Batman: Arkham Asylum hopes to be the first game to fully utilize all of the Dark Knight’s abilities: stealth, investigation, and action. The game tailors specific sections to fit each of the aforementioned skills, forcing the player to think like the Batman and use the environment to their advantage. Luckily, you will also have full access to many of the Bat’s most wonderful toys to help you out, including the visor—which gives you health and weapon information for every enemy in the area; batarangs—which can be flung with the touch of a shoulder button and stun any enemy that they come into contact with; and the grappling hook—which allows you to swing from ceilings and snag unsuspecting bad guys. While nothing is stopping you from charging at a group of bad guys, a much smarter approach would be to hide in the shadows, use your hook to pull one of them up into the darkness, and leave the remaining goons fearing for their lives as you plan your next strike.
During my demo time, I specifically got to dig into the game’s Challenge mode, which includes over twenty different levels for you to master. Challenge sticks Batman into a contained arena as miscreants pile in from every available opening. Since Batman doesn’t use guns or fatal weapons, he must rely on his fists, gadgets, and surroundings to keep himself breathing. Right away, I noticed that the game throws quite a few enemies at you at once, almost to the point where I felt overwhelmed. While they still resort to the same stand-around-and-take-turns-attacking approach that you see in many games and movies, the veracity of their attacks coupled with the gaggle of weapons that they carry makes them a fairly significant threat. Once I began to fight back however, the game’s fluid fighting system put my worries to rest.
The hand-to-hand combat in Arkham Asylum has a distinct flow to it, similar to games like Assassin’s Creed. While Batman has a typical array of punches and kicks, he is also able to vault between threats and attack multiple enemies at once. Within seconds of grabbing the controller, I was able to deliver a few impactful shots to a thugs face before jumping over to a second for a quick throw and finally landing in the face of a third criminal for a brutal kick. As enemies continued to pile in, I proceeded to jump from one to another without issue, finding new and innovative ways to take each of them out. The defense also feels different, as Batman can grab his opponent’s fist using the counter button and combo that into a throw or takedown. This makes each battle feel organic, and offers a stern contrast to the rigid look and feel of the combat in many games. The threats in the demo were of the typical “gang member” variety, so it will be interesting to see how this fighting system adapts to much larger boss fights, especially when you are taking out someone like the gigantic Killer Croc.
Visually, the game looks stunning, as its Unreal Engine 3 roots provide a level of gritty realism that has never been seen before in a Batman game. The animation is silky smooth, especially noticeable during the takedown maneuvers and defensive counters that stop enemies in their tracks. The best news about this demo is that you can play it for yourself right now, as PlayStation 3 kiosks in many popular electronics stores–like GameStop and Target—have already had this demo loaded onto them. If you are curious about how the game plays, head on down and give it a shot. With the title’s recent delay, this is the only way you will be able to try for quite awhile.