Batman kicks ass, but he's lucky all of his games haven't sucked ass. Other superheroes haven't done so well over the years. Superman, for example, has been reeling from one poorly thought out title after the other for years. Still, even the best for Batman haven't captured the feeling of being under the cowl, facing down maniacs with his fists and wits.
This is one game where cut scenes are sure to get multiple viewings.
The developers at Rocksteady are out to change that. I know I say this too often, but their first game, Urban Chaos: Riot Response, is massively underappreciated: solid shooting mechanics mixed in with some very clever ideas with the riot shield as mobile cover, unlockable weapons for completing challenges, and a swathe of scum I was more than happy to blow to bloody chunks.
In Batman: Arkham Asylum Batman doesn't use a gun, but that doesn't mean he's ill-equipped for a brawl. Combat has been designed around dealing with a number of enemies at once, and these guys aren't passive. If you try to smack one thug around, another is going to come up from behind with you a shiv you won't soon forget. So you need to keep mobile, leaping from their backs, or executing a quick counter to leave them staggering. A quick swipe of the bat cape or knocking them into an electric fence also does the trick. It helps that the fighting controls are responsive and the camera is dynamic - so as long as you pay attention, you should crush a dozen psychos without a scratch. Because you're the goddamn Batman.
But don't expect to take on machine-gun-wielding maniacs with a frontal assault. Besides a bit of armor, the Dark Knight is nothing but human, and will fall under a hail of lead. So you can seamlessly slip into stealth mode, moving silently while clinging to the walls and shadows, following behind these thugs until just the right moment to leap up for a nice head squeeze. The levels are designed for free-form navigation, so you can choose the path you take, especially when you bust out the grapple to zip to raised catwalks to launch vengeance from above, or a batarang for those hard to reach enemies. All without being seen.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is not all nameless thugs, however. The Dark Knight has a rogues gallery other heroes envy. With the Joker now in charge of Arkham Asylum, many of them are free and eager to clip the wings of the Bat that put them there. Killer Croc, Bane, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn . . . the list goes on. All brought together for a tale penned by the legendary Paul Dini, the man behind the incredible Batman: The Animated Series. Anyone who's a fan of this series will also be overjoyed to know that many of the original voice actors will be reprising their roles. No big-screen actor has come close to Kevin Conroy's gruff voice of Batman, and no one has matched Mark Hamill's chilling cackle as the deranged Joker. Even Annie Potts breathes life back into the fan favorite Harley Quinn. This is one game where cut scenes are sure to get multiple viewings.
Of course it's not all fisticuffs. Shown only briefly at E3 was the ability of the world's greatest detective to put his wits and gadgets to the test to solve intricate puzzles, thus gaining access to even more of the twisted halls and warrens that make up the sprawling Arkham Asylum. Comic fans will also be pleased to see how much detail has been put into this place, from the damp lair of Killer Croc to the twisted greenhouse of Poison Ivy.
Batman: Arkham Asylum will hitting the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC, but it'll be the PS3 version that'll be getting the most love. There will be more downloadable challenge levels, a digital comic prequel for the PSP, a behind-the-scenes video, and a special apartment filled with experimental gadgets, but what makes me smile is the ability to play as the clown prince of crime himself, laughing his way through eight challenge maps. Though whatever the version, gamers will finally be able to don the mantle of the greatest comic book hero of all time this summer.