You couldn't ask for a richer setting than Arkham Asylum in a Batman game. In developer Rocksteady's upcoming Batman: Arkham Asylum, you'll be exploring every nook and cranny of Arkham Island as you guide Batman through an adventure fraught with two-fisted action, plenty of detective work, and encounters against some of the caped crusader's best-known villains. This week, we spent some time with a recent build of the game, plunging a bit further into Arkham's depths to see what awaits Batman.
By now, you're probably familiar with the opening sequence of the game, which features Batman delivering his archnemesis, The Joker, to the authorities at Arkham. From the outset, however, Joker's capture seems like a setup, and as you guide Batman down the halls of Arkham's entrance with the shackled, cackling Joker in tow, the feeling of impending doom only increases. Eventually, once Joker and Batman are separated, Joker's trap is sprung when he overpowers his guard and escapes into the bowels of Arkham with the help of his trusty sidekick, Harley Quinn, who has taken control of the Asylum's computer-monitoring systems.
From there, Batman kicks it into gear; first, by stomping on some bad guys. The game's fighting controls are as simple as can be: X (on the Xbox 360 version) is for kicking butt, Y is for countering moves and then kicking butt, and B is used to stun an opponent, which gives Batman enough time to collect himself before continuing to kick butt. The simple controls are tied to some truly cool fight animations, with Batman twisting and flipping in midair as he lays out enemies and performing more than a few slo-mo bashes for good measure.
With Joker on the prowl, Batman's problems begin to mount as he travels deeper into Arkham, not the least of which are the guards, whose lives are in danger because of the freed criminals. Freeing the guards will require Batman to make the most of his gear, such as batarangs, which he can toss to stun opponents or activate switches from a long distance, as well as a grappling hook that will turn out to be one of the most effective tools in Batman's array. By aiming and pressing the right bumper, you can shoot the hook to swoop Batman up in midair and let him perch on ledges, which is a perfect vantage point for taking bad guys by surprise. The hook will also save you in desperate situations; for example, when you miss a jump with Batman, a quick press of the RB button will reset you to a safe spot nearby.
The Batman of Arkham Asylum is more than just a fighting machine with loads of cool gadgets; the game plays up his detective aspects as well. For example, when Commissioner Jim Gordon is double-crossed by guards early in the game and hauled away into Harley Quinn's custody, Batman has to track down clues that will lead you to Gordon's whereabouts before Quinn can finish him for good. The first clue involves tracking down the guard who betrayed Gordon. To do so, you first enter detective mode by pressing the left bumper, which then overlays information about Batman's surroundings. When you find a clue on the ground--in this case, the guard's nearly empty bottle of booze--you can investigate it more closely by holding the A button.
With the flask analyzed, Batman can now track the guard's trail by detecting the trace amounts of alcohol in the air. This results in several more encounters with Arkham residents and more opportunities for Batman to save innocent victims before making his way out of Arkham's main entrance building and into the outdoor island. Arkham's main structures are placed around the island, and presumably, you'll visit them all as the game's narrative progresses. Our first goal upon reaching the outdoor area was to rescue the Batmobile, which was under assault by a group of thugs. After dispatching the enemies, Batman grabbed another piece of gear from the Batmobile's trunk, a small pistol that squirted explosive gel, which quickly proved to be handy.
By squirting a small amount of gel on a weak point in a wall (which you can identify by using detective mode), Batman can blast an entrance or use the explosive gel to bring down walls on top of criminals. During one mission--as Batman works to free three doctors that are being held captive in Arkham's medical facility--you'll place the gel on two separate walls and then blow them up in succession, without the bad guys even knowing you were there.
Rescuing those doctors from harm becomes a big part of the next portion of Arkham Asylum's plot. After rescuing a certain Dr. Young from harm, she informs you that there are three other doctors being held captive in the medical facility. Each rescue scenario is a bit different. In one, you're simply beating up waves of thugs; in another, you're blowing up walls with the aforementioned explosive gel; and in a third, you're carefully navigating a room filled with the Joker's patented deadly laughing gas. To save the doctor, Batman must use his batarangs to activate a series of fans in the room that will suck the toxic fumes out.
As the game progresses, you'll lead Batman throughout the many buildings of Arkham, on the trail of Gordon. Eventually, you'll catch up with Harley Quinn, who's holding the Commissioner hostage in a small office overlooking a machine room teeming with the Joker's henchmen. The Joker--true to his prankster namesake--has instructed Harley to execute Gordon on the spot if she even suspects Batman is attempting a rescue. With the threat of Gordon's death hanging in the air, Batman must get stealthy, quietly taking down the bad guys by sneaking up behind them and performing a silent takedown (with a press of the Y button).
After finally sneaking in and knocking Harley out, Batman and Gordon escape. The pair then encounter Batman's muscular nemesis, Bane, who is strung up by the hoses that feed him the venom that grants him his incredible strength, and he is looking decidedly nonthreatening. Bane mentions that Dr. Young, one of the doctors Batman rescued earlier, is responsible for his predicament. Just as he asks for Batman to cut him free, the Joker manages to remotely pump Bane full of venom, which bulks him up and enrages him in the process. A quick boss battle between Batman and Bane (and a few more Arkham inmates thrown in for good measure) follows. After Batman beats Bane, it's off to explore the rest of Arkham Island and discover the connection between the Joker and the mysterious Dr. Young.
That's all we're able to report about Arkham Asylum's plot for now, but there's obviously much more to play and see in the game. Stay tuned for more reports from inside Arkham's confines in the coming months as we lead up to its release in late August.