This third person bat-em-up from Rocksteady sees you play the Dark Knight himself as you try and thwart the Joker, who has gone and taken over the most reknowned madhouse in all of fiction: Arkham Asylum. I played the demo.
It only lasts fifteen minutes, but this is the closest I’ve ever come in a game to actually feeling like Batman.
Rendered superbly in a chunky hyper-real style you’ll biff your way through enemy thugs with impunity. Rocksteady have nailed batman’s ninja competence and almost casual brutality. Between strikes he stands upright and simply stands waiting or the next bout of violence to happen. Then, with bone breaking precision he incapacitates his attackers. The combat system is simple, one button for strikes, one for counters and couple more for grapples, but it’s smooth, impactful and incredibly satisfying stuff.
Batman hits weakpoint for maximum damage.
If your opponents are carrying guns more subtelty will be required. Batman abhors the things himself, of course, so he’ll need to do some stalking to get up close. A tap of a button puts him into detective mode, which lets Batman see through walls, view points of interest and even read the heartbeat and emotional state of his prey. The grappling hook can be used to fire Batman up to a hidden vantage point such as the numerous gargoyles lurking in the shadowy rafters of Arkham Asylum. From here you can track your would-be killers’ routes and plot your takedowns accordingly.
Criminals are a superstitious and cowardly bunch, and every time you leave an unconscious body crumpled on the floor or dangling upside down from a gargoyle your foes will become understandably more and more jittery. It’s fun to try and manipulate them, throwing batarangs nearby to scare them and get them to turn their back for a moment. You can take out a whole room of thugs and remain unseen.
It’s not the hardest of games. Your all seeing eyes leave little room for surprises and your average thug reacts convincingly, but not in a way that’s ever likely to thwart you. You are, however, Batman, and as such your average thug really shouldn’t stand much of a chance.
Fortunately Arkham Asylum goes above and beyond unchallenging but gleefully entertaining hunting sim thanks to several factors. Firstly: great art direction recreates Batman from his grittier comic book origins, steering clear of the realism of the Dark Knight’s more recent cinema outings creating something unique.
Secondly: a superb performance by Mark Hamill reprising his role as the Joker from his early days in the Batman cartoon series. I replayed the final room of the demo again and again, wanting each time to do it more efficiently. The Joker taunts you over an intercom the whole time. I still don’t think I’ve heard everything he has to say.
Thirdly: Polish. Every room in the demo is detailed and interesting, Batman’s cape never phases through his body, controls are responsive, the settings autodetect actually chose well for my setup. The game detects instantly what control scheme I’m using and adjusts tutorial instructions even if I change from a keyboard to a pad halfway through. It’s professional and niggle free. Based on this evidence Arkham Asylum is more than ready to hit shelves.
Based on the demo the full game will be a must-buy. the only dilemma is whether I can wait three annoying weeks for the PC version to hit shelves and avoid getting it on the consoles.