Batman: Arkham Asylum is one of the most anticipated titles of the summer and after a long wait, I finally had a chance to play it. Thanks, E3 2009!
Set inside of Arkham Asylum, which has been overrun by its psychopathic inmates, the latest Batman game holds the promise of finally doing the Dark Knight justice. This is not a mindless beat-em-up. Instead, Arkham Asylum requires you to play Batman similarly to how he's portrayed in the recent films. To survive, you must sneak up on enemies and take them out silently. That might mean moving through an air duct to get at your enemies backside or using your grappling hook to gain elevation before dropping down on enemies. Your reward for using these gameplay tactics are quick knockouts. Go in Batarangs blazing and you're going to die pretty quickly.
This is perfectly demonstrated in the E3 demo build of Arkham Asylum. Mr. Zsasz has taken a hostage and strapped him to an electric chair. If he sees Batman coming, he'll kill the poor man. To get to him, I had to run up some stairs to get to the observation deck. From there I switched on the detection vision. This unlimited resource highlights enemies (even through walls) and any interactive object. This includes the numerous gargoyle statues you can grapple.
From the higher station, Batman has some contextual options. He can hang from the statue, glide down, glide kick a targeted enemy or perform a special drop and snag attack. Or you can keep zipping around on different objects.
Mr. Zsasz is a pushover so long as you drop behind him. Knock him down and you can perform a ground attack that takes him out. It's just a teaching tool, to get players used to the system. And it's necessary for the section that follows.
Now sooner is Mr. Zsasz in la-la land than Harley Quinn appears on a monitor. This Harley is not quite like the one that debuted in Batman: The Animated Series. She's more frazzled and a little less of a cartoon. I like her a lot. She's threatening someone else. She thinks she's sealed Batman in, but that's not so. There are air ducts throughout Arkham and a detective with a sharp eye can spot them.
From the demo, it seems that there is almost always a direct option for an objective and a stealthy solution. After you get past Harley you come across a large, multi-tiered room with numerous patrolling enemies. If you charge in, you will die. Trust me. I charged in and died. Anytime you face enemies with guns, you have to divide and conquer. Even if you quickly take down one enemy, if two more spot you and start shooting, you won't last long.
The trick is to move along the upper tier and slowly pick them off one or two at a time. It's definitely a very different gameplay style for a Batman game. Sure, there's still a hand-to-hand combat system, but it can't be relied upon all of the time.
The demo ends after the room is cleared, with the Joker making a threat and releasing some sort of abomination at Batman.
There are some elements of Arkham Asylum I really dig. The stealth aspects and the fun gadgets are solid and the visuals are impressive. But there's something about this Batman game that just seems off. It might be that when walking around Batman takes up half the screen or that the camera swings with each punch thrown. It's great to have a Batman game with great production value and well-thought out gameplay, but Warner Bros. needs to reexamine its camera and default perspective. Fortunately, there's still time before this releases for some minor tweaks.
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