Batman: Arkham Asylum – first-look

The Caped Crusader has had something of a dodgy past both on the silver screen and in games. From the ace 1989 Tim Burton gothic epic that grossed over a quarter of a billion dollars domestically to the franchise-murdering Joel Schumacher colour-saturated camp-fest Batman & Robin that barely limped past the $100 million marker, Bruce Wayne and his crime-fighting alter-ego haven’t had it easy.

That was until three years ago when Brit director Christopher Nolan delivered a knockout back-to-basics Batman that put one of DC’s darkest characters to the forefront of superhero films. He followed it with this year’s blistering sequel, The Dark Knight, the second-highest grossing film of all time – surpassing George Lucas’ Star Wars saga. For the most part, any game that was released alongside each Batman movie has been a disappointment: the one possible exception being Sunsoft’s ’89 platforming brawler. With EA failing to cash in on The Dark Knight gaming licence and reportedly losing over $100 million by doing so – despite developer Pandemic’s involvement being the worst kept secret in gaming history – Bat-fans did not expect to see Gotham’s finest in a videogame for an age.

Enter London-based developer Rocksteady Studios, who, with just one well-received PS2 title under its belt (Urban Chaos: Riot Response), set fanboy pulses racing with news that it’s hard at work on a Batman game not born of comic, film or TV show. The focal point of this game is on Gotham’s sinister nuthouse, the baddest madhouse in comic book land. Billed as Batman meets The Chronicles of Riddick and BioShock, the third-person Unreal Engine 3-powered actioner pits Batman against his greatest enemy, The Joker, alongside an asylum full of other classic comic book villains including Killer Croc, Penguin, The Riddler, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze, Zsasz and The Joker’s lady-love, Harley Quinn.

When looking at the haunting screens, one thing is for sure: Rocksteady is striving for an adult take on Bob Kane’s character, leaving the cartoonish antics to Traveller’s Tales. While the bulk of the story and its deep twists and turns are being kept under lock and key for now, the licence held by Eidos includes all 69 years of Bat-history with The Joker surrendering himself to Batman and the law, and the taking over of Arkham Asylum serving as the game’s narrative backbone. And despite sharing a title with Scotsman Grant Morrison’s seminal Batman graphic novel, Arkham Asylum, that’s where the similarity ends. That isn’t to say Morrison’s brooding, brilliant book wouldn’t be worth reading (alongside The Last Arkham and Arkham Asylum: Living Hell) to get a sense of the direction that Rocksteady is currently taking things.

As rumours abound that Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill (yes, Luke Skywalker), the vocal talent behind the Emmy-award-winning Batman The Animated Series are being primed to reprise the voiceover duties of Batman and The Joker respectively, Arkham Asylum is stepping out of the shadows swinging. With scribe Paul Dini signed up for story duties (another veteran of the spectacular Animated Series) this could be the Batman game that finally eradicates all memory of the soulless cash-ins of yesteryear and heralds a brand-new start for the Dark Knight.

Played out through an over-the-shoulder perspective, you’ll explore every inch of Arkham Asylum, battling the aforementioned villains and fighting The Joker’s hulking thugs who, as you can see from the screens, show a little resemblance to the maniacs found in Rockstar’s murder sim, Manhunt. With combat confined to just three buttons – attack, stun and throw – you’d be forgiven for thinking that this facet of the gameplay mechanic could turn out to be extremely shallow (The Bourne Conspiracy springs to mind). Not so says, Rocksteady.

The decision to map fighting moves using a combination of button presses works really well. It helps create a sense of fluidity by avoiding complicated combos that would be forgotten in the frenzy of combat. To augment these, Rocksteady has implemented an upgrade system that allows you to add new abilities to Batman’s arsenal of attacks, such as swifter takedowns and multiple Batarangs to sling. Earning points is achieved by chaining moves together, and once you’ve done so, a slick animation that involves a colony of bats swarming around Batman kicks in before being tallied to your experience meter.

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  • volrath46656 - November 16, 2008 10:35 a.m.

    Sorry Batman, I've given up on you. GR's review is the only thing that can save you now...
  • Maxstats69 - November 7, 2008 4:18 a.m.

    I hope this game turns out to be as good as the preview in GI made it seem. I can just remember all the times I've seen previews for Batman and Superman games that I had such high hopes for only to watch them turn out to be garbage.
  • skyguy343 - October 5, 2008 4:23 p.m.

    i wish the flash could get this much attention
  • MacGyver1138 - October 2, 2008 4:29 p.m.

    If this game can essentially feel like the Riddick game with more acrobatic combat, and the detective part of it doesn't feel tacked on, this could be quite good.
  • chilipeppersman - October 1, 2008 4:02 a.m.

    Blade1006: "This game looks awesome but hopefully it won't be rated M so I can actually play it" lol. i hope this game is rated M, and it better cause it will capture the feel of the batman universe just like chronicles of riddick did.(I love that game)
  • idlemindkiller - September 28, 2008 9:41 p.m.

    im not 100% but i think it comes out next aug. i want this game to be good so bad!!!!!!!
  • Defguru7777 - September 28, 2008 12:08 a.m.

    Sorry about the double post. Lag.
  • Defguru7777 - September 28, 2008 12:07 a.m.

    Good. Now I can stop saying that LEGO Batman is the best Batman game. ... I'm totally not playing that right now. Ooh, more studs!
  • Defguru7777 - September 28, 2008 12:06 a.m.

    Good, now I can stop saying that LEGO Batman is the best Batman game. ... I'm totally not playing that right now. OOO! More studs!
  • JosephCh - September 27, 2008 10:16 p.m.

    Game looks moce, but doesn't Batman look a bit over-inflated?
  • altair17 - September 27, 2008 6:53 a.m.

    finally a batman game dat looks good
  • drprofessor - September 27, 2008 12:29 a.m.

    I cant wait for this game. Hpoefully will make up for the river of shitfest batman games.
  • leaderdude - October 12, 2008 2:44 a.m.

    i for one am glad that there finnaly making a good batman game lol as i am writting this comment i am jsut about to watch the dark knight
  • sloppy - October 3, 2008 2:32 p.m.

    You want to sign up through my site and get a free gift. No cash? that's okay you don't need any! want an ipod, iphone, 360, wii, ps3, psp, ds, all you need to do is to complete 1 offer which can be the Lovefilm DVD free trial or block buster free trial!
  • wiz0floyd - October 1, 2008 2:02 a.m.

    Looks good. And I think that the "look" for Batman is perfect. That may have to do with the fact that I've read Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again about 10 times each.
  • Blade1006 - September 30, 2008 10:10 p.m.

    This game looks awesome but hopefully it won't be rated M so I can actually play it
  • jamboy199three - September 28, 2008 11:23 a.m.

    looking good is there a release date yet 9th
  • JosephCh - September 27, 2008 10:17 p.m.

    Eh, moce = nice ...
  • Shellghost - September 27, 2008 6:08 a.m.

    This game looks amazing, finaly there is going to be a good Movie-to-Game transition. :)
  • Dantesan666 - December 25, 2008 6:17 a.m.

    I want to play this one, lets just hope its not as disappointing as Batman Begins, and if it is, at least i'm satisfied with the way it looks. No to shabby at all.