The Dark Knight was arguably the best film of 2008, now the inevitable video-game cash-in is in sight; is this a real tribute to Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece? Or does it just flop and wave in the air, like the cape of the dark crusader. Batman Arkham Asylum is quite possibly, one of the best games this year, well that’s the impression I got. Now a demo has been released, we can get a real taste of what to expect from AA (or B:AA, but it sounds like Bah, and I don’t like being a sheep) and boy, oh boy, have we got a big chewy chunk of Batman. No, not in a sexual way.
Arkham Asylum tells the tale of a trapped Batman. After capturing the Joker, Batman takes him to Arkham island to be locked up. But it is all a trap, as Joker’s mistress Harley Quinn has somehow bust into the security controls and stuff, and shuts down the island. Batman must defeat new enemies and old in order to capture the Joker, and stop the madness on Arkham. The demo doesn’t give us much information about the plot or story, but it does introduce a few characters, it sets the scene and the ending to the demo is the best tease you could come up with.
As far as the story goes, it’s almost like a classical Batman graphic novel, a good plot for any Batman thing. If it was a movie, it would be great, if it was a comic book, it would be great but as game it is awesome. After playing this short demo you can obviously see that the developers have slaved over every single detail to make it as Batman authentic as possible. All the villains, the look, the style and even the way Batman’s cape flows in the wind. It’s all so brilliantly detailed, and we’re only giving ourselves a brief taste of what to expect from the full Arkham experience. God knows what awaits us.
The voice cast are top of the line, possibly some of the best I’ve heard and probably the best cast you could ever get to voice a Batman video-game. Every line is delivered with emotion, laughter and it all pings at just the right moments. You can tell that the cast really got into this, and most of the actors actually come from the early 90’s and early 2000’s animated series of Batman. Kevin Conroy voices Batman, and echoes some light charms from the early Tim Burton films. Mark Hamill just dazzles me on how chilling he sounds as the Joker. He doesn’t exactly give it in a Heath Ledger way, but he gives his own unique and brilliant performance as Joker.
Most of the time in Arkham Asylum, you’ll be planning or preparing for attacks. These large room ‘predator’ experiences are linked in between by either set pieces or cut scenes. That’s the impression I got from the demo anyway, and although it sounds linear it will most certainly be spiced up somehow. There’s talk of a huge Arkham main hub, in which Batman has to navigate around to find the next villain to defeat. Planning and preparing for attacks is like hyping yourself up for a game, it can be exciting, thrilling and when it comes. It’s just awesome.
You move Batman around, and then scale high ledges, gargoyles and other stuff with the grappling hook, at a tap of the R1/RB button. You can then look down and survey your enemies, even open up the detective mode to track their movements and current state of mind, then even Batarang someone with a quick tap of the L1/LB, or hold it down to fully aim. With your enemies dazed from a Batarang attack, if you hit them in the head; if you don’t then they’re just injured, then you have to go over and fully knock them out. This is done by a quick R2 + Triangle or RT + Y. It’s simple to do, the animation is satisfying and it balances the game.
Combat is weird, like REALLY weird. There’s only ONE button to attack (which is Square/ X), and one button to counter (Triangle/Y). But strangely enough I think this is one of the best ‘beat-up’ systems in any video-games ever. For starters, it’s simple and you don’t need to learn every combination to master the game (you can mix up counter + attack though). Second, there’s a gazillion animations so you’ll never tire of it and finally, there is a real sense of intensity while facing off against seven thugs. You juggle each of them and it’d be hard to do it with a complex fighting system.
What can I complain about? Go play the demo, and you might understand. There is a few points that I will raise though, just to be fair and unbiased. Batman sort of looks silly, and the whole grappling hook is slightly overpowered. The cast and crew obviously do a phenomenal job of voice acting, but the actual dialogue is messy and too quick paced. There’s also some glitches too: I played the demo and was able to silently takedown (quick tap of Triangle/Y) a guy who was JUST behind another guard. There’s also quicktime events but I’m just nitpicking by now.
If you want to check out the demo, and get a taste of Arkham Asylum. Go download the demo on PSN and Xbox Live now if your in the UK and tomorrow if you’re in the US.