By Kieron Gillen on December 10th, 2008 at 6:55 pm.
A new trailer of Rocksteady’s forthcoming Batman Arkham Asylum has gone live. You’ll find it beneath the cut, and see a lot of criminals being a cowardly and superstitious lot. The last time we posted about it, a lot of people seemed a little bewildered about what the game’s about. I’ve actually seen it a couple of times, so you’ll some thoughts on exactly what this Arkham Aslyum creature is, as well as the aforementioned video of punchitude.
Okay – for any Comics readers, put the “Arkham Asylum” you’re thinking of out of mind. It’s not based on the densely symbolic Grant Morrison/Dave McKean. Which is probably a good thing – it’s probably best to concentrate on just making a good Batman game before we do a deconstruction of Batman.
What’s most notable about Arkham Asylum is how it is an attempt to do a Batman game. It looks at what Batman does, and rolls with it. This leads to a game which, if it pulls off, should have its own distinct flavour. That’s the fun of licensing – it forces developers to do things they’d have unlikely ever done for themselves. Look at the Spiderman games. Would a developer have ever spent so much effort on the ability to swing gracefully across the city if they didn’t know they had to do it otherwise the game will fail. In the same way, the chances a developer would make a hybrid Final-Fight/Splinter-Cell/Graphic Adventure if they didn’t want to make a Batman game are kinda minimal. A designer trying to justify why it’d be awesome if the game stopped here for someone to look at fingerprints is going to get people with money laughing at him. If he can say “But that’s what Batman does, so we’re trying to best realise the fantasy of the IP. And – er – Branding. Yeah?” they’ve got a chance.
So the game has three main parts. They’re not neatly subdivided into stages or anything – it’s more tools which you bring to bear on a given situation – but basically it’s punching, sneaking and thinking. The first part happens when you face enemies armed with melee weapons, and is all about chaining blows and stunning people with knives and whatever. If they have guns, it gets trickier. You can pile in, but you tend to get cut to pieces. Far better is to stalk your prey, and generally shit them up before doing the old something-tells-me-to-stop-at-the-arm-I-don’t-listen-to-it. It’s worth noting that it’s a game based around power rather than weakness. Rather than Thief-esque insecurity, your targets are the ones who are petrified at the thing in the shadows. Normally you use your bat-rope-thing to get to the gargoyles above, and then manouvere around, picking off enemy stragglers and laughing as they start getting spooked and firing blindly at shadows. Finally, there’s the investigative part, where you go into an alternative vision mode where possible clues are revealed. What I’ve seen is simple puzzle solving – like working out which set of fingerprints in a crime-scene would belong to someone you’re after, and then using that evidence-trail to lead to another location.
That’s the core of it. There’s a bit more – the gothic nature of Arkham brings to mind Bioshock quickly, there’s some subtle RPG elements to improve your various abilities, there’s quite a heavy story focus, there’s some puzzle-solving larger set-piece things – but basically it’s about you being the Batman in a place where the inmates have taken over the Asyl… oh, never mind. It’s up to you to prove – as another masked vigilante put it – “I’m not trapped in here with you – you’re trapped in here with me”.
In short, my initial impressions are better than I suspect most of RPS’ readers will be expecting. You may be expecting a cheap-cash-in on the Dark Knight’s success, but this is a serious attempt to make a serious Batman game. Clearly, this is impressions rather than actually playing the thing, but it’s the first Batman game I can remember which seems to have even the loosest handle on the character.