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E3 2009: Batman: Arkham Asylum hands-on

BatmanE3 2009

Every Batman game is supposed to be the good one that finally does the character justice. It’s a sad state of affairs when Lego Batman is one of the finest of the bunch considering it’s only a tongue-in-cheek homage. When I first started the demo for Batman: Arkham Asylum, my heart was broken over what could have been.

It healed quickly.

The reason for the heartache was that there is already the perfect story for Arkham Asylum in the similarly named graphic novel written by Grant Morrison. This trippy, slightly pretentious visual whirlwind examines the (in)sanity of Batman and the long-deceased founder of the mental hospital. The art style was gorgeous, and the storytelling was low key. That route was not taken in Dark Asylum. Instead, it’s simply a videogame rather than a visual masterpiece.

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I was disappointed, but that changed when I tested out the gameplay in a couple of the challenge modes, which will also provide support for online leader boards. I felt like an animal backed against the wall as I took down waves of three enemies, six enemies, a dozen and then more. I lost count. At first I was only using one button, but that didn’t prove too effective. I mixed up the crushing blows with counter-attacks and ground takedowns. I was darting and weaving like an actual bat. Later on, some bad men started wielding lead pipes and cinder blocks. Batman isn’t one to use weapons, but he doesn’t object to cracking a skull with their pipe in a counterattack.

The crunching sound effects and the occasional slow motion adding some of that famous Batman nastiness that he’s known for, but the stealth challenge showed his demented side. Each of the increasingly difficult levels has Batman toying with some gun-wielding goons in some different levels. Taking out a dozen unarmed people was no problem, but I had a much more difficult time with half a dozen guys with machine guns.

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To start things off, I latched onto a column overlooking a guy pacing down an elevated walkway. I waiting for him to come underneath, and then I used my hook to hoist him up in plain view. The detective mode, which is like a tweaked out lens from Splinter Cell. In this view, I saw that his buddies were a little freaked out. I swung to other side of the map and planted on a bomb on a thin wall. The guy on the other side was blown up after I reached a safe spot. Next, I swung in on another goon and took him out for good. I was spotted and died quickly.

Batman is pretty weak against armed foes, but before I was capped I was able to inflict some serious psychological damage. The remaining foes were on edge shooting at things that weren’t there. With a little more time on the game, I bet I could have used that to my advantage.

The challenge modes were a great primer to the main game. The Joker had been easily thwarted in an attempt on the mayor’s life. The bat is suspicious of the ease of cracking the case, and for good reason too. With the help of Harley Quinn, who looks like a fan of the Insane Clown Posse, The Joker has sprung an elaborate trap to lure Bats into the notorious Arkham facility. Batman obliges, and the game begins. I didn’t get too far in the demo, but the combat was fierce and the stealth was difficult yet rewarding, much like it was in the challenge mode.

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I’m still not sure if Batman: Arkham Asylum is the good Batman game that we’ve all been waiting for, but it looks more promising than past entries. The combat is fierce, the stealth is challenging, and it all comes together to represent what the character is all about. The fact that the high-brow approach of the graphic novel isn’t taken is disappointing, but these guys need to make something that won’t cause most people to scratch their heads. Hopefully the full single-player experience can approach the compelling storylines of some of the finest comics in the series.

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003. Get in touch on Twitter @akarge.

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