Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Preview: Batman: Arkham Asylum

Based on the demo, Batman: Arkham Asylum is looking like a mixed bag where some elements have been executed perfectly, going leaps and bounds above expected quality, while other parts are shocking failures that boggle the mind. But unless something goes horribly wrong in the final product, Arkham Asylum seems like it could finally topple Batman Returns for the SNES for the title of "best Batman game ever."

For one thing, the game is strikingly gorgeous. Every character looks really great and Arkham Asylum isn't afraid to prove that to you through boring close-up after boring close-up whenever you talk with another character. The only problem with the presentation is that enemies don't pop out against the environment enough unless you keep Batman's crazy x-ray vision goggles on all the time.

"Detective mode" allows you to switch into a visual style ripped straight from the sonar sequences from The Dark Knight, letting you see enemy locations through walls and assess the environment. The game is practically broken without it since enemies blend in so well otherwise, and puzzles have the potential to boil down to being as simple throwing on your goggles to see what glows orange. Hopefully the developers didn't go the lazy route.

Getting accurate updates on where your enemies are and what they're doing is really important since combat consistently leaves you feeling either overpowered or severely underpowered. Against unarmed enemies, it feels like the game could throw dozens of enemies at me and I wouldn't need to bat an eye. The mix between last generation Prince of Persia's handling of multiple enemies and Assassin's Creed's countering system works too well. That is, unless you're dealing with armed enemies, in which case you need to use stealth.

It seems like the game will really shine when it locks you in a room with a bunch of enemies and gives you complete freedom over how you want to dispatch them. I've replayed that section of the demo countless times now, imposing different rules on myself to shake things up, and that's where the beauty of this game is so apparent.

I'll tell myself to get only silent takedowns, to forgo using detective mode, to avoid using the grappling hook, to go as quickly as possible, to strike as much fear as possible, to do glide kicks on everyone, to take down each enemy in a different way from the others, to get all inverted takedowns, to stay on one floor the entire time, and the list goes on. And on. It's so fun to keep thinking up new ways to challenge myself that the replay value seems near infinite, and this is just the demo.

I've got to say, the demo really sold me on this game. It looks like it's definitely going to have flaws when it releases on August 25, but the groundwork is there for an absolutely amazing Batman game.


  1. I didn't have an issue with the enemies blending into the background, as I completely ignored detective mode throughout my various playthroughs of the demo. I did, however, restrict myself in certain ways when I came to the final room. If more variety is added in enemies, and larger rooms added with more twists and turns in them, I think this game will be an incredibly solid title.

  2. Really? In detective mode it's super easy to see everybody because they glow red. Maybe it's because my TV is pretty small for an HDTV. But I don't know, enemies just weren't popping out enough for me.

  3. Oh no, it's definitely easier to see the enemy in detective mode, I can't deny that. I just rarely used it because it made everything else look awkward, and I felt more like Batman without it. I'd have to check around myself often and be aware of all the enemies at one time, so I just thought it was more fun without.

    I can see how the bad guys might blend in too. They're all pretty darkly colored, and their outfits don't do much to prevent it...

  4. Yeah, playing without definitely feels a lot more like Batman. They probably should've limited the effects of detective mode. I'm just a big fan of trippy game art styles like Rez and WipEout HD, so it's fun playing a traditional sort of game with a crazy art style. I wish more games did something like that.

  5. As a side note, I noticed that I accidentally wrote that Batman Forever was the best Batman game ever, and then the Internet for my entire neighborhood went down for a couple hours. I'm pretty sure I lost all credibility in that time.

    I've since updated with Batman Returns as the greatest.