First Impressions: Batman: Arkham Asylum

September 21, 2009


The first thing you notice after an hour’s play with Batman: Arkham Asylum is the high level of polish over everything in the game. As a designer, we were taught that the devil is in the detail, and there are so many places in which this game takes that old adage to heart. The beautiful 2D bats that provide animation transitions between menus; the posterize effect that washes over the main screen when you press Pause; the delicious lens flare from the Batmobile’s headlamps in the opening cinematic. It’s clear that Rocksteady’s artists are in love with their game. And who can blame them?

User interface sparkle aside, Arkham Asylum is a jaw-droppingly gorgeous game. The character models are big and bulky; with the exception of the wiry, lithe form of the Joker himself. The environments are surprisingly varied, particularly given that the game takes place within the confines of the titular institute. Where the visuals really shine, however, is in the animation. Batman moves like you expect him too, gracefully and nimbly. The hand-to-hand combat is a particular joy – chaining bone-crunching combos together is a breeze, rewarding the final blow with a dramatic camera close-up and a sickening crunch.

The early indications of the gameplay also look good from the parts I’ve played so far. However, the stealth sections don’t sit particularly well with the slick, fluid gameplay of the hand-to-hand sections; considering how the time waiting around is so at odds with the speed of the unarmed encounters. The Riddler’s riddles are a nice touch, and an extra layer of gameplay on top of the main story – it’ll be a shame however if they are not explored more than by simply holding down the L2 button on things to ‘solve’ the riddles. Detective sections are again pretty fun, and the incidental UI touches really bring this mode to life as you lock on and track whiskey particles in the air, to highlight the first example of this mode.

A solid start then, for a game that’s had a lot of publicity since it’s release. Although I’ve been genuinely impressed so far, I’ve not been blown away as some others had suggested I would, but I still have a lot of the game still to explore. I’m looking forward to uncovering much more over the next week or so.


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