There are thousands of video games out there, but what’s worth playing? Today let’s talk about the Batman: Arkham series:
There have been a LOT of Batman games over the years, and I’m not going to get into the weeds on them. Plus, many of them are terrible and more famous reviewers than I have talked about them. All have the same sort of game structure in that they are third person and involve stealth and some level of puzzle solving with strong narrative elements. These games exist in the same timeline in the “Arkhamverse” where each is connected to the other. Let’s do these in order of release because that might be the order to play them in. I know, non-chronologically… from me, madness!
Creepy setting of Arkham Asylum, a mental institution built by a crazy old man with a graveyard in it, check. Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy doing the voices of the Joker and Batman, as they have been for the last 30 years, check. An absurd level of detail when it comes to world building, about 500 checks. I like the creepy tone and unsettling atmosphere; it sets the stage for a wonderful game that doesn’t feel scary. You are Batman, you are what goes bump in the night.
You’re trapped on an island where it’s just Batman, various goons, and pretty much every Batman enemy or character is having a big party with the Joker setting the stage and clowning around with his usual murderous results.
What you can’t skip is beating goons into powder. I mean into unconsciousness. See Batman doesn’t kill people, even though replaying this the other night I totally dropped a guy 20 feet through a concrete roof that collapsed on him, and he breathed in a lot of very lethal toxic gas. I suppose maybe for legal reasons, it was the gas that killed him. Maybe Alfred just hooks up Bruce Wayne’s head camera to say everyone is always unconscious.
There is lore, if you want to get into it, or not. You don’t need to find every Riddler trophy, you can skip them, it’s up to you. You’ll also be tasked with solving puzzles in a Batman like way because you’re a detective, so detect! You have a detective vision to help you find hidden grates and secret ways to take down your foes before they can gang up on you too much.
This game sets the template for the rest of them to follow in this mode. It’s a strong mix of combat, exploration in a confined space, world-building, storytelling, and a fantastic and well-crafted game.
I don’t remember playing Arkham Asylum the first time; I might have even started with this one, but in either case, this is the one I remember the most. It’s got the same sort of major hallmarks from the previous game. This time and entire section of Gotham City has been walled off and made into sort of a slum prison for goons. Oh no, Bruce Wayne has to go in there (because he gets locked up… dun dun dun!) and do his Batman thing to stop a villain. No spoilers, but that’s a wonderful opener.
This one has a similar unsettling tone, and the city part feels lived in. Also, last time there were a lot of big bads, this time, jeez even Calendar Man gets a shot. Yes, he’s a real villain. Listen man, the 40’s-60’s has some weird stuff in there and these games use every part of the Batman Buffalo.
What’s different about this game from the first is that combat is a bit more exciting and varied. The first game has SOME variety of enemies, but this one you need to watch for them having knives or bats or guns or shields or stun guns and you get a lot of variety in how you take them down. The boss battles can be creative too, Mr. Freeze won’t let you use the same technique on him twice and playing a deadly game of cat and mouse with him was awesome! The city is more open too, and with your grapple gun you can soar over the skyline; it’s a lot of fun. Along the way you can hear crimes happening or stumble into some mysteries and new quests; much more than in Arkham Asylum. Some of the puzzles can be a bit tedious, like the Penguin stuff in his lair, but I don’t remember it being bad, just not really my speed.
This one is the best of the lot. The DLC I didn’t do; it’s a bunch of Cat-woman stuff, and I hear it was pretty good, I just didn’t have the DLC as I borrowed the disk from a friend. There are Riddler trophies for Batman AND Cat-woman so for you achievement type people out there, good luck.
It's a prequel, and most people don’t care for those because they remove the elements of danger, but this one is fine. It’s a sort of Batman when he was a bit younger but still doing Batman stuff. I think it gets forgotten about a lot because it’s fine and it doesn’t really stand out. It’s more of the same, but the same was great, it just lacks that storytelling spark that Rockstar brings to a project. Also, the voice cast is different including Batman. That is distracting as Kevin Conroy has been voicing that character almost exclusively for 35 years and his Batman voice is more familiar to me than my brother’s voice is.
The biggest change is the crime scene investigations. Batman does WAY more detective stuff here and it feels a bit like L.A. Noire or the Witcher 3 where you canvass a crime scene. Batman uses his detective powers to reconstruct crime scenes in mush more detail to learn more clues and open up the story where there is a bounty on Batman’s head. The crime scenes might be a bit tedious for some, but I liked this change of pace. Maybe it was too different, that might have been the issue. I think the main problem was that I can’t remember a thing about this game other that it’s fine. It’s not bad; it is a perfectly serviceable Batman game.
Ehh, no thanks. It’s not terrible. In fact, if there were just a compilation of the cut scenes so you could get the story, it’s pretty good, but so much went wrong here for me that I don’t recommend it. If you’re going to play it, play it last.
The combat is super watered down. You get these “fear takedowns” where you do a big attack at the start of combat and knock out like half the guys. The rest of the time combat is full of places to hide and floor grates to hop out of, instantly knock a guy out, and then escape. It is excessively easy.
The Batmobile is in this game and you use it to solve puzzles. However, it is also a tank, and Batman gets into a lot of tank battles against other tanks, and I mean all the damn time. Here is my advice for these parts. If you are where a read line is, move. If you are not where a read line is, shoot a tank. I think the end boss is a tank. Batman should make me feel like a detective or a ninja. Feeling like a Mech Warrior is odd and detaches gameplay feel from the player.
The Batmobile is your primary mode of transportation (when it’s not a tank or being used in a puzzle) and the game really wants you to drive around in it. You’re constantly forced into traveling by car, and that’s good, because now the Riddler has designed racecourses for you to race on. It feels forced. What was wrong with using the grapple boost to rocket all over the city. WHY on earth would you rather drive than fly!
The DLC is short and not worth it and is barely there. They added some content, but it was spaced out and felt like a “give us 10 bucks and we’ll give you 15 more minutes of story” and I do not want to encourage that. Hey, Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment, and any other major publishers (like you E.A. and you Bethesda… I see you wanting to start something) we do not want our games sold like this. Updates are fine but selling us a salad one leaf of lettuce at a time when you know damn well you have a huge bag in the kitchen is a terrible way to go through life.
The story is ok. It’s not bad. It’s not great, but it’s not bad. It is told very well, and that’s my favorite part about this one. The “telling” is fantastic and how the story unfolds through gameplay is spot on as always, just the plot is a bit convoluted and odd, and the ending is a clunky mess.
1: Do not treat this as Legend of Zelda. You can’t just hit the punch button endlessly because that will not get you very far. Think of this game as more like Dance Dance Revolution or Guitar Hero. You need to hit… hit … counter… use the cape to stun … hit… hit. Not hit hit hit hit hit hit. Focus on NOT getting hit and waiting half a second between punches and you’ll fight better. You’ll feel it because that’s the kind of game this is.
2: Upgrade your gear early. Having a battarang that you can control and knock bad guys off of ledges can knock them out of the fight if you aim it right, and this can help in combat sections. Typically, the fewer bad guys you have to fight at the same time, the better.
3: Do the side missions whenever you can. At a certain point in pretty much every game, side missions will not be able to be done if you advance the plot too far. Sometimes you need certain gear, like the freeze grenade in Arkham City before you can do some of them, meaning you have to do plot missions, but if you want to see all the content, if there is a path that goes off the main trail, always do it.
4: The Riddler. He left little question marks and clues and puzzles all over ever inch of every game and wants you to take pictures of things with him giving cryptic hints about “Did you SEE what I just SAW” ... yes, I get it, you want me to take a picture of a see-saw. But you’ll spend like 10 minutes on one of these. He’s got 400 of these in some of these games. Sometimes it’s a clue just sitting on a roof, and you pick it up, other times it’s nearly impossible to figure out how to take a damn picture of these shark teeth from the right angle. Unless you really REALLY want to get that 100% achievement, get a walkthrough or skip some of them. Now they DO give you experience so you can upgrade your Batman (getting better health and sometimes allowing you to hit harder) but it’s not mandatory. If you like puzzles, sure! Some of the ones in the later games are more about hitting buttons on a wall in a specific order and require fast reflexes rather than a more methodical approach. Or you can do his racetrack stuff in Arkham Knight, if you’re into racing games.