Demo: Batman: Arkham Asylum

The arrival of this demo yesterday was a nice surprise.  It’s on Xbox Live (and can be downloaded by going here), PC (download from Fileshack here) and the PlayStation Store (which I can’t directly link to).  I played the PS3 version.

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I was interested in the demo because the game has been built up into a Big Thing, which seemed to take everybody by surprise (including its publisher, who delayed the game seemingly to make sure it could live up to the hype).  It has potential to not just be a big, AAA release, but the game that finally does the Batman character justice in all his aspects (his refusal to kill, his intelligence and detective skills, his combat prowess, his gadgets and stealth), as well as telling a good story.  Some of the pre-release hype has even compared it to Bioshock in terms of its atmosphere, which is a lot of praise/pressure to place upon a game ahead of release.

So, based upon the hype and personal expectations I was hoping to find that this game is an atmospheric fighting game with smooth, satisfying combat, decent stealth gameplay that isn’t too punishing for failure, and does justice to the potential of the Batman character.  Can it live up to those expectations?

The demo opens with a contracted version of the full game’s intro, with Batman accompanying the captured Joker (who apparently surrendered surprisingly quickly) into Arkham.  As far as I’m aware the full game will include a Half-Life-style intro sequence, setting the scene as the Joker is escorted into the facility and giving him lots of opportunity to taunt and mock Batman, but in the demo this is all skipped for a brief scene-setting intro.

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It’s not long before the Joker is free and the gameplay begins.  Batman is quickly thrust into combat with a few thugs and introduced to basic melee combat.  Combat uses one button for attacking (Square on PS3) and one for countering (Triangle).  It’s not particularly complicated and functions like a simpler version of Assassin’s Creed’s combat, with every hit connecting and counters being very obviously telegraphed and generous with their timing.  It’s quite cinematic (and heavily uses slowmotion to enhance the effect) and I thought it worked well.

Next up is an introduction to Batman’s aerial manoeuvres.  One of the escaped inmates (Zasz, I think) is holding a guard hostage in an electric chair and will kill him if he sees Batman, so you have to swing across the gargoyles that for some reason fill the interior of Arkham (pressing R1 automatically attaches Batman to the nearest one), get behind Zasz, and eliminate him from behind.  The demo encourages you to use the glide kick – simply pressing Square to automatically glide towards and knock down your target – but I imagine stealthily dropping down and sneaking behind him would work too.  You fail if he detects you and have to go back to the previous checkpoint, but it’s a simple introduction to the stealth gameplay and shouldn’t cause anybody any problems.

That section also introduces Detective Mode, the alternate viewing mode that highlights key environmental elements (gargoyles, vents) and enemies, which show up as skeletons (even through walls), and are coloured differently depending on whether they have guns (which requires a different approach).

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After that there’s another mini stealth section that introduces the armed thugs, which ideally need to be taken out with stealth, followed by a large room with a lot of armed thugs in it that puts what you’ve learned to the test.  All the thugs have guns so stealth is a necessity, but there’s no instant failure this time, and as long as Batman can disappear up onto a gargoyle and get out of sight you’re free to keep on playing.  There are lots of different ways to take out the thugs, with hiding places and environmental attacks beyond just using the gargoyles.  I found the stealth also worked very well.

The demo ends there, which seems rather short for a 1.4GB download (or 2GB on PC).  That aside, the game really lived up to my expectations.  The opening sets things up well and captures the necessary atmosphere (helped by the voice acting, which includes Mark Hamill as the Joker), the combat was good (if a little simple and overusing slowmotion), the stealth was great (my favourite part of the demo was definitely the final stealth room), and it all seemed to fit with the nature of Batman.  The presentation was excellent, the game ran well (which isn’t surprising, as it uses Unreal Engine 3) and the demo really managed to suggest that Arkham Asylum could live up to the hype when it releases in a few weeks (with a slightly longer wait for the PC version).

Images Sources:

All Images: Eurogamer

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