Crispy Gamer

Games for Lunch: Batman: Arkham Asylum

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Developer: RockSteady Studios
Publisher: Eidos/ Warner Bros. Interactive
Release Date: Aug. 25, 2009
Systems: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360, PC
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web site

0:00 Despite the absolutely enormous amounts of hype for this one, I've been trying to tamp down my expectations -- it is a superhero game, after all, and they almost invariably suck. I even ignored the demo so I could go into the full game fresh. So ... here we go!

0:01 Right off, I like how the preview screen puts an old-fashioned TV around the tiny video of Batman kicking and punching a bunch of bad guys.

0:02 "There is not enough free space on the hard disk. At least 486 MB more free space is needed." Of course it is...

0:03 So long, NPPL Pro Paintball install data. You will not be missed terribly much.

0:04 "For optimal performance, 2286 more MB of HDD space is needed. You may continue playing, or quit now to free up space." First off, why are you just telling me this now? Second off, hell yeah I want the optimal experience!

Batman: Arkham Asylum

0:05 So long, MLB 09: The Show install data. You were incredibly huge and pointless.

0:06 "Installing game data." Some blue-tinted shadowy pictures cycle to pass the time. First Batman, then some fat guy, then Killer Croc. The Batmobile. Some police guy with a scar. An Arkham Asylum inmate. Guards. Harley Quinn toting a gun in a sexy new outfit (she's in the outfit, not the gun)! Some shirtless guy ... also with a gun. Another shirtless guy with tally mark scars and a machete. Commissioner Gordon. Back to the Joker. All the characters seem just on the happy side of the uncanny valley ... but only just.

0:09 There's no progress bar for the install, so I'm a bit surprised when a title screen appears with Batman staring into a night with a large full moon. "Press Start." I do.

0:10 I kind of feel bad turning up the brightness in a Batman game, but I do enjoy seeing things.

0:11 Selectable difficulties are Easy, Normal and Hard. Choosing Hard pops up a huge, yellow-on-black warning: "This should only be attempted by players who are experts at Batman: Arkham Asylum or the very brave." Er ... Normal it is, then.

0:12 Rain comes pouring down from the night sky. The Bat-Signal appears dark against the white clouds. An angelic statue and some gargoyles as we pan down to the street. "All units, proceed to Gotham Hall. The Joker has been apprehended. Batman is en route to Arkham Asylum." The Batmobile zooms past a sign reading, "Hitchhikers may be escaping patients." Cut to the Batmobile, where Bats drives and the Joker is chained up in the back. "Stay back, fool ... I've got a bomb! Oh, right." he mutters. Through the gate, past the desiccated trees to the ornate, mansion-like asylum.

0:13 "Hey Sharpie. Love what you've done with the place," the Joker says to Warden Sharp as he's dragged into the asylum. "Warden ... something's not right. I'm going with him," Batman insists. The voice acting is strikingly good, as is the character animation thus far. Both remind me a lot of "Batman: The Animated Series."

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0:16 I'm in control, looking over Batman's shoulder as the guards wheel Joker in a propped-up gurney. Sharp talks about making sure he doesn't escape again, because it might hurt his mayoral campaign. Politicians ... got to love to hate them.

0:17 Quote of the moment, as Joker gets laser-scanned for contraband. "Y'know, I prefer the good old-fashioned cavity search. Much more personal."

0:18 Sharp is on a TV welcoming new patients. "Oooh, it's my favorite show, 'I'm Warden Idiot. You'll never escape!'" This is some incredibly sharp and understated writing so far ... especially from a comic-book game. The slick, underground prison environment reminds me a bit of BioShock ... very creepy.

0:19 The doctor checking in the Joker sounds an awful lot like Solid Snake. David Hayter? Is that you?

0:20 We come to an elevator at the end of the hall, where another patient is coming up. "Croc, old boy, is that you?" Joker asks. It is, and good lord, he's freaking HUGE! "I've got your scent, Batman. I will hunt you DOWN!" he taunts. The shock collar seems to keep him under control, despite his protests otherwise. "That reminds me, I really need to get me some new shoes," says a guard. It takes me a second to put together Killer Croc with Crocs shoes, but once I do I find myself literally laughing out loud.

0:23 Joker explains how a fire at Blackgate caused "hundreds of my crew to be moved here." Ah, so that'll explain the countless near-identical thugs I'll be fighting, assuredly.

0:25 At the bottom of the elevator shaft, the lights go out and Joker starts cackling. When they come back on, Batman has his hands around Joker's throat. "What, don't you trust me?" Er ... no.

0:26 Commissioner Gordon signing in, shakes Batman's hand. "Hopefully it'll be the last time the Joker escapes," Batman says. "Yeah right," says Harley, watching from a security room.

0:27 Joker falls over, head-butts a guard, and chokes him with his cuffs. "Choke's on you," he quips. Groan...

Batman: Arkham Asylum

0:28 Harley opens the doors and some thugs appear out of nowhere. Finally, some ACTION! The game tells me to push square to "strike." I jam it and watch Batman flow beautifully from between moves, and even between multiple targets with a balletic flow. Slow-motion makes some punches more dramatic, but they still seem to lack impact, somehow.

0:30 I can counter incoming attacks with triangle, but so far just jamming square seems to be doing just fine.

0:31 Joker tells me via video screen that he's in control of the security system. He's toying with me. He opens the gate to let me come after him. "You know it's a trap," says Gordon. "Of course it is," I reply with that gravelly cool voice. *Swoon*

0:32 In the processing corridor, I practice throwing a Batarang at a rat. Seems unnecessarily cruel for Batman, to me.

0:33 "Everywhere that madman goes, death is sure to follow," Batman says to no one in particular as he passes some guard corpses.

0:34 More thugs come out as security breaches get announced over the loudspeakers. The look of horror on their face as I go in for a slow-mo punch is well worth the price of admission.

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0:36 So, some guy named Zsasz has a guard trapped in an electric chair. "If I see anything that looks even a little bit like a bat, this guard dies." "He won't see me," Batman assures the other hapless guards.

0:37 Upstairs, more guards are watching helplessly from above. "I have to get close enough to Zsasz to strike. He'll see me coming on the ground, so I'll stay up high." Holy Exposition, Batman!

0:39 A tap of L2 gets me into "Detective mode," which shows cool X-ray skeletons of all the guards. It also highlights a gargoyle up above that I can grapple to with a tap of R1. A few more gargoyle grapples to get behind Zsasz, then follow the on-screen prompts for a glide kick and a takedown. "Someone put this animal back in his cell!" Batman snarls.

0:41 Harley shows off her new uniform on a video screen. She has the warden tied up and gagged. "Now the inmates are running the asylum." Oh Harley. You ham.

0:44 I love how Detective mode shows every guard as "Condition: Nervous."

0:45 Through a ventilation shaft, where I find a Riddler Trophy worth 200 points, raising my total so far to 700. Nice to see a game with a points system these days.

0:46 In decontamination, I watch through a glass window as Joker Toxin takes out a bunch of guards. I grapple up a convenient shaft and rescue a couple of guards hanging helplessly from some high walkways. I also rescue a Blackgate inmate, but I punch him out as soon as he's safe. Bad-ass.

0:49 A "well-aimed Batarang" activates the extractor fans and clears out the toxins. Joker laughs over the PA system as a guard cheers: "Whoo. Go Batman. You rock! Joker doesn't stand a chance." Just think ... someone had to write that line.

Batman: Arkham Asylum

0:51 "What took you so long?" Joker asks as I walk in on him standing over a big, black safe hanging from the ceiling. He ducks a Batarang and opens the safe to reveal a huge, Abobo-like monstrosity. Boss time!

0:55 I can evade Abobo's big, slow swings with a double tap of the X button. I use the same strategy to avoid a thrown corpse, which takes me a bit by surprise. I try to get in for a few punches when I can but he knocks me away pretty quickly. That's OK, though ... after only four punches he has a sudden heart attack and falls over. Seriously. "Well, that was unexpected," Joker says. "Note to self, need stronger test subjects." Heh.

0:57 After mocking me and daring me to kill him, Joker rides the safe into what a guard calls "Extreme Isolation." I order a guard to let me in, but apparently Joker has hacked the system so I can't follow him. "Silly Bats. I don't want to escape. I'm having way too much fun. I have you here to keep a smile on my face." And just for added insurance, I see on a video screen that Officer Boles has betrayed Gordon. "If I see you trying to follow me, he dies .... maybe I'll film it and post it on the Internet!"

0:59 "Boles wasn't too smart. He'll have left a trail," Batman mutters to himself. Nice to see the World's Greatest Detective acting like a detective.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.

Why? The actual gameplay is pretty by-the-book so far, but everything about the presentation captures what's so cool about Batman perfectly, without being hokey or over-the-top. Can't wait to dive further into the world.

This column is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.

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