The recent Batman movie hooked me on again playing the Batman: Arkham Series. I’ve been a series enthusiast since I first played Arkham Asylum back in the days. My blaze about Batman as a character never extinguished while going through the four games. Hell, it even got me reading more Batman comics. However, I never actually knew what I specifically liked about the series. I never knew what made it so unique; all I knew was that I absolutely treasured the Batman: Arkham Tetralogy.
After going through that experience again, I found myself willing to explain in-depth why I found and still find the Arkham series to be so special and close to my heart. It’s worth mentioning that this article is based entirely on my opinion and views. This article is not a critical review but rather a love letter to a series I grew up playing, watching, and appreciating, which also means I won’t mention any flaws in the games. However, I’m aware that the tetralogy’s quality ranges from decent to great. I feel obliged to state that I will spoil the heart out of the four Arkham games: Asylum, City, Origins, Knight.
Character growth and progression
For some reason, I felt like I should start with how well the main characters are written. Batman, throughout the series, develops from a neglectful douchebag who almost got Alfred killed in his perilous journey to a hushed protector who is ready to sacrifice himself for his city and family, to a hero who realizes that Got ham needs something which he can’t be after Scarecrow revealed his identity. The progression doesn’t happen for Batman only but also for how people perceive the bat symbol.
Batman, in his beginnings, was not but a mere fable. He was a myth that criminals don’t even acknowledge to be real until they wake up in a cell with every inch of their body covered in pain and regret. Batman turns from a myth to a fearful verity, a frightening inevitability. Up until Batman is revealed to be Bruce Wayne. He will always be remembered as just a man, not any man, a super-rich orphan playboy philanthropist. Not funded by the military. Not a superhuman. He’s just a self-righteous millionaire behind a bat mask who can no longer be their worst fears.
The way The Joker sees Batman gradually changes over the series, from a mere adversary to a compelling conflict that mirrors their relationship from the source material. It’s the poetic relationship between Good and Evil; While Batman is a masked vigilante that fights evil with no intention of killing, the Joker does every evil deed with no boundaries only to highlight the bad in Batman, to prove that there is no good without evil, no truth without a lie, no honor without immorality.
The Joker slowly realizes that his actual goal is not to kill Batman but to make him suffer until he breaks his only rule of not killing. Only then the Joker really wins. His goal is not to be “that clown guy that Batman beat”, but to be the Joker. To be remembered even after his death, that’s why he sent his infectious blood to hospitals around Gotham. It shows that he achieved a part of his goal by having a relationship with desperate Harley Quinn, by almost taking control over Batman’s mind.
Jim Gordon and the way he sees Batman as a symbol of hope for a bleeding city, while his gut keeps longing for a decent day in a corrupt skyline. The symbol that he builds respect for throughout the series will slowly disintegrate in Batman: Arkham Knight. Until Batman confesses that Barbra didn’t leave the city when she had the chance, she stays in Gotham to help him regain control over it. At that moment, his respect and hope for Batman as a symbol is demolished now that he is accountable for her kidnapping.
Batman is the sworn protector who is no longer capable of protecting. Gotham’s only hope for a better tomorrow is lost under yesterday’s dust. After this, Bruce realizes that he is not competent enough to keep his family safe, that his nightmare is real, and that his worst fears are due. He is not but a threat to what’s left of his family; Alfred, Jim Gordon, Barbra Gordon, Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, and… Jason Todd, his forgotten child.
World riddled with details
You can tell by the world design of the Arkham Series that Rocksteady poured their hearts into every project they worked on. Every building. Each street. Every corner has a bit of lore packed in, and It’s always ready for me to uncover it. Arkham Asylum and its scattered tape records of infamous inmates, to name a few, The Joker, Victor Zsaz, Killer Croc, and The Riddler himself. Batman: Arkham City and Its pale atmosphere that fits a huge-scale prison. Arkham Knight and Its near-perfect rendition of Gotham, a colorless but oversaturated city.
They excelled at making a fantastic world that obviously partakes in your general experience with the games. In Arkham Asylum, the Asylum is constantly shifting between helping you and holding you back due to its impenetrable “qualities”. They learned how to use the Asylum against Batman. And you, Batman, need to prove that you know the underlying secrets of the Asylum to utilize it against the Joker and his shady tricks.
I always saw The Riddler as Rocksteady’s little fun excuse to get you to explore its world and unlock a ton of information that can help you understand more about the villains’ origins related to the comics. One riddle I found very valuable was the Elliott Hospital; It expanded my basic knowledge about Thomas Eliott and his adversary with Bruce Wayne. Later in Batman: Arkham Knight transforms into a conflict with Batman himself. After finishing the game for the first time, I started it once more to collect and solve all the riddles. I never regret this decision in any Batman: Arkham Game.
The Arkham series always had a primary color for each game that subliminally participated in the world design — for example, The tyrant green in Arkham Asylum, the prevailing blue in Arkham City, the dominant orange with blue skies in Arkham Knight. The series has never failed to make me feel like the world always has something to say, and it never fails to convey it. It’s rare to have an open world that never ceases to amaze you with its most minor details from release to the current day.
Aside from the details packed in every corner, every inch of the world never made you feel like you shouldn’t be there. The gameplay and its mechanics are smoothly intertwined with the world design that you never feel like some places are a no-go; This also goes along with the idea that you’re playing with the world’s greatest detective. You will always find a way around defeating scum.
The stealth mechanics make you feel like the prey that turned into the predator. Bring every corner of the game into your service to plan your method to take out your targets. And since every player has a different mentality, the Batman: Arkham Tetralogy considers this by making the stealth and combat mechanisms free-flowing. It gives you absolute freedom to decide your approach, either striking fear into your targets’ guts or going all-in, utilizing your tools to take out your enemies.
Combat in the game was criticized as being more of a button-masher than an actual combat system, which isn’t wrong nor right. At least in my perspective. A pretty simple combat system is summarized in Button 1 to strike, Button 2 to dodge, Button 3 to evade. As I previously mentioned, the combat is free-flow, giving the player total freedom to approach their enemies. Sure, button mashing is one way to go through the game. But It’s really unique to master the game’s combat mechanics and successfully utilize your gadgets to take out the adversaries because that’s what Batman would realistically do.
Sure, Batman: Arkham Tetralogy‘s combat feels like he’s been practicing Ballet dancing a lot recently, but it’s fun, which is the most crucial thing in a video game. The combat is fast-paced, not to bore the players in watching every animation unfold. At the same time, dare I say this, make you feel like Batman. I know, I said the word. Rocksteady had a genius strategy while developing the games, which focused entirely on the great areas of the game while eliminating the weak ones. which was undoubtedly triumphant.
If you would play every game in chronological order, you will always feel like the second game picked up from the last thing in the first game you played. The games never introduced useless new mechanics out of nowhere. While you get to pick up and upgrade Gadgets every game, the gameplay is also gradually getting better and better as you upgrade your stuff; which are gadgets you will use for the next game. It never feels exhaustive to learn the newly added mechanics, which is excellent. Although I know, Rocksteady studios are not really that experienced when it comes to making tutorials. It is apparent that the game doesn’t require an extensive learning curve anyways, so tutorials are not really that essential.
Superhero video games weren’t always artsy. These superhero video games are mostly poorly done movie tie-ins. That happens for a multitude of reasons that may include tight deadlines or that the studio making the game has no experience in developing that genre of games. The conclusion is, Superhero games were always treated as games that only young lads under nine would love playing. The developers never allowed this genre to take itself seriously. However, Rocksteady treated Batman: Arkham Asylum as an actual game with no tie-ins and a Batman story that people would love to experience. It probably has to do with the fact that the game was released after Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.
One of the least talked about stuff in the Batman: Arkham Tetralogy is how Rocksteady could utilize the source material they had sufficiently. They made a magnificent game, but not only that, they managed to produce a fantastic Batman adaptation. Rocksteady knew what they were doing and how to do it right. They thrived at what everyone at the time failed; since not everyone could make a good superhero game, but most importantly, a good superhero adaptation. Respecting the legacy of such great resource material is a worrying matter when it comes to future Batman adaptations like Gotham Knights.
Batman is probably one of the luckiest characters for having such a rogue gallery of villains. The Batman: Arkham Tetralogy employed that appropriately without making the players feel like a villain is out of place. I find it one of the least appreciated things about the series. You have to undoubtedly respect the effort that went into balancing every section about every character. Those characters include The Joker, Scarecrow, The Riddler, The Penguin, Two-Face, Harley Quinn, and many more.
Rocksteady Studio’s ability to manage to fit all these characters and to give them the justice they deserve while constructing a great adaptation of said source material is an accomplishment that needs to be celebrated even more than it is right now. The series was not just a massive success for the developing studios and publishing companies but a revolution of a genre that never really understood itself.
Setting the bar
As I previously said, the superhero genre always felt like it never took itself seriously, nor did it know what it wanted to be. Is it beat-em-up games? Can it be a side scroller platformer? Should it be just a casual game with some flying, crawling, and climbing elements? The only video game I recall that wasn’t a movie tie-in was Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, which was released a year prior to Batman: Arkham Asylum. The game had great gameplay mechanics but a significantly fragile narrative, a story that moves because the producers said so.
Throughout the years, the Batman: Arkham Tetralogy was able to keep its narrative together, getting only better, while updating the gameplay mechanics for each sequel which made for an overall solid series of games. From the distinctive Combat/Stealth system to the unique narrative and voice acting. Unquestionably, the series was a remarkable influence on the future of the entire video game industry.
Setting the quality bar for what a future superhero game should serve the fanbase. It’s not about capitalizing on the license of the source material; it’s certainly about respecting it, making the player indulge in being the superhero. That’s what every Superman game failed in. The Batman: Arkham Tetralogy inspired one of my all-time favorites, Marvel’s Spider-Man. The free-flowing combat/stealth system that the Arkham series benefited from. An outstanding narrative that balanced having a big bunch of baddies.
Monolith Studios had been inspired by the Batman: Arkham combat system that they later implemented in their project, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. I remember nearly everyone called out the game for being too similar to the Batman: Arkham Tetralogy. I believe it can be considered a cause for celebration that more video games have come to be inspired by a great series.
The Batman: Arkham Tetralogy, It’s not a perfect series by all means, but it never failed at being fun and entertaining. Everybody has his favorite Batman: Arkham game, and I can’t blame anyone for having a distinct taste. While I could’ve dipped way too deep into discovering each flaw, I chose to praise a tetralogy that had infatuated me for the past 10 years and more to come. I’m really excited to see what Rocksteady will bring to the continuity of the Batman: Arkham Series with the forthcoming Suicide Squad game.
Insomniac seems to have learned from Rocksteady and every consequential video game that failed at understanding the identity of a good superhero game. And let’s face the facts, they also failed at being good games in general. I’m excited to see how many developers learn from past mistakes while respecting their licenses in the near future. And believe me, the future is looking bright for more Superhero games; Marvel’s Wolverine and Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 are ahead of us. A new Rocksteady game for the Suicide Squad looks promising. It’s not a bad time to be a Comic Book fan that also loves video games.