Batman: Arkham Asylum

Batman liked making the Joker stand in a hole.
Batman enjoyed making the Joker stand in a hole.

Batman is one of the most interesting comic book heroes around. He’s your regular everyday millionaire tycoon driven to forever bring criminals to justice after watching his parents murdered in front of him when he was a small child. Just like anyone, really. But he’s also been around for ages in a variety of different formats, some dark and moody, some a bit campy and Adam West-y; as a result, most people at least know who the Dark Knight is. As he’s 70 years old this year (and still looking very sprightly) what better way to celebrate than to release a video game? And so it was that about a month ago Ready Up was invited to get a hands-on look at a decent-sized chunk of Eidos’ forthcoming title Batman: Arkham Asylum, and on one blistering day in late June John and myself went along for a butcher’s. This is what we found.

Arkham Asylum is a third-person action game, and drips with style right from the thundery opening cut-scene. The character design is strong and distinctive (Joker and Harley standing out in particular), albeit with a hint of the usual Unreal Engine shiny-skin uncanny valley effect. The voice cast is largely drawn from “Batman: The Animated Series” (although the look is completely different) and they reprise their roles well. Mark Hamill’s Joker is excellent as usual.

"Mind if I rest my foot here for a minute?"
"Mind if I rest my foot here for a minute?"

Unlike a lot of his previous video game appearances, Arkham Asylum has more of a focus on Batman’s detective abilities as well as his fighting skills. Special vision modes for his cowl help the caped crusader to spot clues in the environment, and is often used during the game to track people, e.g. by their fingerprints or alcoholic breath. It also reveals destructible walls and the location of enemies, along with their heart rate, state of mind, and whether or not they’re armed.

The level design is excellent. Arkham Island is suitably dark and gothic, with gargoyles and pointy bits all over, and offers plenty of opportunities to use the grappling hook to attain a high position. I particularly enjoyed the ability to swoop down from a high location, kick a guy in the face, sleeper hold him, and then use the grapple to zip away before watching his friends run over to him in a panic. Then doing it again. A later upgrade allows Batman to hang upside-down from gargoyles, grab enemies from above, and leave them trussed-up and dangling from his perch. Which is nice.

Sometimes you can’t get by entirely on grappling hook and boots to the face, however, which is where the rest of the combat comes in. It feels good. The left strick controls direction and the main attack button delivers punches and kicks, which connect solidly with various parts of the opponent’s anatomy. Darting around a group of opponents to lay into them looks very stylish. A second button is used for to counter an opponent’s attack and once I got the hang of the timing, Batman began to deliver some pretty brutal-looking counterattacks. A third button is used to swish Batman’s cape into the face of nearby enemies, stunning them; for some enemies this is necessary in order to open them up to regular attacks.

Once an opponent is downed, or your combo rating is high enough, Batman can deliver a finishing move. While he doesn’t kill, he definitely incapacitates, and the finishers are, as the name implies, pretty final. They will often involve gristly noises and, in one memorable case, brought sympathetic tears to the eyes. The last enemy in a fight will go down in slow-motion however you finish him off, too.

Steve suddenly had the weird feeling that he was being watched.
Steve suddenly had the weird feeling that he was being watched.

Abilities can be upgraded with XP earned from defeating enemies and finding collectables; Some finishers are unlocked this way, along with upgrades to armour and the various gadgets you’ll be using along the way. Earned XP also replenishes your health, although it will only do so once combat is over. Batman’s costume also shows wear as time goes on, with rents appearing in his cape due to all the insane people trying to kill him.

An action game probably wouldn’t be an action game without the odd boss encounter, and Arkham Asylum is no exception. A number of Batman’s enemies are at large in Arkham and we ran into a few of them during our time with the game. There are also a couple of visually impressive set-pieces to look forward to.

We played from the beginning through to the end of Chapter Four (at which point we were politely but firmly told that we were Not Allowed to go any further), and were both very impressed by what we saw. The combat is fluid and flows well; the game both looks and sounds great; the characterisation is excellent and the locations are suitably dark and moody. Batman: Arkham Asylum is looking very good indeed, and I’m looking forward to playing it upon its release later this year.







4 responses to “Batman: Arkham Asylum”

  1. Ben avatar

    One of my “do want’s” for this year, especially as a PC version is in works too 🙂

  2. ZeroMark avatar

    On pre-order list, check.

    Really good to hear its looking good from Simes and Ready Up, the opinion holds more weight for me than a Preview from IGN or something.

  3. John avatar

    Running through these first chapters was huge fun, this game type and engine is not my first choice (as most here will know) but the execution and use of the Unreal Engine was superb. Plus there are the other things we’re Not Allowed To Tell You About!
    We also tazzed straight through the story of the game and didn’t spend a lot of time on the side missions which are also a bunch of fun and challenges.
    Heartily recommended.. I’ll be getting it for sure.

  4. Uzi avatar

    Nice captions, Simes. 😀

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