The blockbuster video game “Batman: Arkham Asylum” was released on August 25th, 2009 (taking loose inspiration from Grant Morrison’s 1989 graphic novel “Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth”). At the time I had my head buried in the newly-budding fall-semester and the game details/release date had totally escaped me (I know, LOUSY excuse). After it had been out a week, I was at a Gamestop hawking garbage games for food money when I saw a poster:
The rest was history. Following is a five-part list of my personal likes, dislikes and hopes for the Batman Arkham video game series. These are my unranked, personal opinions and they’re by no means exhaustive. There are MAJOR SPOILERS ahead, but if you haven’t played these games, I suggest you go do so instead of wasting time reading my nonsense.
1. Arkham Games 1, 2 & 4: Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill
First off, the casting is so obvious, it’s genius. Conroy’s Batman is a pleasure to be around all 30+ hours of each game. This is partially because his Batman is, first and foremost, an intellectual, a scientist, a humanitarian and the world’s greatest detective. He shows compassion for hostages and victims (and sometimes villains), he displays a fascination with technological inventions throughout each game, and Conroy’s Batman seems to be fully intrigued by crime scene revelations or by simply following a trail of evidence. This makes playing as Conroy’s Batman fascinating because the brawler/passionate aspect of Bruce is almost fully in the hands of the player; Conroy gets to be the instinct and intellect, you get to be the rage and the blunt instrument. This allows Batman to become fully human in the gaming experience and Conroy’s presence allows full immersion. A good example of this is when Conroy’s Batman taunts his enemies at the beginning of training sessions; Conroy’s words are blunt, perfectly delivered and are given as a means to an end. Batman wants to make the enemies fight with emotion and make mistakes, and then you as the player get to bash, pummel, and break.
As always, Hamill’s Joker is a scene stealer, from being strapped down and taken into Arkham Asylum in the first game to ambushing you with a “BOO!” as a “ghost” in Arkham Knight. Hamill’s Joker is consistently funny, clever, and horrifying, whether it be during one of his public service announcements, in one of his fights, or by showing off in a CG cut-scene. Hamill’s Joker truly is the best and most unique kind of evil to work towards thwarting, making all the installments of the Arkham series a fantastic romp (Troy Baker’s Joker impersonation of Hamill in Origins was very well executed by the way).
2. Arkham Asylum: Hamill-Joker’s Constant Presence
Arkham Asylum came out in August 2009, a year and a month after the box office triumph of Nolan’s The Dark Knight in the summer of 2008. Despite the Bat-fever from the most successful Batman movie still being ever-present, it was still hard to know what to expect from Arkham Asylum, and if it deserved to ride the hype wave. But once the game started rolling, it was like I got another amazing Batman movie, except I got to watch and BE The Goddamn Bat this time. I was also VERY pleasantly surprised that the main cast was from the old animated series. The surprise quickly changed to fascination because the first sequence in Asylum is mesmerizing. Time stands still as the lights go out and you wonder if Joker got free from his restraints, only to have Joker scream at you when the lights come back on, still fully restrained (I still randomly say “Bat-snacks!” every now and again). Some of my favorite moments of Hamill’s performance were when the Joker creepily sang while experimenting on inmates with Titan, the gradually changing finale room being built for Joker. His endless PA announcements, especially the ones that showed no remorse for his own thugs as they encountered Batman, made Joker a constant companion, his voice filling your ears with his perverse humor. As the game entered the final chapters I wished Hamill had been given another 200 lines to read, but even when the PA lines started repeating, Joker never got old to me.
3. Arkham Origins: Batman/Bruce’s Aesthetics and Presentation
The bat-suit in Arkham Origins is the perfect display of pragmatic armor for Bats which doesn’t take away from, or add too much to, his muscular physique. There is no skin-tight armor mesh or underwear here; instead, we have a nice mixture of sleekness and bulk with armor pieces connected together with much more thought than before. This gave Batman the appearance of a running, punching tank without making him look like an actual tank. The suits weren’t bad in the other games, but Origins definitely improved the aesthetic by giving Batman a modified and improved swat-team, armored look; something that looked like it could take some real punishment. Also, in Origins, Bruce is less experienced and a touch angrier than in the other games; one of his interrogations ends with the thug passing out before Bats can get the info he desires. It’s fun to play a well done, younger version of Conrad’s Batman, one that makes some mistakes, has an edge and takes a little more pleasure in giving pain. Though controversial, the stubble on Batman/Bruce’s face was another excellent addition, giving him a haggard look that showed how roughly that night had been treating him.
4. Arkham City: Catwoman
I still find it amazing that Arkham City is the ONLY game in the series that lets you free roam with someone other than Batman (unless you mod). But this is a positive list, and if there is anything positive about the Arkham series it is Arkham City’s presentation and use of Catwoman. The player actually gets to use Selina before Bruce in the game, and I remember redoing the opening fight with her many times because her moves had different animations and timing than Batman, and I was getting my ass kicked. But once the player gets used to Catwoman she is amazing in combat, but you still have to be careful and precise, at least compared to a fully leveled up Batman (Selina is relatively squishy). Continuing with Selina, her voice and dialogue delivery is perfect, and her face and body armor are top notch as well. What really stands out is her utilization in the story. Arkham City may have a sometimes-very convoluted narrative but Catwoman is still a necessary breath of fresh air in the urban prison.
The highlight of her story arc, whether it makes sense or not, is Selina fighting through a stealth and combat room to retrieve her personal effects (there must be some crazy shit in those cases for her to risk going up against Tyger guards), which leads her to the choice of saving Batman or leaving the hellhole she’s in. A great touch was that if you chose to leave Batman to die, game over. Her stomping on Ivy’s flowers was an amazing moment; Selina is charismatic, endearing, spiteful but likable all the same, the game fully and successfully flaunts Selina’s status as a premier antihero in the comic and gaming world. Perhaps the best detail in City concerning Catwoman is how all the thugs react to her; the taunting and quips they fling at her during combat are awesome. It is totally satisfying to see that most of the big, bad inmates are in complete fear of “The Cat”, reacting to her arrival with unadulterated sorrow, knowing their own ass whooping is imminent. Arkham Knight continued to show a quality Selina, but unfortunately, she’s a hostage for the whole game and confined to an orphanage (it’s better than it sounds). However, City gave her all the attention she deserves, including post-game collectibles via loot gathering via trading places with Batman at locations with loitering cats.
5. Arkham Asylum: Level Design
Of all the great things to talk about concerning the first game of the series, it’s hard not to give full attention to how claustrophobic and dangerous Arkham Island is, even for Batman. The game perfectly simulates the feelings of isolation and impending doom, especially in the beginning when Batman is being hunted in stealth rooms. Even if Batman wasn’t showing panic, I can assure you that I was induced into a pseudo-panicky state by the terrifying surroundings, my heart racing as I’m trying to remember how to choke out a thug carrying a shotgun. Notwithstanding the situational horror, you’re still the goddamn Bat, and his constant silhouette with Conroy’s unflappable calm keeps you moving forward with confidence. Hostage situations only made the game that much more bleak and amazing. Adding to this dynamic was the need for Bats to upgrade his gear and gadgets or acquire new ones in order to progress, resulting in the need to backtrack and traverse again most of the perilous locations the island had to offer (much like a Metroidvania-style game). The greatest part of all of this is that it began to become a pleasure to memorize every brick and nook and cranny of the old asylum; the game is that good.
6. Arkham Knight: “A Matter of Family” DLC & Batgirl
Batgirl making her debut as a playable character was one of the best things about Arkham Knight, it was a highlight of the overall series as well. Barbara Gordon, whether as Oracle or Batgirl, has always been a force to reckoned with and I think plenty of players eagerly awaited Batgirl’s appearance in the games. One of the great and satisfying things about this DLC is Batgirl’s fighting style, which is a hybrid style that utilizes her own distinct moves and combines them with classic Batman attacks from the Arkham games, displaying her use of Bruce’s training. How fun was it to play as Barbara in the first place, let alone have her dish out Batman style punishment? Badass win for the team at WB and Rocksteady. The other amazing thing about this DLC is squaring off against Joker and Harley and their thugs on a derelict oil rig….which has been transformed into Joker’s version of an island “amusement” park. Though the DLC itself may be shorter than some would like, all the missions, stealth rooms, and the boss fight were very enjoyable. This DLC also offers an incredible view of the skyline of Gotham, if you want to grapple up to the top of the oil rig (who wouldn’t?). In the distance there can be seen most of the important locations in the Arkham Series, a pretty satisfying visual for those who have played the four games from the beginning. However, nothing beats Babs choking out and rag-dolling thugs.
7. Arkham Games 1-3: Gotham’s History is Painstakingly Present
Perhaps one of the most intriguing phenomena in Batman Lore is Gotham itself, especially its history. How did it get to where it is, where someone like Bruce feels overwhelmingly compelled to kick its ass every night? The Cyrus Pinkney side story in Arkham Origins was a great addition to the game, it’s like a sacred window into the place that spawned something like The Bat. The creepy Amadeus Arkham story arc in Asylum did very much the same, and to a lesser extent so did the Wonder City story arc in Arkham City. These references to Gotham’s history originate from comic books like “Batman: Gates of Gotham” as well as “Batman: The Destroyer”, and quite possibly many more story arcs and Easter-eggs in the games not mentioned here (“Gotham by Gaslight” may apply, also I think “The Court of Owls” is relevant to this in Origins; I was surprised they weren’t in Arkham Knight). These are important backstories, illuminating Batman’s nature and domain to the player; events that happened long ago in a city many have long been fascinated by.
8. Arkham Games 1-4: Tara Strong & Maurice LaMarche
Though the series is bursting with excellent voice talent, I’d like to focus on two of my favorites. The Arkham series’ Harley Quinn is a great example of underappreciating a good thing because perfection was constantly given and therefore she was easier to take for granted. Quinn played a huge role in the main story and some DLCs in three of the games and was always a welcome part, even her subdued role in Origins was one of the best parts of the game. Though the revered Arleen Sorkin reprised her Animated Series role for Asylum, Tara Strong took her place for the remaining games with masterful performances of her own.
Maurice LaMarche is an excellent Dr. Victor Fries, it is very easy for gamers to feel his pain and empathize with him because his lines are delivered with great care and sincerity. He is intimidating and has one purpose that his soul is slavish to, which LaMarche perfectly tunes into. Freeze is closer to being less villainous than most of Batman nemeses, though in the end, LaMarche’s Freeze is a tortured, ruthless killer.
9. Arkham Games 1-4: Combat
After seven straight years of playing the Arkham series, I can say that it is still baffling to me how underutilized some of Batman’s moves can be, and also how I can still find new ways to use basic moves. How long was it before I found out I could one-shot a lone enemy just by pressing x while running? Batman’s slide trip is another one, it’s so useful and yet I hardly get around to it. The line launcher is AMAZING while free roaming, the uses for it are plentiful, but I find myself just gliding around and ambushing thugs with my pounce tackle instead. Then there’s the “directed aerial attack”, where you choose another enemy to pounce on while you are airborne after you jump from an opponent’s chest; it’s a beautiful thing. I still haven’t mastered the hanging ledge takedown, you use Batman’s legs and feet to choke out the thug while you are above them. Needless to say, the combat really makes the games what they are, and the replayability is almost unmatched in the superhero gaming world. I mean come on, Batman suplexes baddies into each other and rams his enemies heads into walls if he chooses to, can there be anything more satisfying than having your Batman slam a thug’s head on a fence railing? Not in my world cowboy.
10. Arkham Games 2-4: Freeroam
I really cannot express fully how happy I was flying around Arkham City for the first time. My first priority was to not touch the ground and fly for hours, any missions getting in the way of that were met with extreme force (sorry low-level bad guys). Origins improved the flying experience with taller buildings, a larger map and perhaps more flight speed, and then Arkham Knight went nuts and basically turned Bats into a freaking jet. Controlling Batman in the air is wicked because the player now becomes the ultimate predator, sizing up their prey far below them and then striking with brutality. When Batman is grounded the free running is fantastic as well, although Batman only really climbs the walls which he can jump and pull himself up on to. There really isn’t a lot of climbing to be done in the style of the Spider-Man, Assassin’s Creed or Infamous game franchises. Instead, the Arkham games have Bats make use of his grapple gun, and honestly, the gameplay doesn’t suffer because of it. Perhaps you have fewer parkour options than in other games (a jump button would’ve been nice), but it’s hardly noticeable. The cities themselves are perfectly constructed for the Bat to terrorize the unfortunate but deserving souls he faces.
Click HERE for Part Two of our retrospective journey to the Top 20 BEST things the Arkham Games did!
20 THINGS THE BATMAN ARKHAM GAMES GOT RIGHT – PART 1
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