The prime focus of play is hand-to-hand combat. You’re a martial arts master, after all, guns aren’t your style. Rocksteady developed what they call the FreeFlow combat system, which allows you to chain together virtually unlimited combos against large numbers of opponents. You use the basic attack to apply pain in various punches and kicks, counter enemy attacks, and use a sweep of your cape to stun the more formidable assailants. Animations are pleasing to the eye and do indeed flow into one another very well.
After reaching a certain combo multiplier, you are able to perform special throwing or takedown moves. You gain experience for each punk you knock out, allowing you to access one of various upgrades to techniques and equipment when you “level up.”
It wouldn’t be Batman without the gadgets, and this game has quite a few, including several varieties of Batarang, a remote-detonated explosive gel, and a very cool frequency emitter used to overload security panels. Most of them have upgrades available, such as a proximity fuse for the gel and a range boost for the emitter. You can also upgrade your armor up to 4 times, effectively increasing your health meter to about twice the size it starts out as. Every item has a utility, whether for getting you places you previously couldn’t reach, or giving you new ways to take out your opponents.
Stealth is a major component of gameplay – sometimes it is required and other times it is very difficult to proceed without it. You sneak behind cover and peer around corners, find flanking routes through vents, or use your grappling gun to stay above the enemy’s line of sight. There are often several environmental features that will aid you in dispatching thugs discreetly, the most obvious of which are arrays of grates and gargoyles. The former can be used to pop up out of the floor right behind your quarry to perform a silent takedown, while the latter serves as a high-altitude vantage point from which a number of strategic advantages are gained. For instance, you can hang upside down and grab someone below, or perform a gliding kick to knock them off their feet. For defeating several opponents armed with guns, you must keep the element of surprise on your side.
The Detective Mode of sight is used to aid you in navigating your way around the game world. It will highlight people and interactive objects, can detect enemies in the immediate vicinity, and is used for “forensic tracking.” In an attempt to put you in the sleuthy shoes of the world’s greatest detective, certain points of the story require you to scan for evidence such as fingerprints, DNA, and alcohol or tobacco residue. This is used to automatically track a person of interest to their current whereabouts. The most prevalent use of Detective Mode, however, is that it bestows an x-ray wall-hack with a very long range. It is definitely handy for sneaking around, but brings into question whether or not it may be somewhat overpowered.
Arkham Asylum is presented as a free-roam environment, with large outdoor areas opening up soon after the beginning tutorial sequence. However, the many mission areas such as the Penitentiary or Medical Center are blocked off in a way that requires you to progress through the story to acquire new gear so that you may access them. The aforementioned forensic tracking system is used to lead you to the next area via trails of evidence that act as breadcrumbs. It’s a neat little trick (albeit somewhat far-fetched) but is also redundant and unnecessary, considering you have waypoints and a map to find your way. Exploration is required to complete Riddler’s Challenges, which consist of collecting various hidden objects, destroying chattering teeth scattered about the island, and solving riddles to unlock character biographies and new levels for the bonus Challenge mode.
Boss fights suck for the most part, since most of them are identical dumb brutes. They throw something and you jump out of the way. They charge at you, you toss a Batarang, and then jump out of the way. It’s all very tedious and repetitive, even when a group of ordinary henchman are thrown in. You will no doubt lose count of how many times you have to defeat these overgrown monstrosities. The only fun part is when you are able to jump on their back and sort of direct their flailing movements to strike other enemies, but that’s rare. A few other bosses are different, but still usually end up with you tossing Batarangs in their face. Batman must have a magic belt of holding to keep that many with him…