Preview: Batman – Arkham Asylum
Yesterday I was lucky enough to head down to Roxys’ bar in London to get a hands on preview of Rocksteadys latest game; Batman – Arkham Asylum. Around 60 people were at the event plus a good number of the development team were hanging around as well to ensure that any questions anybody had were answered, although there was quite a lot that they didn’t really want to talk about. There were a good number of demo pods set up around the room for both PS3 and Xbox 360 which meant we didn’t have to wait for long to get to play the game, hit the jump for my impressions of the game which I tried out on the Xbox 360.
For those of you that don’t already know Batman – Arkham Asylum takes place over the course of one night in and around the famed Arkham Asylum which the Joker and his cronies have taken over and let loose some of Gotham Cities most dangerous super villains. The script was co-written by Paul Dini, who has not only written a lot of more popular Batman animated series of recent years, he also collaborated with Kevin Smith on the short lived Jay and Silent Bob animated series and he is a writer and story editor on Lost. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill voice Batman and the Joker respectively which I thinks great because they have been providing the voices of those characters for years in the animated series.
Before we could get our hands on the game we were treated to a 30 minute walk through of a never before seen section of the game. We were told that the level we were seeing begins around an hour into the game with Batman on the trail Harley Quinn who has taken Commissioner Gordon hostage and dragged him deeper into the Asylum. The level begins with Batman attacking a group of thugs who are trying, rather unsuccessfully to break into the Batmobile. Once the thugs have been dispatched of Batman picks up some explosive gel from the boot of Batmobile before The Oracle informs him that he is going to have to do some detective work if he wants to track down The Joker and Gordon. Detective work is carried out by simply tapping RB (on 360) which changes the screen to the ‘Invisible Predator’ mode that you will have seen if you’ve watched any of the videos that have already been released. When you’re in Predator mode the screen looks like an x-ray, enemies are skeletons and intractable items and points of interest all glow red. The predator mode also allows you to see how nervous an enemy is, as soon as you start taking down guards, the others will get nervous and start to move a bit and are more likely to fire wildly when they think they see you.
On the ground next to you there is a pile of tobacco which Batmans scanner recognises as Gordons’ favourite brand, examining the tobacco reveals a path that he has laid for you to follow, following the path inside Batman is led into a room where some doctors are being held hostage and several guards are patrolling the area, using the Batclaw, Batman rappels into the rafters of the room to give to get a better view of what’s going on and keeps himself hidden from would be attackers. Once you’re in the rafters it’s easy to rappel around the ceiling from gargoyle to gargoyle in order to line yourself up for an attack but it if you’re playing properly rather than rushing in it can take a little while for that perfect opportunity to arise. The guy playing the game showed us a number of ways to kill enemies; planting explosive gel on a wall before blowing it up to knock the enemies out on the other side, gliding down towards an enemy before striking him with both your feet and throwing him into a wall and quietly rappelling down behind the enemy and choking them into unconsciousness before escaping into the rafters once more. Once all of the doctors had been saved, the door was unlocked and Batman could continue on his mission. Stealth is the name of the game in these sections, the guy playing through the demo made it quite clear that Batman is only human, and if bullets start hitting him he’s going to die, and quickly. One thing to note is that you are made fully aware that Batman isn’t killing the thugs, he is simply rendering them unconscious, albeit using very violent mean like breaking bones and smashing their faces off of walls. The next room was filling with poison gas and Batman had to work quickly to to find three buttons around the room to activate some vents to drain the room and save a doctor and a security guard trapped within, the room contained a solitary guard who was stuck on a rope in the middle of the room, we were told that you had the choice here of ignoring him because he didn’t pose any real threat or trying to attack him, the person playing the game chose to cut the rope with a Batarang send the guard crashing through the roof of small building below him, it’s refreshing to see the amount of choice that the game appears to grant you, personally I was worried that the game was going to be a standard grappler with stealth elements but this doesn’t appear to be the case, at least not from the footage we were shown. Once the room had been vented the security guard led Batman to a lift where the play through ended and we were allowed to get our hands on the game. One of my favorite parts of the play through wasn’t a game play element it was the Joker appearing regularly on video screens and talking over the Arkham PA systems to taunt Batman or yell at his cronies which really gives the impression that he is in control and your playing his game as Batman is led deeper and deeper into the Asylum for reasons yet to be revealed. Mark Hamill does a great Joker and it’s great to see that they are using him used to his full potential rather than just having the Joker turn up every now and then in cut scenes.
We were given the choice of playing either the E3 demo which features the first 20 minutes of the game, up until what I can assume is the first boss, or we could try out one of the challenge rooms. I choose to give the challenge rooms a go because I’d already seen the E3 demo but I’d yet to see any of the challenge rooms. The challenge rooms are split into two categories, either stealth where you have to take out all of the guards in a particular room without alerting anybody else as quickly as possible or straight out fighting where you take on a set number of enemies and acquire a high score by chaining together combos as you take the enemies down. I choose to have a go at fighting and it felt really good to play, the first thing that I noticed about the fighting was how fluid it was, simple button presses and combos was all it took to get Batman to pull off some impressive looking moves as he took down the thugs with on screen symbols pointing out the thugs that were about to you so you always knew who to focus on. The fights are more like brawls than anything else with Batman throwing enemies left to right and administering slow, heavy punches and kicks rather than complex martial arts moves. You can use the Batclaw to grab hold of distant enemies and pull them closer to you before smacking them into the floor or you can use Batarangs to knock enemies to the floor in order to get some much needed breathing space. In the order to keep the challenge rooms competitive, your score in the challenge rooms will be uploaded and put on an on-line leader board ensuring that they remain popular long after people have finished the main quest.
The graphics in the game are absolutely superb, colours are well used and it looks like they’ve gone to great lengths to ensure the game doesn’t just look like a lot of browns and greys like some recent AAA titles. The characters are all based off of Jim Lee’s artwork who is my favourite artist when it comes to the Batman comics, they all look larger than life but also they look realistic enough to keep them grounded in a realistic looking world of Gotham. I noticed that throughout the play through the Batsuit got ripped in a few places and these rips stayed on throughout the duration of the demo, even in the cut scenes which is a nice little touch that you don’t often see, even in the bigger titles. Arkham Asylum itself makes for a stunning setting for the game, dark and foreboding the Gothic interior of the asylum not only looks lived in but also like there has been some very strange experiments carried out over the years. Arkham reminded me of Nova Prospekt, the prison in Half Life 2 where humans where taken to be turned into Stalkers, an old Gothic building filled with modern technology where you know some terrible things have been carried out although the influence of Bioshock cannot be ignored, it’s quite clear the artist were drawing inspiration from a lot of the big games from the past few years. They’ve yet to show much more of the game, although they have said that you will be seeing all of Arkham, inside, outside and in the sewers and caves underneath. If they can keep the same high production values throughout the game at the very least we are in for a stunning adventure.
In a brief Q & A session at the end of the day it was revealed that one of the games achievements involved Riddler puzzles that were scattered throughout the game, in every room you entered a box would pop up at the top of the screen with a riddle, in order to solve the riddle you would have to scan an item hidden somewhere in the environment and we were told that if you were a fan of the Batman comics then this would help you solve them. The question of exclusive DLC was also brought up, especially with regards to the exclusive Joker levels included within the Playstation 3 version of the game, as far as Rocksteady knew the Joker was a PS3 exclusive and there is no plans to bring him to the Xbox 360 at all, I still wouldn’t be surprised to see him turn up in a future piece of DLC for the title a couple of months down the line. The Joker isn’t the only piece of exclusive content though, depending on where you choose to pre-order the game you could end up with any one of a number of exclusives:
- Game gets a Villain Challenge Map to download
- Play.com has got an armoured Batsuit to be used within the Challenge Maps
- Gamestation gets a 16 page prequel comic detailing the events leading up to Arkham Asylum
- HMV has a limited edition sleeve and Joker poster.
Not to mention there is also the Collectors edition box set that includes an Arkham Doctors Journal profiling some of the super villains held within it’s walls (which I was given at the event yesterday), not to mention the full size Batarang which they were showing off yesterday and it does look damn cool. Decisions decisions.
The only two concerns that I have about the game at the moment are the amount of Batmans enemies that are hinted to appear, we already know about The Joker, Harley Quinn, Bane, Killer Croc and Poison Ivy the Journal I was given lists a lot more of Batmans adversaries that may be showing up in the game which I won’t spoil. I hope this isn’t a confirmation of who’s going to appear, Batman villains are some of my favourite comic book villains and I hope they can flesh out the ones that do appear rather than relegate them to simple boss battles in order to get all the old favorites in. The other concern I have is repetition, the game is going to get very boring, very quickly if all you doing throughout the duration of the game is going from room to room, climbing the rafters then sneakily taking out everyone in the room before moving on. Here’s hoping they find some interesting way to vary up the game play.
We’re not going to have to wait to find out if the game lives up to all the potential that I saw yesterday, it’s released in the UK on the 28th August with a US release around the same time.