After launching a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2022 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 combines a physical game board with a buildable version of Gotham City with augmented reality puzzles and story pieces delivered via your mobile phone or tablet to bring the world to life.
With over 100 in-game elements to discover and exploit as you solve intricate puzzles over the course of hours of gameplay, Gotham City’s detective fantasy is definitely fulfilled. However, due to the relatively high barrier to entry and limited replayability, this experience is best suited for fans of DC Comics and the Batman universe.
What’s in the box
When you open the nearly 10-pound box, you’re greeted with a large message warning you not to look at the contents until you’ve downloaded The Arkham Asylum Files: Panic in Gotham City app to your mobile device. There’s no rule book to sift through here, so you can get right into the action within moments of ripping off the shrink wrap.
As the game progresses, you will be asked to open a series of sealed files in the box, each containing a number of different items, from Gotham City blueprints to evidence from the Gotham City Police Department. Since the contents need to be opened in a specific order so as not to spoil the experience, I won’t describe everything you’ll find in the box as that’s part of the fun.
Aside from any items that can be considered spoilers, you’ll find a large game board with a top view of Gotham City and sections for buildings that you’ll eventually add. There are also 16 sealed boxes and envelopes containing over 100 unique items that you will discover as you play through the story.
Rules and gameplay
To play The Arkham Asylum Files: Panic in Gotham City, you will need either an AR-enabled 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 and launched the app, you’ll see a short video that introduces you to the experience and provides a brief overview of the game’s structure and how to navigate the app. The video is presented in a 1950s cartoon style, very reminiscent of the Fallout series’ instructional videos.
Before you get started, there are a few things you should keep in mind: Make sure you’re playing in a well-lit area that avoids harsh shadows, as these can interfere with the augmented reality aspects of the game. In addition, you want to play on a large table surface that you can walk around from all sides. It is also recommended to have a pen and paper nearby, as some of the puzzles contain subtle details that are difficult to remember or decipher using memory alone.
Navigating the app is relatively easy; Tapping the green arrow in the bottom right corner will continue the current puzzle or story. Double-tapping the star icon in the top left corner takes you back to the main menu, where you can adjust settings or replay a previous chapter. Additionally, each puzzle has a hint button that can be helpful if you get stuck while playing.
From the main menu, you can play the “How to Play” introductory video at any time if you want to review something, access an FAQ page on the Infinite Rabbit Hole website, enable subtitles, and access a box repackaging instructions page, as well as a Option to completely reset game progress if you want to start over.
Once you start the game, the Joker will narrate the opening moments to introduce the story through a vivid animated video. From there, you’ll be instructed to open your first mystery box and solve a short puzzle before continuing with the story. Generally, this is the structure that is followed throughout the entire experience. They alternate between small story moments that help flesh out Gotham City, followed by a relevant mystery that allows the story to move forward.
The game is divided into seven unique parts, each with a variety of puzzles and animated videos. Infinite Rabbit Holes expects each part to be completed in approximately 30-45 minutes. However, your time may vary depending on how many people are playing and how good your group is at solving puzzles. It’s also worth mentioning that this entire experience can be played as a solo board game, although I found it to be much more fun in a group, not only for the social aspect but also for the help in solving some of the more challenging puzzles.
The Arkham Asylum Files: Panic in Gotham City is advertised as taking around 6-10 hours to complete, although my group completed all seven installments in around five hours. Luckily, you don’t have to play everything at once, as the app saves your progress and you can easily pick up where you left off. The only downside is that there is no way to transfer your progress between devices. So you have to use the device you started the game on to continue the story.
The difficulty of the puzzles starts out relatively trivial, as they are primarily designed to get you used to the game board and navigating the mixed reality environment. However, the later puzzles were far more challenging and the difficulty seemed to increase at a nice pace. The recommended age for this experience is 13 years or older, but some of the later puzzles may be too challenging without adult assistance. I definitely wouldn’t recommend it for younger children, as the complexity can sometimes be more frustrating than entertaining (check out our list of board games for kids if that’s what you’re looking for). Luckily, if you get stuck on a particular puzzle, you have the option to skip it entirely to continue the story.
Speaking of the story, I found it compelling for the most part. Much of the promotional material gave the impression that the Joker (and Batman to a lesser extent, given the setting) would play a large role in this experience, but the entire narrative focuses almost entirely on Harley Quinn and the lesser-known antagonist Anarky. Although there were some twists and turns, the story wasn’t the most memorable part of the experience for me personally. If you’re a fan of DC Comics, you’ll probably find this story entertaining, as there are references to several other villains throughout Gotham City, but for someone who doesn’t know a little about this universe, you might find it difficult be selling.
One aspect that surprised me is the overall production value. The voice acting and animated scenes are top notch and the materials in the individual mystery boxes and files are of high quality. The music is also fantastic and creates an immersive environment while solving puzzles.
The variety of puzzles included in the box is also exceptional. Most of the puzzles you encounter are escape room-style puzzles that involve deciphering hidden messages or searching for items or codes throughout Gotham City using your mobile device. There were some great moments, however, including bomb dispersal similar to Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, as well as a pipe puzzle that reminded me of BioShock’s hacking minigame. While some of the puzzles were forgettable, I found the vast majority to be engaging and entertaining. I also enjoyed the anticipation of opening the sealed folders and boxes one by one, as the mystery of what we would find inside was always exciting.
The augmented reality is also very well implemented. As you build Gotham City, you’ll see it come to life on your device as skyscrapers appear and trains and cars move around. At times it feels a bit empty, but for the most part it was cool to see the city slowly grow and develop as the story progresses.
Most of the augmented reality portions of the game require you to scour the city looking for clues, finding symbols, and more. They will also use the AR to watch newscasts on the side of the Gotham City News Network building and scan inkblot cards contained in some of Arkham Asylum’s patient files to fill in parts of the story.
The pacing of the overall narrative is good for the most part, although the moments where you have to stop to physically assemble the buildings for Gotham City really bring the momentum to a halt. Personally, I enjoyed the construction aspect, but I could see that some of the others weren’t as committed. Additionally, some of the early puzzles are very rudimentary and seemed aimed at younger children. However, as already mentioned, the difficulty level only really increases after the first few parts are completed.
While the overall experience is mostly positive, it still feels more like a one-off board game. Sure, it’s technically replayable and even offers handy repackaging instructions and an option to reset your progress, but I don’t think I’ll enjoy it nearly as much on my second playthrough since I can already solve most of the puzzles . This coupled with a relatively high barrier to entry, which includes an initial investment of $150 Plus The requirement for an AR-compatible device makes this a tough recommendation for anyone who isn’t at least somewhat invested in DC Comics and the larger Batman universe.