The Arkham series of games from Rocksteady (with a bit of help from WB Games Montréal) are widely renowned for its fantastic combat and its great adaptation of the characters. With the upcoming Suicide Squad game taking place within the same universe, it might be a good
idea to revisit the titles and think really hard about whether or not some of these games were really as good as we remember them being. Spoilers ahead for the series.
Batman: Arkham Knight
Unfortunately, the last entry in the series is also its worst. Fortunately, it still remains one truly amazing title, though with more noticeable flaws than its predecessors. The graphics are still fantastic and even manage to outclass some supposedly modern titles, made especially more awe-inducing with the realization the game was built with Unreal Engine 3. The combat flow is much quicker in comparison and very smooth, gliding feeling satisfying and the options for stealth more varied than ever. The addition of having a partner in combat is another inspired choice, with dual takedowns feeling incredibly rewarding. Unfortunately, while the base gameplay of Batman has reached its peak, the other aspects don’t hold up as well.
The story surely does have its moments, especially with the examination of the relationship between Batman and The Joker, and the psychological aspects related to Scarecrow’s presence. The designs on everyone are fantastic, with the aforementioned Scarecrow having quite possibly one of the coolest antagonist designs in any piece of media, but it also happens to be beaten by the Arkham Knight’s whose design is instantly iconic. Despite the great performances from the cast in addition to the amazing designs of the characters, the entire plot surrounding the Arkham Knight is weak and unbelievably predictable. Minimal set-up for his presence throughout the series also harms this, and once certain scenes pop up, the mystery and intrigue surrounding his identity is diminished greatly. Once his story becomes predictable, so does the rest of the plot.
With that, while the story had its moments, the addition of the Batmobile has almost none. It does feel really good driving around, with combat feeling okay inside of it, but the game decides to shove so many tedious and repetitive tank battles that whenever one happens, one would instinctively groan. The boss battles within the tank are boring cat and mouse chases, and one would just impatiently wait for the game to return to its fantastic melee combat. Traversal outside of the Batmobile is far better, with gliding and grappling feeling better than ever. All the button mashes and counters in the world could never compare to the tedium of these boss battles.
Speaking of the bosses, the series unfortunately has the worst of them in Knight. The presence of classic villains such as Deathstroke, and the addition of new ones like the Knight would seemingly foretell some interesting matchups, but a lot of the boss battles feature more button mashing and combat than proper strategy. The tension and strategy found in battles earlier in the series are absent for the most part. The aforementioned Deathstroke, who had a battle renowned as one of the best in the series in Origins, is reduced to yet another tank battle. One of the closest we get to a traditional boss fight is, funnily enough, The Riddler, though his pales in comparison to the others too. Arkham Knight’s boss battle is rather interesting having to sneak around him, but it is outdone by others. There are a handful of good bosses, but ultimately, they just pale in comparison to the rest of the series.
Also the Riddler trophies are still trash, and made worse by having them be a requirement for the true ending.
Arkham Knight is a game full of “What ifs” instead of satisfying bosses and engaging tank combat, but it surely makes up for it with the best feeling combat with combos that feel rewarding to maintain, and graphics that put some modern titles to shame.
Batman: Arkham Asylum
The game to kick off the series still holds its own, but it definitely shows its age, especially with the boss designs. If it weren’t for the mostly lackluster bosses, the game would be easy to say as one of the best, but the other titles (excluding Knight) handle bosses far better, though one cannot deny the innovation present in the series’ debut as well as the impact it had on gaming.
Asylum’s titular location is a tightly designed area filled with interesting level design, something the future games would go on to keep. The combat is also far more deliberate and slower than the later titles, and this results in combat feeling like you have to be more careful with who you hit, though unfortunately, this results in some combat encounters with the game’s bosses feeling frustrating.
The Poison Ivy and Scarecrow sections are easily the best, with Poison Ivy’s boss fight being okay but repetitive, and Scarecrow having a tense and exciting area to go through. His hallucinations are really unique and interesting, though the same cannot be said for the rest of the bosses. The game repeats Titans for its entire runtime, and while sometimes they can be fun, it is clear later on in the series how much better they could do with the boss battles.
That being said, everything else about the game is just amazing. Encounters require careful planning as per usual, and the story is easily a classic despite the underwhelming finale. The performances, especially from the late Kevin Conroy and the ever great Mark Hamill as the iconic duo. It holds up to this day as an amazing title that set off a bold new frontier for comic book games.
Batman: Arkham Origins
This game was received not as well as the others, with it being seen as a black sheep in the series, but in retrospect, it holds up incredibly well and its qualities are now out and clear as day.
While to some it may have been disappointing to have the Joker be a central antagonist once again, it is a great origin story for the duo’s origin and first meeting with each other. The antagonist and setting are used exceedingly well, with the Christmas feeling being timeless and fun, helped by how the city of Gotham is designed around the holiday season. It is all helped by how young Batman is into his years, with the police also being hesitant to interact with him to say the least. The opening is one of the most effective, setting the tone and personality of the younger Bruce perfectly. Its Christmas setting is a rare one that would unfortunately only be seen too little, with Dead Rising 4 and Spider-Man Miles Morales being the next notable games of this nature.
The visuals also manage to hold up, and while they are far and away nowhere near as fun as Arkham Knight, they are still nice to look at, especially in the game’s well-made cutscenes. And with these cutscenes come the story of the game, one that holds up well especially with its interpretations of classic characters. Troy Baker’s Joker is more than just an imitation of Mark Hamill’s, as he portrays his first interactions with Batman in a sickly twisted manner, but while he is great, a truly great antagonist can be found in Bane. His final boss battle is a fairly scary one with his character design, and his earlier boss fight is fun with a fitting spectacle. The setpieces where one fights the assassins are mostly fantastic, with Firefly having a grand battle but Deathstroke easily having the second-best boss battle in the entire franchise, feeling like a truly grand duel. One can also look to the Electrocutioner for a truly fun sequence.
The combat itself is second-best, behind its successor, with fluid movement, a wide variety of options in combat as per usual and great boss battles to go along with it. Origins uses its mechanics well for a refined combat system, and it all adds up to being an incredibly fun entry into the series. While it wasn’t received as well originally, it is time for this title to get the love and acclaim it deserves.
Batman: Arkham City
There is a reason why this tops all the others on every list, as it really is the pinnacle of the comic book game adaptation, with fresh interpretations of characters, memorable setpieces and boss battles and a timeless city to explore.
What can be said that hasn’t been said already, especially about the boss battles. Quite a number of them are intense, memorable and have fantastic spectacle and strategy. The Mr. Freeze battle is acclaimed as one of the greatest boss battles ever for good reason, as it requires players to utilize their arsenal in new ways. The Ra’s Al Ghul battle is one with even more spectacle and is a grand battle against one of Batman’s greatest foes, and the finale is a great and engaging struggle against Clayface. These villains are all wonderfully realized as the game captures their quirks and personalities very well, with the only letdown in terms of boss design being Deadshot.
The story is also told rather well, thanks largely to engaging performances from Hamill and Conroy as The Joker and Batman, providing a fascinating twist on their relationship, with constant twists and turns undercut by moments of emotion in even boss battles, such as Batman and Mr. Freeze’s differing reasons for fighting each other. It’s a brand new original tale taking elements from comics adapting them to a new format perfectly that helps make it approachable to a newcomer, as the rest of the series has also done.
Arkham City’s gameplay is also improved from Asylum’s, with an expanded and exciting new open world to explore and glide around mixed with interesting predator encounters. The options are expanded, and the level design allows for a solid amount of options to approach. The formula from Asylum is improved here, and while later games would continue to improve it, City remains timeless in its fun factor, and it never becomes any less satisfying to perform a successful beatdown before hitting a good counter.
Arkham City stands to this day as one of the best comic book-video game adaptations of all time, with a good collection of amazing boss battles, a compelling story, and a great depiction of Bruce Wayne’s world.