A Look Back at the Arkham Trilogy

I recently replayed the entire Arkham Trilogy which consists of Arkham Asylum, Arkham City and Arkham Knight (Poor Arkham Origins was left out of the collection) as well as all the DLC. After having just finished Spider-Man PS4 I had the itch for more superhero games but I wasn’t sure if the Batman series would still hold up. Let’s dive in to each and see where they stand.

***Spoilers for the Arkham Games Follow***

Arkham Asylum

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Released originally in 2009 this work of art holds up quite well today. The combat flows well with parrys, punches, combos and more. It’s no wonder that Spider-Man and The Shadow of War series are clearly inspired by this combat style. It works and works extremely well. Over the last nearly 10 years the combat has been tweaked and improved but the core of it stands. Hero fights multiple enemies, a prompt shows when a parry can be done and a parry is done. Hero attains high combo, a finisher can be used. Hero levels up, upgrades provide options to reduce combo for finishers, new moves, etc. It’s a formula that just works and I am thrilled to play it each time. It never bores me and I enjoy seeing the constant iterations on it.

Where the game doesn’t hold up so much is in traversal. When compared to the sequels and a game like Spider-Man PS4, Arkham Asylum’s traversal is sluggish and boring. Buildings that can be bound over in future installments can’t even be reached here. It is the nature of game development to improve upon system so it isn’t a surprise but it certainly makes the game’s traversal less fun than swinging around New York or even gliding around Gotham in Arkham Knight.

The story is campy and cheesy but it is also extremely well voice acted. Considering the fact that both Mark Hamill (The Joker) and Kevin Conroy (Bruce Wayne/Batman) voice their classic characters, the stellar voice acting isn’t a surprise. The story itself is fun but not nearly as deep as what comes in the sequels.

Arkham City

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Only 2 years after the original Arkham City ups the ante in many ways. The combat is mostly the same however the addition of new gadgets adds an extra element to the combat that wasn’t there before. Freezing enemies in place with the freeze blast and shocking thugs with the Remote Electrical Charge are just two of the new ways to take down your enemies. Adding this with the open world element is a great improvement on the first. I’d say Arkham City holds up extremely well even when compared to current games as far as the combat and open world goes. The side quests are interesting, deeper than games that come out even today and the design is beautiful.

The story takes a step forward from its predecessor. The Arkham Asylum story is not bad in any way but the Titan story arc is a bit silly when you really think about it. Arkham City takes that story and gives us a dark adventure that shows the Joker in peril the entirety of the game. With the overdose of Titan from the first game Joker is sick and dying. When Batman is injected with the disease early on it gives the player a chance to actually help the Joker as helping Batman in turn helps the clown price of crime. It was also refreshing to have Dr. Hugo Strange play such a large role in the story. Joker was the clear antagonist of the first but the stage is shared quite well with Strange in Arkham City.

Still the traversal leaves much to be desired. The ability to glide through the streets of Arkham City is a major improvement and fun but it is still quite sluggish. The upgrade that allows you to slingshot over rooftops is a welcome upgrade but not one that every player would get if they want to mainline the story only. This means that some players had to deal with slow movement throughout the city for their entire play through. It isn’t inherently bad but Arkham Knight and Spider-Man get the superhero traversal so right that it is hard to go back to it.

Arkham Knight

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When I started replaying these games I told myself that Arkham City was my favorite of the trilogy of Rocksteady developed games. As it turns out I have changed my mind. Arkham Knight isn’t perfect and the tank combat is tedious but I play games for story and Arkham Knight delivered. Anyone who knows me well knows that I love a dark plot. My wife laughs at my love of villains and how I often find myself far more interested in the evil characters than the charming ones. It’s why I enjoy the Snyder DC films so much and why I enjoyed Arkham Knight.

Scarecrow evacuates Gotham with his threat of fear gas and Batman must stop the crime in the city and bring Scarecrow down in the process. Along the way we realize that Batman was infected with Joker’s DNA and is haunted by his ghost. The constant companionship of Joker on this tail is dark and dreary. The overall character of Batman is already dark but then you see him turning into what he has fought against for years and it turns the story into something altogether more interesting. Scarecrow is formidable and cunning and the mystery of the Arkham Knight leaves you wanting to know more. I absolutely love how the story develops and hope Rocksteady delivers on this again with whatever their next project is.

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Arkham Knight is only a few years old. Released in 2015 for the current generation of consoles and PC the graphics are now updated to 4K, the textures are sublime and the open world large and beautiful. It is in no way as vast an open world as The Witcher 3 or even Assassin’s Creed Odyssey but it is certainly a character of its own. It’s funny to even ask if it holds up as it is still a newer game but it definitely does. The traversal in this game is extremely fun. At times I found myself even more entertained with movement than in Spider-Man. The interchanging of dive bombing and grapple boosting made for a more diverse form of traversal than simply holding a button and swinging through New York. That said, Spider-Man’s web slinging is still extremely fun and usually holds the edge.

The combat is mostly unchanged however we get to see additional combos as well as the exquisite fear take downs. When you perform a silent take down you charge up the ability to take down several thugs all at once. It is immensely satisfying entering a room and taking down 5 guys in a row due to this new attack.

The DLC for the game was controversial at release due to the high price and unknown content that was going to be in it. Upon reflection I still agree that the price was far too high at $60 but I can say that it was well worth the $15 I paid to get the entire trilogy on Xbox One with all DLC for all games. Playing as the other characters was a great time but each was extremely short with the exception being the Batgirl DLC. Nightwing, Red Hood, Catwoman, Harley Quinn and Robin all get their own stories but each last about 15-30 minutes. Fun, sure but far too short lived. Batgirl on the other hand gets a longer story that took me a couple of hours to finish. It was a good amount of time to spend with the character and there was still more to do with collectibles but the lack of upgrades was noticeable. After finishing Arkham Knight my Batman was a beast. I had him fully upgraded in multiple skill trees and had completed every side quest with the exception of the Riddler trophies. When playing Batgirl after that it was less fun since I didn’t have grapple boost, full armor and other abilities that made me feel like a super-powered hero.

Conclusion

I recommend replaying these games or playing them for the first time. They are still extremely fun. The first two are definitely form the last generation but they still play well, look quite nice remastered and are a ton of fun. Arkham Knight is the clear leader of the pack as far as smoothness goes but it isn’t perfect either. Tank missions get old really fast and the Arkham Knight himself can be a bit annoying as well. All in all these games are fantastic and Rocksteady set the bar high for super hero games as well as making a combat system that is still relevant nearly 10 years later.

One comment

  1. Great article! For me, it was Arkham Knight that nailed it in terms of visuals. When it comes to gameplay, my vote goes to Arkham City. By the way, where is Arkham: Origins? Why you left it out? You’re missing its boss battle—it was the best! And the apple of my eye— Arkham: Asylum. Its story is just phenomenal.

    Liked by 1 person

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