Thursday, August 13, 2009

Batman Arkham Asylum demo review for the PS3

The demo was made available last Thursday, but I've only just picked it up for reasons of it being 1460Mb in size. Started the download at 17:45 and it finished installing at 19:40.

So a couple of intro screens and then the Dark Knight brooding on the roof corner of a building. I flick through the extras and we've got a bio on Batman and Joker and a Trophy section with only Batman listed so presumably no trophies which makes sense.

New Game and we're looking up at heavy rain falling from the sky, heavy clouds and the bat-signal lights up; not bad. Then we pan down the side of a building and ah the Judderman makes an appearance as the building and a lamp-post nudge themselves across the screen. Now as a reminder I'm on a 50Hz SD television, so this may look fine at 60Hz or via HDMI, but here and now it's damn noticeable. Okay the Batmobile screeches past with a rumble in my controller followed by a cockpit view of Batman and Joker seems he's taking him in. Next we get an excellent atmospheric shot of Arkham Asylum as the Batmoble heads in.

Into Arkham and some narrative, no subtitles. Hmm I didn't recall seeing the option, but I may well have missed it. Anyway some back and forth between Batman and Jim Gordon and... my telephone rings. I hit start to pause the scene and nothing happens... great. I hit the PS button to bring up the console menu which should put a halt to any game process and... the scene continues. I press every button and finally get a "Press [Circle] to skip" well I don't want to skip I want to pause but... So I'm into the game and now I can hit start to pause it and answer the phone.

Blah blah.

Okay I quit the game and restart it so I can watch the intro piece (video still juddery) and now I notice that the voice sync is off especially noticeable on the close-up of the Joker. Message to developers - If you're putting exposition in as part of a non-interactive scene we need to be able to pause and skip it; no arguments, no whining. In real life people can get disturbed and if we miss out on a vital bit of narrative because we can't damn well pause the thing we're going to be cheesed off. Likewise getting killed and having to watch the same piece of footage again and again is very tiring without a skip.

Into the game and it's tutorial time and my supposition that this is designed for HD is supported when a "Press [Square] to strike" appears. Sony haven't made matters helpful with their colour scheme - Green is a Triangle; Blue is an X; but for the the two symbols that could most be mistaken for each other, that being the Square and the Circle, we'll use two slightly different shades of red [Slap].

So I'm happily pressing square and using the analogue stick to pick the direction to strike I'm told this with a little analogue stick picture with a letter above it, the letter could be an L or an R, but it's too small to tell. The strikes are quite meaty and flow nicely for a single button control though every so often a bad-guy seems to get an electric shock, or possibly I'm fighting an uncostumed Spiderman in that a little burst of lightening bolt type symbols appear around an enemy's head.

Damn they just don't want to stay down, ah I see when I knock one to the ground and get close enough another instruction pops-up on screen a bumper button and Triangle. See I can tell it's a Triangle because of the shape and the fact it's green, the bumper button could be any one of four because on my TV the text telling me which it is is about 4 pixels high. Turns out to be R2 which logically is also crouch.

Okay next round and I'm told to "Counter using [Triangle]" uh-huh when? Oh when their spider-sense tingles, yeah might not have wanted to have that working during the first round and might want to have explained that a bit further.

Thump, thump, hmm combat is nice and meaty.

All dead, oops sorry incapacitated I have a look around and spot a ventilation grill so I head over to it. Damn Bats moves slowly it's like he's got a pole up his arse. "X to open" easy I press X and Bats grabs the edge of the grill and then in the middle of the screen I get a flashing X. Okay I know that means hammer the X button, but for a newbie I can imagine them trying to sync with the flash, anyway Bats peels off the grill and I duck in and find a floating Green Question Mark. Then to break the 4th wall I get a message telling me that The Riddle bio has been opened for me to look at with the Select button. Still kudos for taking me directly to that page rather than making me navigate the menu to find it.

I exit the shaft and ponderously head to where I last saw the Joker. Gordon pops up on the suspended TVs for no apparent reason and his bio is opened. Same happens for Oracle, and the main bad-guys later on too.

Up some stairs and another tutorial moment. Press L1 to aim a batarang. Excellent what am I aiming at? Hmm reticule seems to be tracking something and changes colour when not on target, fine but what am I aiming at? I chuck a batarang and hit a wall, I keep going until it stops auto-tracking and head onwards. Oh a rat, I think; well that was worth the effort.

Wading through treacle I head down a corridor and a tannoy announces a break in section something or other 3 then in 2 then in 1 or some such while the overhead TVs show me the inmates streaming into corridors. Oh "Press and hold X to run" gee thanks I could have done with that two corridors ago.

Nice run animation with the cape streaming back. Onwards to a couple of guards confronting Zzsazz? Zssazz? Zsz... oh sod it the nutter who cuts himself a scar whenever he kills someone. Seems he's taken a guard hostage and managed to wire him up to the mains. Time to get stealthy.

Backing up I head to the next level and am told to use "Detective Mode" with L1. Woah I can see through walls and all those gargoyles look strange. What's that? Look up? Okee-dokee it's a gargoyle. Still want me to keep looking up? Ah triggers another prompt "Press R1 to swing up" Phump, swing and oo nice I'm perched on the gargoyle and have a nice overview of things. I swing to another gargoyle so I'm side on to Z and am told I can use a Glide Kick with the Square button. Hmm I think I'd prefer to get behind him first. Another swing and perch then a slow-motion glide-kick and Z is down.

Batman rumbles that he won't be down for long so I should incapacitate him and I get the R2+Triangle prompt; again I had this in the first stage tutorial shouldn't you have told me about it then? Anyway Z is now down and I'm whisked off to another uninteractive scene. Then back to control and Bats talks to Oracle over his headset in a move that would have Daniel Craig shouting "Get your finger out of your bloody ear" Oh and despite this being back in the game I can't do anything except walk around because Bats has his finger stuck in his ear.

Through another vent and at its exit a couple of guards get shot and the bad-guys loudly discuss how they were told to shoot anyone who tries to enter the hall. Fortunate that the vent is tucked into a corner allowing me to exit unseen.

Okay this bit is supposed to emphasise that Bats is just a man, walking out in front of the gun-men means getting shot and killed, you need to play it smart and that means Detective Mode to see through walls and those ever so handy gargoyles.

Up and over and down behind the three gun-men who never look around. Oo silent kill notice R2 to crouch, move forward, and then hit Triangle when prompted. Very silent takedown the other two don't notice a thing. Repeat twice, then head for another goon who's having a video conversation with the Joker - Silent takedown and sigh another vent to clamber through.

Now I'm in a big room with five armed goons wandering around. First things first zip up to a gargoyle and spy out the land. Hey one of them's broken off from the group and is trundling along beneath me. What's that Triangle? I can perform a silent takedown as I hang from the gargoyle wrap the guy in my cloak before hauling him back up tieing his feet and leave him dangling - yeah think I'll do that. Hmm he's making a bot of noise think I'd better move.

Yep the other guys are converging on their dangling colleague. Detective mode tells me their heart rate has increased. I swing from gargoyle to gargoyle and wait until again until one is separated and repeat the takedown. Cleverly you can only perform one such takedown from each gargoyle because obviously there's a guy dangling from it already. So I have to move about.

I take out another three and the remaining two are very jumpy now and shooting at shadows, another one down and only one to go and he's staying well away from the edge of the room. Glide kick and takedown; neat.

Control is snatched away again and I'm confronting the Joker who unleashes a 'mutant' and that's the end of the demo folks.

Okay building graphics are awesome, but the characters are a bit uncanny valley. Controls work and are nicely responsive. The faults I can pick are that this seems built solely with big-screen/HD in mind which makes interpreting instructions difficult; that you can't pause the cut-scenes; that Batman looks a right prat when talking to Oracle; and that finally I can see this getting repetitive unless something is changed in later levels - swing, takedown, swing, repeat.

Still it's Batman and probably the closest true representation of how he operates.