E3 2009: Batman: Arkham Asylum Preview
Written Tuesday, June 09, 2009 By Dan WebbView author's profile
After Batman: Arkham Asylum’s recent delay, we can now expect the Caped Crusader to be swooping into stores this coming August. The initial reception regarding the game has all been pretty damn positive up until now, with Eidos themselves stating that they are expecting 90 + scores when it finally ships in August. At E3 this year we got to go hands on with the beast that was Batman: Arkham Asylum and put the winged man through its paces.
We were thrust into the opening level of the title, allowing us to get to grips with the game’s combat and movement mechanisms. For those unaware of the background of the title, Arkham Asylum has no ties to any Batman film, but rather lends its ties to the animated series and the darker substance of the comic books. You take control of Batman (go figure!) who finds himself lured into a trap by the psychopathic Joker who has taken control of Arkham Asylum, and with it, some of the mastermind criminals the big bat has himself put away. Your objective is simple ... stop the Joker ... at all costs.
A big part of Batman: Arkham Asylum initial shock and awe will surely be attributed to the game’s presentation. Not only does it look utterly fantastic (it actually won our Best Looker of E3 2009) but it sounds great as well with the two staples of the animated series’ characters being voiced by their respective counterparts (Mark Hamill as the Joker and Kevin Conroy as Batman). The game screams next gen from all aspects of its visuals; not only do the animations seem smooth and fluent, but the textures and lighting is spot on. In our run through of one of the early levels, it was hard to see a pixel that was out of place.
The controls in Arkham Asylum are fairly simple and don’t really require much thought. With one button to attack, one to counter, one to stun with the cape and one to run; it doesn’t take much mastering. All in all, it’s fairly easy to link in move after move, extending the combo with what is essentially button mashing and the odd movement of the analogue stick to move from hostile to hostile. Players also have access to a number of gadgets on hand to make use of; one of those being the batarang which can be aimed whilst holding down the left trigger and then thrown (with a cinematic camera that follows the movement of it) with the right bumper, which I must add, is pretty damn cool.
Part of the lure of the whole gameplay rests on the game’s detective mode (left bumper) and the ability to stealth through the game. With the detective mode on you can see various things in an almost blueprint style screen, from the number and placement of thugs, to the potential grapple points. You must remember though that Batman isn’t Superman and isn’t bulletproof so too much exposure and you’ll be a bat meat sandwich within seconds if your foes have guns, so making good use of this tool is an essential part of your survival.
If there is anything that could pose potential problems, it’s the game’s AI with enemies acting a little dense at times. Whether this was the early level AI and they were making it a little easy on you, who knows? But at times, it was just a matter of waiting till one left the pack and then BANG, they’re bat meat. Only being able to grapple up on to certain objects as well may become a tad frustrating and predictable. We’re Batman dammit, let us grapple on to anything. However, the ability to drop-kick down from the elevated areas, perform stealth tie-ups and then to cut them down onto unsuspecting foes with the batarang almost makes that predictability seem slightly more forgivable.
Is the title going to score 90 + has got to be the first question, and I will admit, it does have some potential but there are also potential drawbacks. The title looks great and has intuitive (albeit a little too simple?) controls, but I can’t help but think that the selective and often limited areas to grapple up onto may make the detective work a little more predictable and samey, especially coupled with the dense AI. These are however just initial concerns from our hands on with the opening level, and we hope that come August, Rocksteady will prove that there is more substance to the game as a whole. Despite that, it does look beautiful and the controls and even camera can’t be faulted, and we can’t wait to get our mits on the final version. Must buy? We’ll see, but our hopes are still elevated and our minds a little more at ease after testing this bad boy out. Either way, this is shaping up to be a great title and not one of those poor superhero tie-ins we’ve come to loath.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is available on the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC this coming August 25th in North America and August 28th in Europe.