The recent release of the remastered version of Marvel’s Spiderman for the PC got me thinking about another superhero franchise: Rocksteady’s Arkham Trilogy. In fact, if you like one of these gaming franchises, you are very likely to enjoy the other one as well. That’s because both feature two of the most recognizable superheroes of all time; both have excellent character development, top-notch gameplay, and an impressive lineup of villains. But just how similar or different are the two to one another? And Is there a clear winner? Let’s discuss.
A Brief History
Batman Arkham Asylum: Descent Into the Madhouse
Superhero games were not exactly popular relative to other genres in the early 2000s. They often left a bit to be desired. Understandably, there weren’t high expectations when Rocksteady announced that they were working on a new video game starring the Caped Crusader. People were taken by surprise, though, as Arkham Asylum went on to be one of the best games of the year, praised for its comic book accuracy, free-flowing combat system, and stealth gameplay, the likes of which were never seen before in a Batman game at this level.
Batman Arkham City: Race Against Time
In a way, Rocksteady had successfully revolutionized how people viewed the genre – superhero games weren’t just meant for diehard comic book stans; they could also be played by those just looking for a good time. The worldwide success of Arkham Asylum justified and almost necessitated the development of a sequel. This came in the form of Arkham City 2 years later. This title virtually improved upon every single aspect of what made Asylum so great and passed the already high bar set by it.
Batman Arkham Knight: Gotham’s Protector
In 2015, we finally saw the definitive conclusion of the Arkham trilogy with Arkham Knight. While people had high hopes for it, there was a feeling that it would be almost impossible to top the standards set by Arkham City. This was proven correct because while Arkham Knight demonstrated to be an excellent title with improved combat and stealth mechanics, its flawed narrative was not nearly as good as the two seen in Asylum and City. The game still performed very well in the market, though. I do believe it was a worthy conclusion to the trilogy.
Marvel’s Spiderman: Against All Odds
To the delight of the Playstation community, in 2016, Insomniac Games announced that it was working on an exclusive title starring Spiderman. When the game was eventually released, it was widely viewed as the perfect superhero game, complete in almost every aspect, whether it be combat, story, character development, villains, and of course, swinging mechanics for the webhead. It surpassed the best game of the Arkham trilogy: Arkham City, statistically at least, by recording far greater sales numbers despite being a Playstation exclusive at the time. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the better game, though, as it could be down to the general popularity of the two characters. You can gauge Marvel’s Spiderman’s success by the fact that Insomniac has already remastered it twice, once for the PS5 and then for PC, despite being just four years old.
Gameplay: Different Yet Not so Different
Direct Combat: Free Flow
It’s clear that Marvel’s Spiderman takes inspiration from the gameplay in the Arkham series. Much like it, it comprises of two main sections; direct combat and stealth. Combat is once again free-flowing, featuring two main buttons for attacking and countering, with special moves activating as you build up your combos. Batman can combine his gadgets such as the batclaw with his punches to devastating effect, while SpiderMan can use his webshooters to achieve similar results. Of course, Spiderman is much more agile than Batman, so he’ll be jumping around a lot more, using his webs to propel himself around the arena. But on the basic level, combat is very similar to the Arkham series.
Stealth: Strike From the Shadows
As for the stealth, Marvel’s Spiderman is a bit more original in this area. Unlike the Caped Crusader, who has to move around the room via the conveniently placed gargoyles, Spidey can stick to virtually any surface. So you have a lot more options as to how to get the best angle on the hostiles. Once you get the best angle, though, the concept is pretty much the same; you can take them out silently by pressing the appropriate button. However, while Batman does it through a headlock, Spiderman uses his webbing to cocoon the hostiles. So the animations are drastically different. Other than that, you can use a few gadgets to take them out in creative ways. However, the Arkham series provides many more options with devices such as the Explosive Gel and Sonic Batarang.
Traversal: Roaming Around the City
Traversal is an essential feature of any open-world game. While Arkham Asylum followed a fairly linear approach, City and Knight expanded into large open-world maps. The Dark Knight can quickly move around the map by combining his grapnel gun and gliding cape. Over time you can unlock the Grapnel Booster that propels you into the night sky with greater speed and force, making travel faster. Of course, in Arkham Knight, you also have the legendary batmobile. You can call it at the flick of a button. It’s a total game-changer as it allows you to reach your destination in much shorter times and launch you into the air for a smooth transition to gliding.
However, although traversal in the Arkham series is great fun, it cannot rival the traversal in Marvel’s Spiderman. The game has the best swinging mechanics ever seen in a Spiderman game. As Spidey, you get to swing across Manhattan using your webs, which seamlessly transition from one to the other satisfactorily with all the right animations, momentum, and sound effects. You can swing around the building corners, run on walls, free fall towards the ground, building up momentum and than swing with greater force at the last second, and so much more. There’s just something about the web-shooters that Batman’s Grapnel Gun just can’t top.
Graphics: A Visual Spectacle
From a graphical aspect, the last entry Arkham Knight is still one of the best-looking games on the previous generation of consoles, despite releasing all the way back in 2015. The city of Gotham is a marvel to look at, with Batman’s suit gleaming in the pouring rain and character design on top as typical of the Arkham series. But obviously, Marvel’s Spiderman had time on its side – three years of it – and just edges out on Arkham Knight, although the improvement is not too noticeable on the PS4. Of course, the remastered versions for the PS5 and PC clearly outperform Arkham Knight in this regard.
Tone: Light Versus Dark
Understandably so, the tone of the Arkham Games is a lot darker than that of Marvel’s Spiderman. The most prominent observation being that each Arkham game’s narrative takes place over a single night. So daylight never features in the Arkham series. Compare this to Insomniac’s Spiderman, whose narrative is spread over several days. This means that we get to play both during the day and the night. Additionally, while the streets of Manhattan are brimming with civilians going about their daily business, Gotham city is completely abandoned. Although Rocksteady has always come up with an explanation for this lack of civilians that fits the narrative, it would have been nice to see how ordinary people interact with the Dark Knight as they can with Spidey in Marvel’s Spiderman.
While Spiderman enjoys cracking a joke now and then, especially when facing a group of hostiles, do not expect anything of the sort from the Caped Crusader. He will brutally beat up anyone who stands in his way, breaking their spirits, and he most certainly will not crack a joke, although I can’t promise the same for bones. He is also no stranger to interrogation techniques. We see this fearsome side of him in Arkham Knight when he threatens to run his Batmobile over a hostile’s neck for withholding important information. These contrasts between the two icons illustrate their very different personalities.
Narratives: Powerful and Engrossing
City and Asylum
As I mentioned, Arkham Knight’s narrative isn’t its strong suit. However, Asylum and City are amongst the best in any story game. The former follows the Dark Knight on a mission to stop Gotham’s greatest supervillains from taking complete control of Arkham Asylum and thwarting Joker’s plan of making an army of Titan-infused inmates. It’s a dark, gritty journey that shows the resolve of Batman to come up against any threat to protect the innocent. On the other hand, Arkham City tasks the Caped Crusader with stopping the mysterious Protocol 10, a codename for a dark scheme based on someone’s unhinged idea of justice. It pits Batman against a slew of his worst enemies, such as the Penguin, Two-Face, Harley Quinn, and of course, the Joker, in a race against time to save Gotham from a cruel fate. Both narratives were thoroughly enjoyable and truly pushed Batman to his limits.
Coming to Insomniac’s Spiderman, it features an experienced Peter Parker who has been fighting crime for several years. It’s a fantastic story that shows us the struggle of Peter in balancing his everyday life with that of his alias and what choices he must make with the power in his hands. The game pits Spidey up against impossible odds in the form of several supervillains such as Electro and Mr. Negative, simultaneously demonstrating the quality that has made Spiderman so popular amongst fans: he will get beaten and battered, but he will never, ever give up.
If I had to pick one out of these three brilliant narratives, it would be Arkham City for the way it manages to have so much going on yet still brings it all together perfectly. Of course, there is no wrong choice here as all three are at the same level.
The Arkham Trilogy and Marvel’s Spiderman are excellent titles with a lot in common. It’s clear that Insomniac has borrowed some ideas from Rocksteady to implement in its game but has made them different enough to offer something fresh to the gaming community. Personally, I believe that Arkham City is the best superhero game of all time, but to each their own. Now we await to see how Spiderman’s sequel will perform and whether Insomniac will also take the trilogy approach down the road.