Sunday, June 5, 2016

Batman Arkham Series Review

Hello everybody! This is Mike and I recently completed the last installment of the Arkham series of video games from Rocksteady Studios and Warner Brothers, which was Arkham Origins (yes, I know, Arkham Knight was the last one created but I played it before Origins). Therefore, I feel like what better way to kick off our first actual blog post by giving my thoughts on the series!


- - - - Spoilers Ahead - - - -


These games have been out for a couple of years now, so I feel many of you will have either played the games, or know most of what happens in them. But regardless, there is your spoiler warning if you don't want me to reveal plot items to you, there you go.


Let me first start out by saying that these four video games are definitely worth the time to play them. I spent numerous hours completing most of the tasks set before you, including pretty much all of those dang Riddler trophies scattered throughout each game. I achieved 100% completion on Asylum, Origins, and Knight, and completed about 75% of City including all of the main story. I will write this in the chronological order of the events in the games, which is Arkham Origins, Asylum, City and then Knight.


Having played Origins last of the four games (it was the 3rd release, and not by Rocksteady) it took a bit of forgetting what has happened in the other three. Even though it had been a couple years since I had played Arkham City, immediately noticeable is the map of Gotham in Origins. The northern part of the map is known as Old Gotham and mirrors the Arkham City map. Making it fairly obvious was the areas of the map known as The Bowery, Park Row, the Amusement Mile, and the Industrial District. In City, you become very intimate with these areas having criss-crossed your way through the parts of the city many times. Most of the landmarks are very similar to what they were in City, especially the Wonder Tower in Sheldon Park, and we'll get to more on that later.


To elaborate more on forgetting things, Origins (as the name implies) goes back to pretty much the start of Batman as a vigilante. It is set on Christmas Eve, after Bruce returns from the mountains after receiving training from Ra's al Ghul, and a time where Batman had just started putting criminals away at Blackgate Prison. The cops don't trust Batman yet at all, including Gordon, who is not yet Commissioner. The main story begins with the crime lord Black Mask (a.k.a. Roman Sionis) leading a break out of Blackgate. As Batman arrives on the scene, you chase him down and eventually end up fighting Killer Croc atop the prison and learning from Killer Croc that he is the first of 8 assassins that Black Mask has recruited to kill Batman in order to get a $50 million bounty.


This part of the story is pretty intriguing, first with Black Mask being the main villain at this point, as it is refreshing to see someone other than the major villains be the primary antagonist. My main gripe with how they reveal this bounty up front is that they show you the 8 assassins that are looking to take you out. I would have liked to have been surprised by the villains that show up, as they do in the other games. It is revealed to you that along with Killer Croc, that more well known villains Deadshot, Deathstroke, Firefly, and Bane, as well as minor Batman villains the Electrocutioner, Lady Shiva, and Copperhead are out to get you.


As you first get out into Gotham via the Batwing, you learn a mysterious hacker is out to release extortion files of major players in Gotham, and at this point you pretty much know who he is, however he is known throughout this game as Enigma. At this point, you can pretty much start the usual Batman game fare of finding Enigma Data Packs, this game's version of Riddler Trophies. I'll get to more on these later, as it takes the length of the game to be able to collect all of them.


Besides the 8 assassins that you know about, you end up encountering other villains in other side quests part of the Most Wanted missions. I like these missions almost more than the main storylines as they not only world build, but make you feel more like the detective part of Batman as you solve shorter crimes to put away guys. In this game, you come across The Penguin and his lovely assistants, the Mad Hatter, as well as Anarky.


The assassins out to get you show up through the main quest, usually you will have to do the side quests to defeat them, and after dealing with The Penguin, you get the first twist that these games are known for. You eventually learn that the Black Mask you have been dealing with is actually the Joker. The Joker kidnapped Sionis and then posed as the Black Mask running his operation. You still end up doing a side quest to defeat the actual Black Mask, but your main story after this point is to apprehend the Joker (as it usually is).


After saving Joker from his death from falling off the Royal Gotham Hotel building, you put him into Blackgate under the supervision of Harleen Quinzel, who everyone knows how this will go. Bane then becomes your primary adversary as he and Joker were working together. At this point, I really didn't like how the main story was progressing. I really don't know when Bane became such a popular villain to have things centered from him. I guess it was Tom Hardy's portrayal of the character in The Dark Knight Rises, which I thought was fantastic, but to me he is one of the least interesting Batman villains which are full of interesting characters.


This version of Bane is from South America and learns Batman's identity and almost kills Alfred at the Bat Cave. After a couple incidents involving Firefly going all pyro, you learn Joker is leading a breakout at Blackgate, and this is where the story comes to its conclusion. You end up defeating Bane after he overdoses on his steroid and forgets Batman's identity. After the events of the game, you and Gordon have a working relationship that the cops won't get in the way of Batman. You also basically end the game how Asylum begins, watching Joker get taken into the island Prison


Back to probably my biggest gripe of the game, the handling of the Enigma stuff. After you spend all of the game looking for all the data packs and collecting them, you get access to Enigma's secret room in his HQ. In this room, you find possibly the greatest annoyance in all the games, a single Riddler Trophy. Yes, you find essentially the first trophy that all the other games are filled with them. Another annoyance that I had in this play through was the fact I couldn't grapple off of things that I would be able to in the other games. This made it frustrating to get to some places or escape from certain areas because the grapple function didn't work properly in my opinion. I'm not sure why they would deviate from the current game engine in a negative way such as this. It really made navigating Gotham more annoying than it should have been.


I won't go into as much detail about the rest of the games as some of them I played years ago, as I have only just finished Origins and Knight recently. But the first game to be released Asylum deserves all the praise that everyone has given it over the years. This game helped shaped a new style of Batman games that are extremely enjoyable to play. The story picks up as Origins ends, with Joker being admitted into Arkham Asylum, but then Harley Quinn stages a takeover with a couple of bought guards and Joker then has a plan of releasing Titan drugs all over Gotham which cause massive mutations.


In this game you encounter all sorts of classic villains such as Scarecrow, Victor Zsasz, Bane, Killer Croc (in one of the more terrifying encounters I might add), and my favorite Poison Ivy. Many other villains have cameos (including Clayface in a very creepy way) inside of prison cells inside the Asylum. This is one of the most fun things about the game is encountering a bunch of Batman's Rogues Gallery in different ways.


Scarecrow's encounters are some of the most intense and scary things I have seen in a video game. And this coming from someone who played DOOM 3, which I feel is one of the freakiest and scariest games ever made. The first encounter Scarecrow puts you in, you are pretty much in WTF? mode. But it makes it why I really love theses games. They are very dark in most of the things they do, and in my opinion they should be. Gotham and Batman is not a happy place. As much as I love the Batman '66 TV show and its colors and playfulness, I think the darker version is what it should be.


There isn't a lot for me to pick out of this game that I didn't like. At the time, it was a new style of playing a game, but I guess if one could be found, it would be that throughout the game, you see things and places you try to get to, but require a gadget you later get in the game forcing you to go back to that place. Sometimes these places are a pain in the rear to traverse more than once. But that is fairly minor.


Joker ends up ingesting the Titan drug becoming a frightening monster joker, and after you defeat him it sets up the events of Arkham City. Joker becomes infected and is going to die if he doesn't get the antidote to cure himself of what the Titan did to him. After Bruce Wayne gets into Arkham City (which once again is Old Gotham from Arkham Origins) by admitting himself after he lobbied against the City-like Prison. Ending up in Hugo Strange's lab up in the Wonder Tower that overlooks Arkham City, you find out you are injected with the Joker's blood so your life is now at risk like his is. The Joker played his cards right (pun intended) on this knowing Batman would find a cure.


This is where Arkham City started to deviate for me in terms of liking it and disliking it. I really like the parts where you encounter the different villains, and in this game you see ones you didn't see in Asylum. The Penguin, Two-Face, Mr. Freeze and Catwoman all show up. The ability  to switch between Batman and Catwoman is a fun and different aspect of this game as each have different objectives throughout. You do get to see recurring characters as well so it makes for a game with many of Batman's classic villains.


I really liked the inclusion of Talia al Ghul in this storyline. She added a lot of depth in the story and a personal element for Batman/Bruce Wayne. Even though she is technically serving her father, who makes an appearance in this game along with the Lazarus Pits, she definitely cares for Batman.


What I didn't like the most about this game is the fact that throughout your character has moments where you lose vision and everything becomes blurry. At first it seems like it is a timed thing and the game basically tells you your time is running out. You feel rushed as a player and this is main reason I didn't get 100% completion. I felt I had to get the cure before finishing all of the side quests and the end of the game's story made me not want to play it anymore.


The ending struck a nerve with me Talia herself as a Joker-looking Clayface fools both you and Talia into thinking you killed Joker, until Joker shoots her killing her. However, her body disappears lending to the fan theory I have subscribed to that she isn't actually dead since she like her father can access the Lazarus Pits and not die.


After this though, the Joker doesn't get the cure as it smashes on the ground and he dies, leaving Batman carrying his body out of Arkham City. At first glance, this is a very shocking ending to the game, that your main nemesis for three games now is dead. However, after playing Arkham Knight, this turns out to be an excellent thing for the next game.


Along with feeling rushed and the ending to the game, the other things that I didn't like about City were the AR challenges which got too difficult to waste time on I felt, and the Riddler trophies in this game were obscenely hard to get. Some were easier than others, but some seemed to rely of absolutely perfect timing that only hours and hours of trying and failing could achieve you. This made it a lot harder for me to want to play Arkham Knight, that and along with hearing how hard the Batmobile was to control, but boy was I wrong, Arkham Knight was one of the most fun of the Arkham games that I had.


After the Joker died, Arkham Knight seemingly had a villain gap, but as it is set on Halloween, the Scarecrow and his fear toxins became front and center. As the inner three islands of Gotham City were evacuated due to this threat, the other major players of the Rogues Gallery show up including Penguin, Two-Face, Firefly, Harley Quinn, and new guys such as Deacon Blackfire, Man-Bat and Professor Pyg (in a deeply disturbing series of side quests).


After Batman gets a taste of fear toxins disarming Scarecrow's bombs, the Joker makes an appearance in his mind the rest of the game. This is where the game really takes off with Batman's conscience battle with the Joker as he will pop up all over city and talk to you about things. Even billboards and gargoyles will have Joker's face on them, but when you look away and look back, they are gone. This is creepy at first, but then becomes a little funny at where you will see his face pop up at random.


Even though it isn't very difficult to figure out who the Arkham Knight is as it is fairly obvious early on that it is Jason Todd, but later in the game when dealing more with Harley and the other "Jokers" that were injected with his blood, the story of Joker torturing Todd and how he became the Arkham Knight is very creepy but intriguing.


This is once again a game that I couldn't find very many things to gripe about. But some of them are fairly major points. The Batmobile wasn't as bad to drive around as most people wrote about, I found it really fun to zoom through the city shooting stuff and blowing up tank drones. But the Riddler races were super annoying. One sequence literally took me an hour to beat. That shouldn't be the case. I also didn't care for the fact that they made Poison Ivy died. I get that she played a major role in helping Batman and then pretty much saving Gotham City, but really? You finally make her a 'good guy' and then kill her after she does what she needs to? I understand that there is a flower that starts growing in the place where she died and that she could be regenerating, but man, that was hard to take. I guess that is what makes these games really good is that they play with your emotions at times.


Another thing that was really difficult was how stupidly fast the Cloudburst tank was. My lord, you would shoot it that you could barely get away. In no way should a massive tank be able to out run the Batmobile like that thing almost could. I would twist and turn through streets but that tank seemed like it was always on my tail. Deathstroke's tank that had no blindspots was way easier than that Cloudburst tank.


One thing that I couldn't gripe about though is the Riddler Trophies! They went back to pretty easy to get all of them, and in no way were they as difficult as they were in Arkham City. This was extremely satisfying. Also, the fact that you got to beat the hell out of Riddler if you got all his junk at then end is so rewarding to the mind. Finally, after slogging through all his riddles and finding trophies, to get to punch the dude in the face made finding all 243 things in this game fun.


All in all, I thought all four games were very good. I am eagerly awaiting the Return to Arkham that Rocksteady is releasing in which they are making Asylum and City available to be played on Xbox One and PS4. I definitely want to play through both of them again. Especially City since I wasn't able to get 100% completion yet.


I'm not sure I could rank the games in order of how much I liked them. I liked many different parts of the story lines and games individually so below are the parts I really liked:
- Inclusion of many Batman Villains
- Reading Character Bios that show their first appearance in comics
- Mark Hamill's masterful Joker performances
- Funny Joker sequence in Knight where Joker sings to Batman as you sneak around as Robin disarming his bombs
- Mad Hatter's weird Wonderland visions
- Throat punching Harley Quinn in Arkham Knight
- Tackling Man-Bat out of mid-air
- Ruining Two-Face's bank robberies
- Solving Riddler's riddles with Catwoman in the mansion in Arkham Knight
- The Museum Penguin hides out in Arkham City with Giant Shark
- Watching GCPD fill up with bad guys I defeat in Arkham Knight
- Using Batmobile as tank destroying drones
- Not saving Ra's al Ghul who falls to his death... Jerk
- Finishing predator sequences without being seen
- Beating Mr. Freeze in City
- Poison Ivy and Talia al Ghul


I pretty much described all the parts I didn't like throughout the post, so I won't necessarily list those things again. but that list is pretty short.


So that's pretty much my take on the Arkham series that I thought was extremely well done. I haven't gotten through most of the DLC options of the games, which I think I will once the Return to Arkham game comes out that has them in it, but I will definitely get to those. Overall, I loved the way they designed the characters and the portrayals of Gotham and the Asylum. Not only are these games filled with Easter eggs to many things in the Batman universe, they add more depth than there currently was. If you haven't played them, I highly recommend them, and if you have, let me know if you agree with the things I have said or disagree.


Thanks for reading!


Mike

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