In case you were wondering, Batman: Arkham Asylum is good. That might sound out of place -- we've been previewing this game for a while, the trailers are always interesting, and the fighting looks like fun -- but I've had a hard time summing up an opinion when I'm put on the spot. When I got to play the first two chapters of the game, I came away with this weird, double-sided impression. Batman felt a bit stiff and the pacing seemed off when I was scouring the halls of Arkham Asylum for Riddler trophies, but when I just booked through levels on the trail of Mr. J, things felt like they were on the right track.
For the past five hours, all I've done is play the first four chapter of Batman: Arkham Asylum. Now that I'm done with that demo, all I want to do is play it again.
Come see one of the dozen or so videos we just posted.
This morning, a PlayStation 3 disc arrived in the office packing the two chapters that come after Batman runs Bane down with the Batmobile, which is where I left off playing in June. Disc in hand, I locked myself away to play through all four chapters in one sitting. Now, obviously, the deeper you get into this game the more of the story is revealed. In the interests of not ruining the game for you, I'll dance around some of the specifics I saw, because the story is actually pretty solid and interesting. Every time I'd think I had accomplished something, the Joker or Harley would flip the script and open up another can of worms.
Picking up from where we left off before, Batman's been locked in Arkham by the Joker, who has let all of the crazy criminals out. Now, Brucie's trying to track down Dr. Penelope Young, a doctor at the mental hospital who has been doing some questionable experiments that appear to be making those Doomsday-like creatures we all know from the trailers. To get to the bottom of this, Bats retires to the Batcave he has hidden away on the Arkham island -- that's right; he built a cave onsite some time ago -- and begins to unravel how Young's tied up in the Joker's scheme with the help of Oracle. Seems the Clown Prince of Crime is looking to get the Titan formula Young has discovered to create an army of mutants to take down Gotham. With another part of Joker's scheme cracked, Batman's on the hunt for Young, her super-secret formula, and the kidnapped warden.
As usual, this storyline led to fighting, and it was great. Lots of passersby will complain that you're just mashing the attack button in Batman, but there's so much more to it. I've already talked about directing your attacks on the fly with the joystick and leaping over enemies, but today I really began to feel in control of Batman's skills. When I'd enter an area -- be it the expansive outdoor campus of Arkham or the close-quarters of the isolation chambers -- I'd kick on Batman's Detective Vision and scope out the scene. The x-ray-like vision lets you see the location of your enemies, and if they pop up in red, that means they're packing heat. I'd hone in on those guys and take them out because they're the most dangerous. Some would get Silent Takedowns where Batman choked them out and left them on the ground, others would be hung from the gargoyles on the inside of the building, and other guys would just get a simple glide kick when they broke off on their own. Then, it was just a matter of taking the remaining henchmen out one at a time.
If two guys were together, I could run in and engage them both in fisticuffs, stun one with a batarang before slugging the other guy, or use the brand new Batclaw gadget. Now, seeing as Batman's been using his grappling gun from the first moment we all saw this game, the Batclaw might not sound that crazy, but here you can use the device to grab objects and yank them your way. You can move obstacles so you can progress, rip grates off the wall so you can use otherwise inaccessible passageways, and even snag enemies and drag them to the ground.
Batman also broke out the Cryptographic Sequencer for today's play session. I've talked about the Joker's annoying, electric force field doors before, and this little doodad actually allows Batman to override the governing boxes and make his way through the nuthouse. At one point, the Dark Knight entered a room and was immediately locked in. With Harley holed up in a reinforced viewing room, Batman was left with a number of guards suspended over pools of electrified water and a ticking time bomb. Our hero had to use the sequencer to disable the juice so that he could get the guards down safely. On top of all that, he had to hack the panel to the front door so the grounded guards could get out and not get blasted to bits.
Using that as a springboard, it's important to reiterate that Batman: Arkham Asylum isn't pulling that many punches. In the last preview, I talked about cops getting killed and Harley getting called a bitch and cited those as examples of the more graphic tone this game is going for. Today, I was presented with time-bomb dilemmas like the one above, but also a couple of hostage situations.
It was actually pretty disturbing to be Batman as Mr. Zsasz had Dr. Young in a chokehold with a knife to her back. I mean, this woman's mascara is running down her face and she's pleading with you to save her while Zsasz is screaming that he'll kill her if he sees you and the Joker is yelling at the blade-wielding psychopath over the intercom. Make the wrong decision like I did, and her blood's on your hands. There were more situations like this one -- at one point Joker was getting ready to gas some guys and I had to figure out a way down to save them -- and some truly cerebral stuff I'm not allowed to tell you about. In the end, all this made for a varied and enjoyable time that kept me on my toes.
I've always been looking forward to Batman: Arkham Asylum, but I've been looking forward with a healthy dose of trepidation because we all know how bad comic book games can go. After today's playthrough, I'm thoroughly pumped. There are issues I have with what I've seen -- there's a lot of screen tearing in the beginning of the game, NPCs have these giant bug eyes, and the lip syncing doesn't seem right at times -- but those issues aren't enough to damper my spirits. The story is interesting, the gameplay is fun, and Mark Hamill is still the man as Joker.
I'm not telling you that it's the Game of the Year or anything, but Batfans shouldn't be too worried about what they're going to end up with on August 25.
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