Hands-On Preview: The Joker's not crazy, he's just eccentric...
In a perfect world, The Dark Knight would have been prepared enough that Batman: Arkham Asylum
could have been released on June 23 as originally planned. But we don't live in a perfect world and instead of being able to spend the last month and a half with the full game, Batfans will have to be content with this demo version until the game's new August 25 release date.
The demo is made up of four areas of Arkham Asylum that are situated near the beginning of the game. As you know, the game centers around The Joker taking over the asylum (with Harley Quinn's help) and flooding the corridors with escapees from nearby Blackgate Penitentiary. These human punching bags populate the first area Batman investigates after The Joker pulls a disappearing act on the orderlies.
Right away I noticed that the controls felt a little stiff and kind of unBatman-like. Batman is supposed to be agile and quick; and sometimes even graceful. This Batman moves like a character from Resident Evil
and doesn't seem as fluid as the Batman seen in Batman: The Animated Series (which was created by one of Arkham Asylum's key developers, Paul Dini). He's also completely helpless against characters with guns (but more on that later).
However, while his movements feel stiff, Batman's fighting prowess makes up for it. Enemies can be slapped around with a combination of Quick Strikes, Cape Stuns and Batarang tosses. Which is well and good if you're taking on one enemy. But what about Batman's signature silent backhand to an approaching goon's jaw? That's here too with the Counter move. An Enemy that attempts to sneak up on Batman will have blue arrows flash above their head. Using the Counter move at that time will smack away the sneak attack while Batman continues to wail on his original target.
It's also possible to move quicker during combat by holding down the Run button. This combination of commands brings Batman more in line with his graceful ninja-like self, but it's a tad awkward to use Quick Strikes, Counters and hold down the Run button all at the same time.
Moving deeper into the demo (and the asylum), players will be treated to their first major Bat-villain: Victor Zsasz. Zsasz has kidnapped a guard and is threatening to kill him. This hostage situation is used to train players in the usage of Batman's grappling hook and using the Glide Kick maneuver to take out an enemy from above.
This is expanded in the third and fourth sections of the demo where Batman has to swing from stone gargoyles high in the ceiling to take out two groups of gun-wielding Joker henchmen. Being one with the shadows and knocking out enemies only to quickly disappear is pure Batman (sayeth Commissioner Gordon: "He does that."). This can even be used to make the other henchmen in the room more nervous as they discover the unconscious bodies of their comrades.
Silently attacking enemies is aided by the use of Detective Mode, an X-Ray vision addition to Batman's cowl that allows him to see through walls, identify grapple points and learn the technical specifications of the breaker boxes that power the door locks (you know that'll come into play in the full game). Detective Mode is neat, but I feel like I'm missing out on some of the visually impressive Arkham Asylum environments as Detective Mode is almost required when taking on goons with guns. Batman is more or less helpless against anyone packing heat and your standard henchman seems very overpowered compared to THE
One thing the game does get absolutely perfect is the mood of Batman's world. While it takes place in the confined... confines... of Arkham Asylum, the character of Gotham City from Paul Dini's Batman: The Animated Series shines through. And why shouldn't it? Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprise their roles as Batman and The Joker and turn in some excellent scenes. The new Jim Gordon is less impressive while Harley Quinn is played by the same voice actor (Arleen Sorkin), but something seems off. Maybe it's her new costume or maybe it's just the short snippet of dialogue we get from Harley, but Sorkin originated the role, so maybe it's just me. According to the IMDB, nearly a dozen other voice actors from The Animated Series will also return for Arkham Asylum, if the list is legit, I personally can't wait to hear Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as Alfred again.