Bane is bearing down on Batman like a meaty steam train. As he charges across the room his stomping steps cause a minor earthquake. His arms alone are the size of most men’s torsos, his muscles fuelled by the mysterious steroid known as Venom. He is, famously, the man who broke the bat - snapping the caped crusader’s spine during a rumble at the Batcave. That was some time ago, but now in the underground halls of Arkham Asylum, he’s out for blood once more.
The Dark Knight himself remains unfazed. With reflexes trained by years of downing Guinness and playing darts in The Gotham Arms (no, really), Batman hurls a sharp batarang into Bane’s scowling mask. The blow doesn’t stop the giant, but it does cause him to lose control. As Bane continues to rush forward under his own momentum, Bats leaps out of the way in glorious slo-mo, and the drugged-up thug smashes into a heavy brick wall. Welcome to the boss fight, Arkham Asylum style.
If you read the preview I wrote two weeks ago, you’ll know that I’ve now played through the first four chapters of Batman: Arkham Asylum. Up until now I’ve not been allowed to chat about what I’ve seen in the third and fourth sections of the game, but now my lips are largely un-zipped. Considering that my previous article focused on my general impressions of the game, I thought it might be good to focus on a few of my favourite moments from what I’ve played so far. Needless to say, I’m about to throw out quite a number of spoilers, so only read on if you’re happy to blow a few key surprises from the first half of the story (although there are still one or two things that I’m not allowed to mention).
Let's return to the fight with Bane. This encounter takes place at the very end of Chapter 2 and is essentially the first true boss battle of the game. The whole episode works extremely well because, like so many other things in Arkham Asylum, it successfully represents the nature of the two characters involved. Although Bane is far more intelligent a villain than his hulking appearance might suggest, his primary characteristic is still his awesome strength. Batman, on the other hand, is renowned for being a smart superhero: Yes, he has great gadgets and is pretty handy in a fight, but his primary weapon is his brain.
During the battle, the player first has to deal with Bane’s imposing presence. The size and detail of his character model, combined with the speed at which he charges at you, makes him a fairly intimidating foe; as a result you’re likely to spend the first few minutes of the encounter simply running away. Once you’ve actually calmed down a bit, you’ll realise that you have to use his strength against him, stunning him as he runs and only attacking once he’s crashed into a wall of the arena.
The Bane fight is, in short, a minor puzzle. The find-the-weakspot game is a long-established trend within boss battles, but it feels particularly right here because you know that’s exactly what The Dark Knight himself would do in the situation. You know those “What Would Jesus Do?” armbands that became massively popular a few years ago? Well, online there’s a place where you can get a T-Shirt that asks, “What Would Batman Do?”. It’s a question you’ll ponder repeatedly throughout your time in Arkham Asylum. Sometimes there’s a prescribed solution to your problem: on a few occasions Batman has to use CSI-style genetic evidence to trace a character he’s pursuing, following particles of cigar smoke in the air or traces of DNA left behind on doors and bits of scenery. At other moments the game leaves it to you to find you way through: shortly after the Bane fight you’re introduced to a set of sniper-wielding goons who are guarding a wide open courtyard. There’s almost Tenchu-like quality to this section, since you’ll get a bullet to the head if you stray into your enemies’ lines of sight.