Batman: Arkham Asylum - updated impressions

We're about to commit what some geek groups would consider heresy: Maybe the world was better off not having a game based on The Dark Knight, Batman's wildly successful and delightfully dismal summer movie outing from last year. Yes, we saw the movie (four times, thanks, and that's not counting IMAX viewings); yes, we loved it. But what are the chances a rushed-through-development movie tie-in would have actually been good? That's where Batman: Arkham Asylum steps in. It’s a next-gen Batman game wonderfully free of any time-sensitive movie, television, or comic book tie-ins that would push it out the door too early.

The development team at Rocksteady Studios understands the lesson learned from previous Batman games; they know they can't rely on the badass mystique of the caped crusader alone. Their goal when the game started development was to craft a title that would be a blast to play even if Batman and his always-entertaining rogues gallery were completely removed. Thus, in our latest look at Arkham Asylum, they skipped past the story elements we've already heard about – Batman follows a finally-captured Joker into the legendary halls of the Arkham Asylum penitentiary and then must clean up the chaos as Joker and his minions escape – and focused on the new "FreeFlow" combat system.

Associate Producer Nathan Whitman stressed to us that the game is not a beat-em-up, though Batman will certainly rock the faces of a great number of enemies throughout Arkham Asylum. Despite a seemingly simplistic three-button setup, players can jump from one enemy to another with ease. The largest group we saw Batman wipe out was only four bad guys deep, but Whitman says the final game should feature mobs of 15 to 20 guys for Batman to bounce between. A stylized experience bar in the upper left corner keeps track of how impressive your combo is and rewards the best players with experience bonuses, allowing even deadlier moves to be unlocked.

We were also told that different types of enemies will show up, requiring specific strategies to take them down. Unfortunately, we only got to check out a couple varieties - unarmed thugs and thugs with guns - but even with those two, differences in how they should be approached were evident. Batman may be a complete badass, but he still can't soak up very many bullets, so when machine gun-wielding criminals show up, it's time for the bat to take to the sky. Using the handy investigate mode, players can identify high spots that Batman can grapple to in order to survey the situation and figure out how to take out the bad guys one by one.

In one example we saw, the first villain was knocked out by a batarang to the back of the head. The next, patrolling unknowingly under a perfectly situated gargoyle, was grabbed and strung up by Batman hanging upside down from the grapple spot. With only one opponent left, the player was able to glide down and engage the final foe in hand-to-hand combat. 

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  • S3RIUS - July 21, 2009 10:45 p.m.

    dude i can't wait till i get this game
  • Samm - February 5, 2009 5:02 p.m.

    Im certain bane has to make an appearance, to satisfy us serious batman fans.
  • insertclevernamehere - February 3, 2009 9:55 p.m.

    Conroy and Hamill are great and all, but the fact Paul Dini is attached makes me giddy. He's the main reason the cartoon rocks and is THE reason I bother picking up Dective Comics every month.
  • iluvmyDS - February 2, 2009 6:56 p.m.

    Forgoing all caps and paragraphs. I have high hopes for this game. I just hope it doesn't pull an Afro Samurai on us all. Batman is a BAMF and should only be treated as such.
  • ChuckB - February 2, 2009 9:42 a.m.

    "Let's just hope that the ESRB decides not to rate it M. That would significantly reduce the game's audience."The reason I even mentioned it is because there was a little excerpt that it was going to be rated T. ...with all do respect, given the dark nature of the title (actually, you can say the same for The Dark Knight but then again, that was a movie), and given the complex design of the might just end up wasting their time. Even then, Batman's world would be so natural in that direction but the problem is that his world is also a childhood favorite so manly all the mainstream titles have been mostly safe, at least. But this isn't a mainstream Batman title so I really wish somebody would create some petition to have Rocksteady to take notice.
  • BishopofHippo93 - February 1, 2009 11:36 p.m.

    Let's just hope that the ESRB decides not to rate it M. That would significantly reduce the game's audience.
  • batman5273 - February 1, 2009 11:29 p.m.

  • Romination - February 1, 2009 5:45 p.m.

    i'm going to let myself get flamed for saying that Mark Hamill's Joker voice was what made the Joker what he was for the animated series, and he is better still than Heath Ledger. And I DID just go there
  • ChuckB - February 1, 2009 8:07 a.m.

    It's too bad it'll won't be gory and vulgar because this is the perfect time for Batman to enter M territory (seriously, how would you not see Killer Croc rip some guards in half or worst?)
  • Red - February 1, 2009 12:46 a.m.

    The idea of sandbox "rooms" sounds fun in theory, but how many possible scenarios can there possibly be? Eventually you're going to run out of new tricks to amuse yourself with as the game progresses. Pretty soon the only option you'll have left is to go about doing the same things over and over from different angles to keep things from getting stale.
  • tommyp923 - January 31, 2009 8:47 a.m.

    You rock Phil Kollar.
  • Z-man427 - January 31, 2009 7 a.m.

    i doubt this will be good. i just see an extremely boring and/or repetitive game captcha = Edith NOVELISTS. funny. my grandma, Edith is a published author
  • Kilr - January 31, 2009 5:14 a.m.

    It looks very promising, but its too easy to mess up a game like this. I have very high hopes that it lives up to the current hype that the new movies have given the batman series
  • sixboxes - January 31, 2009 5:04 a.m.

    The visuals already look to be a bit of a melding between live action and cartoon. The style alone has me hooked in, I just need solid gameplay to be completely sold. And I'm not one to usually do this, but recaptcha says: chasing society
  • Sebastian16 - January 31, 2009 4:57 a.m.

    I'm so happy Mark Hamill is voicing the Joker, his performance in the animated series (Complete DVD box set FTW!) was amazing. I will cherish this game even if by some crazy happening it turns out shit,
  • Dangeruss04 - January 31, 2009 1:58 a.m.

    this looks sick and it might be the first truly great superhero game
  • Stubbs7 - January 30, 2009 11:44 p.m.

    the fact that kevin conroy and mark hamill are doing the voices makes me want this game more i loved the animated series
  • RandyChimp - January 30, 2009 8:06 p.m.

    Sorry, but Kevin Conroy and Mark Hammil playing the main roles does nothing to denote the adult theme, as the cartoon was the only comic cartoon that featured real guns and violent death. It was technically the best thing to happen on television for kids, compared to, say, spiderman (laser guns and crappy villains). This game looks epic. Cant wait. But, first things first eh? Bring on Killzone 2 dammit!
  • MacGyver1138 - February 2, 2009 8:48 p.m.

    This game looks like it could be pretty good. If they get the controls down, and keep the game from getting repetitive, I think they'll have nailed it. Oh, and the two guys who typed in all caps with no punctuation, that is annoying. Type like normal people.
  • BishopofHippo93 - February 1, 2009 11:38 p.m.

    And did you guys really need to type in all caps to get your message across?

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