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May 17 2016

Late Batman Arkham Series Review

PLAY THESE GAMES. PLAY THIS AMAZING SERIES PACKED FULL OF INTENSE ACTION, IMMERSIVE EXPLORATION AND THRILLING STORY ADAPTATIONS FROM THE COMICS. PLUS, YOU GET TO BE, the batman. (*OVER-RATED USE OF CAPS INTENDED)

I’m going to be do something a little different in this Late Review by reviewing five games at once. I would like to apologise in advance for the length of this article. Rather than splitting each game into its own separate Late Review, I decided that as many of the elements through the series is similar, it would be best to save time by drawing upon these in the one article and also because I marathoned through these games in the weeks leading up to and including the release of Arkham Knight, so this was all I was playing at one point in my life.

Arkham Asylum:
Now going back to the point of why you NEED to play these games, as I guarantee, you will not regret it. I picked the first few games up on the dead cheap, but it was a few years later though before I decided to delve into the first game in the of the series, Asylum. For those that have never really been into the DC Universe like myself, this game is a very good introduction into Batman and the Gotham criminals.

Arkham Asylum, released 25th August 2009, embroids the night of the Joker taking control of Arkham Asylum, a mental asylum prison for dangerous villains, most that have been incarcerated by the Batman and wanting revenge. It all begins with a very lovely cutscene of Batman walking alongside a restrained Joker, who’s spouting his mouth off when no surprise at all, Joker breaks free. Batman having been incapacitated from resolving the situation, has to watch the events unfold. Before he is able to do anything about it, the Joker escapes further into the Asylum. From there, Batman has to progress through the different factions, facing off with recognised characters such as Poison Ivy, Two Face and Harley Quinn.

As common in the rest of the games going forward, you control Batman from a third-person perspective. Progress through the map is pretty linear as you follow the story mode of removing the Joker’s influence on the asylum. That said, there is plenty of exploration through some stunning level designs, with many hidden artifacts to collect throughout. Some of these artifacts are part of The Riddler’s side challenge, which consists of completing his devious puzzles to collect all of the Riddler trophies, unlocking an additional end mission. Most areas to begin with are inaccessible until the gadget required to bypass the blockade is unlocked. Each zone will unlock at least one upgrade for Batman or a gadget.

These gadgets include the Batclaw to pull Batman up to higher levels and pull objects towards him. There are batarangs, Batman’s throwing projectiles that can destroy small objects and stun enemies. There’s explosive gel and a cryptographic sequencer for hacking computers. Batman also has detective vision that uses a combination of sensors to detect objects in the local vicinity, unnoticeable to the untrained eye. All these gadgets have additional perks that can be unlocked by progressing the game.

Taking on the bad guys is a fun combination of combat and gadgets. The combat is very well designed, with a simple enough system of pressing one button to counter offensive enemies, one button to hit, one button to block, one button to evade and a billion combinations to use whatever gadget you want. One of the aims of combat is to acquire as high a possible combo multiplier, contributing to gaining more experience points after the bout has been won which is used to unlock more fighting skills.

There is also the ability to take out enemies by using stealth. By profiling the room with your detective vision, you can scan the room for hiding places and secret routes, allowing you to then move silently in the shadows, taking out each unsuspecting thug one by one. But with it being Batman, you can be rest assured of being able to watch above as a gargoyle, striking down on top of your enemies in predator mode.

The voice acting by Mark Hamill as Joker and Kevin Conroy as Batman really sold the series for me. I remember watching a few of the episodes of the cartoon as a kid, but to play the games with these voice actors giving it their all, my god, were they convincing. Mark Hamill is absolutely brilliant, with no effort at all to convince me that the Joker is one crazy mother fucking homicidal maniac and that laugh, as cool as it is, will haunt my nightmares many years to come. The acting only gets stronger in the following releases for many characters and really helps in conveying a believable story arc. Arkham Origins on the other hand, is another story which we’ll get to later.

Boss fights are a good test of your experience and developed skills.  Again most of these fights are introductions to the villains of the Gotham city. I found that the best boss battle was against Joker at the end of the game. Not going to spoil anything but it certainly was an interesting and challenging fight.

Arkham Asylum graphics stand up very well to today standards. Whilst this can be played on PS3 and Xbox 360, I recommend to purchase a cheap copy from G2A for a few bob and play the game on a controller in beautiful 1080p ultra settings on the PC. This game is compatible with many old graphic cards, so there’s no excuse.

Arkham City:
The next game in the series is Arkham City. Released two years after Asylum in 2011, the story commences a year after the Joker’s shenanigans at the Asylum, someone has the bright idea of turning a part of Gotham city into a penitentiary. Criminals are running riot in their own little dilapidated slice of Gotham as Bruce Wayne is framed and sent to rot in there amongst them.

Your first piece of action is being able to walk through a crowd of thugs yelling not very nice things at you, the exact opposite to the Asylum opening in which you were walking amongst the good guys. If you had started crying at this point, worrying for Bruce Wayne and wondering whether he will make it through the next 5 minutes, ending your brand new game so early, then you’re not going to like the next stage as you are then assaulted, out of the blue, by a group of mean thugs.

Combat is carried over straight from Asylum, allowing for your reflexes and finger muscle memory to take over in wiping the floor with the thugs. Calling in on Alfred to send in some support, you take a crash course as Bruce Wayne in learning to scale a building, which at the top, you change into a flying man bat costume. Bruce Wayne goes into Arkham City in one end, and Batman walks out the other. From your vantage point, you now overlook upon the city, planning your next move.

Again, for anyone interested in getting into the Batman universe, the game is fraught with new and old references that can be either ignored or taken on by the player who takes the time to. Batman has a run in with many characters again, one of those being the not too good looking Joker, fucking Batman up pretty good who’s having to uncover and defeat a sinister plot of Doctor Strange’s.

The map footprint is five times bigger compared to Asylum and being open world, allows Batman to free roam to pretty much any location of the map. The map has really opened out in size and in height, so that Batman can traverse across the city in a combination of gliding and free falling. Training challenges are fun as you learn the techniques to use Batman’s flying ability to its fullest potential and becomes very rewarding to swoop down on unsuspecting henchman.

Building upon Asylum, there are many upgrades and improvements. There is additional combat combos and gadgets that Batman can acquire over time. Riddles have been expanded to included the new environment and gadgets. Many interactions with the environment have been fine tuned. You can now also play as Catwoman in certain parts of the game to complete story missions and collect Riddler trophies. Whilst you may not know where to look during her cutscenes, she offers a whole range of new moves and ways of exploration. I tried to do my best to locate it, but the Internet let me down in trying to find the video of her motion capturer. This was the best I could find.

The part of the game I enjoyed the most was taking on Solomon Grundy. This guy is massive and his back story is actually quite scary. Located somewhere in the city is an alleyway with a reference to Grundy with a spooky nursery rhyme being played in the background. Taking on this guy in a boss fight includes seeing his chest being blow off, electrocuting the fuck out of him and then repeatedly punching his exposed heart, causing it to explode. Absolutely grossed me out and I loved it.

Graphics again are impressive, with so much detail in everything. As it’s open world, it’s beautiful to look across the vast horizon of derelict streets and warehouses. Voice acting is brilliant again, as is the story. I recommend playing this on PC at 1080p ultra, for only a few quid at G2A.

Arkham Origins:
Well, it’s sad to say but this is the one which Rocksteady dropped the ball on. Many parts of this game are flawed, rated by many as the worst one in the series. I would recommend this only for those who want to follow along with the Gotham storyline, otherwise you wouldn’t be penalized for skipping on this one. This game is playable if you want your additional 40 hour fill of playing as The Batman.

Released in 2013, the story takes place 5 years prior to Arkham Asylum, at the time that Batman is establishing himself amongst the Gotham villains as a force not to be reckoned with. Whilst a novice Batman has been busy clearing the streets of crime that has been running rampant for decades, Black Mask puts a hit out on Batman on Christmas Eve, luring eight of the worlds best assassins to rid Gotham of Batman by Christmas morning. At this point during the Batman universe, the police still believe the vigilante Batman to be a menace with orders to apprehend him. Batman has no one to turn to as he fights for his life through the night whilst also trying to stop the chaos of Anarky and a mysterious character called the Joker.

This game is set across one of the islands of Gotham, incorporating the map of Arkham City and more. Travel is again conducted mostly by gliding, being faster than before with the use of the batclaw having more power to sling Batman. As it’s Christmas Eve, snow falls heavily throughout, creating a cold and bleak environment. Side quests involve saving innocents scattered across the map, collecting Riddlers trophies again, taking down enemy radar towers to allow fast travelling and solving crimes using detective vision to re-enact the crime scene.

The freeflow combat system again makes a return with even more updates. As before in previous installments, gaining the combos in fights help to increase the power and momentum of Batman’s attacks. Enemies with guns are more prevalent in this game, requiring to keep an eye on those enemies in combat to disarm as quickly as possible to reduce the chance of the multiplier combo being disrupted. These enemies are the most difficult to apprehend, and whilst stealth can be used, extreme care needs to be taken when conducting hidden takedowns to reduce the chance of being spotted and having a room full of henchmen firing on you.

This game has a tonne of bugs, and you will find Batman glitching when interacting with the environment and in combat, which becomes very infuriating when failing stealth attacks or having to rebuild combos as the game screws you over in intense 10 minute long battles. Another let down for me is the replacement of Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy by Troy Baker and Roger Craig Smith as The Joker and Batman respectively. Though the voice actors may have younger voices which fits the setting of this being the past, they sound nothing like their character’s previous voice actors and had no real conviction in their voices, which didn’t help in immersing me into the game. To be honest, all I did throughout the entire playthrough of Origins was mourn for Hamill and Conroy.

The graphics are ok. The snow effect is really good, being able to run through the snow on PC with PhysX turned on and leaving trails. The art style has changed from the previous games, from being a more colourful comic style which fitted well to portray the series comic origins to a more darker realistic look. Having gotten used to the art style of the previous games, it did take some time to warm to but having said that, some of the character models look amazing like Deadshot and Deathstroke. Croc as always is one scary character, looming over Batman at 10 feet tall.

I’m struggling to remember much about this game, I just remember trying to get through it as quickly as possible and getting pissed off a number of times. The story has some cool revelations to experience but does suffer slightly and has a weak ending. Like I said, one for the fans really even though it’s a hard pill to swallow. Another one that can be picked up cheap off G2A and another one to be recommended for PC, especially for the PhysX effects.

Arkham Origins: Blackgate
This one was directed towards handhelds even though it can be played on console and PC. Released in 2013 as a companion to Origins, the game commences 3 months after Origins with The Joker, Penguin and Black Mask taking over Blackgate Prison. Batman once again has to handle the situation, whilst coming across Catwoman for the first time.

The game is played as a 2.5D platformer, with a select choice of weapons from the previous games to be unlocked and used to bypass obstacles. The game consists mostly of completing small areas in the prison at a time, being able to go sideways, up and down plus backwards and towards the screen depending on the environment to explore, which exploration of every room for switches and collectables is recommended. The game can be a bit of a time waster at times having to run from one side of the complex to the other, then back again as travel is linear through the building, with only a few shortcuts and no fast travel. Also having to read the map to find a path through the prison can be confusing at times due to the wire frame map being in 3D.

The combat system has been transferred to this experience, and works fairly well. Taking on enemies with guns is again difficult as sneaking up on them requires good timing, otherwise their line of site means they can pin you down very quickly. Boss fights I found are difficult, primarily due to having to locate their small weaknesses whilst bearing the brunt of strong attacks which depletes most of Batman’s small amount of health. It did require a few retries for most of these.

The game contains about a 10 hour campaign, which doesn’t really make any contribution to the DC Universe other than meeting Catwoman and finding that a mysterious organisation is up to something.

Arkham Knight:
Finally, we get to the last game currently in the series. Being the first game to be released on the next generation of consoles, the game really opens out and makes the most of the new hardware available. The most noticeable change from earlier iterations is that Batman is now able to drive the Batmobile around Gotham.

Having played the earlier titles and been so thrilled with the series, I had no problem with pre-ordering Arkham Knight. At the time, I believe Amazon had a sweet deal on the game bundled with a PS4, so I finally decided that enough time had passed on waiting for the price of the PS4 to drop. The release date was 23rd June 2015 and it was sometime in July when I completed it. This is the only game in the series that I haven’t played on PC, and luckily enough, that turned out to be the right choice, certainly at the time anyway.

The game is set a year after Arkham City on Halloween. Thanks to Batman, crime in Gotham has been at an all time low as the villains have stayed quiet, the problem though, is that they’ve been too quiet. Whilst keeping a low profile, the villains have been colluding on how to remove Batman once and for all. Scarecrow makes an appearance from beyond the grave, uniting the villains into his plan of taking control of Gotham, whilst getting rid of Batman. All with the help of a mysterious Knight in a full exoskeleton that resembles Batman

Scarecrow uses his powers of intimidation and fear by threatening to release a toxic gas across the city. The inhabitants of Gotham evacuate the city, leaving behind destruction and chaos being caused by the villains henchmen. When Batman goes to investigate, he comes across many arch rivals and a new upstart who seems to know Batman too well. Without spoiling anymore of what is a blockbuster of a game, the plot of the game is absolutely brilliantly portrayed through the action and ‘different’ internal monologues, plus with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill amongst many other voice actors reprising their roles, the game is once again very immersive and believable.

Going back to the elephant in the room, the Batmobile is a great addition to the series. Having only been glimpsed in Arkham Asylum during a conflict with Croc, the armoured tank with the mobility of a ballet dancer and the speed of a lambo adds a significant and refreshing layer of gameplay to the series. The additional features that the vehicle adds to Batman’s already immense arsenal allows for high speed chases through the streets of Gotham, remote controlling from afar, using the missile launchers and rubber projectile machine guns, tank on tank action, ramp take offs, grappling hook torquing and passenger transport. The entire city has been built from the ground up, allowing for practically total annihilation of walls, gates, vehicles, shop fronts and plenty of street props by either blowing them up or driving the batmobile through them.

The vehicle can be operated in one of two main modes. One is high speed driving. With some sort of nuclear generator under the hood, the torque from tapping the accelerator is immense. But what is a Batman game without upgrades, and there are plenty available for the engine and the additional booster. The roads of Gotham are nice and wide, with many junctions that make it a breeze skidding around corners to keep up with get-away drivers. Whilst in driving mode, you can make use of the missile launchers to disable enemy vehicles, as much as Batman hates to extreme force, but Gotham is in a state of emergency. The other mode is as a battle tank. By holding down a button, the vehicle converts somewhat into a spider-esque shape as its 4 wheels extend out to provide 360 degree mobility and precision as you line the batmobile up to blast enemy tanks and shoot down any projectiles of their own.

There are some side quests in the game that requires the car to complete, such as disarming massive landmines and racing through the Riddler’s underground circuits. The game is actually quite packed with side quests which now have ratings, so that they can be redone to gain a higher score which is used to acquire experience points and unlock the multitude of upgrades that now exist.

Gliding is still available to the user, and again has been speed up to help traverse the city in good time. The batmobile can help in ejecting Batman high into the air for an instant vantage point, bearing down on the city. The map is absolutely immense and taking something like 10 minutes gliding from one side to the other with all upgrades, I wouldn’t want to imagine how long that it would take to walk across (not including all the random spawned thugs you would encounter).

The freeflow combat has once again been implemented in the game, with even more combo and gadget attacks available to Batman. I didn’t use stealth as much as I previously had in the other installments, favouring more often than not, taking on groups of thugs in one go to save time and release devastating area attacks on them. There are many strong enemies in this game which now also have turrets covering their backs, which does require some ability to locate all and disable before attempting to take out the thugs. The Arkham Knight and his troupes are a strong force to reckon with and provide a nice challenge for veterans of the Batman games.

The graphics are absolutely beautiful and realistic. The first 10 minutes of the game, I just stared at the screen, looking at every tiny detail. You really have to experience these graphics first hand, great example of next-gen capabilities and such a treat for the eyes. Having played only a few next-gen titles so far with their far draw distances and high texture qualities, not many have impressed me as much as Batman has. The city skyline looks amazing at night with lights in the distance and the warm sodium street lamp glow casted from the ground. The rain hitting the screen, Batman and the ground and walls around him is amazing, again so realistic. The motion of the characters is so fluid and genuine. Batman leaping off a building to glide is breathtaking, with the mentioned rain being flicked off his cape as it spreads out. The most amazing thing about all of this, was that this was from the PS4, not a supped up PC. I just still can’t get over this many months on.

Now having mentioned that I played this on the PS4 rather than on PC, it turned out that when the PC version was released, the developers had not had enough time to port the game over from PS4, I think it was mostly the rain effect that was causing the problem, the game was released as a broken mess. Frame rates were dire and everyone was using the new Steam policy at the time to obtain refunds. A big stink went up that shook the gaming community and within a few days, Warner Bros. responded by taking the game down for a few weeks to fix the problem. So PC players had to tirelessly wait to play their copy of Arkham Knight whilst the console users spoiled the biggest mystery of the game, by revealing online the identity of the Arkham Knight. On re-release, the game was finally playable, though with some flaws still and no support for SLI, but I believe most of those issues have now been fixed nearly a year on.

Overall:
All of these games came with DLC in some form. Whilst the newest Arkham Knight has a season pass that includes monthly downloads of skins and extra character story quests, Origins has its own additional story DLC and skin packs, City has, I think, Robin as an additional character to play as in his own DLC which was quite good to play, and Asylum I believe, only has skin packs.

I recommend that everyone plays the series. It certainly goes into my top 5. There are roughly about 150 hours of gameplay overall, with plenty of action and thrills. The series has one of the greatest stories ever played out in a video game, with the best voice acting I’ve ever heard, a brilliant combat system that is flawless and easy to pick up but requires practise and skill to master, puzzles that actually require brain power to complete and amazing, detailed graphics throughout each installment. Also, the story takes a darker turn with each iteration. If you were to only play one of these games, then Arkham Knight is your best bet. Even though they all have their defining moments and that you could pretty much pick up any one of them and start playing, as no real knowledge of the previous events in past games is required, Arkham Knight has everything you could possibly want from a game.

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