First Looks// Batman: Arkham Asylum

Posted 7 Aug 2009 17:18 by
Editor's Note: Mark is a huuuuuge comic book fan. I mean, if you think you're a comic book fan, in comparison to Mark, you are not.

I want Batman: Arkham Asylum to be good. I want it like I want beer on Fridays and paracetamol on Saturdays. (That's a lot).

So far this year on the superhero front X-Men Origins: Wolverine disappointed me and inFamous showed me how good a superhero game can be without bothering to use a license. The Dark Knight's next up to Bat. With inFamous out there, being all awesome and [PROTOTYPE] not being sh!t, we need a win for the licensed guys, or it's going to be DIY superguys everywhere. The good news is so far, so good.

Things kick off with the now-familiar (to anyone who's been following the trailers, anyway) scene of Batman driving The Joker up to Arkham. A bit of cutscene chatter later and (shock!) The Joker reveals that it is in fact he who is running the madhouse now. You can almost smell the coffee in the Rocksteady meeting in which they sat down and said, "How can we fit as many of Batman's villains as is humanly possible into a Batman game?".

Anyway, there is some plot, pure gameplay-driving device or not, and for now that's sufficient.

My main concern about the game prior to setting my thumbs loose on it was that, given the stuck-in-a-building premise, it would consist of an endless series of hack'n'slash encounters in an endless series of samey-looking rooms, strung together with some fairly arbitrary stealth elements.

The first tidbit of gameplay experience in Arkham Asylum didn't exactly assuage that you learn how to fight. But fighting's pretty important if you're being Batman, so that seems like a fair start to a game about being Batman. Turns out it feels like a good start, too. It feels fluid, it has that slowdown effect that Zack Snyder loves so much, and the countering works extremely well.

But... my fear of the tedious still stood.

Imagine my glee, then, to find short minutes later that the stealth elements are not only successful in preventing Arkham Asylum from being a slightly tedious brawler, but also bring a genuine strategy element to the table.

When stealth is called for, your first move is likely to be flipping into Detective Mode. This, like Flow Vision in Mirror's Edge and the Solid Eye in MGS4, highlights useful elements of the environment, as well as bad guys who might want to shoot you in the face even if there's a wall or two between you and them. It also includes handy little features such as the respiratory state of the guys whose skulls you're about to bash in.

Switching into detective mode alone might not cut it, however. Luckily for me, you and every other amateur crimefighter out there, there are plenty of handily-placed gargoyles and other vantage points you can use to take a nosey around. You can get to them by using your grapple gun, and, if you need to evade enemy attention, you can swing between them. Granted, at the early stage, you're spoon fed your next platform thanks to auto-targeting.

From there, you need to plot the best course of action. Turns out, that's not always picking a fight with the nearest hench. Batman's not all that bullet proof, and if you get on the wrong end of a gun barrel it's not going to go well for him. You need to sneak around the environment of which there can be a fair amount to explore taking baddies out all quiet-like, pulling off the odd glide kick and maybe lobbing the odd batarang around. The point is that, from the word go, strategy is involved. Arkham Asylum is, happily, not a button masher.

Looks-wise, it's pretty. Pretty like that goth girl you used to fancy but were a bit scared of. Occasionally, the movement in the cutscenes looks a bit stiff, but movement in-game flows well and the whole thing's suitably atmospheric.

It's a teensy bit disorienting hearing Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill (from Batman: The Animated Series) voicing Batman and The Joker against visuals far more reminiscent of the films and comics. But... well, hopefully you're just not anal/weird enough that that will bother you.

To sum up playing some of Batman: Arkham Asylum makes me want to play all of Batman: Arkham Asylum. So far, so good...

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