Hands-on at E3 / Batman: Arkham Asylum

It happens in almost every movie, and I wouldn’t know nor would want to count how many times in the comics. A gang of four or so criminals are in a boiler room, sewer, tunnel, or really dark play pen… They’re carrying sacks of cash they just stole, and they’re pointing their flashlights around in search of “The Bat Man.” Initially, they’re cocksure that they’re going to find him, and gun him down. And why wouldn’t they? Four guys with guns against one crazed gunless vigilante who galavants about the city in a bat suit? It’d be absurd to think otherwise. But sure enough, The Bat Man swoops in and takes them out. One by one they go, and as each takes their turn meeting the unfortunately fated large Bat Fist to the Face, their confidence wanes. When it’s down to that last sorry sap, he is struggling to keep from peeing his pants. He flails the flashlight more erratically, and any little sound will set him off, causing him to fire aimlessly in what may not even be the general direction of the sound. It’s inevitable, he’ll be taken out, too. In the movies, it’s when this last guy gets it that the audience gets to see Batman’s face, right before he brutally renders the would-be fugitive unconscious. In Batman: Arkham Asylum, rather than following those criminals, you watch Batman do this the whole time. Not only do you watch, you are Batman. You get to swoop around, you dive in for a vicious stomp, and then disappear again, and you’re the one watching them as their fear grows and grows.

Is this a cool game? Yes.

Did I do well as the caped crusader? Absolutely not. Such is one of the inherent flaws of first impressions of games on an E3 show floor. You’re not going to fully know just what the hell you’re doing, and you certainly don’t have the time to figure it out. All the same, this may be the first Batman game that takes to heart that mantra of “Strike fear into the heart of evil” or however it goes. The beginning of the demo showed off the brawling side of things, and it’s serviceable and looks right. Batman’s hits hit hard, they go down, you pull combos… not much to really report. It’s the stealth and the stalking that’s got it goin’ on. It’s grimly satisfying to watch yourself glide down from the stoop you were just at, landing with your feet square onto a villain, then walking over to him (he’ll have been knocked back a ways), and giving him a good hard punch to the face that will surely render him unconscious for the duration of the single-player campaign, however long it is. The reason I failed at this, is because for the first three enemies, I followed this procedure. For the final enemy, I wanted to spice things up. I wanted to pull him off the ledge he was on, entangle him… I don’t know… anything but the flying kick thing. That’s where I wish I knew what was going on. I tried my best. I threw batarangs, I crawled on ledges on which I thought he’d get close. It just never happened, and when I thought I was somewhere… I pushed the wrong button. The lone freaked out baddie shrieked, fired, and got one good bullet off that ended me.

That said, I had fun playing this game. You’ve probably seen screenshots and videos, so you know that the visuals are great, and with Mark Hamill taking on the Joker’s voice again, I’m expecting the rest of the overall presentation to feel like classic dark Batman. And what could be better? If the way this one scenario played out is any indicator, then hopefully many other classic Batman tropes will be treated with just as much care, and we’ll be in for the gaming experience the dark knight has never received but always deserved. Heck, even if they just vary up this mechanic, just stalking people and getting them scared has a raw delight all its own that I wish more games had. I’m looking forward to this one.