Rocksteady Studios did the impossible in 2009 when they released Batman: Arkham Asylum to the world, drastically altering our perception of how good a video game featuring iconic heroes and villains could actually be. Fast forward another two years to the release of Batman: Arkham City and Rocksteady has firmly cemented themselves as some of the best developers in the world, releasing a sequel that expands on it’s predecessor in every way. Soon after Arkham City’s release, Rocksteady turned it’s attention to what would be the third and final act of the series—Batman: Arkham Knight. With a number of years in between titles, WB Games took the opportunity to publish a prequel to Arkham Asylum titled Batman: Arkham Origins. Enlisting the help of WB Games Montreal they released a title that despite receiving lots of criticism, generally lived up the rest of the series and in some ways even improved upon it.
Batman: Arkham Asylum
Arkham Asylum finally delivered a game worthy of the cape & cowl. By utilizing design elements akin to the Metroid series, Rocksteady Studios created an intriguing sandbox which the entirety of can only be explored once players had upgraded all of Batman’s gadgets. Powered by Unreal Engine 3, Asylum’s visuals were superb and offered character designs that were some of the darkest and grittiest representations of Batman’s villainous ilk up to that point. Written by comic book veteran Paul Dini, the narrative is on par with the best Batman stories out there, drawing on a lot of the canon that was largely written for Batman: The Animated Series. Asylum’s only real short coming was perhaps in it’s overuse of the boss battles involving Titan-induced prisoners, though the fantastic combat system saved these sequences from ever becoming dull. Whether Asylum is the best in the series or not is up for debate, but it’s incredible storyline, sophisticated level design, and being the first of it’s kind certainly gives credence to that argument.
Batman: Arkham City
So how does a developer improve on a game that did everything right the first time around? In every way possible of course. From the outset Arkham City blows players minds by putting them in control of Bruce Wayne, not Batman, as he’s imprisoned in a dilapidated open world portion of Gotham City. With an open world comes a lot more opportunities and Rocksteady Studios didn’t skip a beat. On top of the main storyline, rich with various villains in Batman’s rogue gallery this time around, side missions abound in Arkham City giving players more freedom to explore Batman’s world. The combat and item system was revised and expanded allowing for more seamless and endlessly entertaining fight sequences. Boss battles were also improved with more variety and major villain encounters—Mr. Freeze’s still being one of the very best of the series to this day. While not nearly as focused as it’s predecessor’s narrative, City’s main and aforementioned side missions are some of the most engaging Batman stories ever written. Arkham City managed to surpass it’s expectations with flying colors and continued to define what a comic book video game should be.
Batman: Arkham Origins
Due in part to technical issues that marred it’s launch and a promising but not fully fleshed out multiplayer component, Arkham Origins was passed off by a lot of players as a second rate title in the series. That couldn’t be farther from the truth however, as Origins’ delivered some of the most enjoyable boss encounters in the series relying more on the player’s understanding of the combat system as opposed to the stealth mechanics that earlier games relied on. While few and far between, the stealth sequences offered larger areas to stalk Batman’s victims in than prior games. Also new to the series were crime scene investigations that allowed players to uncover clues with reconstructed video and served as a narrative driven mechanic for the main story and side missions. Despite quickly abandoning the concept of “eight assassin’s hunting down the Batman” that the game was largely marketed on, the story line is well written and delivers a fantastic first encounter adventure with the Joker. While Arkham Origins is certainly at fault for playing it too safe and not taking more risks, there’s no denying it’s still a solid entry in the series that no Arkham fan should miss.
It’s rare to see a series come to an end but that’s exactly the kind of story that was told in Arkham Knight. An incredible story line that instilled moments of terror, triumph, and even sadness as Batman was pitted against the worst conditions yet in the entire series. Having practically perfected the series’ mechanics in Arkham City, Arkham Knight carefully polished every core aspect of the game to the point where it felt just right. While the Batmobile divided a lot of players and critics alike because of it’s tank mode, it was just as solid and fleshed out as the rest of the core mechanics in the game. A plethora of side missions were available to the player featuring some fantastic lesser known villains such as Professor Pyg, Deacon Blackfire, and the Man-bat. The sprawling size of the city is simply amazing featuring a total of three islands that by themselves trump the size of any prior game in the series, especially when you factor in their verticality. The city feels organic and taking to the streets with the Batmobile or to the skies with Batman never ceases to be fun. Arkham Knight also received several DLC add ons, and while you wouldn’t be at fault for skipping most of them, the final standout DLC Season of Infamy really fleshes out the number of villains you can interact with in the city and breathes new life into the game after you’ve completed it. If Arkham Knight really is the end for the series then it stands tall as an example of how to properly treat iconic characters and provides the most complete and feature rich Batman experience out there.
Thanks for reading my retrospective on the Batman: Arkham series. Leave some thoughts below in the comments on how you feel about the series. Be sure to check out my stream at twitch.tv/valhallax27!