The Asylum Is Waiting!
June 3, 2009 – Although the Batman franchise has been around for quite some time, it has been going through a transformation of late. While older Batman movies and TV shows were all about fantastic enemies and comical one-liners, since the advent of Batman Begins, we have borne witness to a much darker knight than ever before. This tradition continues with Batman: Arkham Asylum, which is coming to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 this fall.
Batman: Arkham Asylum actually takes place in the halls of the fabled asylum, with all its insane inhabitants trawling its halls. The story is written by Paul Dini, who worked on Batman: The Animated Series. But, if you are worried about this title being on the light side, don’t worry. The game begins with Batman apprehending Joker, but he is suspicious that it was a bit too easy this time. Of course, Batman brings Joker to the titular asylum, but once he gets there, the Joker locks him in! And to make matters worse, all the baddies he put away so long ago (like Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy) are now free and roaming the halls and out for blood; Bat blood!
The asylum itself is very dark and is punctuated by small floodlights in combat heavy areas. In the story mode, enemies come at you from every direction, and you’ll have to fight them off using melee and strike moves. One of the biggest assets this game has is the combat system, which uses more than fifty different individual moves that can all be chained together. The combos that you can form are nearly limitless, which keeps the combat multi-dimensional and keeps it from getting boring. These combos are also heavily encouraged by the game, as chaining together as many moves as possible will eventually unlock explosive and brutal finishing sequences.
The finishing sequences themselves are actually quite vicious, and I was surprised at the level of violence in the game. Not that I’m complaining really, because this is the darker Batman that is consistent with the franchise’s current status. But, if you are expecting bloodless kills, or soft action sequences, this game won’t be for you.
One of the coolest features of Batman Arkham Asylum is the challenge rooms. These rooms have varying objectives and setups, and I got to try the stealth challenge room. The stage begins with Batman hanging from the ceiling and peering down at the armed inmates below. Your objective will be to take out all of the inmates as stealthily as possible, and the challenge ends when all the inmates have been eliminated.
Using your powers of perception, you are able to see what kind of weaponry they are packing, as well as their heart rate. The heart rate is important because, as you climb around the ceiling (cloaked in shadow), you can perform actions to scare them and elevate their heart rate. When an inmate’s heart rate is elevated, their reflexes will slow, and they might even drop their weapon out of fear.
You can scare them by making noises or knocking out the lights, but the best way to scare the inmates is to do a very public killing. In the demo, I was able to watch as an inmate was quickly disposed of and then strung up to the wall. As the lights in the stage flickered, other inmates noticed their fallen comrade’s displayed corpse, and rushed towards it. This was a great opportunity to exploit the inmates heightened fear (as well as their newly-refocused attention) and attack them from behind.
As for the visuals, Arkham Asylum really nails a very grim and moody look. There are plenty of spooky flickering lights and dark corners, and even though enemies rarely pop out of nowhere like they do in survival horror games, there is certainly a fear factor conveyed by the dark and haunting look of the game.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is really shaping up to be a must-have title for fans of the franchise this fall. The story mode looks awesome, and it seems like it will follow in the footsteps of the darker Batman media that has been popularized recently. Also, the challenge room modes look to round out the experience nicely. Just from playing the stealth mode, I am very confident that the challenge rooms will provide plenty of post-story hours of gameplay.
It has also been announced that there will be downloadable content for this title in the future, although we weren’t given details as to what that may entail. Either way, Arkham Asylum is looking to be a great game, and it’s a title you can surely get lost in when it releases this fall. Just don’t drive yourself crazy!
Straightjackets for Everyone
August 25, 2008 – Let’s face it, every Batman game you have played up until now has felt like you stepped in guano. Not to sound too harsh, but let me be real for a sec. Aside from the Superman titles, there is no other comic book character that has been mistreated more. It’s always been a challenge to comfortably balance all of the elements that make Batman, well…Batman.
Thankfully, there is a bright and hopeful bat-signal lighting up the sky. This hope is coming from the fine folks at Eidos and Rocksteady Studios. The great thing about this pairing is they understand the importance of capturing Batman the way most people know him. Another strong thing going for Batman: Arkham Asylum is the game is in no way tied to the recent movie. After all, we all know how good video games based on movies are. This brings me to the major reason Arkham Asylum has the potential to become the best Batman game ever. Not being tied to a film or television show or anything of that nature has given them some room for creativity in the story. One of the individuals they tapped to help co-write Arkham Asylum is none other than Paul Dini.
Paul Dini is one of the minds behind probably the best representation of Batman outside of comics. In the time when Catwoman was licking Batman and there was a nasty, vomit-inducing portrayal of The Penguin on the big screen, Batman: The Animated Series debuted – thankfully. Even Robin was properly handled and introduced in the series when the movies failed horribly. Batman: The Animated Series succeeded when the movies turned to neon, nipples, and, ultimately, failed. So having Mr. Dini on board with the writing chores for Arkham Asylum is something to get the fans eager.
To further prove that point, Batman: Arkham Asylum will take place in none other than Arkham Asylum, the “housing unit” for Gotham City’s criminally insane and home to all of Batman’s “biggest fans.” The opening of the game centers on Batman escorting the Joker to Arkham. From there, Batman begins to feel as if something is not quite right, and sure enough, he was right. They don’t call him the greatest detective in the world for nothing. The Joker escapes from his restraints and all hell breaks loose as the other villains are released from their cells. So, Batman springs into action to prevent the Joker and his goons from finding and obtaining one of Arkham’s darkest little secrets. It will be up to Batman to find his way through the massive asylum in order to prevent a catastrophe, and it will take all of his skills in order to do so.
Batman is known for being something of a “Jack of All Trades” kind of guy, so Rocksteady Studios has their work cut out for them in bringing Batman to life in the way he deserves. If some of the early stuff that has been revealed is any indication, I am not worried. Of course, there will be gadgets of all shapes and sizes. In case you are worried that Batman will find his gadgets randomly strewn along the floors of Arkham, don’t fret; they have simply included the recently revealed pseudo-Batcave from the comics, which is practically right below Arkham. Plus, Batman will be able to pick up objects he can to use to improve upon or create new gadgets to use throughout the game. Using the grappling hook to reach the rafters, the batarangs to knock out enemies, and several other gadgets will be rewarding to fans. But, “Bats” is a brawler after all. He will have certain combat skills at his disposal, including a takedown system similar to what was used in The Bourne Conspiracy, only with a little more Batman flair to it. Batman will also use his skills as a detective to piece together the clues in the rooms he encounters, with CSI-like prowess.
There is one feature that has me a little perplexed at the moment though: The leveling system for Batman. My issue, at least for now, is that Batman has trained extensively for various types of situations over the years, and this leveling system will have him improve in what may be just a few hours. Like I said, depending on how this is laid out will determine whether it is great or not. Either way, we know the characters will please the senses, judging from the screenshots. Batman looks good; he’s like a cross between The Animated series and the recent modifications to the Bat-suit on film. Jack Nicholson’s and Heath Ledger’s Joker have been fused to really capture a rather creepy, but awesome version of Batman’s greatest villain.
Of course, battling over the shoulder of a great Batman model would mean nothing if Arkham Asylum didn’t look like it was a living hell. Thanks to several artists at Wildstorm Productions, a division of DC Comics headed by none other than Jim Lee, Arkham will not just be a row of cells for you to peek into in order to find the Joker. Catacombs, massive floors, and nearly everything creepy you’d think you would find in an asylum are present.
Knowing how the gameplay is going to be structured and how it’s going to look is all fine and good, but, what about the voice casting? Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a cast listing released but, with Paul Dini involved, one could imagine him tapping key members from the cast of Batman: The Animated series (most notably, Kevin Conroy, who voiced Batman for the better part of two decades, and Mark Hamill who provided the best vocal representation of the Joker to date). While nothing is concrete, having the Heath/Jack modeled Joker voiced by Mark Hamill would be a “nightmarish” dream come true for some.
Even though concrete details about the game are still scarce, it still seems like we know a lot. I am eager to find out as much as possible about the potential “saving grace” of Batman games. Fantastic environments, great character models, compelling story, and intriguing gameplay are enough reasons to wish it was already 2009.