After launching a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2022 that raised over $300,000, the first game from creator Infinite Rabbit Holes is here with The Arkham Asylum Files: Panic in Gotham City. This is a unique experience that blends a physical game board featuring a buildable version of Gotham City with augmented reality puzzles and story bits delivered through your mobile phone or tablet to bring the world to life.
With over 100 in-game elements to discover and use in solving intricate puzzles across hours of gameplay, it definitely delivers on the Gotham City detective fantasy. However, a relatively high barrier to entry and limited replayability make this an experience best suited for fans of DC comics and the Batman universe.
What’s in the Box
Upon opening the nearly 10-pound box, you’ll be greeted with a large message warning you not to peek at its contents until you’ve downloaded The Arkham Asylum Files: Panic in Gotham City app on your mobile device. There’s no rulebook to comb through here, so you can jump right into the action within moments of tearing off the shrink wrap.
As you progress through the game, you’ll be asked to open a number of sealed files within the box, each containing a number of different elements ranging from building schematics for Gotham City to evidence from the Gotham City Police Department. Because the contents are to be opened in a specific order so as to not spoil the experience, I won’t describe everything that you’ll find in the box as that’s part of the fun.
Upon opening the nearly 10-pound box…
Aside from any items that can be viewed as spoilers, you’ll find a large game board featuring a top-down view of Gotham City with sections for buildings that you’ll eventually add to it. There are also 16 sealed boxes and envelopes containing over 100 unique elements that you’ll uncover as you play through the story.
Rules and How to Play
In order to play The Arkham Asylum Files: Panic in Gotham City, you’ll need either an AR-capable iPhone running iOS 15 or later, an iPad running iPadOS 15 or later, or an Android device running Android 13 or later.
Once you’ve downloaded the app and launched it, you’ll see a short video introducing you to the experience including a brief overview of how the game is structured as well as how to navigate the app. The video is presented in a 1950’s-era cartoon style that’s very reminiscent of the instructional videos featured throughout the Fallout series.
Some things to note before jumping in: you’ll want to make sure you’re playing in a well-lit area that avoids harsh shadows as it can interfere with the augmented reality aspects of the game. Additionally, you’ll want to play on a large tabletop surface that you can walk around on all sides. It’s also recommended to have a pen and paper nearby as some of the puzzles feature fine details that may be difficult to remember or decipher with memory alone.
Navigating the app is relatively straightforward; tapping the green arrow button in the bottom right corner will progress the current puzzle or story, while double-tapping the star icon in the top left corner will bring you back to the main menu where you can adjust settings or replay a previous chapter. Additionally, each puzzle features a hint button that can prove helpful if you get stuck while playing.
From the main menu, you can replay the introductory “How to Play” video at any point if you need to review something, access a FAQ page on Infinite Rabbit Hole’s website, turn on closed captioning, access a page with instructions for repacking the box, as well as an option to completely reset your game’s progress if you want to start fresh.
Once you begin the game, the Joker will narrate the opening moments to set up the story through a vibrant animated video. From there, you’ll be instructed to open your first mystery box and solve a short puzzle before continuing the story. Generally, this is the structure that’s followed for the entirety of this experience. You’ll alternate between small story moments that help to flesh out Gotham City followed by a relevant puzzle that allows the story to continue moving forward.
There’s no rulebook to comb through here, so you can jump right into the action within moments of tearing off the shrink wrap.
The game is broken down into seven unique parts, each with a variety of puzzles and animated videos sprinkled throughout. Infinite Rabbit Holes estimates each part can be completed in roughly 30-45 minutes, but your time may vary based on how many people are playing and your group’s puzzle solving skills. It’s also worth noting that this entire experience can be played as a solo board game, although I found it to be much more enjoyable in a group not only for the social aspect, but also to aid in solving some of the more challenging puzzles.
The Arkham Asylum Files: Panic in Gotham City is advertised as about 6-10 hours of gameplay, although my group completed all seven parts in about five hours. Thankfully, you don’t have to play everything in one sitting as the app saves your progress and allows you to easily jump back in at whatever point you stopped. The only downside is that there’s no way to transfer your progress between devices, so whichever device you started the game on is the device you’ll need to use to continue the story.
The difficulty of the puzzles start out relatively trivial as they are mostly designed to acclimate you to the game board and how to navigate the mixed reality environment. However, the later puzzles were far more challenging and they seemed to ramp up in difficulty at a nice clip. The age recommendation for this experience is 13 years or older, but some of the later puzzles might pose too challenging without the help of an adult. I certainly wouldn’t recommend this for younger children as the complexity at times may be more frustrating than fun (see our list of board games for kids if that’s what you’re after). Thankfully, if you find yourself stumped on a specific puzzle, there’s an option to skip it entirely in order to continue the story.
Speaking of the story, I found it mostly engaging. Much of the promotional material made it seem like this experience would heavily feature the Joker (and Batman to a lesser extent, given the setting), but the overall narrative is focused almost entirely on Harley Quinn and the lesser-known antagonist, Anarky. While it had its twists and turns, the story wasn’t the most memorable part of this experience for me personally. If you’re a fan of DC comics, you’ll likely find this an enjoyable story as there are nods to some other villains throughout Gotham City, but it may be a hard sell for someone not somewhat invested in this universe.
One aspect that surprised me is the overall production value. The voice acting and animated scenes are top-notch, and the materials found within each of the mystery boxes and files are high-quality. The music is also fantastic and creates an immersive environment while puzzle solving.
The variety of puzzles included in the box is also exceptional. Most of the puzzles you’ll encounter are escape-room style puzzles that include decoding hidden messages or searching for items or codes throughout Gotham City using your mobile device. However, there were some awesome moments that included diffusing bombs akin to Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, as well as a pipe puzzle that reminded me of the hacking minigame from BioShock. While some of the puzzles were forgettable, I found the vast majority of them to be engaging and fun. I also really enjoyed the anticipation of opening the sealed folders and boxes one-by-one, as the mystery of what we would find within was always exciting.
The augmented reality is also executed very well. As you build up Gotham City, you’ll see it start to come to life through your device with high-rise buildings appearing and trains and cars driving around. At times it can feel a bit empty, but for the most part it was cool to see the city slowly grow and evolve as the story progressed.
Most of the augmented reality portions of the game require you to scour the city to search for clues, locate symbols, and more. You’ll also use the AR to watch news broadcasts on the side of the Gotham City News Network building, as well as scan inkblot cards contained within some of the Arkham Asylum patient files to fill in bits of the story.
The pacing of the overall narrative is mostly good, although the moments where you have to stop to physically assemble the buildings for Gotham City really bring the momentum to a halt. I personally enjoyed the building aspect, but I could tell some of the others weren’t as engaged. Additionally, some of the early puzzles are very rudimentary and felt like they were geared towards younger children. However, as previously stated, the difficulty really starts to ramp up after the first couple parts are completed.
While the overall experience is a mostly positive one, this very much feels like a one and done type of board game. Sure, it’s technically replayable, and even gives you handy repacking instructions and an option to reset your progress, but I don’t see myself enjoying it nearly as much a second time through as I’ll already know how to solve a vast majority of the puzzles. This, coupled with a relatively steep barrier to entry that includes an initial investment of $150 plus the requirement of an AR-compatible device makes this a tricky recommendation for anyone not at least somewhat invested in DC comics and the greater Batman universe.