Batman: Arkham Asylum - hands-on

Could this be the best super-hero game ever?

But when it’s time to get your hands dirty it’s like controlling a whole new character. Combat is timing based, reminiscent of the Onimusha series’ ‘Issen’ counters. As you punch and kick, foes behind or to the side will move in for a strike when your guard is down. This is indicated by a lightning bolt above their heads, which is your cue to pull a counter. With each counter your combo meter rises and you perform more elaborate attacks (some of which are unlocked via the upgrade system) and are able to perform additional moves, such as throws.

It sounds simplistic but getting the timing right takes practice, and the results are hugely entertaining. The grace and fluidity of the animation is incredible and Batman has countless reactions to enemy attacks – from blocking to counters to sweeping legs away and side-stepping. As Batman would, he makes the Joker’s lumbering thugs look ridiculous as he effortlessly whips around them and takes them out. They only ever get the better of him when they attack in packs… which they often do.

And sometimes they’re armed, which is where the Silent Predator mode comes in. It only takes one burst of gunfire to kill Batman, so to deal with packs of rifle-toting guards you have to use stealth. The aforementioned grappling hook is perfect for staying out of their line of sight and watching their movements, while Batman has a range of silent stealth attacks you can perform.

The trick is to wait for the guards to separate and pick them off one by one, knocking them unconscious or hanging them from the rafters by a rope – an ability you can unlock later in the game. The problem is, the more guards go missing, the more the others get spooked. And when they’re nervous they’re a lot more dangerous, often firing blindly into the shadows. Luckily you have Detective Mode, which lets you see foes through walls to easily track their movement. It even shows you their heart rate and mood (calm, nervous etc.) so you can figure out how much of a threat they are before you act.

And Detective Mode is also used for, well, detecting. This is an aspect of Batman rarely explored in games ­– he is, after all, ‘the world’s greatest detective’. Between exploration, fights and stealth sections you have to scan specially designated areas for clues. For example, in one scene you’re tracking down a corrupt guard called Boles. Boles has a drinking problem and carries a hip flask of whiskey around with him. To trace his movements, Batman finds the abandoned flask, scans the alcohol content and then uses this to pick up his trail. The detective bits don’t have the same depth and detail of the Condemned games, but that’s what they’re closest to in terms of design. Early clue-hunting is relatively easy, but the developers promise it’ll get harder as the game goes on, with red herrings designed to mislead Batman.

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