Batman: Arkham Asylum has quickly become the most hotly anticipated title of late summer. Feeding into this anticipation, Eidos has unleashed a demo of the game onto PSN and Xbox Live. I recently took the demo for a spin, and judging by its quality, Arkham Asylum should prove to be the best video game outing to date for Gotham’s Big Bad Bat.
As the demo begins, Batman has captured the Joker, and is escorting him to the titular complex. Once he arrives, the sequence (which I understand has been considerably shortened for the demo) takes a turn for the worse as the Joker escapes custody and reveals the whole capture to be an elaborate trap for “Bats”. The voice acting during this segment and the demo as a whole is phenomenal. This should be no surprise considering most of the cast from Batman: The Animated series has lent their vocal talents to the game, including Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker.
As the gameplay portion of the demo begins, Joker will send thugs your way who prove convenient punching bags. Standard combat in B:AA is very fluid, and subtly reminds me of the system present in Assassins Creed. The X/Square button throws standard attacks and pointing the left stick in the direction of the enemy you want to attack will allow you to quickly switch focus, allowing you to easily combat multiple enemies. The Y/Triangle button allows you counter enemy’s attacks, complete with great animations for the counter attacks. Pressing Right Trigger/R2 in combination with Y/Triangle will allow you to finish off grounded opponents. The animations present in combat are great, and do a great job of making you feel like The Dark Knight.
One of the best things about B:AA however, is that it focuses on Batman the master detective just as much as it focuses on Batman the badass. Pressing the left bumper/L1 button will enter detective mode, which allows you to enter Detective mode. This mode will allow you to see through walls, identify targets based upon whether they are armed or unarmed, see objects that are interactive in the environment, and see the condition of enemies. The demo tasks you with making good use of this system during a showdown with Mr. ZsasZ. It seems ZsasZ has captured a security guard, and is threatening to kill him if anyone approaches. Using your detective vision you’ll have to map out Gargoyles (which Batman can grapple up to) and make your way behind ZsasZ by grappling from one to the next. From there, you can perform a glide kick and knock him down.
The demo presents several opportunities like this, and it’s clear that the game will require brains as well as brawn. Luckily, you’ve got plenty of tricks up your sleeve. In addition to detective vision, Batman can silently creep up on enemies from behind and perform a silent takedown. He can also do an inverted drop from on high and capture an enemy, distracting others. All of these contribute significantly to bringing down the mental stability of the various enemies you’ll encounter.
As you thin down the number of enemies in a given area, the mental state of the remaining foes will begin to deteriorate. The more terrified the thug, the more erratic his behavior will become. Eventually, lone enemies will begin rambling, staggering through the halls, firing their weapons at shadows. This really adds to the immersion already present in spades.
Nothing adds more to this immersion, and to the overall game itself, than the Asylum itself. The environment is perfectly lived in and sufficiently creepy which adds a fantastic layer of psychology to the game. Even in the brief tour that the demo provides, you’ll be constantly expecting a surprise around every corner while making your ways down Arkham’s hallways. You really feel like Joker is in control and the demo does a great job of setting up what a disaster that proves to be for Batman.
Adding to this immersion even further is a journal feature which contains character profiles for all of the denizens you’ll run into during your stay at Arkham. Some of the profiles (Joker’s specifically in the demo, I assume the full game will contain many more) even have audio journals attached to them. Attention to detail like that will go a long way to drawing the player further into the world.
Overall, the demo managed to live up to my lofty expectations for the game. If the full game can manage to expand on the fantastic environments, the silky smooth combat, and add some great puzzles for the world’s greatest detective to solve, Eidos will certainly have a winner on its hands.