Ok, first I want to point out that I adore the Batman Arkham videogame series from Rocksteady. I hold them in the same high esteem as such classic series like Zelda, Mass Effect or Bioshock. As a comic geek/gamer the release of Arkham Asylum on Pc, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 was a revelation. At the time at least, the rule was ‘a game based on a license was an excuse to print money’ lazy with no effort, nothing more than a cash grab, rarely straying from that mentality. Sure some game’s occasionally broke the age old rule, Constantine, Van Helsing and Chronicle’s of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay come to mind as rare cases of game’s that were actually better than the film’s that inspired them, but these instances were few and far between. Not to mention at the time, decent superhero game adaptations were even fewer and further between, with the pinnacle once being the Spiderman series, but even that falling victim to the ‘license’ curse, now resulting in dodgy, cheap, poorly made sequels.
When Batman Arkham Asylum released way back in 2009 Rocksteady threw the rule book out the window and produced a Batman adaptation with all the care given of a massive blockbuster release. Serious stealth gameplay, amazing graphics, mature subject matter, this was the Batman game fan’s had been waiting for, thus creating a truly unique franchise in the process. Released to coincide with the film The Dark Knight, the developer’s wisely chose to use the hype of the film but not actually adapt it (possibly learning from mistakes made by the lackluster release of the Batman Begins film adaptation) instead creating an all new take on the Batman mythos, keeping the dark maturity of the film’s, but with an added injection of comic book fan service. The geek’s loved it and the gamer’s loved it too, making for a much wider audience than the usual license release. It was it’s own thing, and because of this it became it’s own franchise, with the next logical step being full open world.
Arkham City was an achievement in itself, though not willing to just sit back and rest on their laurel’s, pumping out more of the same, Rocksteady instead took everything that worked with the first game and times’d it by ten with the sequel. No longer relegated to the winding labyrinth that was the Asylum, the follow up offered a huge open city to explore, more side mission’s, more character’s, more bosses, more fan service, this game had everything, and received all the appropriate accolade’s, nominated game of the year in numerous gaming publication’s.
Arkham Origin’s then followed and for the first time in the franchise history we had something that was labelled a cash grab by the media and general public, possibly unfairly too, with the game succeeding at keeping up the quality of the series, but also unfortunately failing to add anything new to the franchise. With developer’s Rocksteady choosing to sit back and let Warner Bros Montreal step up to the plate. This game really should have been terrible and the fact it wasn’t is something worth mentioning. The game had a lot working against it, new developer, loss of voice actors, and with Rocksteady working on the real next gen sequel, the new developer was confined to ‘prequel’ territory. Sure it just felt like more of the same, but when the ‘same’ is brilliant as Arkham City, it was hard to complain. Even the voice actor’s did an admirable job of filling in, while the story of Batman’s first ever meeting with his arch rival ‘The Joker’ proving a captivating one.
Which brings us to the recently released, next gen exclusive, the supposed final outing for Batman and developer Rocksteady, Arkham Knight. I, along with a million others, eagerly purchased on release day, and have played the living crap out of it every day since. My conclusions? Great, but unfortunately not brilliant. A lot of people are calling the added use of the Batmobile forced and out of place, I however disagree. I love it. It handle’s great too, fast, clunky and powerful, everything I would expect. Creating an all new gameplay element for the series, Tank warfare, which is as equally fun and addictive as the usual stealth sections, all the while still being a vital tool for getting around the huge environments not to mention adding a whole new layer of depth to puzzles, try to argue the genius as you find your path blocked by a dilapidated wall just out of reach, unable to use spray explosives you then decide to remote control you’re Batmobile located floors above you, to latch onto the roof and rappel down the building’s side so it can be in position to fire off a missile and blow up said wall. Basically the batmobile rules. It helps inject new life to a formula which may have begun to grow stale otherwise.
My gripes? First the lack of boss battles, some of my funnest moment’s in previous game’s were spent fighting bosses, Solomon Grundy, Killer Croc, Deathstroke or best of all the Scarecrow sections in the first Arkham all come to mind, no more, gone, instead Rocksteady have tried something new, replacing the usual boss battles into whole side missions and story sections, that while memorable, adding some bosses wouldn’t have hurt proceedings in my honest opinion. Stopping bombs in the streets, chasing firefly from torching assorted fire stations located throughout the city, even tracking a serial killer hiding body’s throughout Gotham (with this one actually ending with something of a boss fight to my surprise) all these mission’s were fun and clever and I cannot actually find fault with the quality on offer, I just think you could have all this and plus still have room for boss fights throughout the game, it’s strange to me and a little disappointing they pretty much decided against them all together. Maybe they came across to game-y and and Rocksteady are trying to lose the typical videogame tropes? Maybe they wanted a more free-flowing experience? Who know’s?
This gripe is minor, the lack of bosses didn’t really hurt my overall experience with the game at all and I still had a lot of fun, plus the game still offered up numerous challenging situations for me to pull my hair out. My biggest gripe is with the actual story, sure the Joker virus angle is a bit silly, but it does lead to some truly brilliant exchanges between Bruce and the Joker living inside his head, so it’s totally forgivable, and I’ve come to expect some occasional lunacy in this franchise being based solely on the comics, however the people affected by the virus and turning ‘Joker’ was a little too stupid for a game of this caliber in my opinion, the idea more at home in the 60’s tv series or Shumacher’s film incarnations. Which brings me to my biggest gripe, the one that disappointed me more than anything else in the entire game, the actual identity of the Arkham Knight.
A main plot point running throughout the entire game, which I won’t spoil, but can honestly say it’s totally underwhelming. This is a major blemish on Rocksteady’s usual exceptional writing style. Here they had a chance to create something totally original and unique, leave their mark on the Batman Legacy for their final franchise outing, and they just threw it away. The press lead up revealed that Rocksteady wanted to create their own villain, not based on any existing character. The design was great too, a bad ass robotic Batman with military experience and a bat grudge, it seemed they had created a sinister and wholly original villain not just for the videogame series but the entire franchise as a whole, DC have a history with this type of thing, Harley was an all original creation for the 90s Batman animated series, proving so popular she invaded the comics and is now headlining a blockbuster feature film (played by Margot Robbie in the upcoming Suicide Squad) or the Batman Beyond animated series being so highly regarded that the character became a major player in the DC comic universe? Sadly no, the developer’s instead lazily chose to just rehash a classic story from the comics and change the character’s name to Arkham Knight instead. Any fan will see it coming. I honestly thought it was too obvious to actually happen. New and original character Rocksteady? So changing a name and using the exact same story of a preexisting character is original these day’s is it? Righttt. The fact is, a shock revelation shouldn’t leave you feeling cheated.
Anyways the game is still bucket loads of fun. Looks bloody amazing too, everything has been fine tuned to absolute perfection, from movement to combat, it’s a really great game, and definitely a very deserving purchase, but with a few changes the game could have been brilliant. Regardless there is no denying the mark left by this amazing gaming franchise. The gaming landscape has changed because of this, gone are the crummy movie tie in adaptation’s, instead us gamer’s are treated to such quality outings as telltale’s Walking Dead, Shadows of Mordor, Alien: Isolation and Transformers: War for Cybertron. It’s unclear what Rocksteady are working on next but you can be guaranteed a stamp of pure quality. I’m secretly hoping they follow up Batman by taking on the biggest challenge of all… creating a decent Superman game, something in all these years, no developer has yet to accomplish. As for the Arkham franchise? I dare say it’s not over yet and with WB Montreal already proving with Origin’s that the franchise is still in very capable hands, it won’t be long before we wear the famous cowl once again for another superhero outing.
Well that’s all from me, thanks very much for reading. Do you love/hate the game series, or currently playing Arkham Knight? Let me know you’re thought’s in the comments section and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @johnnygeekcool and my moviepilot blog for my thoughts on all things comic/videogame/pop culture related.