by Keaton Arksey
previewed on X360
A bad track-record
Unlike their movie counterparts, comic-based games rarely hit their mark. There are exceptions like Spider-Man 2, the X-men arcade game, and The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, but most games have never truly hit their stride. This summer, arguably the best movie ever to be based on a comic book saw the light with the release of The Dark Knight, an epic movie that made an obscenely high amount of money.
No Batman game ever met with the same success. In fact, we don’t know of a single Batman game that was worth playing. However, Rocksteady Studios, known for their work on Urban Chaos, and Eidos Interactive plan to change that trend with the release of Batman: Arkham Asylum on the PS3 and Xbox 360.
The game takes place in Gotham City’s Arkham Asylum, home to the criminally insane and -of course- to every super villain that Batman has had to deal with. After capturing The Joker (again), Batman transports him back to Arkham. The Joker eventually escapes his imprisonment and takes control of the asylum. It doesn’t take the world’s greatest detective to understand that an insane madman in control of a building full of some of the most dangerous criminals ever is a bad thing.
Along with the Joker, a cavalcade of villains and grunts stand to oppose Batman. Popular adversaries such as Joker ally Harley Quinn and the Riddler have already been confirmed to make a cameo but from the setting one would suspect that Batman mainstays such as Mr. Freeze, Two-Face, and The Penguin will also be in the game.
While Batman: Arkham Asylum is based on a well-known license, it is fairly unique in that it doesn’t coincide with the release of a movie. Considering the many poor quality movie tie-ins, we think this is a good thing, especially when you consider that the developers can make use of content used in other Batman media. Animated versions of Kevin Conroy as the dark knight himself and Mark Hamill as The Joker will appear in the game, both cast members from the amazing Batman: The Animated Series. Continuing the animated series trend, the plot was written by Paul Dini, writer for the series. The game will also use Danny Elfman’s original film score. Powering it all is the Unreal Engine III which provides the characters and game world with an extraordinary amount of detail and excellent lighting and reflection effects.
The fact that the game takes place entirely in Arkham Asylum does not mean that maps and environment will have limited diversity. One only has to consider that Arkham Asylum is situated on an island to know that the options are legion. The game will have an open world feel, allowing you to go anywhere on the island. Along with the asylum itself, the manor house and harbors will be available for exploration, not to mention that you can get above these areas as well.
So what’s a bat to do while he searches for his arch-nemesis? Fight cronies, of course! A Batman game would not be complete without the usual punch-punch-kick combo’s but this has been deepened by an experience system that unlocks signature bat-moves and ‘invisible predator’ moves. The Bat will need them too. Enemies will make good use of their environment, ripping objects from walls and destroying the environment in various other ways. By doing so, they quickly change the situation, requiring the player to find a different approach that originally planned.
Putting the fear into your foes
You will be depending on stealth and cunning rather than raw power for about fifty percent of the game. You can for example grapple your way to a perch on the roof and descend (upside down, of course) to snatch a grunt unbeknownst to his allies. Being stealthy will also affect the enemy AI, making them more jumpy and full of angst after a couple of their friends disappear into the dark. Don’t expect a Splinter Cell like emphasis on stealth though, as combat is still encouraged.
Obviously Batman wouldn’t be Batman without his gadgets, and those will also be at your disposal to dispatch bad guys. Your inventory will be filled with cool little items such as Batarangs for attacking enemies from afar, explosive gel for punching holes in walls and grappling hooks for reaching otherwise inaccessible points.
Batman isn’t just a crime fighter, he is also a detective. At any point during the game can enter a ‘detective mode’ that overlays the screen with a filter that points out things of interest. Using this screen, Batman is able to for instance pick up a trail of pheromones from a person while tracking them, or find new grappling points that help him traverse vertically. Along with the aforementioned pheromone detector, X-ray goggles and heat tracers are also included.
Doing him proud
Batman: Arkham Asylum looks like it will make us all forget about some of the aweful Batman-game missteps. With a healthy mix of puzzle solving, combat, stealth, and exploration, it looks like it will do the Dark Knight proud.