Even though I’ve been reviewing games for fun for the better part of 6 years now there are few series that I’ve been able to catalogue my experiences of completely. Many of the big AAA games have been going on since long before I started blogging and there are many new IPs since then that have failed to see further instalments. However one of the stand out series I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing has been the Batman: Arkham games which have set the standard to which many others are compared. The last title in this series, Arkham Knight, sees a return of Rocksteady Studios as the developer and with them the hopes that this game will bring a return to form for the IP. Indeed, at least for this review, that’s very much the case however you’d have to be living under a rock to not know about the turmoil that this title endure during its first weeks on the shelves.
Although his nemesis might be gone Batman has continued his work in Gotham City, becoming an ally of the GCPD rather than its adversary. In the year since the events of Arkham City Gotham has become a place of peace with crime rates tumbling and the populace feeling safe in their home town. However Batman’s continued spoiling of everyone’s nefarious plans has not gone unnoticed and they have all banded together with the one singular goal: to kill the batman. At the helm is Scarecrow who threatens the entire city and causes a mass evacuation, leaving the streets to be filled with criminals, looters and a sense of fear. It is up to you now, dear Batman, to rid Gotham of this disease once again but the journey may leave you losing much more than you’d ever had hoped to.
Arkham Knight is an absolutely stunning game with the graphics easily surpassing any of the previous titles in the series. This is made all the more impressive by the fact that it’s running on the Unreal 3 engine which, as of writing, was released almost 11 years ago. The trademark Gothic style is back once again with everything in Gotham having this certain retro-futuristic chic about it. Climbing to the top of any building is rewarded with a gorgeous landscape that’s just brimming with detail which only gets better upon closer inspection. There are some pretty great innovations in here too, like how rain falls on surfaces and slicks down or how the turbulent waters of Gotham’s harbours churn and crash against the walls. Going back and looking at my previous screenshots from other Batman titles Arkham Knight really is a generation ahead of its predecessors, an incredible feat considering the last title was released less than 2 years ago.
For those who’ve played any of the previous Arkham titles the core game play will be familiar, taking much the same approach as Arkham City did. You’re plopped down into a vast open world with numerous objectives, all of which are centred on one of the characters from the Batman franchise. You’re free to pick and choose from any of the objectives all of which will grant you upgrade points which you can spend to upgrade Batman’s skills, gadgets and combat moves. You will also be treated to the wonder that is the Batmobile, a nimble tank that’s got a staggering array of weaponry at its disposal, which you’ll need to make good use of if you’re to get anywhere in this game. The traditional beat ’em up combat remains intact with only a few new options added into the mix to differentiate it from its predecessors. In terms of scale it’s the biggest Batman game ever released, one that will keep even the most dedicated achievement hunter busy for a very long time.
The melee combat remains largely the same as it did in previous Arkham games with the addition of a few new gadgets and enemy types. If I’m honest it actually feels slightly weaker than previous titles as the new gadgets fail to make up for the lack of new combos or takedowns. Pulling off massive combos doesn’t seem to have the same spectacular pay off that it used which was a big driver, at least for me, to get better at landing them. There’s the inclusion of the fear takedown, which basically works as an opener to take out the most dangerous enemies first, which is cool but does take away a fair chunk of the skill required to take down massive groups of varied enemies. This, coupled with the lack of any big melee boss fights, means that whilst the essence of the combat is still there it just doesn’t have the same attraction it once did.
This is made up for entirely by the inclusion of the Batmobile, the single most fun thing that Rocksteady included in Arkham Knight. From the second you first get your hands on it the Batmobile is a cacophony of destruction, metallic car noises and oodles of weaponry that border on being ludicrously excessive. Driving around Gotham is just plain fun as you smash and crash your way through pretty much everything that gets in your way. The vehicle combat makes up for the less than stellar melee combat although after the 30th drone battle over a mine it does start to lose its lustre somewhat. However the integration of the Batmobile into almost every aspect of the game is done so well you start to wonder how they managed to build a Batman game without it. I’m not sure how canon this form of the Batmobile is however as it’s pretty much a killing machine on wheels, something which isn’t strictly in alignment with the Batman ethos. Not that that really matters, though.
The stealth sections are back again this time with even more ways for the enemies to locate you and ruin your Not Seen and Not Shot bonuses. The mechanics will be instantly familiar, finding vantage points and sneaking through grates, however for each new hazard you’re given a new way to deal with it. Much like the melee combat though it feels a little weaker than previous games, possibly because it is so similar or maybe because other elements (like the Batmobile) are just that much better. Suffice to say most of my stealth sections usually ended in me unceremoniously taking out everyone after they spotted me once and more than a few angered restarts because of that.
Due to the outrage over how unplayable Arkham Knight was I decided to hold off until the first patch was released and I’m glad I did. I experienced no performance issues at all with Arkham Knight being buttery smooth the entire time. It was not, however, a completely glitch free experience as there were numerous times where things didn’t work as expected. Chasing Firefly in the Batmobile would often result in it not being able to drive forward for some reason, requiring me to jump out and back in again (sometimes allowing him to escape). On more than one occasion the indicators that I should counter something during a cutscene simply didn’t pop up, leading to a few frustrating moments where I simply could not figure out how to get to the next section. However none of these issues are what I’d consider game breaking as I would not have invested so much time into Arkham Knight if it was as broken as everyone was making it out to be. As of writing Arkham Knight is still not for sale on Steam, something which I honestly don’t agree with after playing through it this past week.
The story serves as the conclusion to the Arkham series and, I’m glad to say, rounds out the various stories of all the main characters quite well. For those of us who’ve stuck with the Arkham series since Asylum it’s been quite a ride and to have it end so well, when so many games have done endings like this poorly, is a most welcome change. This does not mean that the Batman IP has run its course yet, indeed the upcoming Batgirl DLC is a testament to this, however the story ark of Batman and Joker is done and dusted. I’ll be interested to see if Rocksteady or another development studio will look to replicate the success of this series with other characters within the same franchise as, whilst I’m glad this chapter has come to a close, I’d very much like to explore more of this world from a different perspective.
Batman: Arkham Knight is a fitting finale to this venerable series, capturing everything that made the series great whilst amping it up to the next level with a solid story and, of course, the Batmobile. The combat and stealth retain the essence of what made the previous games great although fail to innovate much beyond that. The Batmobile makes up for this in spades, delivering gloriously dumb action as you tear through the streets of Gotham. The story finishes the major Batman and Joker arc beautifully, leaving you with a sense of closure whilst also wanting to see more of this world that Rocksteady has built up over the past 5 years. Even if you haven’t been following the series since day dot you won’t be disappointed in the experience that Batman: Arkham Knight brings as it is truly a stellar game, even in its own right.
Batman: Arkham Knight is available on PC, XboxOne and PlayStation4 right now for $59.99, $99.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with a total of 16 hours playtime and 42% of the achievements unlocked.
Prior to the release of Batman: Arkham Asylum you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who’d heard of Rocksteady Studios. Primarily this would be because they only had one title to their name before that, Urban Chaos: Riot Response, which wasn’t badly received but at the same time you’d struggle to find anyone who’d played it. Their following two instalments using the Batman IP however catapulted them to fame and their success led to them being acquired by Time-Warner shortly before the release of Arkham City. However the most recent instalment in this series, Batman: Arkham Origins comes to us not from the venerable Rocksteady but instead Warner Bros Games Montreal, a development house that’s familiar with the series (as they worked on the Wii-U port Arkham City). Combine that with the Joker no longer being voiced by Mark Hamill and fans of the series were decidedly nervous as there was no telling how this game would pan out.
Arkham Origins takes place long before the world that was established in the previous two games, going back to the beginnings where Bruce Wayne is just beginning his journey as the caped crusader of Gotham City. He’s been at it long enough to attract the attention of some of the city’s more nefarious criminals and this has resulted in Black Mask, a notorious underworld dealer who’s eluded conviction due to the numerous businesses he runs, putting a bounty on Batman’s head. He has also invited 8 different assassins to go after the bounty including many of Batman’s long time rivals. Of course Bruce can’t sit idly by and potentially let others be put in danger for his sake and so begins a long Christmas eve spent putting the beat down on Gotham’s worst.
Visually Arkham Origins is a small step up from its predecessor with the primary limitation of them progressing any further being the fact that it’s still being released on the current console generation. In all honesty though it still looks fantastic with all of the environments having an incredible amount of detail in them. I’m also somewhat thankful for this as my PC hardware is starting to get a little long in the tooth and whilst Arkham Origins looked great there were times when it began to noticeably slow down. However that wasn’t a frequent occurrence, even in the outdoor scenes where you could see far off into the distance.
Just like the 2 Arkham titles before it Origins keeps the core game play and style the same whilst adding in additional challenges, enemies and tactics to keep it feeling fresh. You’ll still spend most of your time beating the every loving crap out of various different types of enemies, the challenge ratcheting up every so often with the introduction of new types of enemies requiring different techniques to take them down. However you still have the option of being a silent predator at times, swooping through an area and taking out multiple enemies without being seen. Finally the core puzzle mechanics make a come back, albeit with a new mode to make things a little more interesting.
Combat, as always, is fast paced and meaty with every hit you land having a really satisfying feel to it. I always seem to start off feeling rather uncoordinated, getting my combos interrupted all the time by just not noticing the incoming attacks, but it doesn’t take long before I’m hitting huge multipliers and laying waste to everyone. One thing that has always irritated me is the initial lack of a way to take out large groups once you’ve knocked them all down as whilst you can do a ground take down on them all too often that results in you losing your combo string as it seems you can’t counter whilst in the middle of one. Later on of course you’ll unlock some better ways of dealing with them and after that combat starts to feel a lot more fluid.
However one criticism that I’ll level at it, and this has been true of all of the series, is that as you progress through the story the number of different things you can do during combat start to become a little overwhelming. Pretty often you’ll find yourself facing a knife wielder, a guy with a riot shield and probably a tough enemy that needs to be stunned before you can do anything. These require no less than 3 different methods of taking them out and when combined with the dozen or so quick fire gadgets you end up having to remember so many things that you’ll eventually just settle on a couple. They all become somewhat moot however with the introduction of the shock gloves and then all you have to focus on is getting enough charge in them so then you can lay the smack down on everything around you.
The stealth sections feel like they have remained largely unchanged although this could be primarily due to the fact that I didn’t invest many points in that skill tree until very late in the game. They’re still fun and somewhat challenging, especially the ones that have unique mechanics like the Deadshot encounter, but if you were looking for a markedly different or revamped experience you’re not going to find it. There’s also the possibility that I just wasn’t paying attention to some of the prompts and missed some new opportunities but I didn’t really have any problems accomplishing anything (unlike say in the Mr Freeze battle in Arkham City).
The detective mode/puzzles remain largely the same albeit making use of some of the new mechanics granted to you by the various gadgets that weren’t present in the previous titles. There’s also the addition of the crime scene mode which you use to reconstruct crimes to figure out details about how they happened and to track down the people responsible. For the most part it works well however it’s not made entirely clear when you have to move to a new section to continue the investigation, or what the expected behaviour is, so at first it was a little confusing. Still since it’s largely the same mechanic it still functions well even if it doesn’t feel as fresh or different as other aspects of the game are.
However the real problem with Arkham Origins is that whilst it retains the essence of what made the Arkham series so good it’s also marred by numerous bugs and glitches, many of them that are completely game breaking. The screenshot above depicts one of them where upon using certain abilities with knock back you can cement enemies in a wall or other object. They then become unreachable and whilst I was able to dislodge them after trying every gadget I had (I eventually found I needed to get them on an edge and then attempt to stun them so they’d fall backwards out of the box) it was an incredibly frustrating experience. This is not to mention one part in the Penguin’s ship where all the external doors just simply refused to work, making the opening noise but not allowing me through. This broke my trust with all the game mechanics so I spent the vast majority of the game wondering if I had completed a challenge successfully or if I had just encountered another game breaking issue. I’m not alone in thinking this either as my searches into the issue revealed the list of bugs is scarily long and even after it’s been out for this length of time there’s no patch in sight.
This, combined with the fact that Arkham Origins isn’t too much different from City in terms of overall play style, is probably the reason why there’s been such an abysmal reaction to it. I did my best to avoid any reviews prior to playing it however I unwittingly found out that Destructoid gave it 3.5 out of 10 and whilst I don’t agree with that score overall I understand the reasoning that went into it. Whilst I feel that Arkham Origins isn’t a bad game overall it is certainly the weakest of the series, showing very clearly that Warner Bros Montreal has a lot to learn before they can deliver a title that can be considered on par with the rest of the Arkham series. Whether or not they’ll get the chance to do so in light of the current reaction to Arkham Origins though remains to be seen.
As for the story I felt like it was a great introduction into the relationship between Batman and the Joker as whilst their relationship has been explored in depth in other mediums it was great to see how the rivalry began. The bucket list of other characters thrown in as assassins was unfortunately less well done as it just felt like a convenient way to throw them in without needing a coherent reason for them to be there. This was only exacerbated by the fact that they either had long, drawn out encounters (like Enigma) which just weren’t that fun to pursue or they were so short (like Anarchy) that you really didn’t have time for them to develop.
Should we judge Batman: Arkham Origins without the knowledge of the titles that followed it previously it would be easy to heap praise on it. The combat is engaging and satisfying, the exploration into the relationship between the Joker and Batman is intriguing and the world is filled with detail that few games manage to achieve. However it’s lineage set a high bar for it to live up to and the fact that it’s not different enough from Arkham City, combined with the numerous game breaking bugs, means that Arkham Origins is the weakest of all of the titles. I certainly enjoyed my time in it but there’s no mistaking that the developers behind it have their work cut out for them if they want to live up to the Rocksteady brand.
Rating: 7..0 / 10
Batman: Arkham Origins is available on PC, Xbox360, PlayStation 3 and WiiU right now for $59.99, $78, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 13 hours of play time and 26% of the achievements unlocked.
Arkham Asylum was one of the sleeper hits of 2009. It definitely wasn’t your traditional AAA title combining elements of several different genres of games into one well thought out experience. I have to admit I was sceptical of it at first, games based off comic or movie IP are traditionally quite bad, but it pleasantly surprised me. I was then quite excited when I heard about the sequel Arkham City which apparently had been hinted at in Arkham Asylum. Unfortunately I was torn between getting the collector’s edition on console or playing it on the PC, a decision that took me far too long to make. In the end I decided to play it on PC again and I’m glad I did.
Arkham City starts out with you as Bruce Wayne who’s campaigning for Arkham City, in essence a prison camp, to be shut down. Things take a turn for the worse when Hugo Strange’s mercenaries show up and throw him into city where Strange reveals that he knows that Bruce is Batman and should he try to stop his “Protocol 10” solution he will reveal that to the world. After a short altercation with the Penguin and some of his goons Bruce calls in a drop for his bat suit and begins his journey to stop Strange’s plan.
Both the visuals and the art direction of Arkham City are vastly improved from its predecessor. To Rocksteady’s credit they’ve done a pretty good job with the optimization too as even at the highest settings I was still able to run the game at high frame rates. Still there were occasions where it would slow down inexplicably as it wasn’t consistent with being inside/outside nor with heavy action. Still the graphics are great, the interactions between characters are no longer stilted affairs and the overall ambition for Arkham City is much greater than it was for Arkham Asylum and they’ve managed to achieve it well.
The core mechanics of Arkham City haven’t changed that much from Arkham Asylum but there have been some notable additions. Due to the sheer scale of Arkham city the glide mechanic has been reworked considerably now enabling batman to, in essence, fly around the entire city almost unaided. This mechanic is made good use of as well by many of the quests and mini-games with things like flying to a certain point with limited time or giving you augmented reality challenges that unlock additional equipment and upgrades. Flying around like this was probably one of my favourite things to do in Arkham City considering you couldn’t do anything like this in its predecessor.
Combat has stayed relatively the same with most of the kinks that I complained about in Arkham Asylum being worked out. There are numerous additional gadgets available, different enemy types and new take down manoeuvres that serve to make the combat experience much more varied but at its heart its still very much the same as its predecessor. This isn’t a bad thing though as the combat in Arkham Asylum was done very well and the added variation in Arkham City keeps it faithful whilst making it stand on its own.
Whilst the combat is good it does tend to get a little samey as the game progresses but this is thankfully broken up well by the unique boss encounters. Each of them will make use of Batman’s array of gadgets in a particular way, forcing you of the regular hack ‘n’ slashy combat and into a real tactical challenge. Don’t get me wrong its’ a pretty awesome feeling when you pull of a 70+ hit combo on legions of foes but nothing got my adrenaline going as much as the boss fights did. None of them felt like a complete cock block either, something which can be hard if you’re trying to hit that fine line between satisfying challenge and impassable obstacle.
The Riddler puzzles were usually interesting but I didn’t really feel the compulsion to seek them out. Whilst its pretty easy to come across them as you’re flying around Arkham City I only ever really went after one if my health was low. Talking this over with my brother he said that the challenges felt somewhat dumbed down from the predecessor and this is probably why most people (outside those hunting for achievements) don’t really want to bother with them. I can’t for the life of me remember what the challenges were like back in Arkham Asylum but the vast majority of the puzzles in Arkham City did feel quite easy.
Just like Arkham Asylum Arkham City sets out an environment where almost the entire back catalogue of Batman super villains can make an appearance without having to having to have a back story to explain why they hell they’re there. It’s a kind of cheap way of getting them all together in the same area but it works well as it leads you to have many unique encounters based around those particular villain’s modus operandi. The screenshot above from the Mad Hatter encounter was a great example of this, putting you in a surreal world in which you have to fight your way through to get back to reality. I liken it to the Scarecrow encounters of Arkham Asylum, unique encounters that break away from the main game in order to mix things up a bit.
The way in which you come across these kinds of unique encounters though is one of the more common complaints I’ve heard about Arkham City. Indeed Arkham Asylum was far more linear in its game play owing to its comparatively closed environment. Arkham City on the other hand is a true sandbox style game, pushing you to follow the main plot line whilst also throwing up dozens of side quests that can be done at your leisure. Truthfully this can get a little overwhelming at times as you can’t go too far without triggering one of these quests and after you’ve done a few of them you don’t feel the compulsion to seek them out as often. It is definitely is one of the weaker aspects of Arkham City.
The sections where you play as Catwoman are interesting although I must admin they weren’t my favourite part of Arkham City. The different Riddler trophies for example seem to be a cheap way to reuse the same assets, forcing you to go back to somewhere you’ve already explored in order to collect them. Since the differences between Catwoman and Batman is limited to the lack of gadgets, lack of detective mode and no glide ability it’s not different enough to make for a break from the core Batman play. I like that Rocksteady are experimenting with things like this, it shows they have confidence in their abilities to make AAA titles like Arkham City, but they’d need to work on differentiating the playable characters a bit more ion order for them to really shine.
Overall Arkham City improves greatly on its predecessor in technical terms with the graphics being improved, the glitches being ironed out and amping up the ambition of the game significantly. It’s not without its faults however owing to the transition to true sandbox style play and some compromises made to appeal to a wider audience. Still unlike many sequels Arkham City stands very well on its own as an unique game that draws well on its rich IP heritage. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to both fans and new comers to the Arkham series.
Batman: Arkham City is available on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 right now for $89.99, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played on the PC on Normal difficulty with 11 hours of total play time and 33% of the achievements unlocked.
Last year, whilst not a stellar year for games due to many delayed releases slipping into 2010, still had many great games towards the end of the year. I’ve played my way through most of them and for those who have been following my exploits over the past 6 months or so know the quality has been pretty high. Naturally after playing AAA title after AAA title my expectations for games have been set rather high and lesser games (namely Bayonetta and Supreme Commander 2) have been left sitting on the shelves waiting for their turn. After looking through my Steam list I remembered that I got Batman: Arkham Asylum as part of the Eidos pack when it was a mere $50 and on the advice of many of my friends I decided to give it a go.
Thankfully Arkham Asylum, whilst drawing on the rich background offered by the Batman IP, isn’t based off any of the Batman movies that have been released. This helps it avoid the usual filter the gaming community puts on movie based games (read: utter rubbish) and gave the developers a lot more creative freedom with developing the story and characters. Still every aspect that makes Batman who he is will be shown to the player at some point so that even dedicated Batman fans will find something in the game that appeals to them.
The story begins with Batman bringing in The Joker to Arham Asylum, a super prison dedicated to housing the myriad of Gotham’s super-villains. Whilst it’s somewhat disappointing that you can’t gallivant around Gotham city like the real Batman the game still does its best to make you feel like the caped crusader, a shining beacon of justice in an increasingly dark world. Whilst I initially felt very detracted from Batman and his supporting characters after the first few hours of gameplay I found myself wanting to know more about all of them, hoping to gain some form of insight into the twisted minds of the characters laid out before me.
My first gripe about the game is that (during the first few hours before I became wholly engrossed in the story) the whole experience feels a little cheap. The graphics for instance aren’t terribly spectacular even when everything is cranked up to the max and the pre-rendered videos were done using the game engine. Whilst I can appreciate that this was done to keep the pace of the game and gloss over loading screens when you have pre-rendered movies and in-game sequences that look the same I start wondering why you bothered pre-rendering them at all. This is probably because the movies were rendered at a much lower screen resolution than my monitor (1680 x 1050), making them appear rather blocky. Additionally the in game dialogue sequences were often rather stilted with the characters barely moving and the faces showing little to no emotion. I know I’ve been spoiled with Mass Effect and Uncharted and it’s probably not fair to compare them, but that still didn’t take away that cheap feeling.
The most enjoyable part of Arkham Asylum is the combat. On first look it appears to be something of a hack ‘n’ slash adventure with a rapid succession of clicks able to take down a group of foes with little trouble. After a while though more and more variables are thrown in that force you to use other moves and combos in order to come out the other end successfully. Just when you think you’re unstoppable the game would throw yet another larger challenge at you, bringing you down a peg. It was this ramping up of the action that hooked me and kept me in my seat for the last 4 hours of the game, giving the bad guys of Arkham a good throttling. The only issue I had was counter moves not working most of the time, but I got around that by throwing Batman wildly all over the place to avoid having to use it.
On the flip side of this rough and tumble action game is a surprisingly well done stealth combat system. So whilst you could happily punch every foe into the ground there are some situations that will be a might be easier if you instead sneak your way around them and take them out quietly. The unlockable upgrades for Batman allow for many interesting ways to take out your opponents quietly, such as hanging upside down from a gargoyle and then swooping down and hanging them upside down by one leg. Since the days of of the Theif games few games have been able to do stealth right but Arkham Asylum gets it just right as it is both enjoyable and as thrilling as punching your way through the game.
Yet another interesting mechanic is that of the good old fashioned platformer. There are several occasions where the camera will become locked and you’re forced into a good old fashioned jump puzzle, with the added complication of avoiding detection by a giant madman with glowing eyes. This psyhcological thriller mini-game was one of my favourite frustrations of Arkham Asylum as it was just so far apart from the regular gameplay in terms of what you do and where you are.
Lastly you’re Batman the crack detective, following evidence and solving various puzzles to move the story along. I’ll admit a few of these had me stumped for a good while, reaching out to the Internet for answers. Still for the vast majority I was able to knock them down without too much hassle, giving me that warm fuzzy feeling that we all get when we conquer something without having to take the easy way out.
Overall Batman: Arkham Asylum was one of those games that was in my to-play list but I’d never really given a second thought to. It’s received wide spread critical acclaim and garnered enough talk amongst my friends to have cemented itself firmly as a must play amongst us all and after playing through it I can see why. It just oozes that classic Batman feel and the little extra bits like the character bios and interview tapes just help to draw you in that much more. The game wraps up beautifully and lends itself to a sequel without leaving too many loose ends, and I for one can’t wait to see what these guys come up with next.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is available right now on the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC for $99, $99 and $49.99 respectively. Game was played on the second hardest difficulty setting with around 12 hours of gameplay and 65% completion on one playthrough.