Batman: Arkham Asylum - hands-on

Think of a great superhero game. No, not a good one — there are plenty of those around — but one as essential as, say, Grand Theft Auto IV or BioShock. You’re struggling, right? That’s because there aren’t any. Or rather there weren’t any until Batman: Arkham Asylum came along. After an extensive hands-on, exploring the majority of the enormous Arkham Island – we’ve come to the conclusion that not only is this Batman’s best game to date, but quite possibly the best superhero game ever made. A bold claim, but one we think you’ll agree with the moment you take your first tentative steps into the foreboding darkness of Gotham’s legendary loony bin.

The first thing you notice is how it looks. Rather than cash in on the popularity of Christopher Nolan’s grimly “re-imagined” Batman universe, developers Rocksteady have drawn influences from the darker chapters of the Caped Crusader’s comic book adventures. “We wanted to create something totally authentic”, explains game director Sefton Hill. “We were inspired by the psychological elements of the Batman comics, the detective elements. We see Batman as a kind of mythological figure to the villains. And we wanted you to feel like that.”

The result is an extraordinarily evocative setting – the exaggerated gothic architecture of the asylum being a particular highlight – and a cast of bold, vividly designed characters. But rather than simply ape the comic book artists, the villains in Arkham Asylum have all had radical makeovers. We’re sworn to secrecy about exactly who makes an appearance, but we can say that this is the Batman universe as you’ve never seen it before. The developers have taken the best of 70 years of Batman history and given it its own rich identity.

But perhaps the most fascinating character is Arkham itself. The environments are enormous, varied and stuffed with detail – from elaborately decorated hallways and dreary cell blocks to the moonlit bay of Gotham City and the giant gothic spires silhouetted on its horizon. The game may be set entirely on Arkham Island, but rather than be limited by this the art team have created a broad selection of colours and moods – in the same way that the Dead Space team made each deck of the Ishimura feel distinct.

There are also numerous references to the Batman universe that fans will lap up, such as ‘Vote Harvey Dent’ stickers inside guard towers, newspaper articles detailing events from the comic books strewn on the floor and even patient interview tapes you can play in the background as you explore. These not only help to flesh out the characters and give the story context, but also immerse you completely in the world. Arkham is as complete and fertile a setting as the depths of Rapture or the streets of Liberty City. An incredible feat.

But what good are lush environments if they’re no fun to move around in? Mercifully Rocksteady have nailed the feeling of ‘being’ Batman. What makes the Dark Knight such an effective crime fighter is his mixture of light-footed agility and brutish strength. With the help of your grappling hook, getting around is a breeze. You can latch onto pretty much any surface and pull yourself towards it. This lets you swoop and clamber effortlessly around the levels, using your cape to glide across gaps. The controls are brilliantly smooth and the thrill of silently leaping between rooftops and guard towers above the oblivious enemy never fades.


  • nadrewod999 - August 14, 2009 6:52 a.m.

    Definitely getting this via pre-order on the PS3 for 3 reasons: 1, I don't have many PS3 games right now; 2, I have played the demos of both the fighting and the story, and was just stunned; and 3, I GET TO PLAY AS THE MADMAN HIMSELF! THAT ALONE IS ENOUGH REASON TO GET IT!
  • Roze - August 12, 2009 11:33 p.m.

    this game looks tooooo sick
  • jigsaw21 - August 11, 2009 7:53 p.m.

  • boxmeizter - August 6, 2009 10:46 p.m.

  • Seabread - August 4, 2009 1:41 p.m.

    Batman for NES was AWESOME > great Didn't know Riddler was in it (well, i did but only cos i read it on imdb) no other sites have stated he's in it so i hope that's not a slip by GR - I'd hate to see them hit with a fine for disclosure. Have PS3 but will prbably get for 360 as not arsed bout Joker exclusive bollocks plus i prefer playing games on sexbox.
  • Elbo444 - August 3, 2009 6:54 p.m.

    I played a demo for this at target last week, it was just beating up waves of enemies in a small room so all I got to try was combat but it was awesome
  • IIIJabbaIII - August 3, 2009 5:11 p.m.

    I still think that the best superhero game ever was superman 64...I mean you could fly through rings as superman...what could be better than that? But seriously this game looks awesome, I'm definitely getting this one
  • GameraTheGreat - August 3, 2009 3:28 a.m.

    The title of best super-hero video game could be considered quite subjective. Radical’s “The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction” and THQ’s “The Punisher” rank number one and two for me (in the same order)…Activision’s X-men Origins: Wolverine is a close third followed by Activision’s Spidey: Web of Shadows. Batman would have to go a looong way in order to top these four games IMO. There will be many that will try hoist Batman into the category of “best superhero game”, but much of that sentiment will be attributable to the popularity of the recent movies…. The Bat-fans will tout the story no doubt (which I am sure will be decent), but three of the four games I just mentioned were created with close Marvel partnerships and expanded on storylines/villains/characterizations well before Arkham came along and received little fan-fare. I have been an avid comic collector for some thirty years (a gamer for twenty-five +) and I am sure I will enjoy the game, but I will reserve calling it the “best” for after I play through the entire experience. Let's not get ahead of ourselves....
  • waynski1457 - August 2, 2009 10:45 p.m.

    Every time I see this game, I think back to that top 7 you guys did and how exciting you mad a new Batman sound. It's like they used that as their design document. I really, really want to play this!
  • Corsair89 - August 2, 2009 6:51 a.m.

    This game has more potential than any super hero game I've ever seen, but I'm still hesitant to get into the hype until I see some results when it does come out. I'll start believing if it gets 9's and 10's from many different sites and reviewers.
  • OddWoN ER - August 1, 2009 12:04 a.m.

    looks awesome! sad about bane though...i just thought of numerous other ways to fight him, whilst involving pulling the tubes... and shame about the joker maps.. :( hope this lasts atleast 20 hours...not to long...but long enough :)
  • PhantomOfKrankor - July 31, 2009 9 p.m.

    I played the demo at Best Buy. It was really good! I'm getting it for sure!
  • Cyberninja - July 31, 2009 8:14 p.m.

    i wish i had a ps3 now :(
  • TanookiMan - July 31, 2009 6:14 p.m.

    I almost cried when this got pushed back, but I'm willing to wait if it's as good as it looks. Great preview
  • walrusthewill - July 31, 2009 5:56 p.m.

    hey, dont say there arnt any good superhero games, look at Marvel Ultimate alliance and x-men origins wolverine(not excellent), they were pretty good games, this is deeper than x-man wolverine, but i dont think its deep enought. it will get great reviews but no one will buy it
  • Eureka - July 31, 2009 5:55 p.m.

    *hope it lives up to its potential.
  • jigsaw21 - August 11, 2009 7:44 p.m.

    Just let kick Jokers ass already!
  • EffinChrys - August 9, 2009 9:38 p.m.

    I like Spider-Man!! But in an unrelated note, I played the demo for this game on PS3. I've never been big on Batman but it looks like a fun game.
  • Freddy - August 6, 2009 7:43 p.m.

    This game looks sweet. I'm deffinetly buying this for myself, and my wife lol
  • cart00n - August 5, 2009 11:56 p.m.

    @ walrusthewill: "it will get great reviews but no one will buy it" What are you smoking? If a Batman game got great reviews, what makes you think it wouldn't sell? Batman is part of our culture, even people who've NEVER read a comic book know who Batman is. Most of his games have been hits, and they mostly SUCKED, so why would a Batman game that got great reviews NOT be a hit? Your logic makes no sense to me.

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