Batman isn't without his own help. Oracle, Commissioner Gordon's post-Batgirl daughter, is in your ear, giving exposition where it's needed. But mainly, it's his "detective mode" that'll be the biggest help in making progress through a level. This is the one disappointment. When described loosely, as it has been in press releases, detective mode sounded like it might have been a risky dose of point-and-click puzzling squirted into the third-person adventure world.
In fact, detective mode seems more designed to make the game easier, instead of more challenging. It's just a way of highlighting items of interest. Lara's got it with her binoculars, Wolverine'll have the same thing with his feral view. It's not new - and if any one act could prove that something isn't new, it's what happens next: Batman uses it to notice that a grill can be pulled off the wall, to let him crawl through a ventilation shaft. It's one of the only disappointments of the demo; that this non-feature was previously singled out for any attention.
But this is Batman, you can embrace a clichÚ or two. And there's the Invisible Predator mode, which actually does offer up something interesting and new. This is Batman's stealthy way of clearing a room full of armed goons. Batman isn't bulletproof, and he's bound by his own ridiculous anti-murder ethics, so he's got to find a way to incapacitate everyone without stealing their guns and planting a dum-dum in their noggin. So it's a combination of stealthily grappling around the vantage points, and emerging briefly from the shadows to deliver a concussion.
With a minimal HUD, there are no artificial and irritating cones of vision on a mini-map, and no light-meter, so it's a lot more exciting to watch than most stealth scenes. Batman leaps quickly around the anchoring points, so it's also a lot more action-packed. He drops from a gargoyle, ropes a thug around the legs, and hoists him up. This is an intimidation move - left dangling, the thug calls for help. When his friend finds him, he freaks out and hides. We slice the rope with a Batarang, knocking out our pi˝ata goon, and swoop down to punch the second guy in the face. This was easy: but when there are eight or nine armed thugs to take out, it's easy to imagine a higher level of caution and skill being required.
The Invisible Predator mode looks great, and is a great sign that Rocksteady is keeping to a creative and honourable approach to making a game out of the darker Batman world. It's perfect Batman. It's what he'd do. My only reservation is that there's not a huge range of ways to dispatch your enemies, and Batman's residency in the rafters might mean that most rooms will be solved in a very similar way - Batarang, hoist, swoop, rinse, repeat. We'll just have to see about that.
The score in the top left of the screen is an experience countdown: using your Batarang on the harmless Joker teeth scattered around the level, dispatching goons and saving innocents all nudge you towards a gadget power-up. You'll also find more gadgets in the hospital prison. There're no clues as to what they might be, but there won't be brawling combo upgrades. Batman knows how to fight, it's been reasoned. He wouldn't suddenly realise he could jump, punch the floor and knock everyone over.
The other big question is the range of villains we'll be facing. We see Joker, Harlequin, Killer Croc, and self-mutilating knife-killer Zsasz, but the question about who else we might see provokes an excellent side-step from the marketing man who's been walking us through the level. "Well, this is Arkham, so all of Batman's villains have spent some time here. So he could meet anyone, that's why it's such a good location." It's an expert answer to a question that wasn't asked, and further prompting provokes a slightly more honest "I can't say". One thing's for sure, though. There'll be no Robin. "Why would there be?" he says. "He was rubbish."
Batman: Arkham Asylum is due out for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 later this year.