In the world of Gotham and The Joker, Batman's greatest strength isn't his fists, wealth or technology, it's his brain.
Despite his moniker as the World's Greatest Detective, the Dark Knight's video game appearances rarely tap into his vast skills as a sleuth.
While Batman: Arkham Asylum is certainly no comic book CSI, and who would want it to be, it certainly remembers that Batman is a detective first and a slugger second. Asylum asks gamers to think their way through the game not only when trying to solve puzzles, but when quietly taking out a room full guards and even busting heads.
What Is It?
Batman: Arkham Asylum is a third-person action game with a heavy emphasis on fighting, stealth and good old-fashioned detective work. The game isn't based on any particular existing story in the world of Batman, but rather taps into the vast history of comic books, movies and TV shows to create its own storyline set in the infamous asylum.
What We Saw
While I played through the first two chapters of the game, there are some strict rules about certain chunks of the game's story that I cannot talk about.
How Far Along Is It?
Due out in August, the build I played was set to me in May to help me judge the game for an E3 Game Critics award. Eidos later said judges could write previews based on the build.
What Needs Improvement?
Polish: The game is shaping up nicely, but it still needs a bit of polish to smooth out the rough edges. Specifically, I'd like to see a bit more done on character models to deal with things like the occasional flesh-colored mohawks on bad guys, lip-syncing and general lighting issues.
Bats: As much as I've been enjoying the character design and aesthetic of this latest Batman, there is one thing that really bugs me. Every time you take out a bad guy a camp of bats appear and swirl around him for a second Initially it looks kind of neat, but the effect quickly loses its charm.
What Should Stay The Same?
Vicious Fights: The fighting system used in the game is pretty straight forward. One button delivers an attack, another delivers a stunning attack. A third button is used for counter-attacks. You can also double tap a button to dodge. These simple single-button attacks are all weaved together with a heavy reliance on timing and the ability to shift between targets by moving the thumbstick in different directions. The results can be stunning when dealing with a room full of enemies, which is typically the case. This whole fluid combat system is back-up with stunning slow-mo finishing moves delivered to the final bad guy in a room, which gives the game a cinematic flare.
Fun Stealth: I'm not a huge fan of stealth, it's not my style and I don't like have it forced upon me. Batman's take on stealth, though, is a whole other story. Instead of slinking around trying to avoid the bad guys, Batman uses his arsenal of gadgets and the shadows to stalk and take down enemies one at a time, leaving those still standing quaking in their bad guy shoes. Take downs including gliding from the shadows to deliver a face full of Bat boot, sleeper holds, and hanging upside down to knock an enemy into unconsciousness.
Light Detective Work: One of Batman's cooler gadgets is his cowl vision, which allows him to scan an area for enemies, trails, scents and clues. You can activate the cowl at anytime in the game. While active, it shows an X-ray version of everyone on screen. If you look directly at a person it will also tell you their current heart rate and even state of mind. This is great when you're trying to sneak up on people, letting you know if they're relaxed or scared out of their minds. You can also use it to follow trails. At one point in the game, for instance, you have to follow a bad guy by searching for the smell of the alcohol on his breath. The detective work in the game is delivered in such a simple, straightforward way that it manages to add a little nuance to what would otherwise be a straight-up action game without distracting from the central theme of the game.
Voice Acting: Batman: Arkham Asylum is a joy to listen to both for fans of Batman and those new to the hero. The game features voice work by Kevin Conroy, Arleen Sorkin, Tom Kane, and even Mark Hamil;l as The Joker. Everyone involved delivers in the game.
Story: Instead of latching on to the latest movie, a TV show or plucking a story from the vast library of Batman comics, the developers decided to create something wholly new and it's the right call. Arkham Asylum opens with Batman escorting The Joker back to his favorite high-security mental ward. Shortly after his arrival though, things go sideways and Batman finds himself trapped in an asylum run by the inmates. The game takes place not just in the asylum but in the wider world of Arkham island, a perfect setting for this open-ended adventure game.
Challenge Modes: These modes are outside the single-player campaign, adding a bit of replayability to the single-player game. There are two types of challenge modes. In one you fight a stream of bad guys, taking on as many as you can until you finally succumb. In the other you use the stealth mode to try to quietly clear a room as quickly as possible.
Batman: Arkham Asylum's individual elements of fighting, stealth and detective work can all stand on their own as fun elements of gameplay, but put together they provide an experience much better than the sum of its parts.