The year was 1939: Frank Sinatra had just made his recording debut, a plucky little film known as The Wizard of Oz had just seen its premiere in Hollywood, and through Detective Comics #27 the world was introduced to Batman. Ever since this initial appearance, Batman has featured in everything from movies and TV shows, to novelizations and even live theatrical performances. Granted, there have been a few slip-ups over the years – namely Joel Schumacher’s disastrous Batman and Robin – but for the most part the caped crusader has a pretty solid track record. Even in the world of video games, there have been several memorable Batman games dating all the way back to the pixelated 8-bit era. However, it wasn’t until 2009 with the release of Batman Arkham Asylum for the PS3 and Xbox 360 that Batman games truly became great.
PRIOR BATMAN GAMES HAD CAPTURED CERTAIN ASPECTS OF THE DARK KNIGHT’S CHARACTER, BUT OFTEN FELT ONE-DIMENSIONAL
Arkham Asylum was the first game that really made players feel as if they actually were Batman. Prior Batman games had captured certain aspects of the Dark Knight’s character, but often felt one-dimensional by focusing on only one mechanic such as stealth or combat. In Arkham Asylum however, Rocksteady studios had managed to blend stealth, combat, and even puzzle solving in a way that didn’t feel out of character.
At the start of the game, having just captured the Joker, Batman is on his way to deliver him to Arkham Asylum. Upon arrival however, it transpires that the Joker had actually planned to be captured and has set a trap for Batman within the mental facility. From this point on it’s up to the player to explore the asylum, uncover the Joker’s sinister plot, and confront other villains that Batman has locked away in the asylum over the years such as Bane, Poison Ivy, and Victor Zsasz. Despite its inherently strong base plot, these “other villains” could arguably be seen as the highlight of the experience. They made the whole narrative feel more epic, and the Scarecrow segments in particular offered up enthralling gameplay and some truly inspired gothic nightmare visuals.
When not depicting some of the more iconic Batman villains, Arkham Asylum also allowed player to take on the hundreds of escaped inmates by either brutally beating them to a pulp, or by sticking to the shadows and picking them off one by one. In addition littered throughout the asylum were countless riddles and puzzles left by the Dark Knight’s intellectual equal – The Riddler – which not only served as the collectables of the game, but also encouraged players to explore every nook and cranny. All of this combined to make Arkham Asylum one of the most beloved games of all time, in fact for a while, Arkham Asylum actually held the Guinness World Record for the most critically acclaimed super hero game ever… That is, until the sequel came along.
Again developed by Rocksteady, Batman Arkham City released to near perfect review scores in 2011. It retained the same core mechanics as it predecessor, but also expanded upon the size of the over-world. Now, diverse side missions, detailed Easter Eggs, and cleverly hidden collectables were around every corner. The game also allowed you to play as Catwoman, Robin, and Nightwing in addition to the Dark Knight.
But the best aspect of Arkham City was its setting. Whereas in the original game, the restrictive walls of the Asylum had created a tense and compelling atmosphere, Arkham City takes place in a radically different environment. An entire section of Gotham City has been sealed off now houses a plethora of dangerous super criminals. The city was simply fascinating to explore – not least due to the fact that the game allowed Batman to glide above the streets, using his grapple hook to gain and control momentum. One minute you’d be flying high above a gang of burly brutes, the next you’ be slipping silently through snowy streets, and before you know it you’ll come face to face with some of the most iconic villains from Batman’s history including Mr. Freeze, Two-Face, and Ra’s al Ghul.
The game that followed Arkham City was not actually developed by Rocksteady. Instead, 2013’s Batman Arkham Origins – which was a prequel to Arkham Asylum – was developed by WB Games Montreal. Whilst the game did have the same basic format as Arkham City, and even introduced a few new mechanics such as a fast travel system, ultimately the reception for Arkham Origins was mixed. The plot, which saw a younger Batman attempting to take down eight professional assassins, despite being unique, was executed poorly. In addition, the lack of attention to detail, and general absence of technical polish meant that Arkham Origins was seen simply as a rehash of Arkham City that brought very little new to the table.
THE LACK OF ATTENTION TO DETAIL, AND GENERAL ABSENCE OF TECHNICAL POLISH MEANT THAT ARKHAM ORIGINS WAS SEEN SIMPLY AS A REHASH OF ARKHAM CITY.
Following the lukewarm response to Arkham Origins however, there was a high level of anticipation for another “real” Batman title developed by Rocksteady. And with the release of Batman Arkham Knight for the PS4, Xbox One, and PC in 2015 fans got exactly that…sort of. Unfortunately, upon its release the PC port of the game was unplayable due to game breaking glitches and countless technical bugs. When focusing on the console versions of Arkham Knight however, the reception of the game was much better than that of its prequel predecessor.
The biggest gameplay revelation in Arkham Knight came with the inclusion of the Batmobile. Players could now drive around the streets of Gotham in the iconic vehicle, whilst also using it to solve environmental puzzles, partake in time trials, and do battle with an army of unmanned drone tanks. In addition, the combat, stealth, and gliding mechanics were refined even further, and it should come as no surprise that this is currently the best looking game in the series by far – achieving near photorealism at times. Ultimately though, despite its numerous refinements and improvements, Arkham Knight fell just short of the prior games developed by Rocksteady. Many felt that the Batmobile had shoehorned into the game far too much, and the main villain of the game was somewhat underwhelming.
THE POSSIBILITY OF A ROCKSTEADY DEVELOPED SUPERMAN GAME IS HIGHER THAN EVER
With regards to a possible future entry into the Batman Arkham series, it is quite unlikely that we will be getting one anytime soon. Rocksteady have gone on record multiple time in stating that Arkham Knight was the last game in the series that they would be working on. However that doesn’t mean that we won’t be seeing another Rocksteady game based off of another DC Comics character in the near future. In fact with the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in cinemas, the possibility of a Rocksteady developed Superman game is higher than ever. There were actually a number of Easter Eggs in Arkham Knight – such as a voice message left for Bruce Wayne from one Lex Luthor – that may foreshadow a Superman game also. But the most convincing evidence actually comes from the Man of Steel himself. Superman hasn’t exactly had the best run when it comes to video games, in fact between Superman: The Man of Steel, Superman 64, and the collection of other less than stellar titles that the Kryptonian has featured in over the years, it could be argued that there has never been a good Superman game.
Due to a combination of fan-service, well thought-out mechanics, and compelling original storylines, the Arkham series will be remembered as one of gaming’s best. Rocksteady proved that great video games based off of pre-existing characters are entirely possible with the series, and I believe that should they chose to create a Superman game: it will be well worth the wait.