Welcome back, everyone. “D.G.M.’s Gaming Life Before Gaming Respawn Part 31” will focus on a series of games that has singlehandedly (and briefly)bolstered gamers’ interests in superhero video games. What other series could I possibly be talking about other than the Batman Arkham series? Developer Rocksteady truly made history when they released Batman: Arkham Asylum back in 2009. This game and its sequels let gamers truly feel like the Dark Knight in an manner that could be considered unprecedented, something pretty much no other superhero game has managed to do. Seriously, no other licensed series focusing on established superheroes comes close to the high standards set by the Batman Arkham series. Some past Spider-Man games have come kind of close, but not close enough. This is going to be one of my more lengthy articles, so let’s dispense with the long intro and kick things off right now, shall we?
Batman: Arkham Asylum (PS3)
The first game in the Batman Arkham series was a pioneer game if ever there was one. While it’s not my personal favorite of the series, it’s still a great game oozing with dark atmosphere, and it properly kicked off one of the best series of games in recent memory. The game opens with Batman giving the Joker a ride in his Batmobile to the titular loony bin, Arkham Asylum, after apparently stopping the crazy clown’s latest scheme. But after being escorted into the asylum by Batman and some guards, the Joker, with a little help from his girl Harley Quinn, manages to break free of his bonds and then releases nearly every criminal and wacko from their cells, many of whom start killing the asylum’s guards and employees and taking hostage the ones they didn’t kill. Batman, of course, is the only one around who can save all the hostages and stop Joker’s latest scheme. The story is actually not that deep, but the dark setting and impressive cast of characters help to make the straightforward story seem like a non-issue.
The gameplay is top notch. Batman will basically be beating the crap out of a bunch of thugs through direct combat and through stealth. While using stealth, Batman can strike enemies from above, from behind corners, from underneath in air vents, and more. The combat is of a free flow nature that grants the player an unprecedented level of control over Batman while he breaks some bones. There are no real combos to speak of, rather the combat requires you to keep on your toes and not lose a step by attacking enemies continuously with strikes, takedowns, and gadgets, as well as countering their blows, and the longer you keep up an uninterrupted chain of attacks, the more damage subsequent attacks inflict on enemies. The boss fights, while not as exceptional as some of those in the later games, were still fun, if a little easy.
Finding all of the infamous Riddler trophies and solving all the puzzles is a time consuming task, but the game really makes you want to do it all. And personally, finding everything in Arkham Asylum is ultimately less frustrating than it ended up being in the later games due to this game not having a fully free-roam environment; instead, this game has more of a metroidvania style layout. One particular part of the game that really stood out to me was when Batman had to cautiously make his way through Killer Croc’s lair and avoid letting himself get caught by the monster lest he be sent to a watery grave. To this day, this section still has me on edge when I play it. Then there are the parts where Batman gets affected by Scarecrow’s fear toxin and experiences all manner of hallucinations, some which break the fourth wall in amusing ways. This game was a great start to a great series. Batman: Arkham Asylum gets a score of 90%.
Batman: Arkham City (PS3)
Now we come to arguably the best game in the Batman Arkham series, Arkham City. Taking place about a year after Arkham Asylum, this game involves a condemned portion of Gotham City being walled off to house the large number of criminals and lunatics that were once incarcerated in Blackgate Prison and Arkham Asylum, and this new mega prison was dubbed, of course, Arkham City. The warden of Arkham City, Professor Hugo Strange, has his security guards bust up a protest that formed outside his prison and arrest many of the people involved, including Bruce Wayne. As it turns out, Strange knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman, and he plans to keep him in his prison until he can execute his secret plan known as Protocol 10. Naturally, Batman will have to deal with other criminals in the prison as he makes efforts to stop Strange’s plan, not to mention deal with the Joker and his own dastardly schemes. With regards to story, Arkham City probably has the best one in the entire series, though it’s not by too much. To be honest, the overly large cast of characters and villains in this game that have their own separate stories attached to them kind of makes us lose focus on the main story, and some of these villains appear for literally a few seconds before they disappear for the rest of the game. Still, I appreciate how this game features an impressive cast of characters that weren’t in the previous game, including Ra’s al Ghul, Penguin, Two-Face, Mr. Freeze, and others.
The gameplay is certainly a step above what was offered in Arkham Asylum. The combat and stealth are smoother than ever and feature more options for putting the smackdown on enemies through additional takedown moves and by incorporating more gadgets to incapacitate enemies. New puzzles, provided by the supremely arrogant twerp known as the Riddler, also make a return. Solving these puzzles and finding all the Riddler trophies was certainly a more daunting task in this game but also much more satisfying. The open world of the Arkham City prison, while not terribly large, is packed to the brim with puzzles, collectibles, and side-missions; completionists will have plenty to keep them busy with this game. Just getting around Arkham City can be a joy since Batman’s gliding ability can now be combined with his grapnel gun to keep him aloft almost indefinitely. Being able to play as Catwoman during specific points in the story also changes things up enough to keep the game from feeling like too much of the same. Though she controls mostly the same as Batman, she does function differently in certain respects. She not only can climb certain surfaces and reach areas that Batman can’t, but she can traverse Arkham City by swinging on her whip and leapfrogging up the sides of buildings. She’s also a bit faster with her strikes when beating up enemies. After beating the main mission, other remaining missions and collectibles can only be completed/acquired by playing as both Batman and Catwoman, and switching between the two characters can be done at anytime at certain spots throughout the prison.
Much like the previous game, this one has incredible graphics and was very atmospheric in a dark, gritty way. The boss fights were also an improvement over the somewhat less exciting and challenging ones in Arkham Asylum, and the final boss fight in particular was more appropriately fitting. The DLC Harley Quinn’s Revenge, which takes place a couple of weeks after the main game, doesn’t really add much of anything new to the proceedings other than playing as both Batman and Robin in a more linear but still fun adventure they undertake to stop some mischievous plot concocted by Joker’s top henchgirl Harley Quinn. While Robin does possess his own unique combat moves and gadgets, his gameplay is even less of a departure from Batman’s when compared to Catwoman. Despite the average DLC, this game is a noticeable improvement on an already great game, and it’s basically my favorite game in the series, though it is by a razor thin margin. Batman: Arkham City gets a score of 95%.
Batman: Arkham Origins (PS3)
When you get right down to it, this game is basically just a bigger but not necessarily better version of Arkham City. Developed in-house by WB Games, Batman: Arkham Origins built itself off of Arkham City‘s template; the controls and overall general structure of the open world environment are the same. The main difference though is that Arkham Origins has slightly inferior graphics, and I personally experienced a few bugs like occasionally choppy framerates and sound glitches, though I heard other gamers experienced even worse issues. Nevertheless, I found this game to be plenty of fun and worthy of the Arkham title. Taking place a number of years before Arkham Asylum, this game begins with Batman, just two years into his crime-fighting career, dealing with a breakout at Blackgate Prison orchestrated by Black Mask. Vexed by Batman’s interference, Black Mask supposedly puts a hit out on Batman, offering millions for the vigilante’s head, a job that a number of villains new to the series like Deathstroke, Firefly, Copperheard, and others are all too eager to accomplish. Things naturally get more complicated when the Joker makes his debut in Batman’s rogues gallery (in the Arkham continuity), and in the end the story ends up being surprisingly interesting, practically on par with the other stories in Rocksteady’s own games.
The combat and stealth are basically the same as before with Batman using the usual takedowns and gadgets to take out enemies. There are a couple of new additions though like the remote claw which lets Batman incapacitate enemies through stealth from a distance, and the Shock Gloves, after being sufficiently charged up, can be used to increase Batman’s damage output in combat and even let him directly attack enemies wearing armor or using shields. The boss fights are also quite fun, with the battle against Deathstroke being a series high point, in my opinion. The final boss battle was also appropriately intense and climactic. Like I said before, Arkham Origins is bigger than Arkham City, meaning that instead of being stuck in one relatively small, walled-off section of Gotham City, Batman gets to explore a larger area of the city as he deals with the criminals running around everywhere (a curfew due to a blizzard is the rather loose reason as to why there are almost no civilians present in the city). Batman can use the Batplane to fast travel to designated points scattered throughout the city, and he can even go to the Batcave to change unlocked suits, undergo training, and chat with Alfred. Finding the many collectibles in this bigger portion of Gotham City was certainly time consuming; this is especially the case for the data packets, the precursors to the Riddler trophies, that were left behind by Enigma, the name the Riddler went by in his younger days, apparently.
One other addition is the crime scene investigation feature. While Batman could use his Detective Vision to follow leads in Arkham Asylum and even create crime scenes in Arkham City, in this game he can approximate actual footage of the crime in question based on the evidence on hand, and then he can cycle forward and backward through the footage to find more evidence. This feature was strangely fun. One annoying negative about this game though is its menu structure; it was simply not very intuitive. Simply finding the part of the menu that shows you how to use certain gadgets or pull of certain movies was harder to find than you’d think it would be. Keeping track of which data packets have yet to be found in this menu was also a huge pain in the ass. There were two story-based DLCs: Initiation and Cold, Cold Heart. The first one, Initiation, lets us experience the training Bruce Wayne undertook before he became Batman under the tutelage of his sensei Master Kirigi. This DLC is basically a collection of 4 combat and stealth challenge maps that you must complete back to back, which is certainly doable, however, completely passing Master Kirigi’s test requires scoring three stars in all challenges. Doing this with only 5 retries available was quite the challenge, let me assure you, though it did add longevity to this otherwise short DLC. Bruce Wayne himself also has access to special ninja type gear in this DLC like shurikens, caltrops, and the like.
The other DLC, Cold, Cold Heart, takes place a week or so after the events of the main game and involves Batman’s first dealings with Mr. Freeze. This was definitely one of the better DLCs in the Batman Arkham series since it had a good story, thanks in no small part to it focusing on Mr. Freeze, probably my favorite Batman villain. It also had considerably more content and longevity compared to the Harley Quinn’s Revenge DLC, especially since it had its own set of collectibles. The gameplay is the same as what was on offer with the main game, although Batman does gain access to a bulky new suit known as the XE (Extreme Environment) Suit. This suit offers Batman a level of protection from the extreme cold situations normally associated with Mr. Freeze, and the suit comes with thermal batarangs that can melt through ice that may be covering important objectives. The suit also comes with Thermal Gloves that function like the Shock Gloves in combat, though they can also be used to thaw out people scattered along the city that have been frozen by Mr. Freeze’s henchmen.
All in all, this game has a few flaws that put it a bit below Rocksteady’s efforts, but not by much. It’s an enjoyable, fun game that still captures the essence of Batman and his world. Batman: Arkham Origins gets a score of 85%.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate (PS Vita/PS3)
I’m honestly not even sure if most fans of the Batman Arkham series are aware this game exists. I suppose it doesn’t matter too much since it’s definitely the weakest game in the series by far. Released for the PS Vita and then ported to the PSN for download, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is a 2.5 side-scroller taking place 3 months after the events of Arkham Origins. The game opens with Batman having his first encounter with his future favorite bad girl Catwoman, and after chasing her through the rooftops of Gotham, she is captured and sent to Blackgate Prison. Two weeks later, an explosion at Blackgate leads to the many prisoners within its walls being set loose, with Penguin, Black Mask, and the Joker taking control of the prison’s three main wings. Recruited by Jim Gordon to deal with the situation, Batman heads into the prison to take down the prisoners causing havoc and rescue the hostages they’ve taken. He also has to keep his eye on Catwoman, who appears to be lending Batman a helping hand, though she likely has her own agenda.
One thing that soon becomes obvious with this game is that it has a much stronger focus on solving puzzles and finding collectibles than on combat. Like in the other console games, the puzzles and collectibles revolve around Batman using his gadgets like his batclaw and explosive gel to reach areas he can’t normally access. His Detective Vision also has a new scanner function where you hold down the Detective Vision button and move a scanning reticule along the screen to find objects of interest and mark them. This scanning function works well enough, but it can be time consuming scanning every inch of every room in the mazelike prison. It’s actually rather easy to miss important objects since they simply won’t show up unless they’re highlighted by the scanner. Certain points of interest can also only be interacted with after they’ve been scanned; even if you simply want to throw a batarang at a fire extinguisher to distract an enemy, the extinguisher has to be scanned first before it can be hit by the batarang. A strange feature that got rather annoying the more I had to deal with it.
Making your way through Blackgate is also kind of confusing given the 2.5D layout of the environment, coupled with the fact that the map in the menu is a 3D map. Kind of counterintuitive. As I touched on earlier, combat is not nearly as deep in this game compared to the combat in the console games. Batman can still strike enemies, vault over them, and counter their blows, but overall it’s very simplistic. There are no takedowns and gadgets can’t really be used effectively when fighting enemies either; they actually pretty much always block batarangs when thrown at them. Stealth works pretty much the same as it does in the console games, but again it’s not quite as deep. Most of the boss fights are a mixture of puzzle and even stealth elements. The few boss fights there are that actually entail direct combat are very restrictive, forcing you to strike and dodge/counter when the game prompts you to. Overall, this game was okay and worked well enough, but the fact it focused a lot more on puzzle solving and backtracking through a rather confusing environment made it feel like a repetitive chore in the long run, and the simplistic combat didn’t liven things up enough for me either. Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate gets a score of 58%.
Batman: Arkham Knight (PS4)
This will be another short entry here. Basically, Arkham Knight was awesome. Yes, it does have some flaws, namely a lack of boss fights, but it was still a great game that proved to be just as awesome as Arkham City, and in some ways it was better. I don’t care what many other gamers say, I loved the implementation of the Batmobile in this game. I’ll admit it was kind of overdone at times, but all things considered, it was awesome to control. Overall though, Arkham Knight is my second favorite game right behind Arkham City. If you want more details on my opinion of Batman: Arkham Knight, then check out my review of the game right here (and add about 4 more points to my final score).
That’s the end of my discussion of the Batman Arkham series. Many fans of the series are still unsure if it has truly come to a definitive end given the somewhat open-ended nature of Arkham Knight‘s closing scene. I’d be fine if the series turns out to truly be over, but if it could lead to some kind of spiritual successor series with Batman possibly teaming up with other DC heroes or something to that nature, then that’d be cool too. Regardless, this was a great series that few others can live up to, and hopefully future superhero licensed games can follow in this series’ footsteps (I’m looking at you, Spider-Man). Join me next week for Part 32 of “D.G.M.’s Gaming Life Before Gaming Respawn” where I will discuss the Mass Effect trilogy. Until then, check out more Gaming Respawn goodness below:
New guy Kjell Baetsle discusses his issues with open world survival games in his “Bad Games” feature here.
Will’s latest “GenreQuest: 3D Platformers” focuses on the first few strictly platforming titles of the Crash Bandicoot series, so check it out here.
Anthony has prepared a review of Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, so check out his take on this little ditty right here.