Batman’s Arkham Saga

[Image - Rocksteady]
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Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

We take a quick look at where the Arkham Saga series is headed with its final game, Batman: Arkham Knight.

Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham series has been one of the best gaming options of the last few years, combining gripping storytelling (a rarity) with excellent gameplay. Even those not a fan of comic books or superheroes in general were drawn by its immersive interactions with the virtual world of Batman. For those who have yet to play the series, we take a look back at the trilogy that will precede the eventual release of Arkham Knight, the final instalment.

Arkham Asylum

The first chapter in the story, this takes place entirely within the contours of Arkham Asylum, a contained compound within Arkham, which is an island off the coast of Gotham City. It is an action-adventure game with a third-person perspective, with the playable character of Batman visible fully on-screen and the camera fully flexible. All of Batman’s trademark gadgets are available, such as the grappling gun and Batarang (among other tools), which helps the player to truly feel what it might be like to be Batman.

There is also the innovative Detective Vision, which allows Batman to look at a crime scene and lets the player to find interactive elements within Arkham’s virtual environment. The combat style is one of the smoothest to ever come onto console or PC, reminiscent of God of War, with the fluidity of motion almost seamless.

The story begins with Batman bringing The Joker to Arkham Asylum, where many of his gang of thugs and hooligans are currently situated due to a suspicious fire at Blackgate (Gotham’s prison). As Batman suspects, Harley Quinn takes control of the asylum’s security, and all hell breaks loose when The Joker and his gang take full control, allowing many of Batman’s other nemeses to break free, such as Bane, Scarecrow and Poison Ivy.

The world presented to the player is deeply engaging and fun to explore, with Riddler appearing as a sort of mocking side quest where you need to solve his myriad of puzzles and find his trophies to get to him. It is rare for extra elements aside from the plot to be this entertaining, and trying to solve Riddler’s puzzles is one of the rewarding aspects of the game. The voice acting and direction throughout is superb, with Mark Hamill’s (Luke Skywalker from Star Wars) version of The Joker a mesmerising portrayal of the villain’s psychosis.

Arkham City

Following the success of Asylum, Rocksteady decided to produce a sequel and it seemed impossible to better what the first had so successfully provided. Despite doubts, City came with a bang that no-one expected, this time expanding the world include the entire island of Gotham. The Joker is again prominent (with Mark Hamill reprising his role), this time the story following Bruce Wayne’s arrest after Hugo Strange takes over the city of Arkham and brandishing his own form of justice over the occupants. Additionally, Cat Woman is introduced as a playable character, providing very entertaining juxtaposition as a lithe and sneaky pawn against Batman’s muscular and brutish attacking style.

Much of Asylum’s playable style is imported into City, with vast improvements which greatly increase the enjoyment of the game. With the interactive environment increasing in scale, there is more to do, more stories to tell, and more puzzles to solve. The story as always, reigns supreme, providing us with some of the truest representations of Batman’s world to date, with the ending as poignant and satisfying as any well produced film or aptly-written novel.

Arkham Origins

Taking place five years before Asylum, this presents us with a novice Batman, still a myth amongst Gotham, trying to prove himself as the vigilante that he will become. Despite offering a promising premise, Origins failed to live up to expectations. The game, despite bringing back some of the key elements of the Arkham franchise, failed to offer much of an improvement. Additionally, it was marred by a plethora of technical issues and glitches, such as dropped FPS rates, awkward movements and interactive elements going haywire.

In terms of story, it starts off with Black Mask hiring 8 deadly assassins to get rid of Batman, offering them a bounty, but this plotline is completely forgotten by the end, and one feels underwhelmed by the steady rate of high class villains one has grown to expect from the series. Some of the lesser known characters are not properly fleshed out to evoke interest, and they seem rather uselessly shoved aside for the progress of the overarching storyline.

Don’t get me wrong, it was still a great game and to be enjoyed, but when compared to its predecessors, it paled.

Arkham Knight

Initially set for release in November of this year, Arkham Knight has been postponed for release on the 2nd of June 2015 and the trailer looks promising, to say the least. This time, Scarecrow makes a return and joins forces with Two Face and Harley Quinn among others to finally get rid of the Dark Knight once and for all. Other major players also include the Penguin and Riddler.

With regards to gameplay, many of the most popular elements of the Arkham series are making a comeback, such as Detective Vision, with some extensive modifications on their utility. I won’t go into too much detail about the technicalities (such as being able to grapple whilst still in mid-grapple; a very useful addition) but these seem to hint towards the Arkham series heading back to form. The Batmobile is featured prominently in the trailer but until recently there was no word on whether it will feature as an interactive part of the gaming world. Rather awesomely, the Batmobile will in fact feature as a drivable vehicle. How cool will that be?

Most interestingly, the game will feature, for the first time, an original villain created exclusively for the gaming series, Arkham Knight. This has serious implications not only for the game itself, but the world of Batman. Who will this new villain be and will he have the same punch as seeing someone we have grown to love, such as The Joker? Only time will tell. Until then, if you haven’t completed the Arkham Series, get to it!