Batman is dead in the comic universe. Thankfully that won't stop Eidos and Rocksteady Studios from releasing Batman: Arkham Asylum this August on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. G4tv.com has managed to snag some play time with the game and work our way through a few of the early areas of the game, and so far, Arkham Asylum is just flat-out impressive.
From the solid-yet-simple combat system to the cinematic presentation, this Batman game is not only showing respect to the franchise, but it's doing so with a style all its own.
One of the best things about picking it up for the first time is how intuitive everything feels; most actions only require a single button, such as using Batman's grapple gun to swing from gargoyles and overhanging ledges. Fighting can be as simple as mashing the attack button, or you can use more finesse by countering incoming attacks and then pouding heads on the ground. Either way, enemies go down hard and you feel like a complete badass. There are no "KAPOWs" here; most post-Frank Miller era Caped Crusader fans should be pleased to see that Batman is pulling no punches. The brutality on some of the attacks will make you cringe. It also doesn't hurt that downed enemies clutch at their injuries in pain and scream in horror when you bash their faces in. Ouch.
What's really promising is the amount of varied gameplay seen so far, even in the first couple areas. The game will bounce between crime solving, combat sequences and stealth action in the span of one room, and it keeps things very fresh. A lot of the main rooms in the game are quite large and offer up some really creative angles on taking down the bad guys, especially when they get guns. Early on, I purchased an ability to hang foes upside down by their ankles from gargoyles if they walked beneath them. Later on, I used that ability to great effect to separate pairs of guards who would have been too difficult to take down together. Upon finding their friend's body, the other goons would suddenly become agitated and confused (one even shot a wall in frustration while screaming for Batman to show himself; very cool). I was able to get the drop on one and strangle the other silently from behind while they started poking their noses into shadows they shouldn't have.
On top of that, every area has hidden collectibles that unlock gameplay challenges (such as destroy X number of The Joker's walking teeth). In turn, these challenges grant experience, which allows you to power up your abilities and weapons. There is also a minigame involving solving various riddles throughout the game by finding certain items or locations, and these, too, reward the player for participating. All of this side content is entirely optional, however, so there's no pressure to complete any or all of the unlockable content.
Additionally, the presentation is top-notch, with the voice acting being a particular standout. The Joker is maniacal, sinister, but also funny, and it all comes across in every single line of dialogue. Other members of the rogues gallery are equally well-done, such as Harley Quinn's flirtations and Killer Croc's threatening snarls. Even the environments have been crafted with minute, loving details that immerse as much as impress. One of the very first rooms in the game is The Riddler's cell, replete with painted green question marks everywhere, and it sets the tone of what is to come very nicely. Many of the early setpieces feel as appropriately insidious as one would imagine finding in a secluded asylum. Combined with some nice production values during cutscenes, this really does feel like it could finally be a Batman game done right.
All in all, Rocksteady has set the stage for a really fun experience in the Batman universe. The first couple hours keep upping the ante in terms of layering complexity on the player; it's nicely paced, and satisfying to boot. Many of the areas suggest some revisiting once you've acquired new abilities and devices, so there's a spirit of exploration and adventure even inside the austere walls of this mental hospital. With only two months to go before release (August 25, to be exact), there's not much time until the inmates take over. Check out G4tv.com for the full review then.