Despite its over-the-top combat and flamboyant archenemy, Batman: Arkham Asylum is a surprisingly subtle game.
As players move forward through the introductory chapters of the game and into the meat of the story, Batman's moves and the challenges he faces blossom adding a surprising level of depth to what could have been a straight-forward brawler.
Ever-present is the jarring, taunting voice of The Joker, always there to ridicule and play faux sympathizer to Batman's stumbles and dead ends. As Batman stalks through the mansion, the prison, and the other weathered buildings of Arhkham island, Joker's army, the recently transferred inmates of Blackgate prison, quickly evolve from punching bags to real threats.
Initially that increased threat comes in the form of knives: Inmates armed with blades can't be as easily dispatched and instead need to be stunned before being pummeled into unconsciousness. But early in Chapter three of the game the weapons available to the inmates start to include assault and sniper rifles and electrified batons. This changes the pacing of the game drastically, forcing gamers to more carefully plot their approach and tactics in taking out a group.
Fortunately, Batman's arsenal also expands. As you progress through the game you can unlock new melee combat moves and fun gadgets like a remote controlled batarang, a grappling hook and the ability to throw multiple batarangs at the same time.
You will also likely find yourself relying more heavily on stealth. Using that grappling hook to zip from shadowy perch to shadowy perch, waiting for the right moment to take out the rare enemy separated from the pack. Once downed the prisoner's collared, initially installed by the prison to monitor heart rates, sound an alarm, attracting nearby prisoners. The inclusion of weapons and alarms turn some moments of Arkham Asylum into elaborate games of cat and mouse.
This added subtlety bodes well for Batman: Arkham Asylum which could have easily rested on the three tenets of the game: Brutal, free-flowing combat, stealth takedowns and the occasional bit of detective work.
In the first two chapters we saw how the developers managed to blend those elements into an experience that has you shifting gears constantly. In chapter three we start to see how those elements may work together to exponentially increase the game's potential.
And that's just for the campaign. The game has plenty of extras built into its framework to increase playability and get gamers to squeeze every last drop out of this title.
Here are my stats just three chapters into the title:
I've found 23 of Riddler's 240 hidden riddles. I've unlocked eight of 20 upgrades, five of 20 3D models and 15 of 42 bios, some of which include pictures, written files and audio files. According to the game, I've also completed 28 percent of Arkham Asylum.
There are also the Challenge Rooms where you can play as Batman (or The Joker on the PS3), either beating down waves of enemies for points or trying to silently clear a room. So far I've only unlocked two of those 16 challenge rooms.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is set to hit the PC, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 on Aug. 25.