Batman: Arkham Asylum Impressions

We got on the batphone to Eidos and Rocksteady Games, who arranged a first look at Batman: Arkham Asylum for us.

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Of all the comic book superheroes, Batman is undoubtedly the closest to being a multimedia superstar. Take 2008 for example: He not only starred in the biggest film of the year, but he was versatile enough to make it into a Lego-based video game. This year, on the 70th anniversary of the character's creation, Batman will return to his comic book roots in Rocksteady Studios' Batman: Arkham Asylum, a third-person action game that's shaping up to be as varied as it is visually stunning. We were lucky enough to see the first hour of the game at the studio's London offices, as well as speak to the people behind it.

Batman: Arkham Asylum offers a mix of fighting, stealth, and gadgetry--all of which are essential to the character.

"We want to explore the psychology of the Batman character," lead designer Sefton Hill told us. "Players should feel empowered by being Batman, and his ability to handle any given situation however he wants." To this end, Hill and the team have endowed Batman with cool gadgets, nifty weapons, and raw athletic ability and then set him loose in a highly interactive world. And while that world is a prison filled with the worst of Gotham's bad guys, this Batman most definitely makes a formidable hero.

We watched Hill play through the opening of the game, which takes the form of an interactive cinematic. Batman has captured the Joker, and given the Joker's status as the ultimate supervillain, Batman decides to accompany him right down to his maximum-security confines at Arkham. Batman passes many familiar faces along the way, including an intimidating Killer Croc, as well as some of the good guys, such as Commissioner Gordon. But while Gordon may be toasting your success at capturing the city's most dangerous criminal, Batman senses that something is awry. The Joker has given himself up all too easily, and as he teases Warden Sharp and the guards with his trademark maniacal humour, he finds a chance to separate from Batman and make his escape. With the help of Harley Quinn and an army of inmates to do his bidding, the Joker effectively takes over the prison, setting up a fight with Batman on his own terms.

This opening sequence is an audacious introduction to the game. First off, the characters are brilliantly voiced by Batman regulars, including Mark Hamill as the Joker and Kevin Conroy as Batman, while the dialogue has been penned by Paul Dini, the scribe behind many Batman and Superman animations, as well as the TV series Lost. Dini came over to London at the beginning of the game's development and helped to flesh out the overall story alongside the development team as well as give the dialogue an element of authenticity. His work is certainly felt throughout the game, particularly in helping the Joker become an irritatingly likable villain. The Joker spends the entire game using the prison's speaker system to taunt both Batman and the goons he's taking out, with some highly entertaining results.

Then there's the look of the game, which is impressive to say the least. The Unreal engine is working under the hood, but it's virtually unrecognisable under the stylistic touches the team has added to the game. The character animation in particular deserves special praise, probably thanks to the studio's on-site motion-capture facility, which has imbued the many villains that we saw with their own individual traits. Hill described how the team used diving weights to achieve Killer Croc's ambling movements, while there's one person whose sole job it is to perfect the look of Batman's floating cape. This sort of attention to detail is easy to appreciate onscreen.

Arkham Asylum is essentially a third-person action game, but we got to see many different gameplay elements during our visit to Rocksteady. The combat is based on hand-to-hand combat at the beginning of the game, and a combo system encourages you to link moves together to earn more points. This results in experience points, and there's a basic role-playing game system that lets you use your points to upgrade either your weapons, such as the batarang, or Batman himself. The basic fighting moves include punch, kick, and flinging your batarang, but you can vault over enemies if you find yourself cornered. It's also worth noting that the health system isn't regenerative while you're in combat, but you can earn health back at the end of a fight if you're victorious.

There are also stealth elements to the game, although Hill is quick to emphasise Batman's power in these situations. "We didn't want a stealth system where you go in, learn the patrol patterns of the enemies, and then use trial and error to get past them. Batman is a powerful character--he spends time looking at a situation and then approaches it how he feels best." He demonstrated this in an open section of the prison, where numerous henchmen were patrolling with guns. He took Batman through the ventilation system, pulling off the grate and then sneaking up behind the first guard for a silent takedown. He immediately fired off a grapple line and ascended to the top of a stone gargoyle to survey the area. Engaging Batman's detective mode, we could see an X-ray of the room, with red and blue skeletal outlines indicating enemy targets and friendly NPCs respectively.

The Joker will do anything to wind people up, even taunting his own goons over the prison's speaker system as Batman silently takes them down.

Heading towards one of the isolated enemies, Batman jumped off the gargoyle and used his cape to float through the air before delivering a lethal kick to the enemy's head. This made enough noise to startle the other enemies in the area, and Batman was able to use this intimidation to his advantage. Hill moved Batman around the room to position himself above another enemy, and in a spectacular coup de grace, he used the grapple line to leave the enemy dangling in midair for everyone else to see.

Arkham Asylum is a character itself in this world. The environment changes as you progress; for instance, posters asserting Warden Sharp's authority are defaced by the Joker and his graffiti-loving crew. There are some great comedic touches, such as when the Joker leaves mechanical chattering teeth around the prison, as well as more sinister prison traps, such as gas chambers and electric chairs. In one scene, a prisoner was electrocuting one of the guards in a chair; in another, toxic gas was being let loose on the guards and the prisoners. You're the good guy, so you still have to save the odd criminal, although Batman is badass enough to beat them unconscious once they've been lifted to safety.

Arkham Asylum is stuffed full of unlockable items, and it will be well worth exploring the environments if you're a completist. As we watched the game being played, we saw Batman collecting a Riddler question-mark bonus. In addition, meeting characters in the game unlocks biographies that can be read later. There also seem to be challenges that you unlock by playing through the main game, although the developer was coy about revealing just what they are. Batman will also be able to upgrade his arsenal by collecting experience points, and it was hinted that the batarang can be upgraded to take out multiple enemies with one throw. Hill also spoke of an explosive gel weapon later in the game, which can be detonated remotely.

In case our enthusiasm isn't already apparent, we were left really impressed with Batman: Arkham Asylum. The savvy script and excellent voice acting are sure to please Batman fans, while the combo fighting system and stealth elements look like they'll be great fun. The game is already looking incredibly impressive visually--hopefully an indication that it's nearing completion in time for its Q2 2009 release window. Eidos has promised us a hands-on with the game in the coming months, so hopefully we'll be visiting Arkham again for a more in-depth look shortly.

Discussion

280 comments
CRYSIX
CRYSIX

Looks incredible. Hope it will be action-fun and very relaxing.

huladog123
huladog123

The more I read up on this game, the more impressed I become!

cireking213
cireking213

A game not tied to a movie is a winner in my book. :P This one looks good to me. I like stealth gameplay.

Last_Grimreaper
Last_Grimreaper

A bit annoying that all american male characters are body builders juiced up on steroids... getting old and I never liked it a bit in the first place. It's ok for some villian to be juiced but the hero really shuold be naturally built, even if he's faster, stronger, smarter then the rest of teh world.

JediXMan7
JediXMan7

rsv1995: Agreed. I've wanted a free-roam Batman game for awhile. But this game does look good.

paystation
paystation

it would be much better if there was a online

PhoenixVenom
PhoenixVenom

hopefully after beating the game there is playable joker. the bad guys are always more fun to be

Jak_Napier
Jak_Napier

looking good, shaping up to be a great game

Jak_Napier
Jak_Napier

I cannot wait for this game to be released, it seems like one of the very first games other than batman begins, that you get to use Batman's crime fighter/ detective skills. I like that its mission based as well as a bit of free roam and an rpg element thrown in there for kicks. This game also seems like it is the next chapter after the Dark Knight movie where Joker was just about to have been captured by the police and now he has been sent to arkham asylum in the in the hopes of being corrected.

rsv1995
rsv1995

I wish the would make a batman game thats sandbox style. I would love to explore gotham city plus to ride around the bat-mobile, that would be great.

hyperkass
hyperkass

umm.. what? did they just shove 200 kg of steroids into each one of pecks.

Tirians_Rage
Tirians_Rage

looks SIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIC!

pixellence
pixellence

Looks awesome. Whether it'll be any good or not remains to be seen but on visuals it's hit the nail on the head so far. And Noah-Phoenix, in my opinion movie tie-in games are usually rubbish because there's a lot to live up to. People have expectations and have every scene and plot point mapped out in their head. Any deviation to this which is a necessity to avoid the game being dull will only leave people feeling let down. It's like art kinda. Draw something from your imagination and show it to people and they will give unbiased feedback. Draw a still-life or a portrait of someone they recognise and they'll become the world's biggest critic as they compare it to the real life counterpart.

maawal
maawal

is it using Unreal Engine? it just looks like Gears of War :S

Noah-Phoenix
Noah-Phoenix

Why is it that dev's seem unable to do that many decent tie-in games, (most Star Wars games, any Aliens games to name but a few) when all the material is already thought up for them, but original game-only stuff they do really well? (Assassins Creed, Gears, COD etc...) And most movie games are crap, really. This does LOOK good, but then so did Motorstorm on the PS3, Lost Odyssey on the 360, and many others that turned out tripe. I really hope they make Batman as unhinged and violent as the old comic books. That's why the Joker was always his biggest enemy, the Joker does all the things Batman wishes he had the moral flexibility to do to the criminals he chases. Heres hoping...

joeboosauce
joeboosauce

Here's a comic book licensed game that I thought was excellent: Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction for PS2. That was a great game with a great use of the Hulk license. Not a movie tie-in though (and maybe that points to the problem?). Also, it had open-sandbox elements a la GTA.

Alt-Gr
Alt-Gr

Awesome. I'm so looking forward to getting my Bat hands on the Joker!

tonyhawksP8
tonyhawksP8

I like comic book Joker, funny in an insane way most are bound to like Joker for that.

MOOSEbeast
MOOSEbeast

wow this game looks serious... if the person is actually right about this game and its as good as he says it will be, then wow... im just hopin there r different moves and the game doesnt get repetative... like assasins creed was sick, but fighting got repetative... so i hope they actually give him a lot of moves... and make the game very challenging... it would suck to just keep doind the same moves and levels over and over...

Maha_Bristol
Maha_Bristol

The first spiderman was a pretty good game (PS2). The last Wolverine game I played gave me a headache. Batman looks pretty good! According to the screenshots, it looks amazing. Then again, the trailer for R6V2 was very good but the graphics in the game itself was nothing like it...

Diernes
Diernes

Bout time Batman got a decent game, here's to hope.... How about a GTA style sandbox where you are the vigilante instead of the run of the mill criminal. Cant believe no one has done this yet. With this and hopefully Wolverine origins maybe we will see a change in the movie to license genre. (yes I know this isnt a movie game, but close enough)

mastriania
mastriania

I'm trying hard, but can't think of any high quality super potent comic book based video games. I think the least lame one I've played was Ultimate Alliance, but even that got a little repetitive (I did not complete it). The screenshots definitely look cool. It looks like we're finally going to recieve a serious Batman title! :)

Pyridoxine
Pyridoxine

This is going to have the best voice acting in a video game ever. Until they release Ghostbusters.

johnnych_cr
johnnych_cr

I wonder how those updates are gonna work....anyway this game looks amazing, 09 is going to be a good year for gamers.

johnnych_cr
johnnych_cr

I wonder how those updates are gonna work....anyway this game looks amazing, 09 is going to be a good year for gamers.

skat6913
skat6913

Oh boy. Here is a game with a chance to be phenomenoninal. But i feel like no matter who makes the game or what kind of game it is...the movie to video game transition is never pulled off as well as hoped for. Of course their are exceptions, so lets just hope this turns out to be another exception.

Pizzaman103
Pizzaman103

Game looks sweet! Probably gonna be the best one yet. Fingers crossed!

corkyhookahking
corkyhookahking

Let the criminal but whooping begin I can't for this game this year is just so awesome for gamers.

IAmBatmania
IAmBatmania

In all the years of Batman video gaming, this looks like its what I've truly been waiting for. Long Live the Bat!

stalepretzels
stalepretzels

Bring us another Shalebridge Cradle, gentlemen! Game looks great!

suvro
suvro

This is gonna b one helluva game..!!

natanku
natanku

I still have my reservations as I have been burned many times before by comic booked based games (Superman 64 anyone?) But like a pair of halogen headlights I am curiously drawn to Asylum. I am keeping my expectations low, but that is hard when Conroy and Hamill are the voice actors and it already looks this good. I hope Eidos all the best after their recent shenanigans and eagerly await to see the evolution of this game

CT-Link
CT-Link

Batman looks badass. Period.

robbie3000
robbie3000

Finally the game Batman deserves!

MrBlake
MrBlake

One thing is for certain, this game looks downright beautiful. It fits the dark, ominous world of Gotham City, let alone Arkam Asylum. The visuals alone make me excited for this. The style seems pretty smart, especially concerning that limited, strict story-driven mode comic-book adapted games ALWAYS tank.

DirkXXVI
DirkXXVI

The way they are doing this game is pretty smart. For one they have a stand alone story so they're not bound by the no spoilers warning of most games in Arkham Asylums situation. They got voice actors that the current generation of 20 something's will easily recognize from the animated series that they watched when they were kids. On top of that they're releasing it off the heals of the Dark Knight so they get a little extra name recognition. Though the only problem seems to be Heath Ledgers ever present shadow, and deservingly so as his rendition of the Joker truely nothing short of amazing. Still Mark Hammill does a pretty damn good Joker to so it's not like the gamers are getting to much of a dropoff in quality more like they're droping from spellbinding to very good. Ironically though Hammill's version of the Joker fits the mold the developers were looking for so in the grand scheme of things Ledger vs Hamil is a moot point. Of course I'm still pissed they didn't bring back Adam West and Cesar Romero (jk lol).

notorious98
notorious98

Please stop comparing this Joker to the Heath Ledger version of the Joker. They are two very different imaginings of the same character. The Joker from the movie was a cool, calm, and collected maniac. The Joker from the comics is a completely deranged psychopath who's extremely intelligent and filled with rage towards Batman. He laughs uncontrollably, frequently and would rather scream than speak in a calm tone. On a side note, I don't think that Aaron Eckhart is given enough credit for his portrayal of Harvey Dent. I was extremely disappointed that they killed him off because I thought he would have made for a great main villain in an upcoming sequel.

sonicspeedshoes
sonicspeedshoes

what the cool features is going out to batman arkaham asylim :)?

Loucetios
Loucetios

arual7 while heath ledger's version of the joker was great, the more iconic version is the one from the comics & the 90s animated series, that is at least what I immediently think of as the joker, especially when it comes to the voice, that is y mark hamill & keven conroy are reprising their roles from those days, as far as I'm concered, those voices are the best for batman/ The Joker

arual7
arual7

Why are they using the old joker's face? He's no where near as wonderfully psychotic as the Heath version!

Crusader-Z
Crusader-Z

This should be fine...There's supposed to be an open-world experience

infernflame
infernflame

I wonder how this game is gonna be but it looks awesome

JediXMan7
JediXMan7

This game looks interesting. I might get it. flesh19no: How can you say the voices look bad? Mark Hamill does Joker! How can it possibly be bad?

saturo123
saturo123

It looks like it's going to be decent, but I wouldn't expect it to be an amazing game