ALTHOUGH IT SHARES its name with an existing graphic novel, the upcoming game Batman:
Arkham Asylum is not tied to any movie or comic story arc; it’s a unique and exclusively penned story based on the Batman comic’s 70-year canon. The game opens with a lengthy sequence (nearly 10 minutes) where Batman and various Arkham guards escort the recently apprehended Joker into the depths of the Asylum. But the sequence is necessary and does a great job of setting the scene; Arkham is a dark and gritty hell hole, fi lled with the worst of Gotham’s criminals (many of whom Batman has put away) and nonchalant and seemingly jaded guards. The Joker makes quips at Batman, the guards and other inmates as he’s escorted further into the depths of the asylum. All the while, Batman starts to piece together the “convenience” of the Joker’s relatively easy capture, not to mention that the Joker had just levelled Gotham’s Blackgate Prison. This means that Arkham is now full to the brim, housing the rest of the city’s captured crims. Batman’s suspicions are soon confi rmed, and the Joker, along with Harley Quinn, hijacks the asylum’s security system and places Arkham under siege. Batman and the guards of Arkham are now trapped and seemingly at the mercy of the Joker and a prison full of newly loyal criminal cronies.
After the sequence, you’re quickly thrust into your fi rst taste of the game’s intuitive and satisfying combat system. It’s mostly controlled using one button and the analogue sticks, and sees Batman darting between ultiple foes and landing impressive combos. You can also land counter moves by waiting for an indicator to appear above the heads of your enemies before they attempt to strike. Much like Assassin’s Creed, there are some nifty, context-sensitive, slow-mo finishing animations to boot, and you’ll also develop new combos and manoeuvres as the game progresses.
Batman has his trusty grappling hook, which will become a go-to means of not only accessing hard- to-reach areas, but darting around the asylum when things get hectic. You also learn how to prise grates from walls in order to access Arkham’s many ducts, which will be a common way to reach new areas undetected.
This brings me to a portion of the gameplay that developers Eidos Interactive are shying away from simply labelling “stealth” gameplay. They’re opting instead to call it “predatory” gameplay, claiming that stealth implies an underhandedness not befi tting of Batman; it’s part of his persona to strike fear into the hearts of his enemies by sneaking around and eliminating them one by one, and Eidos has absolutely nailed this aspect of the game. You can sneak up on an unsuspecting foe for an undetected takedown, and you can even glide down from the rafters to knock an enemy out cold before returning to the shadows with your grappling hook and sizing up your next target.
Another important part of the experience is the “detective” gameplay. Hitting a button activates investigative mode, which grants Batman X-ray vision, highlights points of interest and allows access to various other crime-solving gadgets. At one stage you’re tasked with fi nding Commissioner Gordon, and with his tobacco pipe as the only clue, you follow his steps with pheromone scans of traces of his tobacco. There are also various riddles scattered around the asylum by none other than The Riddler, which can be solved in this mode.
From my early impressions, Batman: Arkham Asylum is so much more than a popular comic franchise tacked on to a generic action game type. The whole experience has been lovingly crafted in a way that makes sense for Batman, utilising all the essential elements that make him so appealing to comic fans. It’s accessible to newcomers, but it’s also peppered with fan service, so fans of the comic will have fun spotting obscure references and not-soobscure cameos.