room. You need to be able to walk around the game table and examine the model city from all sides for some of the puzzles, so you need ample space. And when you’ve opened an envelope and revealed the latest puzzle pieces, there won’t always be enough material to go around if you have more than five people. And, truthfully, I believe that four players is the ideal number if you want everyone to have a vital role to play. There are few miseries quite like going to a game night and sitting there with nothing to do while everyone else is huddled over a board that you now can’t even get close to. So 4 is best, 5 is pushing it, and 6 would be a crowd. And if you want to take on the game solo, you absolutely can, if you’re clever enough.
The first chapter of the experience is focused on acclimating players to the app and easing them into the problem-solving mindset they need to be in for later. After chapter 1, the training wheels are off entirely and you’ll encounter puzzles that will definitely tempt you to resort to the app’s HINT button. Of course, if a riddle or puzzle is too challenging for you even after viewing all the hints, you also have the option to elect to skip to the next game. After playing 5 of the 7 chapters, my group has not needed to use this option yet and I doubt we ever will. I’d personally rather let the game sit out for a day or two and regroup than skip anything. And it’s easy to pause and come back whenever or replay puzzles you enjoyed previously. The app breaks up every chapter by puzzle and makes it easy to pause and pick up where you left off or re-watch cut scenes.
Now that we’ve played five of the seven chapters, I can say that only one puzzle, I believe it was in chapter 4, felt too simple and not worthy of being part of the collection. Don’t get me wrong, the mechanics of the puzzle itself are brilliant and it was ultimately rewarding if you follow the rules to figure out the cypher… BUT the puzzle was accompanied by a riddle and more than two people in the room answered the riddle immediately without even looking at the drawings and coded message in my hands. And they got the answer 100% correct. If the answer to the riddle is that evident, it really takes the wind out of the sails of an otherwise ingenious codebreaking event.
Issue #1 will be resolved any day now: the lack of an Android app. The Panic in Gotham City app for Android devices has not launched yet. So only iPhone or iPad owners can play it right now.
Issue #2 is that the instructions on how to cast the game to a television need to be clearer. I just don’t think that most people know how to cast their phone to a television, and while it’s not necessary to do so, my group agreed it was a better experience when they could look at a 60-inch TV rather than loom over my shoulder to gawk at my phone as I surveyed the model Gotham City. App aside, however, I don’t have many problems to address with the physical game.
My only genuine nitpick with the physical components is that the 3D models you build and the AR generated architecture that forms around them lack the Gothic architecture of the comics or Art Deco inspired look of Batman: The Animated Series. Too many structures look like a traditional city rather than something that’s undeniably Batman’s town. Throw a few Gargoyles in there or something! And, rather than injecting helicopters cruising above the buildings, give us some police blimps! And I really must take a moment to praise the AR app. It doesn’t jump around or jitter like a lot of cheap filters/apps I’ve seen before, it’s smooth. And it isn’t overused and isn’t treated like a gimmick, as I feared, it’s used well as a tool to enhance the many physical puzzles and make the game more immersive.
Lastly, I didn’t think the vocal performance we hear in the cutscenes for Batman was the right tone. The Batman voice we get in those clips is too growly for my taste and reminded me too much of the Batman voice we got in the Spotify podcast Batman Unburied. That said, there’s surprisingly little Batman in the cutscenes, and the rest of the vocal performances are terrific. I was shocked by just how big the cast was– and it features many characters I did not expect. For a game that so heavily features Harley and Joker on its artwork, The Arkham Asylum Files does not shy away from digging deep into the rogues gallery for foes that more casual fans likely have never encountered before.
I give this game my highest recommendation. If you’re someone who loves escape rooms or tabletop gaming that makes you think, then it’s an absolute must-buy. And while most of these types of tabletop games can only be played once, The Arkham Asylum Files does NOT require you to put stickers on items or to destroy cards or anything of that nature. The app will instruct you on how to properly reset the game when you’ve finished so that you can loan it to a friend or, if you’re like me, you’ll just put it in storage for a year or two and play again when you’ve forgotten all the answers to the puzzles.
This is an incredibly exciting and unique gaming experience that pushes the envelope for at-home escape room style gameplay. I can’t wait to see how much more detailed and challenging the world of The Arkham Asylum Files can get in future releases. To order your own copy of The Arkham Asylum Files: Panic in Gotham City, go HERE.
Disclaimer: Batman News received The Arkham Asylum Files: Panic in Gotham City from Infinite Rabbit Holes for the purpose of this review.