GDC 2009: Batman: Arkham Asylum Hands-On Impressions

We jump into the boots of the Caped Crusader to see how things control in his latest adventure.

SAN FRANCISCO--There are a select few superheroes that are so big and so popular that they can afford to star in a game that's not being accompanied by a big-budget Hollywood film. Batman is certainly one of those, and for evidence you need look no further than Batman: Arkham Asylum, an upcoming action-stealth hybrid from developer Rocksteady Studios that's scheduled to arrive nearly a full year after the release of The Dark Knight. We had our first look at Arkham Asylum back in January, but yesterday we had our first chance to get our hands on a controller to see how it plays.

There are a few ways to describe Arkham Asylum's gameplay. On the one hand, you could easily call it a brawler. Batman's primary threat as he makes his way through the demented halls of this infamous insane asylum is the stream of crazed thugs that the Joker has taken control over. The conflict isn't any one enemy, but instead the sheer number of them, requiring you to bounce through swarms of enemies using attack combos, agile counters, and any environmental advantages you can muster up. But there are also stealth and gadget elements that come into play, as Batman can, at certain points, silently stalk his prey using the cover of darkness and a utility belt full of advanced technology.

In the story campaign, these two elements will be blended together fairly seamlessly--or at least according to copublisher Warner Bros. Interactive--but in our hands-on demo we got to try a few challenge rooms that take each of these gameplay types and have you flex your skills in a way that highlights each one specifically. The first was a brawling-focused challenge room that pit Batman against a dozen or so thugs in a tiny room, with a succession of rounds that raised the enemy difficulty each time. It's sort of a take on the recently popular horde mode we've been seeing lately where the goal is to rack up as many points as you can to use as bragging rights on an official leaderboard.

The basic controls are easy to get a hold of, but as you might expect, they become more challenging as Batman unlocks more-advanced maneuvers and gadgets (which is done via the main storyline). Here's a brief rundown of the basic controls in the Xbox 360 version of the game: X is your primary attack button, Y is to counter, B will stun your enemies momentarily, and A lets you run when its held, vault over enemies when pressed once, and dodge when double-tapped. Taking on a single bad guy is as easy as hitting X a few times, but often you'll have several of them flanking you, so you'll need to be cognizant of who else is attacking you besides the guy standing immediately in front of you. That's when counters come in handy, which are often slick animations that let you, say, grab a guy's arm and snap it mid-punch.

Arkham Asylum's visuals make good use of Unreal Engine 3.

Another handy technique is vaulting, which lets you acrobatically flip over an enemy and attack his rear side. Armed enemies are best attacked this way after stunning them, to minimize the amount of lead pipe or machine gun damage Batman takes. Managing all these threats is a delicate ballet of dancing between bodies, taking out the most pressing threat, and using the group to your advantage--like when you can knock one guy into another guy who subsequently falls off a ledge, for example. We liked the way the controls worked: they were simple but allowed for some depth with advanced techniques like contextual takedowns and using the batclaw to pull enemies from across the room. And to top it off, the animations were all very realistic and fluid.

The other challenge room we played was called the Silent Predator Arena. Here, instead of taking on a big clump of bad guys all squeezed into a small room, Batman has to silently take on a smaller sample of enemies patrolling a much larger space. A good idea is to use the Investigative vision mode, which turns the screen dark and highlights armed enemies in red and unarmed enemies in blue. This gives you an idea of whom to target first. From there, it's a matter of deciding whether to take on enemies from the ground floor, or to zip up to the gargoyles perched high atop the giant walls and take them out from on high.

The options you have for dealing with these guards are pretty extensive. You can take them on directly with hand-to-hand combat, but that winds up being a remarkably bad idea considering they're all armed. A better option is to pick them off one by one. In a typical scenario, you might start by doing an inverted takedown on a guard who's unlucky enough to walk under your gargoyle, then spray some explosive gel on a wall where a group of them might gather if you create the proper distraction, and then blow the bunch of them up remotely. Then, stun a leftover guard by leaping from a ledge with a glide kick, and finish him off with a final, crippling blow to the head. Of course, that's just a suggestion; you can go about each room how you want, and it's all a matter of zipping around unseen, figuring out how to use the environment to your advantage, and maximizing each attack.

Enemies will frequently flank you, so watch out.

Altogether, we had a good time with Arkham Asylum. The controls offered a friendly learning curve, and the reward for trying out some of the advanced techniques was a collection of slick takedowns and interesting animations. We should be able to offer more on the game's story in the coming months. In the meantime, you can expect Batman: Arkham Asylum to arrive this summer on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.

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399 comments
Doolz2024
Doolz2024

I played a demo of this game a gamestop, and it was amazing. Because of that, it convinced me to buy the game, the demo was that good. I wasn't even interested in this game until the guy that worked there told me to try out the demo, and after I played it twice, i was sold on it. Arkham Asylum is a day 1 buy for me now.

jokmudz
jokmudz

I hope it has good gameplay not just good visuals. For PC, it will be great to have advanced visual setting because PS3 class games tend to be "heavy". Satisfying rewards for finishing the game is expected as well.

jms0013
jms0013

Oh yeah!!! Batman looks frikin awesome. To bad it is posponed. At least all the bugs will be gone and it is out near my bros birthday so i'll buy it for him so I can play it. ha ah ah aha haahahhah.

Kavsta
Kavsta

Freakin amazing!!!! I was hoping that it wouldn't have been delayed but I guess good things come to those who wait right.

Brad1007
Brad1007

Game looks amazing a little sad to see it wont be out june 24th but if its to make the game better i can wait :)

Game-boy85
Game-boy85

I've played the a PS3 Demo at Gamestop. The Demo had a arena mode to play. Square is attack, Triangle is counter, Circle is cape stun. X is evade/jump over your enemy. L1 is draw baterang and r1 is quick throw the baterang. You are surrounded most of the time by 3 or more thugs. Before a enemy attacks you they are highlighted, you hit triangle to counter, how well you time the counter performes a very satisfiing reversal with slow motion. Square you can mix it up with the cape stun for some satisfying brawling.

Chronologo
Chronologo

batman begins was a kickass game, sad they never made a one based on the 2nd movie "the dark knight", but now I'm waiting for this one and it looks promising

Jak_Napier
Jak_Napier

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ArguZ
ArguZ

Movie games suck for the last 15 years. May this one be different. But I tell you...The latest Batman set a level.....a human one...based on a character Whatever this games delivers....the stakes are high

Darthplaguis5
Darthplaguis5

This game is hell sweet Im getting this even if critics say its bad

Darthplaguis5
Darthplaguis5

Flash you are a gamespot member! You must of just signed up to make fun of games. You have 2 different opinions one is the opposite of the other. And if we need a life what do you do, play cubby houses?

Ezeikiel11-17
Ezeikiel11-17

looks like a pretty good game, glad it doesn't follow any movie storyline which would probably ruin a potentially great game

Gamerpoopy
Gamerpoopy

wow finally once a batman game that really looks interesting and fun , love the stealth and visuals on batman here. Better try the demo once it comes out. I hope the story is long and not short. man tis looks hyped up like the wolverine game and im sure both of the games has a lot potential

Altair40
Altair40

Seen the gameplay video and it has blown my mind! it looks like a tight addicting game

ChrisM95
ChrisM95

Hey Flash - why are you a Gamespot member if gamers need a life?

huladog123
huladog123

I watched the Silent Knight gameplay video, and I can see that this Batman game has some REALLY good potential. I'm excited to see more gameplay vids!

OMG126
OMG126

I hope this is the one.... I mean how many crap Batman games have there been? Lets hope this is it, its long over due!

flash1750
flash1750

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flash1750
flash1750

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

flash1750
flash1750

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

flash1750
flash1750

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

unbentonslaught
unbentonslaught

AHAHAHAHA!!! this looks perfect!! im buying this baby!

pilot_riaz
pilot_riaz

This is using the latest Unreal Engine (used for Gears 2) so this should be very good and will have destructible environments

Woody1444
Woody1444

I am getting this game, 100% sure, I would really like to play a demo before I get it though, something to look forward to, hopefully the demo does come out and it comes out soon, I'm siked for this game.

Blood_Diamond
Blood_Diamond

I love how they've gave batmans costume a more realistic look... you can see the fabrics when up close. I also like how they've gave him eyes not just white slits like in dc vs mk

Buffalodude
Buffalodude

reillybubba I liked Batman Begins and this one works alot better.

Express_Diablos
Express_Diablos

Wow that's some very nice game play, graphics are awesome, hopefully it will run great on my pc.

reillybubba
reillybubba

It sounds good and all but this gives me too much Nostslgia towards the Batman Begins game so let's be a little careful on what we are calling awesome and a must buy because we're probably walking into the same damn game

jubeio
jubeio

omg this looks absolutely amazing i really want to try this

360James
360James

i love assassins creed - i also love batman - this game..... You do the math :)

Veteran_IV
Veteran_IV

Haha, 369 comments at Mar 31, 2009 8:06 pm GMT, how much more proof does one need to know that this game will break sales records for all Batman games? Wow, 19 pages of comments too.

Veteran_IV
Veteran_IV

Hmmm... (EPIC Combat that keeps you on your toes) + (EPIC stealth that doesn't MAKE YOU FAIL when you are seen) + (EPIC Batman as a comic book rendition) - (Bad combat) - ($#!T stealth) - (Movie based batman) = one very EPIC game

rayzero2002
rayzero2002

I had high hopes for this Batman game.. Judging the way it looks and game play.. I will give it an A and I am sure this will be the best Batman game that ever came out..

aduana69
aduana69

very nice, i think i will add this game to my collection

aabel19
aabel19

I find that the Silent Predator Arena is the best. About the game : It looks preety interesting and cool ! Hope this game tops the chart cause it seems to be the best Batman game made untill now.

I_Am_Sin_Seared
I_Am_Sin_Seared

People are just overhyping this just because they are little Dark Knight whores. This game will turn out like the majority of other superhero games, crappy...sorry. But it's the truth. That video showed nothing interesting....AT ALL...

zig_star
zig_star

I'm pre-ordering this now it looks awsome

Blank2k2
Blank2k2

Very nice looking, not sure if the hype will kill it or not.. its been a pretty quiet game in the hype-market compared to some (Assassins Creed for example, years of massive hype, same for Fable 2), only 2 months until this ones set loose. Could be a good example of good hype, but not overhyped, meaning a good memorable game. Only pitfall i can see for myself & most old school gamers, is gameplay length.. most next-gen games have suffered from the 5hour completable dease, which is why ive rarely bought any current-gen games, i own about 13 360 tittles, and i owned about 80 PS2 games, so this generation hasnt been all that great.... simply because PS2 games would keep me going for days, some difficult enough for me to never complete. current-gen games keep me going for an afternoon & always hold my hand so i dont get hurt or lost, and, always makes sure im home by 8pm, just in time for my warm milk & sleepy time. Sorry, went on abit of a rant there. Anyway, looks good!

Downloadpilot
Downloadpilot

That was actually pretty scary :O Looks like it'll be good though.

TwinTiger
TwinTiger

Looks pretty good. How well the controls feel will be the real test, but it looks like you can really get a feel of what it's like to be Batman striking from the shadows. Hope it turns out good.

balloory
balloory

As always, the hype is going to be the killer.

pelusa423
pelusa423

your right but it's gonna be a good game

aidsta
aidsta

looks like my kinda game. cant wait.

96windsor
96windsor

assassin's creed batman epic i hope it doesn't become a victim of its hype though.

jorge69696
jorge69696

i just realized that batman is the american version of a ninja..