Feature

How the Batman: Arkham series raised the bar for superhero games

When it comes to superheroes and video games, the two just don’t seem to mix very well. Sure, there have been a few fighting games that may have gotten certain things right, with a couple of examples being Marvel vs Capcom 2 and the popular beat em up, Injustice Gods Among Us, both finding audiences within the casual and hardcore gaming market. 

Playing a story driven, standalone title based on a popular superhero and to have the game actually be entertaining and well received amongst critics and gamers alike, is definitely a rare find.

With many of these superhero games being based on blockbuster movies, developers seem to speed up the development time on these products in order to coincide a game’s release with that particular movie’s release window. Due to this accelerated development cycle, gameplay, story and graphics suffer and often create a poor to sub-par gaming experience.

Games based on popular heroes such as Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and Superman are examples of how poorly made titles can ruin what could be a great gaming experience. Even Spider-Man has had his fair share of games with the majority of them falling short of expectations due to lackluster narratives and wonky gameplay mechanics. 

With the release of 2009’s Batman Arkham Asylum from developer Rocksteady Studios, gamers for the first time could truly experience what it felt like to be the Batman. The dark atmosphere of the game created a refreshing and almost nostalgic tone that had been sadly missing in Batman’s previous gaming outings. 

The game’s narrative saw Batman pursuing the Joker through Gotham’s famed Arkham Asylum. The Joker – voiced by Luke Skywalker himself – Mark Hamill, has broken free after being captured by Batman. He then takes control of Arkham Asylum releasing inmates who have been placed there by the Dark Knight himself. Now it’s up to the caped crusader to bring order and justice to this madhouse once and for all. Even on paper the game sounds like a dream come true for fans of the DC comics famed hero. 

@page

Once players took control of Batman, they realized how special of a game this really was. The free flow combat worked so well and made you feel that fighting a room full of baddies wasn’t such a daunting task. Later, great games such as Middle Earth Shadow of Mordor would emulate this type of combat to achieve similar results. 

The cool gadgets at Batman’s fingertips made you feel like a total bad ass as you incorporated them into combat as well as using some to access locked areas and solve clever puzzles. The game kept us wanting more long after we completed it which is a true testament of a great title.

2011’s sequel Batman Arkham City not only expanded the narrative of the first game but also broadened the play area greatly allowing players to glide and soar through Gotham in more of an open world setting.The game saw you facing many famed villains such as The Penguin, Mr. Freeze and Two-face Harvey Dent. The game also allowed you the chance to take control of the seductive Cat Woman for certain areas that required her. The title was well received and continued to raise the bar and also showed other developers how a truly great superhero game should be made.

Enter in 2013’s Batman Arkham Origins, which serves as a prequel to the first game in the series. Here we find Batman on one of the hardest nights of his life. This title expanded on Batman’s detective mechanics from the first two games, giving the player the opportunity to piece together crime scenes and place you in the very moment Batman first met his most famed rival – The Joker. This game was also well received amongst critics and fans of the series.

With the release of Batman Arkham Knight on the not so distant horizon, many of us ponder what is in store for our beloved dark knight. Given how beautifully this series was portrayed on last gen hardware we could safely bet on the inevitably amazing quality of  the visuals, gameplay and narrative that is soon coming our way on next gen consoles. Sumptuous gameplay trailers serve as anticipation builders for what is surely to be a contender for 2015’s game of the year. Some may say that this assumption is jumping the gun given the game has yet to be released, but it would take a massive misdirection from developer Rocksteady Studios to mess this one up.

What makes Batman such a popular character and what makes him stand out amongst the many other superheroes is that he is simply just a man. He lacks any super powers. He can’t shoot lasers from his eyes or webs from his wrists. He has enormous wealth which grants him cool gadgets and such but underneath his mask he is vulnerable. He is deeply wounded by the loss of his parents and he cares greatly for the people he protects. It is in this vulnerability that the developers of the Arkham series have explored successfully within the realm of a videogame. This is something that prior to this series, has never been seen in a superhero video game before. The developers have allowed us to care for our protagonist and his intentions. It is for this reason that we await in immense anticipation to once again put on the Cape and cowl and protect the great people of Gotham City.

What is your favourite moment in the Batman Arkham series? Sound off in the comments below.