The demo for Batman: Arkham Asylum is out, and it’s really rather fun. This is looking to be one of the bigger releases this year, whispered about at hushed conventions as maybe, just maybe the comic book game that’s good. Of course, that’s ignoring a lot of really rather well done games, but there haven’t really been any good ones for a while. Batman is, after all, still trying to forget about Adam West. So they’ve gone for as grim and grimy as they possibly can, with broken tiles, damp and about 50 other different health code violations. No wonder the people are insane.
Hiring the majority of the cast from 90s animated series was a smart move. Mark Hamil is brilliant as the joker, as always, as is Kevin Conroy as Batman is similarly gravelly and everything you expect Batman to be. The demo places you right at the beginning of the game, after Batman has prevented a kidnap attempt on the mayor, arresting, seemingly without a fight, the Joker in the process. Suspicious, no? Of course, the Joker slips his guards, and the inmates take over the asylum. We have a premise.
From there you get a good taster of the two major things touted by the developers and Eidos PR department for the last year; it starts with a quick brawl, demonstrating the impressive freeform combat, with dynamic counters and the like. It all looks excellent, but I worry that it’s perhaps slightly too easy, with combatants holding off as you engage, for the most part, and rather obvious flashing alerts so that you can counter. Luckily, that’s not all on display.
The so called ‘Invisible Predator’ mode, where you’re placed in a room with a bunch of armed goons, all able to kill you with a few bullets, is much, much more entertaining. You can silently knock them out from behind, glide kick them to the floor, then smash their face into the ground, beat them up or do a bunch of other violent and hilarious things to them, and with each one incapacitated, the remainder get more and more agitated, until their jumping, and shooting, at shadows. They act dynamically, too, sticking together when afraid, and spreading out when confident, shouting their thoughts over at each other, trying to figure out who, or what, is picking them off. As if they don’t already know.
It might all be a horrible, confusing mess if it weren’t for the detective mode, which is basically x-ray with helpful information. It allows you to see through most walls, able to keep tracks where all the enemies are at once, while monitoring their heart rate which dictates their mood, from ‘calm’, through to ‘terrified’, and everything in between. It also points out environmental information, such as breakable glass, weakened walls and grates, not to mention showing you where all the gargoyles are, which allow you to grapple around. It’s a good tool.
Apart from that, the game looks excellent, despite lacking any graphics options. Presumably those will arrive with the finished game, along with other difficulty modes and the like, as apart from that, there doesn’t seem to be any of the usual worries of multiplatform games. It registers your controller, but doesn’t force you to use it; it waits for you to use keyboard and mouse or the controller, and then once you’ve made a decision, it has all the information in the HUD correspond to those controls. All rather nifty.