GDC09: Batman Arkham Asylum hands-on


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We've been going batty really looking forward to getting our hands on the Dark Knight's latest video game ever since we saw a very impressive -- but hands-off -- demonstration of Arkham Asylum in early February. Today we finally got that chance, but it was over before you could say, "I'm Batman."

Rather than opening up the game and letting us explore the infamous Arkham ourselves, Eidos limited the experience to two challenge rooms -- both of which were areas we'd seen when the game was first unveiled. The first was, well, the very first playable scene in the game, the entrance to the asylum immediately following the Joker's escape. This brief (less than three minute) brawl with a gaggle of goons was just long enough for us to get a feel for the close-quarters fighting controls -- and we liked what we played.
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The fight was an example of simple combat mechanics (attack, parry, evade) being amped up by means of a really heavy-hitting presentation. Reversing enemy attacks was incredibly easy compared to other action games featuring similar mechanics; electric bolts flash above an enemy's head a good second before they attack, which gave us plenty of time (maybe too much) to press "Y" and break out our Judo moves. This fight was focused purely on building up a combo string -- Batman auto-locks on the nearest enemy you're facing, and holding the analog stick in that direction and pressing the attack button immediately after finishing off a foe keeps the string going.

The fights look outright choreographed, but fortunately don't feel like quick time events.

There's enough variety to Bats' attacks and associated animations to make the fights look outright choreographed, but fortunately not feel like quick time events. In addition to the basic punches, kicks and cape swipes (a crowd clearing move), we managed to land one finishing blow (performed by following on-screen prompts), which resulted in one of the most gruesome arm breakings we're ever seen -- and, especially, heard -- in a game.

After this we were whisked into another challenge scenario. The criteria for winning in this new room were: take out one enemy with a Batarang to the head, one with explosives, and another with a ground finishing move. Here we got to use Batman's Detective Mode vision, which can be left on indefinitely if you like. (The game's producer told us one of the team members plays the game exclusively in Detective Mode, to which we say, "Whatever floats your bat.")

Taking out a thug from our position, perched atop a gargoyle, was a piece of cake. A really expensive one like Bruce Wayne would eat. Anyway, the more challenging bit was moving from room to room, using the Detective Mode's enhanced vision to look for weakened walls. Once we found one, we sprayed a bat-shaped glob of aerosol explosive on it and detonated it when a bad guy came near. Of course, big explosions draw attention -- and we got plenty of it. We had to grapple to several hiding spots before the evil creeps got confused. Then, when one's back was turned, we floated in for a contextually activated glide kick, followed by a discreet pummeling (in X-Ray vision, no less).

With that, it was DEMO OVER ... and time for our anticipation to kick back into high gear. There's definitely something good here, but we won't be able to deduce how good until we get to spend more than 10 minutes inside the game's lovely loony bin.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.