As I said last time, the lush graphics and shiny production values really help to smooth the transitions between different gameplay types. The action and plot move at a fairly brisk pace, and once you’ve beaten Bane the game starts to throw new things at you fairly regularly. As soon as you start to get comfortable with Joker’s henchman, a fresh enemy type will pop up to make things awkward: a thug with a cattle prod, perhaps, or a freaky raving lunatic who hops about like a deranged beast. These changes keep you on your toes, and they add to the feeling that the whole adventure is one long ordeal for poor old Batman, his suit and cape gradually becoming more torn and slashed up as the story progresses.
I could write pages and pages about the neat moments I saw during my playtest, but time is limited - and besides, it would be mean to spoil all of the twists and turns that are in store. I will, however, mention two scenes that pop right towards the end of chapter four, a pair of events that take place in Arkham’s penitentiary area as you attempt to track down Harley Quinn. The first moment takes place just after you’ve been introduced to Batman’s decoder - a handheld device that can be used to crack electronically locked doors. Using this gadget results in a quick mini-game where you have to rotate both analogue sticks in an attempt to find the “sweetspots”. As is often the case, you’re given this new toy just as it becomes vital to progress through a certain point in the story. You get the decoder, and a few minutes later you’ve already used it to bypass a few barriers. “Alright,” you think to yourself, “I’ve got this down now. Where’s the next fight?”
And then, out of the blue, you’re suddenly forced to use the gadget under duress. You walk into a room and find two guards suspended over electrified pools of water. Harley Quinn starts to taunt you from behind the safety of a shatterproof glass window. You work to free one of the guards, and Harley promptly reveals a bomb that’s set to go off in a matter of seconds. There’s another computer that needs to be diffused, but there’s a big pool of electrified water in the way. The guards are panicking, Harley is laughing… but what would Batman do?
The second moment I want to mention takes place a few moments later. Batman finds a way past Harley’s evil dilemma (well, after a couple of failed attempts in my case) and confronts her in a hall-like section of the prison. Rather than fighting Batman herself, Quinn elects to send wave after wave of thugs his way. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but unfortunately Harley is in front of a control panel that allows her to electrify the floor. Batman has to lay into the mass of bad guys, using his combo and countering skills to keep control of the crowd, while periodically jumping back and forth between safe and electrified parts of the arena. You've also got to do the whole fight on one health bar, so every time an enemy sneaks a fist or a pipe past your defences Batman takes a nap. It starts off simply, but by the time the third wave arrives you’ll be utterly knackered. It's a marathon of violence, Batman versus the hard bastards, and by the time you finally emerge you'll feel almost as bruised as our long-suffering hero.
But I tell you this; you'll also be hungry for more. It's kind of a strange pleasure to play so much of a game in one sitting; it's a bit like trying to speed-eat some kind of caped crusader cake - perhaps a Bat Forest Gateau. Actually it's probably nothing like that. The point is that I played Arkham Asylum for seven hours, and at the end of that session I was still reluctant to put the pad down. If you like Batman - and hey, who doesn't? - then you should be feeling pretty good come the end of next month.
Batman: Arkham Asylum will be released on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on August 28.