Back Issues: Whiz Comics #2

Story Title: “Introducing Captain Marvel!” (or simply just “Capt. Marvel!”)
Published:
February 1940
Writer: Bill Parker
Artists: C.C. Beck

The Background:
After DC Comics (then known as National Comics) saw incredible success with their benchmark superheroes, Clark Kent/Superman and Bruce Wayne/Batman, the comic book industry was ripe for a whole slew of new costumed heroes to take the stage. Not wanting to miss out on the action, Fawcett Publications set about establishing their own colourful superheroes, each sporting the powers of Greco-Roman Gods, but it was Ralph Daigh who decided to combine them into one superpowered entity to directly oppose Superman, which he initially dubbed “Captain Thunder”. Taken by the concept, both writer Bill Parker and artist C.C. Beck saw the concept as a chance to tell a story that hearkened back to the folk-tales and myths of old. Initially, Captain Thunder debuted in the pages of a comic published as both Flash Comics and Thrill Comics but, when trademark issues arose concerning all of these names, artist Pete Costanza suggested the alternative name of “Captain Marvelous”, soon shortened to Captain Marvel, and the Big Red Cheese proved to be a massive success when his debut issue sold over 500,000 copies. Sadly, legal issues would continue to dog the character even after Fawcett was absorbed into DC Comics and Captain Marvel started rubbing shoulders with the Man of Steel and the Justice League, creating some confusion about the character’s name since Marvel Comics had since established their own Captain Marvel, leading to the Big Red Cheese often being dubbed “Shazam” instead. Whatever you want to call him, Captain Marvel has quite the legacy; he’s shared his powers with a colourful extended family (including a bumbling uncle and a talking tiger!), clashed with Superman and been involved in some of DC’s biggest crossover and Crisis events, and his phenomenal success on the big screen in 2019 led to not only a sequel and a spin-off but a newfound surge in popularity for the magical man/boy superhero.

The Review:
Our story begins with a youngster in a bright red jumper and jeans hanging around outside the city subway trying to sell newspapers. He’s approached by a mysterious man in a black overcoat and fedora and we learn that, despite his clean-cut appearance, the boy is homeless and sleeps in the subway to stay warm. The mystery man bids the lad to follow him into a danky subway tunnel and, naïve as he is, the boy goes along; there, he boards a strangely garish-looking subway car and thinks absolutely nothing of it when he’s transported to an ominous subterranean cavern. Seriously, the boy barely says a word and seems perfectly happy to be whisked away by this darkly-garbed figure to the bowls of the city. His youthful trust (or stupidity, you decide) leads to him entering a vast underground hall where crude, cartoonish carvings of the Seven Deadly Enemies of Man (Pride, Envy, Greed, Hatred, Selfishness, Laziness, and Injustice) adorn the walls of the cavern, which is lit only by flaming torches and home to an enigmatic, heavily bearded old man who sits on a huge marble throne. The old man (who bares more than a passing resemblance to God) introduces himself as Shazam and demonstrates his all-knowing demeanour by identifying the boy as Billy Batson. Even more incredibly, upon speaking his name, Shazam causes a bolt of lighting to fill the cave and the names of six Gods and their attributes to magically appear on the wall behind him: Solomon (wisdom), Hercules (strength), Atlas (stamina), Zeus (power), Achilles (courage), and Mercury (speed).

Naïve Billy is taken to meet Shazam and transformed into a superhuman being!

Shazam explains that he has utilised the powers of these Gods to defend the Earth from the forces of evil for three-thousand years; in that time, he claims to have “seen everything – known everything” and, rather than using his incredible magic to prove this, falls back on a “historama” – a “super-television screen capable of depicting past, present and future events” – to show how Shazam watched as Billy was driven from his childhood home after the death of his parents by his wicked uncle, who sought to get his grubby hands on the money and bonds Billy was willed by his father. This is, apparently, enough of an explanation as to why Shazam brought Billy to his mysterious cave; after battling injustice and cruelty for centuries, Shazam is looking for a successor to carry on his work as “the strongest and mightiest man in the world”, Captain Marvel. Upon speaking the old man’s name, Billy is transformed by a magical lightning bolt into a tall, physically powerful adult male in a bright red costume and fancy side-cape and unquestionably pledges to continue Shazam’s legacy. After Captain Marvel speaks the magic word once more, however, Shazam appears to be crushed under a massive granite block that’s randomly suspended over his head. Okay… Anyway, in a flash of lightning, Billy’s back to his normal self and outside the subway with his newspapers, and left thinking that it was all a dream. The next morning, a couple of no-good gangsters buy one of Billy’s papers to read up on their boss’s handiwork: a madman known as “The Phantom Scientist” has threatened the United States radio system and is demanding $50,000,000 for…something. Suspecting the two, Billy follows the gangsters to “the swanky Skytower apartments” but is turned away by a pushy doorman. He then tries to get word to the radio “head”, Sterling Morris, by dashing into his office after the receptionist tries to shoo him away. Unfortunately, Morris dismisses Billy’s story as hogwash simply because the gangsters are holed up at somewhere as reputable the Skytower apartments.

Captain Marvel disrupts Sivana’s plan and earns his child alter ego a job as a radio reporter.

Undeterred, Billy vows to find the Phantom’s laboratory and even manages to convince Morris to award him a job as a radio announcer if he succeeds in this goal. Since he can’t enter Skytower apartments directly, he takes the elevator to the rooftop of the nearby office building and, deciding that he didn’t dream up his extraordinary encounter the other night after all, transforms to Captain Marvel with his magic word. Captain Marvel easily clears the gap between the two buildings with a mighty leap (like Superman in his first appearance, the Big Red Cheese can’t fly yet) and, in an astounding piece of luck, finds himself right outside of the Phantom’s laboratory. Inside, he learns of the Phantom’s true identity: he’s Sivana, a balding, gnarled little man who operates through a number of hired goons and plans to put an end to any and all radio broadcasts at midnight unless his hefty ransom is paid. Having seen enough, Captain Marvel bursts in, hurling one of Sivana’s men into his complex “radio-silencer” machine, smashing it to smithereens. The other man flees to a private elevator but to no avail; Captain Marvel rips the door from its hinges and then hauls the elevator up with his incredible strength, laying the goon out with a wallop to the back of his head. With the mooks tied up, Captain Marvel addresses Sivana directly using the mad scientist’s gigantic television screen, with both vowing to confront each other again…though only Captain Marvel delivers a death threat to the odd little madman. With Sivana’s plan thwarted, Captain Marvel turns back to Billy and calls Morris over; though perplexed, Morris is suitably impressed by Billy’s actions and the plucky boy earns himself a job as a radio reporter, while also vowing to continue fighting the good fight as Captain Marvel!

The Summary:
I’ve not read much of Captain Marvel. I think the only solo stuff of his I’ve read prior to this was the initial Power of Shazam (Ordway, et al, 1995 to 1999) run. Other than that, he’s rarely cropped up in other DC stories and crossovers I’ve read, but I’ve always wanted to read a little more from the character as I find him pretty interesting as a source of wish fulfilment. What kid hasn’t wanted to become a superhero, after all, and the idea of a homeless little boy suddenly being able to transform into a literal superman has a great deal of appeal. As ever with Captain Marvel’s stories, the art is of a slightly different calibre to his contemporaries, favouring a more whimsical and cartoonish style that, for all the colour and pop-art appeal, really falls flat when it comes to portraying backgrounds and environments. Shazam’s cave, for example, is quite poorly rendered compared to the other, more realistic locations. C.C. Beck shines in rendering facial expressions, his work being very reminiscent of pulp stories and characters like Samuel Bradley/Sam Bradley, and he even brings to like quasi-science-fiction elements like Sivana’s technology in adorable detail that is perfectly in keeping with the technology of the time, but just a touch more fanciful but not in a way that’s needlessly overdesigned like some of Jack Kirby’s work.

Captain Marvel impresses, despite some narrative hiccups in his debut story.

Narratively, Captain Marvel’s debut is a bit wonky, however. We don’t really get to learn much about Billy beyond what Shazam shows us with his “historama” and it’s really odd that he so willingly went along with the dark stranger. Who even was that, anyway? He just disappeared once they got to Shazam’s cave and there was no real explanation behind him. I think having it be Shazam himself might’ve been a little better, but it kind of made Billy look like a naïve fool. His reaction to meeting Shazam is also very one-sided in the old man’s favour; Billy questions none of it, instantly accepts his new mission, and yet doesn’t even explore his superpowers since he dismisses it all as a dream. He has some pep to him, I’ll give him that, in the way he barges in to see Morris and hoodwinks the guy into giving him a job, but there’s not much to Billy and no personality shift between the boy and his superpowered alter ego. Captain Marvel himself looks great, but we don’t really see many of his powers on show; he does a leap, tosses some goons around, and that’s it, so he’s hardly on par with Superman in terms of abilities in the context of this issue. Sivana’s plot was also a bit low-key; I mean, disrupting radio stations for money? Is that really the best he can come up with? Overall, though, I did enjoy it, even if the narrative is a bit scattered and questionable; I definitely think subsequent retellings and revisions have made Captain Marvel’s origin and personality more interesting and diverse, though.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Were you a fan of Captain Marvel’s debut story? What did you think Billy’s presentation and the depiction of his first meeting with Shazam? Were you impressed by Captain Marvel’s powers and costume? What did you think to Sivana’s threat? Which of the Captain Marvel family is your favourite? What are some of your favourite Captain Marvel stories and moments? Whatever your thoughts Captain Marvel, feel free to leave them below or drop a comment on my social media.

Game Corner [JLA Day]: Justice League Heroes (PlayStation 2)


To celebrate the release of Justice League (Snyder/Whedon, 2017), DC Comics named November 18 “Justice League Day”. Sadly, this clashes with something else I have planned for that date this year but, setting aside all the drama surrounding that movie, this still provides a perfect excuse to dedicating some time to talking about DC’s premier superhero team, which set the standard for super teams in comics by bringing together DC’s most powerful heroes.


Released: 22 November 2006
Developer: Snowblind Studios
Also Available For: Nintendo DS, PlayStation Portable, and Xbox

The Background:
After coming together in November 1959, the Justice League of America (JLA) quickly became one of DC Comic’s best-selling titles. This shouldn’t be entirely surprising considering the team came to be comprised of DC’s most popular characters: Clark Kent/Superman, Bruce Wayne/Batman, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, Hal Jordan/Green Lantern, Arthur Curry/Aquaman, Barry Allan/The Flash, and J’onn J’onzz (also known as “John Jones”)/Martian Manhunter. The team saw many members come and go over the years but was a constant staple of DC’s library of comic books and soon expanded into other media. Interestingly, the Justice League’s success hasn’t always resulted in the best videogames, though, meaning developers Snowblind Studios faced a bit of an uphill battle right from the start when creating Justice League Heroes. Built out of a modified engine of their critically acclaimed title Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance (ibid, 2001), the developers ending up removing features from that game and engine to focus on extending the length of Justice League Heroes, which has more than a few similarities to Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (Raven Software/Barking Lizards Technologies, 2006), which released about a month earlier. Reviews of the game were mixed across platforms, though, and the game was generally regarded as a bit of a mediocre and mindless beat-‘em-up.

The Plot:
The Earth is under attack from the robot forces of Brainiac, who has coerced many of the world’s most notorious supervillains into helping him consolidate the power afforded to him by a mysterious box from the stars. In response, the world’s greatest heroes, the Justice League, leap into action and team up to oppose Brainiac’s plot in a globe-trotting adventure that requires all of their individual abilities and skills.

Gameplay:
Justice League Heroes is a top-down action brawler in which you (and either another player or a computer-controlled partner) battle through a number of recognisable locations from the DC universe as various members of the Justice League. The game’s story is split into a number of missions that see two members of the Justice League teaming up at any one time; a second, human player can join the game at any point from the pause menu, a solo player can freely switch between the two heroes at will by pressing up on the directional pad (D-pad), and you’ll also be tasked with assembling one or more custom teams of two characters later in the story but you’ll never get the opportunity to switch out characters completely or replay missions with different characters. Gameplay in Justice League Heroes revolves almost entirely around beating up endless hoards of robots and aliens and solving some very light puzzles; characters can jump with a press of the Triangle button (and double jump or fly/glide with subsequent presses depending on who you’re playing as), attack with strong and fast attacks with Circle and X, respectively, and can grab enemies or objects with Square and block incoming attacks by holding R1. By entering different button presses (X, X, O, for example), players can pull off simple combo attacks to take out enemies but there are, sadly, no team up attacks to be found here.

The Justice League’s various superpowers are at your disposal and can be upgraded to be more effective.

While every character controls the same except for their ability to fly or glide, each one is made slightly different from the other through their individual superpowers. By pressing L1 and either Triangle, Square, Circle, or X, players can pull off their character’s signature super moves as long as they have enough energy stored up. This allows you to blast enemies with Superman’s heat vision, for example, or turn them into rabbits with Zatanna Zatara’s magic, or smash them with John Stewart/Green Lantern’s massive sledgehammer. Pressing L1 and R1 will see each character (with some exceptions) pull off a more powerful  super special attack which, again, varies per character; Superman, for example, will become stronger while Batman unleashes a swarm of bats to damage foes and Martian Manhunter briefly becomes intangible and invisible. They’re all pretty useful and different enough in their own way, with most characters having a projectile of some sort, a move to boost their attack or speed, or being able to stun or otherwise incapacitate enemies and you’ll sometimes (very rarely) need to use a specific character’s superpowers to bypass obstacles in order to progress. When playing alone, you can also issue simple commands to your partner using the D-pad; this allows you to increase the aggressiveness of their attack or have them focus on defence, which can be useful when teamed with Zatanna as she’s able to heal all team members.

Rescue civilians, activate consoles, and destroy certain targets to progress amidst the mindless brawling.

Overall, I found the computer to be surprisingly useful and competent; if your partner gets downed, however, you’ll have to rush in to revive them but the game automatically revives any downed characters when you reach one of its numerous checkpoints and enemies will often drop health-restoring orbs to keep you ticking over. Furthermore, if you’re able to attack enemies without taking damage, you’ll build up your “Heroic Meter”, which will increase your damage output until you get hit, and you can alter the difficulty of the game and its enemies by selecting different difficulty settings from the main menu. Despite the game being extremely linear, the developers included a helpful mini map, which you can expand by pressing in the right analogue stick. This isn’t always necessary but, as many of the environments are rather drab, grey, similar, and somewhat labyrinthine at times, it’s a welcome addition to keep you on track even during the game’s shorter and more straightforward missions. Unfortunately, the top-down view can be rather restrictive at times; many areas are filled with debris or obstructions and it always seems like you can only see just enough of the area, which can lead to enemies catching you off guard or hiding behind parts of the environment with no way to see them as they don’t show up on the map. It’s not all mindless brawling, either; occasionally, you’ll be tasked with rescuing a number of civilians or hostages, faced with a time limit, or directed to activate consoles to lower barriers in order to progress. As alluded to earlier, these very rarely require you to use the Flash’s superspeed or the Martian Manhunter’s intangibility to get past obstacles and stop fans, lower energy barriers, or deactivate Kryptonite hazards so that you can progress further. Sometimes you’ll also need to destroy a wall or use a character’s flight to progress across rooftops and, in the final portion of the game, you’ll not only have to protect Superman as he smashes through Darkseid’s fortress but you’ll also be faced with an extremely frustrating and confusing teleport puzzle that was the only time I had to actively look up a solution online.

Graphics and Sound:
Thanks to its zoomed out, top-down perspective, Justice League Heroes is, largely, able to get away with hiding any inconsistencies and defects in its in-game character models. Since you never really see your characters up close, the developers can have them talk and drop hints and quips without really needing to animate their mouths and the simple beat-‘em-up action of the game means that characters just need to look somewhat decent when they throw punches, grab cars, or blast out energy beams. And, for the most part, they do; there’s some neat little touches here and there (like Martian Manhunter being able to transform into his true, more monstrous form and the Flash being accompanied by a speed force double and lightning) and characters are always talking so you know when you need to drop or combine Boosts or have a vague idea of how the story is progressing.

Sadly, the game’s environments and enemies tend to be quite dark, bland, and boring.

Sadly, enemies and environments don’t always live up to the colourful and eye-catching depiction of the titular Justice League. It takes a long time for you to battle anything other than Brainiac’s generic robots or explore areas beyond the wrecked streets of Metropolis or the cold, grey corridors of Scientific and Technological Advanced Research Laboratories (S.T.A.R. Labs) and the like. Eventually, though, you do venture into more visually unique environments like the subways, a honeycomb and sap-encrusted hive, the ruins of J’onn’s civilisation on Mars, Gorilla City, a Lovecraftian dimension populated by strange rock creatures and living tentacles, and a version of Apokolips created on Earth but there’s very little variety offered in terms of the enemies or puzzles and hazards you face as you progress. No matter where you are, it’s the same thing every time: defeat all enemies, maybe activate a console, and reach the end of the stage.

Even Ron Perlman can’t salvage the blurry, rubbery graphics of the game’s cinematics.

The bulk of the game’s story (which is about as generic as you can get for a Justice League videogame) is conveyed through CG cutscenes featuring the traditional rubbery-looking graphics you’d expect from a PlayStation 2 game. I did notice some slowdown when there was a lot happening onscreen and, in terms of music and sound, the game is very unimpressive; the voice cast isn’t even the same one as in the popular Justice League animated series (2001 to 2006) and, while I love me some Ron Perlman, he just sounds bored whenever his Batman speaks (I’m also not really a fan of how often Batman is shown in broad daylight).

Enemies and Bosses:
As I’ve mentioned a bit already, you’ll wade through numerous disposable enemies in your mission to stop Brainiac and his lieutenants but none of them are particularly interesting. You’ll battle robots of varying sizes, humanoid wasps, White Martians on the surface of Mars, Gorilla Grodd’s gorilla forces, and Parademons but, once you’ve fought one lot of enemies, you’ve fought them all as they all feature regular foot soldiers who shoot at you and both flying and bigger variants that can take a bit more punishment. Honestly, the only enemies I even remotely found interesting were the weird crab and toad-like enemies you face later in the game and the instances where you battle Brainiac’s skull robots and failed clones of Doomsday because they at least looked a little different.

Many of the game’s bosses require you to fend off minions or destroy or activate consoles to attack them.

Before you can defeat Brainiac, you’ll have to battle a number of bosses; some of these are simply bigger, more dangerous versions of enemies you’ve already fought or Brainiac’s more deadly robots and duplicates. You’ll battle a Brainiac duplicate in S.T.A.R. Labs, for example, but this fight isn’t just about throwing punches. Instead, you have to activate consoles to lower barriers and rescue the scientists against a time limit all while “Brainiac” fires lasers and energy blasts at you. You’ll also encounter some of the more obscure villains from DC Comics’ gallery; Queen Bee has established a hive in the Metropolis subway and is transforming civilians into monstrous insect hybrids and, when you confront her in her throne room, she shields herself from your attacks and rains missiles into the arena that make the floor sticky. She’s only vulnerable when she leaves her throne but your window of opportunity to attack her is hampered somewhat by her minions, her energy blasts, and her tendency to dart across the screen like a madwoman. You’ll also butt heads with the Key, of all people. Like with Brainiac’s duplicate, you have to rescue some scientists against a time limit during this battle but the Key proves to be a particularly elusive and versatile enemy as he teleports around the place and causes hazards to blast out from his dimensional portals.

Grodd and Brainiac use their powers, technology, and minions to keep you at bay.

Similarly, when fighting Doctor Louise Lincoln/Killer Frost, you’re given one minute and forty seconds to destroy three missiles (and five seconds to get away from each before they explode) in addition to battling her and her icy minions. Killer Frost can conjure grunts, form ice shields, and blast at you with ice and icicles, all of which can make battling her quite tricky and annoying as your attentions are constantly divided. After reaching the core of a pyramid-like structure on Mars, Superman and the Martian Manhunter have to battle the White Martian leader; this guy is also accompanied by disposable White Martian grunts and you’re tasked with activating four nearby power nodes to defeat him. Things get noticeably more interesting when the Justice League splits into teams; while one team flies through the upper atmosphere destroying generators on invading spacecraft, another destroys power turbines in Gorilla City and gets into a confrontation with Gorilla Grodd. Grodd primarily uses his staff to attack and is joined not only by an inexhaustible supply of gorilla minions but also a series of energy-firing turrets so it’s probably best to try and keep your distance and stay on the move to emerge victorious in this fight. After battling their own security system in their Watchtower space station, the Justice League then faces off with a larger, more powerful Doomsday clone that, unlike pretty much every other boss in the game, boils down to a question of who can attack hardest and fastest rather than distracting you with tricks and puzzles.

Of course Darkseid turns out to be the true final boss of the game!

Eventually, you’ll breach Brainiac’s main base and be forced to battle his three robot guardians before you confront him; Brainiac is completely protected by an energy shield and is only vulnerable when he rises from his throne and only for a brief window of time. He also likes to teleport you to the far end of the arena, where you’re forced to destroy the generators that power his barriers and take out some minions just to get back up to him, so it’s more a question of patience than anything. As you might have guessed, the moment you defeat Brainiac he is immediately usurped by Darkseid, who teleports you away to a hellish dimension and then converts Earth into a new Apokolips. You’ll need to assemble two teams of four to confront Darkseid, who stomps around his throne room creating shockwaves and plumes of fire along the ground and blasting at you with his powerful Omega Beams. Being an all-powerful New God, his health also regenerates over time, meaning you’ll have to keep pummelling him again and again in order to keep him down. This was, honestly, a bit of a confusing fight; you can grab the “Apokolips Hypercube” nearby, which seems to weaken him and make him vulnerable to your attacks but I also found myself running around with it in my hands and not doing any damage to Darkseid at all and then he just suddenly succumbed to my attacks and was defeated.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
In almost every area in the game, you’ll find objects that you can grab and use as weapons; some of these are limited to the specifics of your character, though, meaning that you won’t be lifting cars over your head as, say, Oliver Queen/Green Arrow, for example. Still, you can grab post boxes and parking meters and cars and such to bash over enemy’s heads, which adds a bit of variety to the otherwise relentless combat. You can also pick up temporary power-ups throughout each environment to give yourself and your team mate a bit of a power boost so it can be worth exploring a little bit and smashing destructible objects wherever you see them.

Level-up to increase your stats power-up your attacks with Skill Points and Boosts.

The game also features some light role-playing elements; as you defeat enemies, you’ll gain experience points (EXP) and level-up once you’ve earned enough EXP. This will increase your stats and abilities but you also earn Skill Points that you can spend upgrading your character’s superpowers up to five different ranks to increase their effectiveness and duration. Additionally, enemies will also drop various “Boosts” that you can equip at any time; you can also combine Boosts together to create new, more powerful Boosts and equipping these will also boost your superpowers, increase your damage output or defence, or increase the range and duration of your attacks.

Additional Features:
Although the game is extremely linear, there are often some rewards to be found through exploration; generally, these will just be stockpiles of health, energy, or Boosts but you’ll also find be civilians in danger who need rescuing who will drop “Justice League Shields”. Shields can also be found by destroying parts of the environment and you can spend these on skins and additional characters. While you can select any of the unlockable costumes at any time, they won’t actually load until you reach the next checkpoint/area and you can only select to play as the unlocked characters when the game allows you to pick a team of your own. The skins available are quite impressive, though; while not every character gets a skin, some offer bonus boosts to your stats and there’s some fan favourites available here, like Superman’s black suit, Batman’s traditional blue and grey suit, and the Jay Garrick version of the Flash. You can also unlock the likes of Green Arrow, Aquaman (sporting his water hand), Helena Bertinelli/The Huntress, and what I assume is the Kendra Saunders version of Hawkgirl.

Unlock additional characters, costumes, and modes by finding Shields and completing the game.

You’ll notice, however, that neither Huntress, Aquaman, or Hawkgirl have an L1+R1 special move, though I’m not entirely sure why. You can also unlock Hal Jordan and Kyle Rayner but, despite these two being separate characters, they control exactly the same as John Stewart, which is a little disappointing; none of the unlockable characters have alternate costumes either, which is a bit of a missed opportunity in my book. Initially, you can select from Easy, Normal, or Hard difficulties but you’ll unlock two more difficulty levels (Elite and Superhero, on which most enemies will kill you in one hit) and be given the option of starting the game over from the beginning with all of the upgrades and EXP you amassed during your run upon completing the game. Sadly, there’s no option to free play any mission with any character, no versus mode, and no option to play online or with more than one other player but there are a number of cheats that you can activate from the pause menu to give yourself invincibility, infinite energy, all upgrades, and a bunch of Shields to quickly unlock all of the game’s skins and characters.

The Summary:
Justice League Heroes isn’t going to really offer you anything you can’t get from any other mindless beat-‘em-up; the stages and enemy designs can be very bland and boring and there really isn’t much asked of you other than to mash the same buttons over and over and activate a few consoles. Still, as a fan of beat-‘em-ups and brawlers, I found Justice League Heroes to be a pretty decent way of spending an afternoon; there’s a lot of characters available to you and I like that the story mixes the teams up quite often and allows you to put together your own teams, and the game is probably even more enjoyable with a friend to play with. There could have been more options and unlockables available (such as free play mode, maybe some challenges, and a boss rush), the music and graphics can stutter a bit, and the game is awash with dark, boring, grey locations, but, as a repetitive brawler featuring the Justice League, it’s decent enough, though probably not very appealing to those that aren’t fans of the source material and characters.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Have you ever played Justice League Heroes? If so, what did you think to it? Were you disappointed by the game’s presentation, selection of villains, and the inability to freely pick characters on the go? Which of the available characters was your favourite and preferred duo? What genre do you think would work for a future Justice League videogame? What version of the Justice League is your favourite and are there any DC superheroes you’d like to see added to the team someday? How are you celebrating Justice League Day this year? Whatever your thoughts on Justice League Heroes, and the Justice League in general, feel free to drop a comment below.

Talking Movies: Black Adam

Talking Movies

Released: 21 October 2022
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Distributor:
Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $195 to 200 million
Stars:
Dwayne Johnson, Marwan Kenzari, Sarah Shahi, Bodhi Sabongui, Aldis Hodge, Noah Centineo, Quintessa Swindell, and Pierce Brosnan

The Plot:
After nearly five thousand years of imprisonment, Teth-Adam (Johnson), an ancient magical champion said to have liberated Kahndaq, is unleashed into modern times. His brutal form of justice attracts the attention of the Justice Society of America (JSA), who try to stop his rampage and bring him into custody whilee investigating a centuries-old evil force whose power matches that of Teth-Adam.

The Background:
Following the incredible success of Clark Kent/Superman and Bruce Wayne/Batman, Fawcett Publications looked to get in on the superhero craze. While the initial plan was for a team of heroes, Ralph Daigh combined them into one superpowered entity to directly oppose Superman. Originally dubbed “Captain Thunder”, trademark issues led to artist Pete Costanza suggesting the name “Captain Marvelous”, soon shortened to Captain Marvel, and the character proved a big success. Captain Marvel soon became a franchise all unto himself after sharing his powers with a colourful extended family and, about six years after his debut, he and his Marvel Family met their dark opposite in the form of Black Adam, a corrupted version of the Big Red Cheese. Although Black Adam only appeared once in Fawcett’s original run, he saw a new lease of life after the publisher was absorbed into DC Comics, becoming a complex anti-hero often as reprehensible as the villains he opposed. Ranked as one of comics most interesting anti-heroes, Black Adam has featured in animated ventures but this live-action adaptation has spent nearly twenty years in Development Hell. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has been attached to the role since the project first stumbled to life in 2006 and, given Johnson’s prominence in Hollywood, the decision was made early on to keep Black Adam separated from Shazam! (Sandberg, 2019) in order to best capitalise on his star power before an inevitable confrontation with Billy Batson/Shazam (Asher Angel/Zachary Levi). Initial plans to feature Black Adam in The Suicide Squad (Gunn, 2021) were scrapped in favour of pitting him against the JSA. Johnson was keen to play up the character’s no-nonsense nature and went all-in with marketing Black Adam as a game-changer in the DC Extended Universe. After numerous delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Black Adam finally released to mixed reviews; as of this writing, the film has made nearly $153 million at the box office but, while many praised The Rock’s performance and the implications Black Adam has on the future of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), others took issue with the film’s conflated plot and pacing, though all involved (and especially Johnson) were adamant that Black Adam represented a new phase of the DCEU.

The Review:
What a strange, long, and winding road this film has been on; it’s been in production for so long that I was starting to wonder if it would ever come out, especially after the character failed to appear in Shazam! I kinda get why he didn’t; it’s possible that the Rock’s star power would’ve dwarfed that movie’s heart-warming, handholding introduction to this side of the DCEU and people always complain that superhero films rely on the dark doppelgänger trope too much, which I get, but I think the contrast between Black Adam and Captain Marvel helps to elevate the latter into a more wholesome hero. Black Adam also would’ve been a great fit for either of the Suicide Squad films, especially the God-awful first one, but I do understand the idea of capitalising on the Rock’s star power to give him his own feature film, even if I don’t fully agree with it or his insistence on hyping up a clash between him and Superman (Henry Cavill) rather than him and Shazam, which would be my first choice, but maybe all three could meet up in a future movie, that would be a happy compromise. I am pretty familiar with Black Adam, though; I’ve read a bunch of his stories, especially during his time on the JSA, and really dig his no-nonsense attitude and the complex relationship he has with Captain Marvel, which is aways one clash of ideals away from degenerating into all-out war. I also really hope that the Rock is committed enough to the role that he sticks around for a bit; obviously, Dwayne Johnson is a massive Hollywood star and is in high demand so I do wonder about his longevity in the DCEU, especially considering how quickly Ben Affleck burned out (and I was worried that he would when he was cast), but he’s pursued the role for a good ten years and really threw himself into the marketing so I’m hoping he gets to reappear a few more times, though I do somewhat disagree with the idea of rebuilding the DCEU entirely around a character like Black Adam instead of, say, Superman. Black Adam gets off to a shaky start, with a ten-to-fifteen-minute opening and narration that rushes through the titular anti-hero’s origins in ancient Kahndaq and sets up the McGuffin that much of the film’s plot revolves around. Centuries ago, a tyrant named Ahk-Ton (Kenzari) enslaved Kahndaq and forced its people to dig for a rare and incredibly powerful mineral known as “Eternium”, the only material powerful enough to force the Crown of Sabbac, an item powerful by six demonic entities from what can only be described as Hell.

Awakened in modern times, Teth-Adam’s violent ways earn him the adulation of the oppressed Kahndaq.

Kahndaq’s spirit was well and truly broken but one boy, Hurut (Jalon Christian), dared to try and inspire an uprising. For this, he was sentenced to public execution but, at the last second, was spirited away to the Rock of Eternity and infused with the stamina of Shu, the speed of Horus, the strength of Amon, the wisdom of Zehuti, the power of Aten, and the courage of Mehen by the Council of Wizards. The legend becomes sketchy after the defeat of Ahk-Ton, but Kahndaq has revered their Champion ever since, with great statues erected celebrating their saviour; in modern day Kahndaq, their symbolism has all but faded thanks to the oppression of Intergang, a mercenary military force that has imposed martial law throughout the city and is seeking to strip it of all its natural resources. With Kahndaq virtually a police state, young Amon Tomaz (Sabongui) echoes the rebellious spirit of Hurut in his desire to fight back against their oppressors, but his mother, Adrianna (Shahi), is more concerned with keeping him safe from reprisals and tracking down the legendary and forgotten Crown of Sabbac to keep it out of Intergang’s hands. Here efforts lead her, her bumbling technician brother Karim (Mo Amer), and Ishmael Gregor (Kenzari) to a mountain where they successfully recover the crown but, after being accosted by Intergang’s forces, Adrianna speaks the magical word of Shazam to awaken the Champion from his long slumber. Thus, Teth-Adam arrives, garbed in a form-fitting black suit and sporting both the Wizard’s (Djimon Hounsou) lightning symbol and a hooded cape and immediately dispatches the Intergang thugs without mercy or quarter. His superhuman speed, strength, and command over lightning make him virtually indestructible to all man-made weapons; his skin is only pierced by Eternium, and his powers even allow him to cauterise and recover from wounds in moments. Bulletproof and capable of reducing a man to a chargrilled skeleton or a pile of ashes with a single bolt of lightning, Teth-Adam lays wastes to the armed thugs but, in the chaos, notably makes the effort to save Adrianna from being crushed by a falling boulder. A stoic, grim-faced man, Teth-Adam tears through Intergang with ease, mocking their “weak magic”, catching bullets, and swatting aside missiles like they were nothing. When he’s injured by an Eternium blast, Adrianna and Karim take him back to their flat to recuperate; there, he quickly learns English (how is never explained but I’ll assume it was through the wisdom of Zehuti) and is accosted by Amon, who very much fills a similar role to Frederick “Freddy” Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) in Shazam; he’s an absolute superhero nut, with posters and comics and action figures of all of DC’s heroes plastered around his bedroom, and enthusiastically runs down the gamut of Teth-Adam’s powers and tries to teach him to embrace his role as a superhero, somewhat similar to young John Connor’s (Eddie Furlong) relationship with the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger). However, Teth-Adam has about as much interest in being a hero as he does using doors or being polite; he simply floats and flies around, barging through walls, spouting his dogma regarding lethal force to Amon, and rejecting claims that he’s Kahndaq’s fabled Champion. Despite this, he does have something of a moral code; when Intergang arrive looking for the crown and put Amon in danger, Teth-Adam continues his merciless slaughter, amusingly struggling to deliver the-ass one-liner Amon taught him as he kills people too quickly for such traditions and attracting the attention of Amanda Waller (Viola Davis).

Black Adam’s rampage brings him into conflict with the morally-righteous Justice Society.

Oddly, Waller’s first port of call isn’t the Suicide Squad or the Justice League, but Carter Hall/Hawkman (Hodge) of the JSA; it seems Waller has been reconfigured into a character more akin to Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), someone who recruits and directs a variety of metahumans, which I find is an ill-fitting role for her and I would’ve preferred to see her interaction with Hawkman tweaked or removed entirely and saved her appearance for when they bring the depowered Teth-Adam into custody later in the film. Regardless, Hawkman recruits his old friend and team mate Hector Hall/Doctor Fate (Brosnan) and two rookie metahumans, Albert “Al” Rothstein/Atom Smasher (Centineo) and Maxine Hunkel/Cyclone (Swindell), to intercept and subdue Teth-Adam in Kahndaq. I really like the inclusion of the JSA here; it’s fitting, given that Black Adam spent some time with the team in the comics, and helps to open up the DC Universe to new heroes and stories, while also not overshadowing Teth-Adam with more recognisable heroes. Unfortunately, we don’t learn a great deal about them; Atom Smasher and Cyclone are relatively one-dimensional, despite a budding attraction, Al’s need to consume food to maintain his size-changing abilities and desire to live up to his uncle’s (Henry Winkler) legacy and a brief mention of Cyclone’s traumatic background. Similarly, there’s a history and a strong bond between Hawkman and the mysterious Dr. Fate that is only briefly touched upon; we learn nothing about their origins, the nature of their powers, or even their limits. Dr. Fate is able to see visions of the future through his magical, alien helmet and conjures doubles of himself, mystical barriers, and crystalline weapons and Hawkman clearly has some form of superhuman durability since he can go toe-to-toe with Teth-Adam, as well as sporting his trademark wings and mace, but Black Adam doesn’t waste any time digging into the depths of the JSA’s background. Instead, they’re there as a peacekeeping force, one who strive to set an example to the world and their peers by upholding justice and sparing lives, rather than taking them. This not only contrasts with Teth-Adam’s more totalitarian methods and leads to many a conflict, both physical and philosophical, with the team (especially the proud and hot-headed Hawkman) but also raises the ire of Adrianna and Kahndaq. After decades of oppression and being left to fend for themselves, she and her fellow countrymen reject the JSA’s involvement and holier-than-thou attitude, especially as Hawkman’s temper and Atom Smasher’s inexperience leads to more damage to their country. Indeed, Kahndaq openly cheers for Teth-Adam, revering him as their Champion and approving of his more direct, lethal measures, a feeling Adrianna also shares despite her wishes to spare Amon from inflicting violence upon others. Teth-Adam is doing what needs to be done and actually fighting back against the likes of Intergang, whereas the JSA and the wider world simply ignored Kahndaq’s problems, thus casting the JSA in an interestingly villainous role as they go to great lengths to try and end Teth-Adam’s rampage before his rage gets out of control.

Despite their technology, and being possessed by a demonic force, Intergang is little threat to Teth-Adam.

Their justification comes from having access to ancient texts that detail that Teth-Adam isn’t as righteous as Kahndaq believes; it turns out that, while Hurut was celebrated as Kahndaq’s Champion (Uli Latukefu), Teth-Adam and his wife, Shiruta (Odelya Halevi), paid the price with their lives. When Hurut shared his powers with his father to spare his life, he left himself vulnerable and was killed by Ahk-Ton’s assassins, driving Teth-Adam into a murderous rage so severe that the Wizard was forced to imprison him to contain his power and anger. Now unleashed into the world, the JSA bsaelieves that it’s only a matter of time before history repeats itself and, when Hawkman’s attempts to instil qualities of mercy into Teth-Adam fail (despite almost all of DC’s superheroes having a notable body count), the JSA attempt to force him into submission or to speak his magic word so he can be delivered into Waller’s custody. Ultimately, it’s Teth-Adam’s rage that sees him willing return to his mortal form (Benjamin Patterson) and be taken into custody after he accidentally injures Amon with his powers. With Teth-Adam left in suspended animation and unable to speak his magic word, the JSA believe they’ve accomplished their mission but a greater threat emerges from their conflict with Intergang. While Intergang aren’t really much to shout about, being simply a military force to intimidates Kahndaq’s citizenship, they do inexplicably wield Eternium weapons and hoverbikes, though none of this really matter sin the face of Teth-Adam’s awesome power. They’re the very definition of nameless, faceless, disposable goons for Teth-Adam to tear through; I quickly lost count of how many he turns to ash and bones and the film makes his toying with their lives into a bit of a gag. Intergang also disappear for the film’s final act, their threat and control over Kahndaq forgotten in favour of the power of the Crown of Sabbac, a power that Ishmael craves so badly that he not only aligned with Intergang, but betrayed Adrianna, shot Karim (though, thankfully, he doesn’t kill him as Karim is one of the film’s comedic highlights), and purposely put Amon in danger all to claim the crown for himself and to make Teth-Adam so bad that he would kill him. Sadly, for all the gravitas Pierce Brosnan brings to the film and the awesome, charismatic presence of The Rock, Ishmael ends up being a pretty weak villain; I literally forgot he was even in it for big chunks of the movie, and you can see his heel turn coming a mile away. His transformation into a literal devil for the finale isn’t exactly inspiring either, and his final confrontation with Teth-Adam is very similar to the ending of Shazam!, though the primary focus of Black Adam is on exploring Teth-Adam’s morality and methods and this is a very interesting and entertaining aspect of the film so I can ignore the lame villain, though I do think the film would’ve benefitted from someone like Arnold Vosloo in the role instead.

The Nitty-Gritty:
It’s these themes of morality that form the heart of Black Adam; having witnessed the enslavement and subjugation of his people, the death of his beloved wife and child, and the hypocrisy of the Wizard and the Gods, Teth-Adam has been left a cold, emotionless, rage-filled force of nature. This is a very different role for The Rock, one that downplays his usual affable nature in favour of a more stoic demeanour, one that showcases a different side of his charisma. He still has a presence and a biting wit, but it’s one seeped in rage and tragedy; initially, Teth-Adam was a mere powerless slave, one who tried to keep his son from speaking of rebellion, but he was driven into a fury after losing everything and has no qualms about lashing out at those who seek to harm or oppress others. His no-nonsense morality most notably conflicts with Hawkman, who believes heroes shouldn’t kill and tries to emphasise the benefits of sparing lives as it allows one to learn information about their enemy or objective. Teth-Adam is much more direct; even when he begrudgingly teams up with the JSA to rescue Amon, he just flies off and storms Ahk-Ton’s ruins, completely ignoring Hawkman’s plan of attack, an approach that works perfectly well for him as he’s functionally invulnerable. There are some interesting dichotomies at work in Black Adam; Hawkman coms across as a bit of a hypocrite because, while he’s all about saving lives, he does put people in danger with his insistence on beating Teth-Adam into submission and there’s a grey question mark hovering over the JSA’s moral high ground since they only came to Kahndaq’s aid once a superhuman presence emerged there. Similarly, Teth-Adam never harms or kills innocent people; he might claim to have no interest or care for the lives of mortals, but he repeatedly goes out of his way to help Adrianna and Amon and only kills Intergang’s mercenaries, something that the people of Kahndaq naturally cheer for as they just want to be free of their oppressors.

The film looks amazing and is full of fun action scenes, despite some dodgy CGI shots.

Visually, Black Adam is quite the spectacle; the whole movie is shot beautifully, and the costume design is absolutely on-point. The Rock looks like a walking mountain of ashen black in his comic-accurate costume and even the always-ridiculous Hawkman ends up being realised very well onscreen, though I could’ve done without the nanotechnology that allows his helmet to magically form over his head and his wings to fold away. Dr. Fate looks magnificent, if a little rubbery at times since he’s a mostly CGI creation, but the effects fall apart a little when bringing the gigantic Atom Smasher and the wind-bending Cyclone to life; I applaud the filmmakers for choosing such effects-heavy characters but I do think the film might’ve benefitted from picking less visually demanding characters since Atom Smasher doesn’t really get a lot of play (and is portrayed as a bit of a buffoon) and Cyclone just dances around in slow motion whipping up projectiles and dirt. There’s a surprising amount of slow motion here, almost Zack Snyder levels of the effect, as Black Adam goes out of its way to emphasise Teth-Adam’s incredible superhuman speed; for the most part, it works, though some parts that are clearly supposed to be dramatic can come off as a little hokey thanks to The Rock’s grimacing or screaming face lunging at the camera in su-u-per sl-lo-ow mo-tion. Mostly, though, the effects are pretty good; the sequence where the JSA’s futuristic place takes off is a bit over the top and the final form of Sabbac is disappointingly underwhelming, but Teth-Adam’s many fight scenes against Intergang and the JSA work really well. Similar to some surprisingly violent scenes in Shazam!, there’s a level of violence in Black Adam that nicely skirts the limits of what’s acceptable for a 12A film; while there’s no gore or blood splattering everywhere, Teth-Adam rams grenades in people’s mouths, causes aircraft to collide in mid-air, and indiscriminately blasts at his enemies with his lightning and comically sends them flying into the sea or across the screen. Charbroiled skeletons, ashes, and even severed limbs are all over the film as Teth-Adam tears through his opponents without remorse, culminating in a pretty gruesome end for Sabbac when Teth-Adam rips him in two, spilling not blood but molten lava.

While Teth-Adam ultimately chooses to defend the world, the question of his morality is left up in the air…

All throughout the movie, Dr. Fate is haunted by a vision of the future in which the world is reduced to a burning cinder, presumably because of Teth-Adam’s rage, and his good friend Hawkman is killed in conflict. When Teth-Adam finally surrenders and his threat is naturalised, Dr. Fate is disturbed to find his vision remains unchanged; this is because they were too slow to realise that Ishmael’s plan all along was to die at Teth-Adam’s hands so he could meet the six demons of Sabbac in Hell and become their demonic champion. Imbued with their demonic power, Ishmael returns to life as Sabbac, a literal horned demon with a pentagram carved into his chest and with designs of claiming his birth right as Kahndaq’s true ruler (since he’s the last living descendant of Ahk-Ton). Thanks to the demons’ powers, Sabbac sports all the same abilities as Teth-Adam but wielding fire instead of lightning; Ishmael’s humanity is completely consumed by this underwhelming CGI form, which has little motivation other than death and destruction. Although they’re able to battle Teth-Adam and even Sabbac on equal ground thanks to their superhuman powers, the JSA are no match for either of them; in a bid to change the future and save his friend’s life, Dr. Fate willingly meets Sabbac head on and sacrifices himself to free Teth-Adam from his confinement and convince him to live up to Hurut’s example by becoming the world’s saviour. What follows is a pretty intense brawl between Sabbac and Teth-Adam; since both are capable of hurting the other, and yet are also equally matched, there’s a degree of uncertainty about the battle but, thanks to Dr. Fate’s words, Teth-Adam learns to co-operate with the JSA, setting aside his differences with Hawkman long enough for the latter to use Dr. Fate’s helmet to distract Sabbac and allow Teth-Adam to deliver not only his one-liner but a killing blow to the raging demon. In the aftermath, a begrudging respect between Teth-Adam and the JSA is acknowledged, though Hawkman warns him not to step out of line, and Teth-Adam adamantly rejects Kahndaq’s throne and vows to instead be the country’s protector. A mid-credits scene then sees Amanda Waller also warning Teth-Adam, now rechristened as “Black Adam”, against stepping out of Kahndaq; she even calls in a favour and sends Superman to have a chat with him, returning not only Henry Cavill to the DC Universe but also John Williams’ iconic theme, and setting the stage for a showdown between the two that I can only hope will not forget about Shazam.

The Summary:
Truthfully, I was unsure about Black Adam; I still maintain that it’s a little self-indulgent to give him his own solo movie simply because of The Rock’s star power and he’s a strange character to rebuild the mess that is the DCEU around since there’s only so much you can do with him. However, I am a big fan of the character, and The Rock, and was excited by the trailers and the hype surrounding the film, and to see the JSA and Pierce Brosnan in a superhero film. Despite a troublesome start, which rushes through what seems like a whole movie’s worth of story, Black Adam soon found its groove and settled into an enjoyable action romp designed to showcase a meaner side of The Rock, who is clearly enjoying himself in revelling in Teth-Adam’s power. I enjoyed the complexity of Teth-Adam’s character; he’s burdened by loss and rage and not only feels like he has no place in the world but also that he’s unworthy of his powers since his first instinct is the hurt and kill others. The entire film is geared around showing him that he can just as easily b the saviour of humanity, but there’s still a question about his motivations by the finale; he seems content to remain in Kahndaq as its defender, but there’s literally nothing stopping him going out and enforcing his will in the wider world. The JSA came off really well; while we don’t learn much about them and I think I would’ve preferred Atom Smasher and Cyclone to be a little more experienced, they added some visual variety to the fight sequences and nicely opened up the DCEU to new superpowered characters, as well as helping to set an example for the violent anti-hero. While the villains weren’t much of a threat, or very interesting even when turned into a literal demon, but I can overlook that (and some of the wonkier CGI) because of The Rock’s undeniable charisma. The jury’s out on what’s next for Black Adam and how his presence will really affect the hierarchy of the DC Universe, but this was an entertaining spectacle that I enjoyed far more than I expected to.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Did you enjoy Black Adam? Do you think the character deserved his own solo movie, one that skipped over his relationship with Shazam? What did you think to The Rock’s portrayal of the character, his violent tendencies, and the realisation of his powers and costume? Were you also disappointed by the villains? What did you think to the JSA? Would you have liked to learn more about them, and which member of the team was your favourite? What did you think to Henry Cavill’s long-awaited return to the DCEU and where do you think Black Adam will go next? Whatever your opinions on Black Adam, feel free to share your thoughts down below or leave a comment on my social media.

Back Issues: Marvel Family Comics #1

Story Title: “The Mighty Marvels Join Forces!”
Published:
December 1945
Writer: Otto Binder
Artists: C.C. Beck

The Background:
Following the incredible success of Clark Kent/Superman and Bruce Wayne/Batman over in National Comics (the precursor to DC Comics), Fawcett Publications desired their own colourful superheroes to get in on the new craze. While the initial plan was for a team of heroes, each sporting the powers of Greco-Roman Gods, Ralph Daigh made the executive decision to combine them into one superpowered entity to directly oppose Superman. Originally dubbed “Captain Thunder” and debuting in a comic published as both Flash Comics and Thrill Comics, trademark issues led to artist Pete Costanza suggesting the alternative name of “Captain Marvelous”, soon shortened to Captain Marvel, and the character was a big success for the publisher. Captain Marvel soon became a franchise all unto himself thanks to sharing his powers with a colourful extended family and, about six years after his debut, he and his Marvel Family met their dark opposite in the form of Teth-Adam/Black Adam, who had the same magical as the Big Red Cheese but was corrupted by greed and power. In his original form, Black Adam only appeared once in Fawcett’s original run but saw a new lease of life after the publisher was absorbed into DC Comics; under the direction of the likes of Jerry Ordway, Geoff Johns, and Peter J. Tomasi, Black Adam became a complex and aggressive anti-hero, one who was at times as reprehensible as the villains he opposed, and who was capable of great love and loyalty but also nigh-unstoppable wrath. Ranked as one of the most interesting anti-heroes in comicdom, Black Adam has also featured in many of DC’s animated ventures and, after nearly twenty years of Development Hell, finally set to make his live-action debut in 2022 with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the role.

The Review:
By the time of this story, Captain Marvel had already shared his awesome powers (which grant him the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles and the speed of Mercury whenever he shouts the magic word “Shazam!”) with his crippled friend, Freddie Freeman, his long-lost sister, Mary Bromfield to create a superhero family with them as the similarly powered and attired Captain Marvel Jr. and Mary Marvel alongside former con artist Dudley H. Dudley as the non-powered Uncle Marvel. As the story progresses, we’re treated to a recap of how this is possible but it’s basically thanks to the blessing of the Wizard, himself also called Shazam, who resides in a magical realm known as the Rock of Eternity. Billy’s first encounter with the Wizard literally amounted to him being summoned there, being bestowed with God-like powers, and then being directed by the Wizard’s spirit to put those powers to good use as Earth’s Mightiest Mortal. After saving Freddie’s life, Billy brought him to the Wizard and he was similarly empowered, while Mary was just able to transform simply because she shared Billy’s bloodline and the trio accepted Uncle Marvel as an honorary member/mascot because he means well despite his lack of superpowers. Quite how the Wizard is able to carve Captain Marvel’s continued adventures despite being a ghost is beyond me, but the mysterious old mystic also carries the burden of failure from his first champion, whom he called Mighty Adam before he turned to evil, was rechristened Black Adam, and banished to “the farthest star” for his crimes.

Black Adam returns for revenge after being exiled for thousands of years.

Before that can come back to bite Captain Marvel in the ass, though, our story switches over to the Big Red Cheese’s youthful alter ego, star child newscaster Billy Batson, who’s sent to the “astronomical observatory” to investigate reports of an unidentified object that’s hurtling its way towards Earth. While viewing the object (which is apparently traveling at the speed of light, which seems like something you wouldn’t be able to tell with a telescope such as this), Billy is forced to transform into Captain Marvel to save the astronomers life when his damaged telescope threatens to crush him. Freddie then returns the favour by saving Billy from being run over by a couple when they’re distracted by something flying overheard, which turns out to be the sinister Black Adam. Garbed in a black version of Captain Marvel’s costume (sans the cape) and sporting a widow’s peak and a permanent scowl, Black Adam has returned to Earth after five-thousand years of space travel hell-bent on conquering the planet. He wastes no time in causing an affray, blocking traffic, swiping aside cops, proving impervious to gunfire, and even breaking a cop’s back over his knee before Captain Marvel Jr. intercepts him. though momentarily amazed by the flying boy’s appearance, both Black Adam and Captain Marvel Jr. are stunned to find their powers are equally matched; when Captain Marvel joins the fray, his punch does stagger Black Adam but that’s about it as the three are equally matched in terms of power. Shocked to find that he’s no longer the most powerful man on Earth, Black Adam chooses to lose himself in the passing crowd so he can rethink his strategy and, after witnessing the two Marvels transform back and head to the Wizard for council, follows the two to get the revenge he has craved for centuries.

Despite all his great power, Black Adam is easily tricked into a defeat.

The Wizard’s spirit is distraught to learn of Black Adam’s return and regretfully tells them the story of how, five-thousand years ago, he bestowed the power of the Gods upon Teth-Adam and charged him with fighting the evils of the world as Might Adam. However, the Wizard chose poorly; the power immediately corrupted Mighty Adam, easily allowing him to overpower the Pharaoh’s guards and then snap his neck to claim himself ruler of Egypt! Mighty Adam’s reign was ridiculously short-lived, however, as the Wizard immediately showed up, dubbed him Black Adam, and banished him from Earth. It took the Wizard five-thousand years to figure out that his mistake was empowering a man, rather than a pure-hearted child, and he also underestimated Black Adam’s ability to breathe and fly through space, meaning it now falls to the Marvels to undo the Wizard’s mistakes. Unfortunately for the boys, Black Adam strikes at that very moment, choosing to bound and gag them and then plan to kill them to stick it to the Wizard (again, kind of daft as he could’ve just killed them on the spot but then we wouldn’t have a story, I guess…). However, after learning of Billy and Freddie’s disappearance, Mary and Dudley decide to ask the Wizard for help and arrive just in time to help fight with Black Adam; although Uncle Marvel is no match for Black Adam, he does untie the boys while Mary tries to fight him but Black Adam remains unfazed even when all three of them attack him at once! In the end, though, it’s Uncle Marvel who saves the day; after the Wizard relates that the only way to stop Black Adam is to force him to say his magic word, Uncle Marvel’s buffoonery is enough to trick Black Adam into doing so! Captain Marvel then delivers a good wallop to Teth-Adam’s face and the Marvels look on as the would-be tyrant’s body withers and decays before their eyes, apparently ending Black Adam’s threat once and for all.

The Summary:
One of the big appealing factors of Captain Marvel’s comics from this time was the artwork; C.C. Beck employs a cartoony, almost “rubber hose” style aesthetic that really helps the art and characters to pop out almost as much as their brightly coloured costumes, though the backgrounds and level of detail are noticeably lacking. This isn’t unusual for comic books of this time, but it is quite noticeable here, especially in the Rock of Eternity, which is an especially bland and lifeless environment save for the ridiculous depictions of the Seven Deadly Sins and the crude explanation of Shazam’s powers carved into the wall. Interestingly, if you’ve never read a Captain Marvel story before, “The Mighty Marvels Join Forces!” is actually a good place to start as the story wastes quite a bit of time recapping Billy, Freddie, and Mary’s origins when it could have been showcasing the villain of the piece a little more.

As brutal as Black Adam is, he doesn’t really get to do much and is defeated very easily.

Black Adam is built up reasonably well; right from the beginning, it’s clear that the Wizard carries a great deal of shame and regret for having made a mistake in empowering Teth-Adam and his looming threat remains in the background amidst such hijinks as a collapsing telescope and inattentive driver. Once he arrives, he certainly makes a visual impression; I always like it when a villain or anti-hero wears a dark version of a hero’s costume and the black really works for Black Adam. Unfortunately, he doesn’t really do all that much; he just kind stands around, laughing and mocking any attempts to harm him and easily manhandling any mortals who stand in his way. He does, however, show a mean streak that was actually rather shocking, even considering how morally ambiguous comics could be back then; Black Adam snaps a guy’s spine and breaks a guy’s neck, which is pretty brutal considering he uses his bare hands, but sadly that’s about as far as his actions go. He’s banished by the Wizard as soon as he seizes the throne and there isn’t really a proper fight between him and the Marvels since none of them can really harm or even faze the other, meaning he has to be duped into depowering himself, which seems like something even the arrogant and haughty Black Adam just wouldn’t fall for. I guess it works as a comedic twist of fate to have the bungling Uncle Marvel stumble upon the solution, but I also feel like there could’ve been a better way to neutralise Black Adam’s threat.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Were you a fan of Black Adam’s debut story? What did you think to the way he was portrayed, and defeated? Do you agree that the story was unnecessarily padded? Which of the Captain Marvel family is your favourite? What are some of your favourite Black Adam stories and moments? Are you excited for Black Adam’s live-action debut? Whatever your thoughts on Black Adam and Captain Marvel, feel free to leave them below or drop a comment on my social media.

Back Issues [Brightest Day]: Green Lantern #48-50


Although February 2014 was dubbed “Green Lantern Day” (because, by the American calendar, the date read as “2814”, the sector of space assigned to Earth in DC Comics), the significance of this date has passed as the years have changed. Instead, I’m choosing to celebrate the debut of perhaps the most popular iteration of the character, Hal Jordan, who first appeared in October of 1959.


Writer: Ron Marz – Artists: Bill Willingham, Fred Haynes, and Darryl Banks

Story Title: “Emerald Twilight, Part One: The Past”
Published: January 1994

Story Title: “Emerald Twilight, Part Two: The Present”
Published: February 1994

Story Title: “Emerald Twilight, Part Three: The Future”
Published: March 1994

The Background:
The character of Green Lantern, in the form of Alan Scott, first appeared in All-American Publications’ (a precursor of DC Comics) All-American Comics #16 in July 1940. In 1959, DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz enlisted writer John Broome and artist Gil Kane to reinvent the character as Hal Jordan and, in the process, created countless other Green Lanterns through the establishment of an intergalactic police force. Although Jordan became one of DC Comics’ most prominent superheroes, the company decided to make some major changes to the character in the mid-nineties, a period of time often referred to as the “Dark Age” of comics that saw stories such as “The Death of Superman” (Jurgens, et al, 1992 to 1993) make headline news and Bruce Wayne/Batman left crippled at the hands of a superhuman foe. Although Batman later recovered and Clark Kent/Superman soon returned to life, Hal Jordan’s home town of Coast City was destroyed during the Man of Steel’s resurrection, leaving Hal devastated and driving him to near madness in his attempt to rebuild his home. The story’s primary purpose was to depict Hal’s downfall into a maniacal, reality-destroying villain known as Parallax and to introduce a new, young, sexy Green Lantern (my favourite of the Emerald Warriors, Kyle Rayner). Eventually, of course, DC backpedalled on this decision and went out of their way to redeem the “greatest Green Lantern” but, for a while there, things were definitely exciting and different in DC Comics as they introduced new legacy characters and fundamentally altered their predecessors in startling ways.

The Review:
“Emerald Twilight” begins pretty much immediately after the conclusion of the “Return of Superman” story arc (Stern, et al, 1993) with an injured and emotionally shattered Hal Jordan kneeling amidst the still-smouldering crater that is all that remains of his hometown, Coast City. Burdened by his grief at arriving too late to stop Mongul and Hank Henshaw/Cyborg-Superman from obliterating the city, Hal uses the vast powers of his power ring to heal his broken arm and conjure a construct of his father, Martin, for a bit of a heart-to-heart. Primarily, Hal wants to address his resentment towards his late father for favouring his older, more successful brothers and never telling Hal that he was proud of him and all he had accomplished. However, as Martin is simply a manifestation of Hal’s memories of him, and his guilt and unresolved issues, Martin simply tells Hall that he just never measured up to his brothers, guilt-trips him for not being there for Coast City, and then forces Hal to relive the traumatic experience of watching him die in a plane crash. A construct of Hal’s mother, Jessica, then arrives to comfort her son, pointing out Martin’s many faults as a husband and a father and encouraging Hal to hold on to the happier memories and move on from the pain and loss. Despite her encouragement, however, Hal isn’t satisfied with just having memories; they’re not enough to quell his guilt or his anger or his pain and, in his vehement refusal to let go of his anguish, he focuses his willpower in a wholly selfish way.

Grief-stricken, his anguish turned to rage, Hal carves a path of destruction to confront the Guardians.

Hal uses his willpower to create a living, breathing, emerald-hued recreation of Coast City, including all of its buildings and inhabitants. The temptation to right those wrongs, to “be a God”, is overwhelming and even brings back a manifestation of his first love, Jennifer. Reminiscing about the past and what could have been between them, Hal laments how he screwed up his relationship with Jennifer even after she helped him through the trauma of his father’s death. Jennifer, however, assures Hal that she was happy after him, settled in Coast City, and that the end came quickly for her and the others; she also says that “nobody blames [Hal]” and that they’re just happy that he’s keeping their memories alive. Jennifer walks Hal to his childhood home, where he again meets the “ghost” of his father; Martin echoes Jennifer’s sentiments, stating that every appreciates that he’s “restored” Coast City, but falters when he is about to finally say the words Hal is longing to hear (that he’s proud of him) and promptly vanishes, along with the entire Coast City illusion, when Hal’s ring exhausts its charge. Hal’s anger and bitterness at being denied his desire, and the limits of his power ring, are soon interrupted when one of the Guardians of the Universe manifests before him. The Guardian reprimands Hal for using his power ring for personal gain and violating the rules and regulations of the Green Lantern Corps, and demands that he return to Oa for disciplinary action. Hal, however, lashes out in anger absorbs the residual energy from the Guardian’s projection to give himself a charge and, blasts off to Oa to confront his masters, appearing as little more than a green shooting star to lovers Kyle Rayner and Alex DeWitt. Overcome by his grief, and incensed at the losses and injustice he feels, Hal blasts his way through space and is met by opposition from his fellow Corpsmen, Ke’Haan of Varva and Laira of Jayd, two Lanterns who, while experienced, are no match for Hal’s experience and newfound rage.

Hal’s crusade sees him cutting down some of his most trusted comrades.

Furious at being used as a puppet by the Guardians for so long, Hal incapacitates the two and steals their power rings, leaving them for dead in the void of space and adding more power to his arsenal. While the Guardians of the Universe are concerned at Hal’s trail of destruction, they have faith that the entirety of their Corps, and their near-limitless power, will be enough to stop him; after all, he’s just one rogue Lantern, right? Well Tomar Tu learns the hard way that Hal is not so easily subdued; although he tries to shackle Hal using a parasite not unlike the Black Mercy creature, Hal’s willpower is so strong, and his rage so out of control, that he easily overpowers his former comrade and friend. Jack T. Chance meets a similar end as, while he is far more willing to fight dirty, his inexperience leaves him adrift in space like so many other Corpsmen. Hal is even forced to battle Boodikka, a warrior female he personally recruited into the Corps, but the loyalty of his brothers and sisters now sickens Hal and he’s so obsessed with making them pay for their hubris that he slices Boodikka’s hand off to claim her ring as his own. One by one, both on-panel and off, Hal bests the Guardian’s Lanterns and, with each victory, he becomes increasingly brutal. Upon reaching Oa, Hal is met by the Corps drill instructor, the surly Kilowog, easily the proudest and most loyal member of the Green Lantern Corps. However, while he lasts longer than any of the other Green Lanterns, Kilowog also falls before Hal’s newfound might and rage.

Sinestro is sent to stop Hal, leading to an epic clash between the two with their roles almost reversed.

Even the stoic Guardians, so self-righteous in their power and position, begin to fear Hal’s crusade and, in their desperation, turn to Ganthet’s final solution to Hal’s rampage: releasing the renegade Green Lantern, Thaal Sinestro, from his captivity within the Central Power Battery. And so it is that Hal is pitted against his former mentor, the very man who he stood up to when Sinestro perverted the power and privilege of the power ring for his own ends. The irony is not lost on Sinestro, who finds himself as the last hope of his former masters, beings he has almost as much reason to despise as Hal, and delights in Hal’s torment. Sinestro manages to goad Hal into relinquishing all of his stolen power rings and battling him on equal ground, something Hal is only too happy to agree to just so that Sinestro has no doubt that he was finally, truly, bested by his superior. Eager to have his revenge against Hal for having him imprisoned, Sinestro presses his attack but Hal matches him blow for blow, theorising that the Guardians must have lost their minds to turn to someone as vindictive as Sinestro and seeing his rival’s return as the final proof of the Guardians’ hypocrisy and fallibility. Sinestro taunts Hal by telling him that, years ago, the Guardians asked him, their greatest warrior, to mould Hal into his image but, despite being flattered by their trust, he never thought that Hal would be able to live up to those expectations. When they come to a penultimate clash, Sinestro is almost admiring of Hal’s newfound bloodlust, but maintains that the difference between the two has always been that Hal is unwilling to kill, whereas Sinestro is only held back from killing by the promise of his freedom to subdue Hal non-lethally.

Hal kills Sinestro, and the entire Corps, becoming Parallax and leaving Kyle as the sole Green Lantern.

Ultimately, their battle descends into a wild brawl; as the Guardians impassively watch on, Hal mercilessly beats Sinestro to a pulp. Hal claims victory, having finally bested his long-time rival with his bare hands, but Sinestro continues to taunt him, claiming that he has lost himself in his brutality. Hal’s response? To break Sinestro’s neck, finally killing him and crossing that forbidden line. His attempt to absorb the full power of the Central Power Battery is interrupted by Kilowog, who makes one last desperate plea for Hal to stop before he strips all of the Corpsmen of their powers and leaves them in mortal danger, but Hal simply cannot look past his grief, his pain, and his lust to obtain the power to correct those mistakes. In an instant, he reduces Kilowog to a charred skeleton, tearfully discards his power ring, and has one last heated confrontation with the Guardians before entering the Central Power Battery. As he absorbs the Central Power Battery into himself, the Guardians channel all of their remaining powers into one last power ring; Hal emerges, forever changed, crushing his power ring and fleeing to the stars to begin enacting his grand plan for the universe, and only Ganthet is left alive. He teleports to Earth and stumbles upon struggling artist Kyle Rayner, seemingly at random, and bequeaths him the last power ring, birthing an all-new Green Lantern, the last in the entire universe, in the process.

The Summary:
It’s definitely not recommended to go into “Emerald Twilight” without at least some understanding of Hal Jordan, or having read some of the “Return of Superman” arc, but it’s not absolutely necessary. The text boxes and dialogue help to bring you up to speed with how Hal got his power ring, his reputation, and how Coast City was destroyed, but it definitely adds even more emotional weight to the story if it’s not your first exposure to the character. Compared to “The Death of Superman” and “Knightfall” (Dixon, et al, 1993 to 1994), it’s also a much shorter and far more condensed story. Hal literally ploughs through seemingly the entire Green Lantern Corps (or most of them) off-panel or in a few panels in the middle chapter of the story, and much of Hal’s downfall is set up subtly in previous issues and stories rather than being this big, headline event. That’s not to say that “Emerald Twilight” didn’t shake things up, though, but it definitely acts as more of an epilogue to “The Return of Superman” rather than an event of equal proportions. I fully believe that, if this story was done today, it would probably be a six to twelve-issue miniseries that also included Hal fighting his Justice League teammates as well.

Hal wishes only to have what he has lost and is devastated when he is denied even that.

The more intimate nature of the story actually helps it to stand out in some ways, though. The focus here is on Hal’s grief and despair; he’s a man who has literally lost everything, his hometown and all his loved ones, and has been driven right to the edge and it all happened seemingly on a whim. There was no way he could have known what Mongul and Cyborg-Superman were planning, and he was in no position to stop them, so all he’s left with his survivor’s guilt coupled with his unresolved issues with his father. This is beautifully realised in Hal’s desperate attempts to hear his father say he’s proud of him, but being denied even that simple luxury because of his grief screwing with his constructs and the limitations of his power ring. Martin’s appearance here works doubly as a representation of Hal’s own insecurities; he can’t say he’s proud of Hal because Hal knows he would never say that, and even the small comforts brought by his mother and former lover offer Hal no peace or solace. The closest he comes to being happy is when he recreates Coast City; even though it’s clearly an illusion, a facsimile created by his ring, he’d much rather live in that fantasy world than have to endure with the painful and brutal reality that he’s lost everything.

Hal’s brutality forces the Guardians to release Sinestro, culminating in violent final confrontation.

Consequently, it’s entirely understandable that he lashes out at the Guardians when they come along to reprimand him. After giving his body and soul to the ideals of the Green Lantern Corps, he is denied having what he truly desires, and his grief turns to rage; this anger is directed purely at the hypocritical and self-righteous Guardians but also extends to the ideals Hal once embodied, meaning he has to fight off his own kind in order to confront his masters. Believed to be the greatest Green Lantern ever, Hal’s indomitable willpower is only augmented by his rage; this, coupled with his experience and the added power of more and more stolen power rings, make him a dangerous and formidable foe who threatens the lives of even the near-God-like Guardians. At first, Hal has no desire to fight his fellow Lanterns; he constantly rants about the Guardians’ manipulative and deceitful ways and tries to convince the others to side with him, but they’re as blinded by their loyalties as he is by his anguish and the result is a lot of Green Lanterns being left beaten, helpless, or maimed simply to fuel Hal’s newfound crusade. This culminates in easily the best part of the comic, beyond Hal’s descent into gibbering madness, the long-awaited final battle between Hal Jordan and Sinestro. This brutal fight is a fantastically realised clash that is just dripping with irony and fate. When he was just an upstart rookie, Hal saw that Sinestro was abusing his power and opposed him, forever tarnishing the reputation of the once-mightiest Green Lantern and, for years, the two were cast as moral and ethical opposites. Sinestro hungered for power and longed to rule through force and fear, and was more than willing to kill or maim those who opposed him, whereas Hal was the very embodiment of the righteous justice and heroism of the Green Lantern Corps. Now, the tables have turned; Hal is the rogue, power-mad Green Lantern and Sinestro is the last line of defence, and I find that so much more interesting than just watching Superman being beaten to death by a mindless monster. Even better is that Sinestro still underestimates Hal; he is arrogant in his belief that, despite Hal’s recent brush with darkness, he is still the same good-natured and moral individual deep down and therefore doesn’t have it within him to kill, and this proves to be Sinestro’s downfall.

“Emerald Twilight” changed Green Lantern’s status quo for a time and marked a turning point for DC.

Hal’s crossing of that line and descent into a tragic villain was so unexpected at the time. The state of DC Comics was radically upended in the early-to-mid-nineties and Hal’s transformation into the reality-warping Parallax soon became a big part of that as he sought to rewrite time itself in a desperate attempt to set right all the tragedies and mishaps that had befallen himself and his friends. Parallax was quite the intriguing villain in that he fully believed what he was doing was right, and for the greater good, and couldn’t understand why his friends kept opposing him as he had no wish to harm them. This also spelt the end for the Green Lantern Corps as we knew them…for a time. Kyle Rayner became the sole Green Lantern for a while, and was afforded slightly different abilities (he didn’t need to charge his ring and had no weakness to yellow) as well as a cool new costume, which really helped breath new life into the character and comic. DC never quite let Hal go, though, and soon enough they started to undo pretty much everything that had happened here: many of Hal’s victims were shown to have survived or were resurrected, Sinestro was revealed to have been a construct all along, and Hal both sacrificed himself to save the world and became the Spectre before being reborn, alongside the entire Green Lantern Corps, with all of his actions and time as Parallax revealed to have been due to the manipulations of a malevolent space bug. Yet, at the time, this was the status quo: The Green Lantern Corps were dead, Hal was a crazed lunatic, and we had a fun new Green Lantern, and it all kicked off here. It’s maybe not as long or as in-depth as other Dark Age tales from this time, but “Emerald Twilight” is still a significant chapter in the character’s life and well worth checking out if you fancy seeing a hero take a dramatic and tragic turn to the dark side.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Are you a fan of “Emerald Twilight”? If you read the story when it first published, what did you think to the dramatic change in Hal’s status quo and were you happy about it? Do you think that the story should have been expanded into a few more issues or did you prefer the more concise format? What did you think to Hal’s turn to the dark side? Do you think it was justified, and were you disappointed at how easily he dispatched the other Green Lanterns? What did you think to Hal’s turn as Parallax and were you a fan of Kyle Rayner? Did you enjoy the Dark Age of comics or were you happy to see the status quo restored? Which Green Lantern character, villain, or story is your favourite and why? How are you celebrating this pseudo-Green Lantern day today? Whatever you think about “Emerald Twilight”, and Green Lantern in general, sign up to leave your thoughts below or drop a comment on my social media.

Game Corner [Bat-Month]: Batman: Arkham Knight (Xbox Series X)


In the decades since his first dramatic appearance in the pages of Detective Comics, Bruce Wayne/Batman has become a mainstream, worldwide, pop culture icon. The brainchild of writer Bob Kane, Batman was brought to life by artist Bill Finger and has been a popular staple of DC Comics and countless movies, videogames, and cartoons over the years. Accordingly, September celebrates “Batman Day” and is just another perfect excuse to celebrate comic’s grim and broody vigilante and, this year, I’ve been dedicating every Wednesday to Gotham’s Dark Knight Detective.


Released: 23 June 2015
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Also Available For: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S

The Background:
After a rocky relationship with videogame adaptations, Eidos Interactive and Rocksteady Studios turned the Dark Knight’s fortunes around with the critically and commercially successful Batman: Arkham Asylum (ibid, 2009) and the bigger and better sequel, Batman: Arkham City (ibid, 2011). Eager to capitalise on this success, and to allow Rocksteady Studios the time to craft a suitable third entry, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment turned to WB Games Montréal to develop a prequel set during Batman’s early days that, while criticised as somewhat derivative, still sold incredibly well and helped keep the franchise alive while Rocksteady worked on their next game.

Arkham Knight was the culmination of the largely-lauded Arkham series of Batman games.

Development of Batman: Arkham Knight began shortly after the completion of Arkham City and took four years to complete; utilising the greater graphical and processing power of then-current consoles, this new game would allow of five times the number of enemies to be present onscreen at any time, cutscenes to be rendered in real time, and have items like cloth react realistically to movement and wind. The game’s story was designed to be the concluding chapter in Rocksteady’s Arkham saga and the developers chose to expand upon the game world by implementing Batman’s famous Batmobile and redesigned the city to incorporate the car’s unique gameplay mechanics. Arkham Knight was met with generally favourable reviews; reviews praised the game’s puzzles and expansion of Batman’s gameplay and repertoire but also criticised the game’s big narrative twist and the over-reliance on Batmobile sections. Still, Arkham Knight was the fastest-selling game of 2015 and, as with its predecessors, was expanded upon through the release of downloadable content (DLC) that served as both pre- and post-game content that was met with mixed to negative reviews.

The Plot:
On Halloween, Doctor Jonathan Crane/The Scarecrow forces everyone but the very worst of Gotham City’s inhabitants to leave the city when he threatens to swamp the streets with his fear toxin. With the city under lockdown and some of his worst rogues at large, Batman is faced with his greatest challenge yet when he encounters the mysterious “Arkham Knight”, who not only commands a well-armed militia but also has a personal vendetta against the Dark Knight.

Gameplay:
For Batman: Arkham Knight, the game developers once again returned to the formula that worked so well in Arkham City and, by expanding upon them exponentially and even infusing a few mechanics inspired by Arkham Origins, sought to create the biggest and most definitive Batman videogame to date. Consequently, the stakes are much higher, the city is larger than ever, and Batman’s repertoire has been refined, improved, and expanded upon but, most crucially, the game’s central control scheme remains as fluid and familiar as ever. The basic control mechanics remain largely unchanged from the previous games: you hold A to run and glide when running from a ledge or tap it to perform a dodge, press B to perform a stun with a swoosh of Batman’s iconic cape, and tap X to attack and counter incoming attacks (indicated by a helpful Bat symbol over their heads) with Y and string these moves together to build up a combo attack that increases your multiplier, speed, and damage output. Pressing the Right Trigger allows you to crouch to soften your steps and sneak up on enemies, and you can select a gadget by pressing down on the directional pad (D-Pad), aim it with the Left Trigger, and fire off Batman’s patented grapple with the Right Bumper.

Batman’s stealth options are bolstered by the new Fear Takedown mechanic.

Rocksteady’s trademark “freeflow combat” system remains as fluid and intuitive as ever; you can make use of any of Batman’s gadgets by holding LT and pressing buttons like X and Y to add to his combo multiplayer and must stun, evade, and utilise split-second timing to avoid, counter, and counterattack the game’s various distinct, yet familiar, enemies. You can, as before, also utilise Batman’s gliding mechanics to take out enemies by performing a dive bomb or even by firing off certain gadgets mid-flight and, as is also the standard by this point, stealth is just as important as Batman’s combat prowess. Consequently, you’ll still be grappling up to higher levels to scope out large groups of armed and unarmed enemies in order to pick them off undetected. Vents, smoke pellets, and various parts of the environment can also be used to disorientate or take out enemies and to allow you to get the drop on unsuspecting thugs, which allows you to silently choke them out or perform an instant “Knockout Smash” but at the cost of alerting other enemies. Arkham Knight introduces a new “Fear Takedown” mechanic that allows Batman to subdue up to five enemies in one move as long as he remains undetected, with time slowling down to allow you to easily focus on your next target.

Batman’s Detective Vision allows him to recreate crime scenes and navigation is as intuitive as ever.

Batman’s ever-useful “Detective Vision” is now mapped to the D-Pad; pressing up bathes the world in an x-ray-like filter that highlights nearby enemies, secrets, and points of interest. Similar to how this was a crucial part of progressing the story in Arkham Origins, Batman’s Detective Vision can be utilised to reconstruct crime scenes and review evidence from various angles by use of his Evidence Scanner. This allows you to hold X to scan in any evidence and then cycle through a holographic reconstruction of the incident to find clues, progress the story, and solve crimes. You’ll also once again find yourself using your Detective Vision to isolate Edward Nashton/Edward Nygma/The Riddler’s informants in order to get clues to track down the Riddler’s trophies and challenges; these tugs are highlighted in green and should be left until last so you can press Y to squeeze information out of them. The game map is noticeably larger than ever before, with many new and familiar areas of the city to explore, but thankfully Rocksteady’s ever-useful map and compass system remain intact to help you to navigate; you can place waymarkers on the main map to guide you to your destination and a Batsignal will shine into the sky to direct you towards your next objective, whether mandatory or otherwise.

Though a bit clunky, the Batmobile allows for fast, explosive travel and hard-hitting combat.

Unfortunately, there is no fast travel system like in Arkham Origins and still no way to fast exit interiors; Batman still has his gadgets (particularly his cape and grapnel gun) to help him traverse the city but, if you really want to get somewhere fast, you’re heavily encouraged to press the Left Bumper to summon the Batmobile! This armoured vehicle is very similar to the Tumbler and allows you to rocket through the grimy city streets, through destructible parts of the environments, and across rooftops by holding down RT. You can boost with Y, brake and reverse with X, dodge and slide with A and the control stick, and will conveniently and non-fatally automatically repel any nearby enemies with the car’s electrified defences. The Batmobile can even be remote piloted but, while its “Pursuit Mode” is extremely responsive (unless you’re attempting sharp turns or driving up tunnels without enough speed) and helpful arrows guide you towards your intended destination, the controls get a bit clunky when you hold down LT and enter “Battle Mode”. This transforms the Batmobile it into a mini tank and allows you to fire a missile barrage, send out a sonar signal to detect nearby enemies, and blast at the Arkham Knight’s automated tanks using a high-impact cannon or a rapid-fire gun. The Batmobile is absolutely essential to clearing the game’s main story and side missions, with many puzzles specifically tailored to have you flying over ramps, utilising a winch, or blasting at weakened walls in order to progress and complete side quests. The most notable of these sees you forced to take on the Riddler’s many hazard-filled race tracks hidden all over the city, which will test your skill as much as your patience, and the numerous instances where you must either pursue a foe at high speed or engage with wave upon wave of conveniently unmanned tanks.

You’ll get to tag in, or briefly play as, other supporting characters throughout the main campaign.

Gameplay in Arkham City is further mixed up through the return of similar puzzles from previous games that see you hacking or locating radio signals, activating machinery or crossing gaps with your various Bat-gadgets, making extensive use of the Batmobile’s versatile winch, and utilising the new (if brief) team-based mechanics. While you won’t get to switch to Selina Kyle/Catwoman this time around, you can control her during various Riddler challenges and there are instances where you’ll get to either tag in or briefly play as either Tim Drake/Robin, Dick Grayson/Nightwing, and even Commissioner Jim Gordon in a short flashback. Unfortunately, just like in Arkham City, there is no option to play as either of these characters on the main story outside of these instances, which I continue to find both confusing and disappointing. Similarly, there’s a section right at the end of the main story where you’ll take control of the Joker, who not only gets to wield a shotgun in a first-person sequence that sees him desperately trying to take control of Batman’s mind but also has his own “Jokermobile”. Despite being unequivocally dead, the Joker continues to play a pivotal role in the story; thanks to being infected with the Joker’s blood, Batman is continually haunted and tormented by visions of the Joker throughout the main campaign, which include a recreation of his crippling of Barbara Gordon and Joker’s torture of Jason Todd, and eventually leads to Robin questioning Batman’s sanity and stability.

You’ll need all of Batman’s upgrades to lock his villains up in the G.C.P.D. cells.

Although you can no longer travel to the Batcave, Batman has set up a makeshift laboratory in the city and you can enter the Gotham City Police Department to converse with non-playable characters (NPCs) and the cells will fill up with his various rogues as you defeat and capture them in the main story. As always, defeating enemies, scanning objects of interest, finding Riddler Trophies, and completing missions earns you experience points (XP) that allow you to not only level-up to upgrade Batman’s suit and gadgets but also augment the Batmobile’s capabilities. As the game gets progressively harder as you complete story objectives, with more and more varied enemies appearing all over the city and in larger numbers than ever before, you’ll definitely need to make the most of these upgrades if you want to increase your chances at succeeding. The game has different difficulty settings that can be changed at any time if you’re struggling but you’ll be forced to utilise all of Batman’s skills and gadgets as the story progresses; this means chaining combos using the Batmobile, taking on small encampments of enemies, and (as is also the standard) tackling the game’s “New Game +” mode that starts you off with all of your upgrades and XP but removes counter indicators and increases enemy aggressiveness.

Graphics and Sound:
You probably won’t be surprised to hear that Arkham Knight is the most graphically impressive of all the Batman: Arkham videogames; bathed in the perpetual blanket of a dark and ominous night, Gotham City has never looked better and is awash with filthy streets, high-rise industrial areas, and abandoned docks and dingy alleyways. Rain will occasionally wash over the city, giving everything a sleek and suitably menacing look, and it’s genuinely impressive how the game utilises these effects, lighting, and shadows to craft one of the most gorgeous looking titles I’ve ever played. Batman, in particular, looks spectacular; now sporting a far more futuristic suit that emphasis the “Knight” of the game’s title, he again accumulates battle damage as the game progresses and remains a fearsome and impressive character model. Unfortunately, while I have many positives to say about Rocksteady’s interpretation of Robin, I can’t say I care too much for Nightwing’s new suit, which includes an odd and uncomfortable looking headpiece.

Gotham is huge and full of large, detailed locations both old and new.

Gotham City is nothing short of spectacular; as I mentioned before, it’s super fun to see Batman’s enemies end up populating the cells at the G.C.P.D. and you can also revisit notable areas from the previous games and even Barbara Gordon/Oracle’s church tower. While it’s disappointing to find the city is once again abandoned and largely devoid of life except for criminal scum, Gotham City is almost too big this time around and it does baffle me a little bit that the developers didn’t include the Batwing fast travel system but there’s a great deal of fun to be had gliding or grappling through the air or blasting through the streets in the Batmobile. One of the game’s most prominent missions sees you infiltrating the blimp-like airship of industrialist Simon Stagg, which introduces a bit of an aggravating tilting mechanic to the game that can be a bit tricky to get past. Another mission that is a personal favourite of mine sees Batman willing to give his life when the ACE Chemicals reactor goes critical. This has you very carefully placing big tubes into slots to contain the reaction, which can be a bit finnicky but the section is made all the more poignant thanks to the dialogue between Batman and his butler and father-figure, Alfred Pennyworth, and the touching orchestral score.

Not only is the city bigger than ever, but the locations are large, detailed, and more dangerous and garish.

It’s actually pretty amazing how the developers tweaked the city to be both believable in its construction and also conveniently tailored to suit the new features offered by the Batmobile. All too often, this means forcing you to use the Batmobile to solve a puzzle to open up a new area or speed through a tunnel or race track but, while these can be aggravating moments, there’s an exhilaration to be had in using the Batmobile and there’s nothing stopping you not using it outside of mandatory sections. Gotham City is comprised of three large islands (Miagami, Founders’, and Bleake), each with their own distinctive areas that include Wayne Tower, a dilapidated sewer system, and large bridges connecting them to each other. The Riddler’s challenges are more elaborate than ever; bathed in a garish neon glow, you’ll race through massively impractical sewer tunnels avoiding his many hazards or use Batman and Catwoman’s various skills to solve the Riddler’s death traps. Many of the interiors you visit are pretty much the same fair from previous games an are comprised of industrial facilities, rundown buildings, and an abandoned movie theatre repurposed for the villain’s purposes but all of them are perfectly in keeping with this world and they’re so much bigger, more detailed, and more impressively realised than before; you rally feel it when buildings explode or you bomb around the city in the Batmobile.

There’s a lot to see in the city, including jump scares from Man-Bat and a flood of fear gas!

As in the other Batman: Arkham games, a number of Batman’s other rogues are at large in the city and must be taken down in side missions. One of the most prominent is Doctor Kurt Langstrom/Man-Bat, who will randomly pop up to give you the fright of your life when you’re casually traversing around the city. Thanks to the Scarecrow’s fear toxin, you can expect things to get a bit twisted here and there as well; indeed, the game begins with you controlling a Gotham cop using a first-person perspective and forced to watch as the city descends into chaos. Thanks to the Joker’s influence, Batman will see various hallucinations of his foe across the city, a PlayStation-exclusive piece of DLC sees you racing through a nightmarish version of Gotham City transformed by the Scarecrow’s fear gas, and the city is shrouded in this same gas thanks to the release of Cloudburst. This bathes the game world in a thick, copper-tinted fog, drives enemies intro a manic frenzy, and you’ll even find the city being torn to shreds when Pamela Isley/Poison Ivy helps you out in this section.

Arkham Knight features some powerful, poignant performances from series staples Hamill and Conroy.

Even now, Batman: Arkham Knight is one of the most impressive videogames I’ve ever played; the game runs so smoothly, with quick loading times and a consistent frame rate. Textures, assets, and parts of the environment are just there onscreen, with no pop-up or distortion, and the sheer amount and variety of enemies onscreen at any one time really helps to add to the stakes and pressure Batman feels in this final outing. While it is a bit disappointing that the developers felt the need to include the Joker again, even after he has been killed, I’ll never complain about hearing Mark Hamill in his iconic role and matching wits with the immortal Kevin Conroy one last time. As always, Gotham’s thugs are extremely chatty and full of amusing sound bites and exclamations; Batman stays in constant contact with Oracle, Alfred, Lucius Fox, and Gordon throughout the story (with Alfred basically telling you “Go do some side missions” when the main story takes an awkward break) and, as if the Scarecrow’s constant taunting threats aren’t bad enough, Batman also finds his communications hacked by the Arkham Knight.

Enemies and Bosses:
If you’ve played any of the previous Batman: Arkham games, you’ll know what to except from Arkham Knight’s goons; a slew of vagrants and scumbags can be found all over the city in various groups and they’ll rush at you with knives, baseball bats, and even grab car doors to use as rudimentary shields or wield stun batons. Gun-toting enemies remain an obvious threat since Batman won’t last long against sustained gunfire or sniper shots so you should either disable, disarm or take down these enemies first or as quickly as possible. Thanks to the Arkham Knight’s technology and knowledge of Batman’s methods, thugs will also place booby traps, destroy vantage points, and even jam Batman’s Detective Vision to make things more difficult. As you might expect, there are a number of different enemies on offer in Arkham Knight: Combat Experts resemble Arkham City’s ninjas and can teleport away from your attacks and attack with swords, medics revive their fallen comrades, and Brutes must be stunned and subjected to a beatdown or lured to environmental takedown points to dispatch (or, in the case of the minigun variants, snuck up on and taken down with a quick-time event ). You’ll also have to contend with the Arkham Knight’s more heavily armed and capable forces; in “Predator” sections, this means picking armed thugs off one at a time but, out in the city, you’ll battle against unmanned Drone Tanks that can either be quickly destroyed in one hit or with a well-timed shot to their turret. When battling the Drone Tanks, you must be careful not to leave the designated area and make use of the Batmobile’s turning circle and dodge mechanic to avoid damage, which can be a bit clunky thanks to the way the controls are implemented.

Though dead, the Joker continues to haunt Batman and must be fought in his mind and by proxy.

Although the Joker is not an actual, tangible threat in this game, he does have a consistent presence; notably, when Batman is exposed to the Scarecrow’s fear gas, he sees enemies as the Joker and even becomes briefly possessed by him, skewing his perception of reality at certain key points in the story. The Joker also infected five Gotham citizens with his blood (with one of them being Batman) and, as part of the story, you’ll have to try and find and rescue these victims in a bid to save them. Two of them, however, serve as boss battles; the first of these, Albert King, you’ll battle alongside Robin. It’s best to stay out of King’s reach, take out the goons that accompany him, and utilise team attacks and beatdowns to defeat the Jokerised boxer. When you track down Johnny Charisma, Batman hallucinates him as the Joker, who sings a mocking song while strapped to a bomb. Rather than fighting Charisma, you must take control of Robin and sneak around to disarm the bombs as Batman stares down his adversary on a rotating stage. Other Joker infected are also encountered, though they’re generally hidden behind standard combat and stealth sections; you’ll also encounter Doctor Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn during these sections of the game, but defeating her simply amounts to performing a Team Takedown with Batman and Robin and then fending off her goons.

The Batmobile is instrumental in dispatching the Arkham Knight’s militia.

The Arkham Knight’s forces extend to a number of Armoured Personnel Carrier (A.P.C.) vehicles that pose a significant threat; when these appear on the map, you’ll need to chase them down in the Batmobile, side-swiping their support vehicles as you desperately try to hack them with Batman’s tech. The Arkham Knight will battle you four times during the course of the story, with the first seeing him take the controls of an attack helicopter. The Arkham Knight will bombard you with missiles while his forces try to distract you, so be sure to take out his Drone Tanks first before blasting at it his helicopter with the Batmobile’s cannon. In the second encounter, the Arkham Knight roams the fear gas-covered city in the heavily-armed Cloudburst Tank while being flanked by a number of Cobra Tanks. Rather than tackling these tank-like vehicles head-on, you’ll need to utilise stealth (while in the Batmobile) to sneak around behind the tanks to damage their weak spot on the back until only the Cloudburst remains. You must then scan it to identity its weak spots and then creep up on the Cloudburst Tank to land a hit on one of its four cooling systems before blasting away as fast as possible to avoid being blasted to smithereens by the tank’s high-powered weaponry. Once its central core is exposed, position yourself into a wide open space so that you can avoid his missiles and finally put an end to this absolute bitch of a boss fight that dragged on way too long and was far too finnicky to be enjoyable.

While Deathstroke is reduced to a tank battle, Pyg and Firefly prove formidable, if repetitive, villains.

However, don’t think it’s over yet as, after clearing the main story, Slade Wilson/Deathstroke takes control of the remnants of the Arkham Knight’s militia and you basically get to do a variation of this tedious battle all over again! As many have mentioned, it’s a shame that Deathstroke is reduced to such an insignificant and tiresome boss fight; the battle against him in Arkham Origins was brutally tough, yes, but it was a far better representation of the mercenary’s skills and actually put your combat prowess to the test. Another notable boss encounter in the game is a side mission that sees you investigating mutilated corpses that culminates in a battle against the ruthless butcher Lazlo Valentin/Professor Pyg. This sees Pyg’s zombie-like patients attack you relentlessly and these can only be put down for good with a ground takedown. Pyg himself spends most of his time tossing meat cleavers at you, which you can send back at him with a well-timed press of Y; once his minions are finally disposed of, stun him by smacking a cleaver at him and perform a takedown to end his threat but be warned as I found it oddly difficult to get the game to trigger the takedown in this fight. Other notable Batman enemies also crop up in side missions; as mentioned, Man-Bat will randomly appear flying through the city skies. When you spot him, you must try and get to high ground in order to land on his back and retrieve a blood sample in order to synthesise a cure at Langstrom’s lab using a simple mini game. Afterwards, you’ll need to wait for Man-Bat to appear a couple more times in order to administer this cure. Similarly, you’ll often get notified of fire stations that have been set ablaze; when you reach one of these, you’ll need to use the Batmobile to extinguish the flames and then chase the man responsible, Garfield Lynns/Firefly, across the city until the fuel in his jetpack runs out, allowing you to blast out of the Batmobile and bring him down. Like many of the side missions in the game, these occur randomly and the main campaign often grinds to a halt as you’re left trying to seek one of them out in order to reach 100% completion.

After taking out his drill machine, Batman goes head-to-head with his former protégé.

Later in the story, you’ll encounter the Arkham Knight one last time in the city tunnels; this time, he’s in a massive drilling machine that cannot be damaged by any of the Batmobile’s arsenal. Instead, you must flee from it to avoid being chewed up into scrap, boosting through a tunnel to avoid various unbreakable obstacles and luring the drill to a series of explosives in order to damage it. Afterwards, you’ll confront the Arkham Knight (who, by this point, has obviously been revealed to be Jason Todd) using Batman’s more familiar skills; you must avoid being spotted by the Arkham Knight’s red targeting sight, stay out of sight of his drone while taking out his goons, and escape from a room filled with poison gas within thirty seconds in repeated phases in order to grapple up to his vantage point and damage, and ultimately defeat, him. Rather than actually get to fight against the Scarecrow, the finale of the game sees Batman overcoming the Joker’s influence and finally putting the Clown Prince of Crime to rest and, thanks to surprising assistance from Jason, defeating the Scarecrow once and for all (but at the cost of his true identity being revealed to the world).

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Just like the previous games, you’ll be able to use XP to upgrade Batman’s armour to improve his resistance to melee attacks and gunfire, add additional takedowns to his arsenal, and upgrade his many gadgets to improve their range and efficiency. If you’ve played the previous games then you’ll be immediately familiar with the vast majority of Batman’s gadgets: he’s got his patented Batarangs his Batclaws, explosive gel, smoke pellets, a tightrope-creating Line Launcher, a Remote Hacking Device to hack control panels, the Disruptor to render weapons inert, and the Remote Electrical Charge to activate certain electronic puzzles.

In addition to his many returning gadgets, Batman has some new toys and, of course, his tank car!

One of the most useful new gadgets is the Voice Synthesizer, which allows Batman to mimic the voices of his enemies and other NPCs to gain access to new areas and lure goons into a takedown. The Freeze Blast also makes a return, though it can be easily missed as it’s not necessary to finish the main campaign, but the most useful gadget in Batman’s arsenal is easily his Batmobile, whose weaponry can also be upgraded to increase your accuracy, reload speed, and weapon energy and efficiency as well as giving you the ability to hack the Drone Tanks to turn them against each other.

Additional Features:
Batman: Arkham Knight has sixty-nine Achievements for you to earn, many of which pop simply for playing through the main campaign and taking down Batman’s rogues. You’ll also get Achievements for using a hundred Quick Gadgets in combat, gliding four-hundred meters while less than twenty meters from the ground, landing fifty critical shots on Drone Tanks, for performing twenty Fear Takedowns. Some are a little more tricky, requiring you to glide under three bridges, completing a series of jumps in the Batmobile, and avoiding damage against Drone Tanks, all for a measly 5G each.

Riddler, Two-Face, Azrael, and other Batman villains offer various side quests of varying quality.

As is to be expected, there are a number of side missions to occupy your time away from the main campaign and net you additional Achievements; these include completing Augmented Reality trials, destroying militia watchtowers, disarming a series of mines using the Batmobile, and (of course) collecting Riddler Trophies. This time around, the Riddler forces Batman and Catwoman to work together to both save a number of hostages from his death traps and overcome his deadly racetracks and puzzles. This culminates in a battle that pits the two against the Riddler, who first sends a swarm of robots after you (which are colour-coded so that only Batman can destroy the blue ones and Catwoman the red) before attacking you in a massive, steampunk-like mech! Batman will also have to team up with Nightwing to locate and destroy Oswald Cobblepot/The Penguin’s weapon caches, which culminates in Batman having to rescue Nightwing from the Penguin’s goons and subdue the mobster with a Team Takedown. Batman will also have to foil a series of robberies perpetrated by Harvey Dent/Two-Face, rescue firemen held hostage all over the city, and finally close the book on the case of Doctor Thomas Elliot/Hush and Michael Lane/Azrael. Both of these are quite anti-climatic considering that Arkham City seemed to be indicating that they would play a pivotal role in this game, though the Azrael side mission does result in some fun combat situations rather than simply culminating in a glorified quick-time event like the disappointing Hush side mission.

The DLC, while short, at least offers multiple different characters to play as.

Fans of the Arkham Challenge Mode will be glad to hear that it returns once more, again pitting you against a series of combat, stealth, and mini campaigns (many of which you can customise with different buffs and debuffs) to earn Medals, Achievements, and actually have an opportunity to play as other characters besides Batman. Arkham Knight was expanded upon with a decent amount of DLC, which added additional skins for Batman, his allies, and even his vehicles and brought the total Achievement count up to 113. While a lot of the DLC was comprised of yet more race tracks (with some based on the 1960s show and Tim Burton’s film), there were a few additional mini campaigns on offer. These included additional villains to encounter in the main campaign, a prelude in which you get to play as Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl, and post-game stories where you play as Nightwing, Catwoman, Harley Quinn and Jason Todd (now in the guise of the Red Hood). While none of these were as long as some of the additional DLC missions seen in Arkham City or Arkham Origins, they featured additional Achievements, new areas and villains, and it was nice to actually get to play as someone other than Batman if only for a short period of time and in an isolated narrative bubble.

The Summary:
I can totally understand why people would have been left a bit disappointed by Batman: Arkham Knight: the big twist regarding the titular character was incredibly predictable (especially for long-time Batman fans), the villains utilised in the story were a bit bland and uninspired (the game’s really missing those nightmarish Scarecrow sections from the first game), there was a certain amount of dismay inherent to the game since it was the last in the series, and the forced emphasis on the Batmobile definitely bogged down the usual combat and stealth-based mechanics of the previous games. Being as it was the third (well, fourth, technically) game in the series, a certain amount of predictability was to be expected; by this point, the series had done so much and included so many stories and side stories that it’s arguable that Rocksteady would have struggled to please everyone no matter how they told their finale.

Despite some clunky elements, Arkham Knight is a fantastic and impressive finale for the series.

For me, the primary glaring flaw in the game is how the main campaign literally stops dead in its tracks on multiple occasions and you’re told to do some side quests, which can be difficult to accomplish as many of them are only playable when the game randomly loads them in. This noticeably interrupted the flow and the lack of checkpoints in some of the harder Batmobile sections (particularly against the Cloudburst Tank) and the sheer abundance of annoying Riddler racetracks and death traps, relying too much on Batmobile combat for certain scenarios (especially battling Deathstroke), offering lacklustre conclusions to Arkham City’s loose threads, and a disappointing assortment of DLC do weigh heavily on the overall experience. Yet, despite all of this, it cannot be denied that Batman: Arkham Knight is an abolsutely phenomenal experience. While Batman: Arkham City may be my favourite in the series, with Arkham Origins close behind, I have to make room in the ranking for Arkham Knight for its sheer scale alone. This is a Batman at the absolute top of his game and, accordingly, Arkham Knight may very well be the quintessential Batman experience. With a host of new combat mechanics, detective skills, and gadgets at you disposal, never has a game encapsulated what it means to be Batman better than Arkham Knight; there’s still loads to see and do, the story is intense and engaging and feels very raw, personal, and like a true finale for this version of the character.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Were you a fan of Batman: Arkham Knight? How do you feel it holds up compared to the previous games in the series? What did you think to the larger, more open and varied game world? Were you a fan of the tag team mechanics and, like me, would you have liked to see these other characters actually playable in the open world this time around? Did you ever find all of the Riddler’s Trophies and what did you think to his racetracks? Were you a fan of the Batmobile? What did you think to the game’s DLC? How did you celebrate Batman Day this year and what is your favourite Batman videogame? Whatever you think about Batman: Arkham Knight, or Batman in general, drop a comment below!

Game Corner [Bat-Month]: Batman: Arkham Origins (Xbox 360)


In the decades since his first dramatic appearance in the pages of Detective Comics, Bruce Wayne/Batman has become a mainstream, worldwide, pop culture icon. The brainchild of writer Bob Kane, Batman was brought to life by artist Bill Finger and has been a popular staple of DC Comics and countless movies, videogames, and cartoons over the years. Accordingly, September celebrates “Batman Day” and is just another perfect excuse to celebrate comic’s grim and broody vigilante and, this year, I’m dedicating every Wednesday to Gotham’s Dark Knight Detective.


Released: 25 October 2013
Developer: WB Games Montréal
Also Available For: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 (via PlayStation Now) Wii U, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S (Backwards Compatible)

The Background:
Batman’s, shall we say “difficult” relationship with videogames was forever turned around when Eidos Interactive, Rocksteady Studios, and celebrated Batman scribe Paul Dini collaborated on the critically and commercially successful Batman: Arkham Asylum (Rocksteady Studios, 2009). They followed this success with the bigger and better sequel, Batman: Arkham City (ibid, 2011), that was even more well-received than its predecessor, ranking as one of the best videogames ever released. Arkham City’s monumental success meant that the bar was raised and expectations were even higher for another sequel after the developers left so many loose threads dangling in the game’s side missions. However, Rocksteady Studios required a lot of time to craft the sequel they had in mind and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment were in no mood to wait that long. So, they turned to WB Games Montréal to develop a prequel set during Batman’s early days and placed more emphasis on vertical movement and Batman’s detective skills. The result was a game that was met with mixed reviews; although the plot and certain mechanics drew praise, the game was seen as largely derivative thanks to copying and replicating, rather than properly expanding upon, Arkham City’s mechanics. Still, Arkham Origins was expanded upon with a fair amount of downloadable content (DLC) and I remember it being more of a good thing when I first played it on PlayStation 3 and particularly enjoying the new Christmas aesthetic and the game’s more challenging boss battles.

The Plot:
It’s Christmas Eve, some two years into Bruce Wayne’s crimefighting career as Batman. The city police, particularly Captain James Gordon, and public view Batman with scepticism and fear, feelings only exacerbated when Roman Sionis/Black Mask puts a $50 million bounty on the Batman’s head! These eight assassins spread terror, death, and destruction throughout Gotham City but they’re nothing compared to the appearance of a new, sadistic villain known as “The Joker” who begins a campaign of unrelenting, psychotic terror.

Gameplay:
Just like the last two games, Batman: Arkham Origins is a third-person, action/adventure game. This time around, rather than change the formula too much, the new developers simply took the gameplay mechanics and game world of Arkham City and tweaked them, expanding on a few areas here and there and basically coating the previous game with a slightly different coat of paint. The result is a game that is immediately (and, perhaps for some, disconcertingly) similar to the last Arkham title in numerous ways but still different enough, in my opinion, to stand alongside its predecessors and, as I always say, there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing.

Batman’s abilities and skills are almost unchanged from Arkham City.

In terms of controls, they remain exactly the same as before (which is interesting as I could have sworn that they were a little different when I first played it on PlayStation 3…). You still select one of Batman’s many gadgets and weapons (the majority of which return from Arkham City in some way, shape, or form even when they don’t make narrative sense) using the directional pad, ready a gadget or quick-fire with the Left Trigger and press the Right Trigger to use the gadget or crouch, and you can still use Batman’s cape to stun enemies, glide around the city, and dive bomb onto enemies or to gain extra height and distance. Similarly, the “freeflow combat” remains virtually identical to that seen in Arkham City; you strike with X, counter incoming attacks with Y, and build up combos by directing Batman towards different enemies, mixing up your attacks, and performing takedowns to disarm and/or knock out foes one at a time as gangs of thugs swarm over you. Stealth remains an important aspect of the game and, just like in the last game, Batman can crouch around undetected, grapple to vantage points (usually stone gargoyles) to observe groups of enemies, and perform double or even triple takedowns in certain situations. Batman can venture through vents to avoid detection and take down enemies, interact with his environment using his gadgets to take enemies down or disorientate them, smash enemies into walls and floors and other parts of the environment when he’s near them, interrogate certain enemies for information and to uncover secrets, and deliver a “Knockout Smash” when choking thugs out (though this will attract nearby enemies).

Batman’s detective skills get much more focus this time and allow him to reconstruct crime scenes.

As always, these tactics are best utilised during the “Predator” sections of the game and using Batman’s patented “Detective Vision”; tapping the Left Bumper allows Batman to see an x-ray-like layout of the game world and highlight nearby enemies, secrets, and points of interest, all of which are invaluable when going up against armed thugs. Detective Vision is greatly expanded upon in Arkham Origins, though, and the game goes to great lengths to emphasise the “detective” aspects of Batman’s character at numerous points and during side missions. When discovering a dead body or the scene of a crime, Batman can set up a crime scene with LB and you must hold the A button to scan in various pieces of evidence. As you do, Batman will piece together the crime not only through his monologue but also through the use of a holographic recreation, which you must advance and rewind to solve the crime or locate objects in order to progress. At the same time, though, the Detective Vision often feels a little neutered in some situations; like, I found myself stuck in rooms and locations with no real idea of where I was supposed to be going, which was very confusing. Although the map and onscreen compass return just as in Arkham City and it’s great for directing you to where you need to go in the overworld, it falters a bit inside buildings and locations at times, which can get annoying.

The game world is bigger than ever but, luckily, Batman can fast travel by using the Batwing.

As for the game world, while it contains the same locations and areas seen in Arkham City, it’s actually far bigger thanks to the addition of a (super long) bridge connecting the recognisable parts of the city to a new area down South. You’ll notice that the recognisable areas are in much better shape than in Arkham City since the area hasn’t been condemned or turned into a prison and some buildings that were only background elements or Easter Eggs in the last game can now be entered to complete story or side missions. The game world is so much bigger that the developers saw fit to include a fast travel mechanic; after hacking into various control towers across the city and liberating them from the control of Edward Nashton/Enigma, Batman can freely fast travel to every prominent area of the map via the Batwing. While this does result in more loading times than in the previous two games, and you cannot control the Batwing or fast exit areas, it is really handy for quickly getting from one end of the city to the other. Also included for the first time is the ability to visit the Batcave; from here, you can converse with Batman’s loyal butler and father-figure, Alfred Pennyworth, progress the story, acquire new gadgets and upgrades, switch to a different costume, or engage in some training by taking on various combat and stealth challenges. It’s not an especially big or well-implemented area, to be fair, and you’re only really forced to go there a handful of times in the main story but it’s a nice addition, at least.

Arkham Origins has some odd difficulty spikes that aren’t present in the previous two games.

There are, however, far less destructible elements dotted around the city this time around but you can still earn experience points (XP) and level-up to upgrade Batman’s suit and gadgets and stuff by taking out thugs, scanning points of interest with your Detective Vision, or finding Engima’s informants and Data Packs (which replace the usual Riddler Trophies). Batman: Arkham Origins is probably the hardest of the Arkham games so far; perhaps because of the developers assuming players would be familiar with the franchise and the gameplay, you quickly encounter armoured thugs, goons with knives, batons, and shields, and bigger, more formidable enemies during the opening part of the game. The city is, again, awash with thugs from different gangs (mostly Black Mask’s but also Oswald Cobblepott/The Penguin’s) and you’ll even have to fight against the Gotham City police, specifically their S.W.A.T. division, given that Batman is seen as a disruptive vigilante in this game. The game’s difficulty can, again, be set by the player to increase the challenge offered to you but the two hardest modes, “New Game Plus” and “I Am The Night”, will remove the counter indicators, increase enemy aggressiveness and mix up their placement, and give you only one try to finish the game in the latter mode. This can be extremely challenging when facing off with the game’s bosses, the majority of which will tear through you like paper or have you ripping your hair out trying to figure out how to beat them and counter their attacks as the counter indicators are basically useless.

While the menus can be difficult to navigate, the increased puzzles adds a new dimension to the game.

Although Arkham Origins is bigger than its predecessor and instantly familiar, there are some things that let it down in terms of its presentation. For one thing, the menus (particularly the upgrade trees) are much more cluttered and far less intuitive to navigate. It seems like the developers were running out of ideas for things for you to unlock and view from these menus, though you’ll get all the usuals (biographies, side stories, story synopses and the like) and be able to chart the progress of your side missions, set waypoints to travel to, and see secrets or points of interest on the comprehensive map but, again, I found it stupidly easy to get trapped in a room and unable to figure out where I was supposed to go. There are also far more quick-time event-like moments in this game where you must counter an attack during a cutscene or mash A to open a door or break free of an enemy’s grip or avoid an attack, which can actually be more laborious than fun. Finally, you’ll find that there is a far greater emphasis on vertical traversal and puzzle solving this time around; you’ll have to activate a lot more consoles to break through walls or open doors, for example, and when navigating through the Joker’s funhouse in the Gotham Royal Hotel you need to use Batman’s Batarangs and gadgets to free hostages from timed traps and scale up the outside of the buildings using his grapnel gun. Entering an area or hacking a device is also generally made much more annoying thanks to the inclusion of jamming devices that you’ll need to disable with the new Disruptor gadget, meaning that a lot of your traversal is hindered by “busy work” at times.

Graphics and Sound:
Fittingly, given that its basically just slapping some additions onto Arkham City, Arkham Origins continues to be an impressive feat in terms of rendering the gothic, crime-ridden, anachronistic streets of Gotham City. Yes, many of the areas will be familiar to you but they’re far less rundown and have been recontextualised thanks to the Christmas time setting. Snow falls constantly, covering the ground, and Christmas decorations, trees, lights, and presents are in abundance; some enemies even wear Father Christmas hats and even the score is punctuated by Christmassy bells and all of the dialogue you overhear makes constant reference to the Yuletide season. It’s just enough of an aesthetic reskin to make the game world look and feel new and different and it’s great seeing ice in the water, the Penguin’s ship, the Final Offer, moored up at the docks, and buildings like the police station and steel mill in full, working order rather than abandoned like in the last game.

Gotham is expanded to include new areas and territories alongside familiar regions.

All of the regions from Arkham City return but you’ll enter different buildings and explore different areas this time, such as the haberdashery in the Bowery and the courthouse, but you’ll also be traversing (or fast travelling) the Gotham Pioneers Bridge down to the new areas in the South of the game map. Here, you’ll explore a high-end apartment building to solve Black Mask’s apparent murder, battle and scale up the aforementioned Gotham Royal Hotel, and fight and sneak your way through the hallways of the Gotham City Police Department. Of course, it wouldn’t be an Arkham game without a load of dank sewers and catacombs to explore and it seems you venture down into these depths a bit more often this time around but they’re a little easier to navigate through. You’ll also fly over to Blackgate Prison to quell a riot there, where the game’s visual presentation closely emulates that of the penitentiary on Arkham Island thanks to its large, automated doors and prison aesthetic.

Nightmarish renditions of Wonderland and Batman’s worst fears twist the game world.

As is a tradition with the Arkham games, things also take a turn to the bizarre when you hunt down Jervis Tetch/The Mad Hatter, who drugs Batman and forces him to navigate through a twisted version of wonderland in sections very closely modelled after the nightmarish sequences that pitted him against Jonathan Crane/The Scarecrow in the first game. Here, you’ll need to dodge electrified floors while using Batman’s gadgets to progress through sidescrolling sections, battle thugs in his mind-controlling rabbit masks who pour through a mirrored doorway, and scale up a twisted clock tower. It’s only one section, unlike the Scarecrow’s three, but it lasts quite a while and can get a bit annoying, especially the part where your vision is reduced to seeing through a keyhole and you must guide Batman through the correct doors to progress. Another standout moment comes late into the game and sees you taking control of the Joker as he recounts a version of his origin story to Doctor Harleen Quinzel; similar to how he played in the DLC for the first game, the Joker is a wild and crazed character who attacks in manic bursts, tosses razor sharp playing cards, and electrocutes enemies with his joy buzzer and you also get to guide him in his Red Hood persona past bursts of flames in a nightmarish funhouse of sorts. There’s also another opportunity to revisit the deaths of Bruce Wayne’s parents and suffer a bunch of unnerving hallucinations after Batman is poisoned by Copperhead, which distorts the screen and your controls at various points throughout the fight, and a pretty cool (if all-too-brief) moment where you must fight some thugs on a rooftop from the perspective of Vicki Vale’s helicopter.

Some shifts in perspective help to keep things interesting and add some variety.

The in-game graphics are just as impressive as the last two games; the game engine is tighter than ever, allowing for the biggest game world yet that is full of thugs and Easter Eggs and things to see and do, and character models still look really good. Batman’s suit, especially, is much better in this game, resembling military/riot armour and, in many ways, actually looks more durable and plausible than his suits from the previous games (which take place after this one). He still accumulates battle damage as the game progresses, which is always a nice touch and even though Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill aren’t present, their replacements (Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker) do an excellent job of filling in (even if they do seem emulating their predecessors a little too closely, which I guess is natural but keeps them from doing their own take on the characters). However, the game kind of drops the ball a little with its pre-rendered cutscenes, which look…a little more out of place compared to the in-game graphics and the previous Arkham games. Everything in these cinematics seems a little too plasticy and hyper-realised; it’s not a game-breaker, though, just something I happened to notice.

Enemies and Bosses:
All of the standard thugs and enemies you encountered in Arkham City are back this time around, but with a new coat of paint in many cases. Gangs of thugs roam the streets or patrol rooftops, often with sniper rifles; enemies will grab broken bottles or slash at you with knives, swing metal bars and baseball bats at your head, and even lay mines and booby-trap vantage points to reduce your manoeuvrability in Predator sections. The sword-wielding assassin enemies return from the last game, as do the bigger, more armoured enemies who require you to cape stun them and beat them down by mashing X, but there are a bunch of brand new enemies in this game, too. One of the most prominent are the martial artists you’ll encounter, who will test your countering ability with their quick kicks and shoves; another are the muscle-bound thugs juiced up on Venom who you must beat down and use takedowns to pull out the tubes feeding them the substance. Larger, more powerful enemies will rush at you and grab you or hold you in place so other enemies can beat on you and you’ll have to battle variations of these as the game progresses, which forces you to adapt your combat strategies on the fly.

While Killer Croc is similar to battles you’ve fought before, the Electrocutioner is a complete joke.

Of course, the main thrust of the story is that the Joker (under the guise of Black Mask) has hired eight assassins to take out Batman on Christmas Eve so, of course, that means you’ll encounter these assassins throughout the course of the game. The first of these is Waylon Jones/Killer Croc, which is a fight you should be well familiar with at this point as it’s the standard fare of stunning him three times with your cape and putting a beatdown on him. Things do get spiced up a little but when he grabs a gas canister to throw at you; at this point, you have to quick-fire a Batarang to explode it and whittle his health down. in a recurring theme, you’ll need to mash A to fend him off when he tries to bite you and also have to battle waves of thugs who jump into support him and distract you but, as first boss battles go, it’s pretty simple and basically the same as fighting the TITAN enemies and even Bane from the previous games. The next assassin you’ll battle is Lester Buchinsky/The Electrocutioner but this is played more for laughs as you take him out in one hit and then have to battle a gauntlet of the Penguin’s goons before he’s unceremoniously killed off by the Joker later on.

Deathstroke will truly test your mettle in one of the more frustrating boss battles.

The battle against Slade Wilson/Deathstroke, however, more than makes up for this. This is a complex and multi-stage fight that really comes out of left field and suddenly spikes the game’s difficulty in frustrating ways. Deathstroke has a counter for all of your attacks, many of which are nigh-impossible to defend or counterattack as the counter indicator window is next to useless in this fight. Without it, it’s damn near impossible but, by staying on the move, dodging over him, and utilising the quick-fire Batclaw, you can slowly (and I mean slowly) whittle his health down enough to trigger the next phase. Deathstroke tosses a smoke grenade to sneak attack you with his bo staff, forcing you to mash Y to counter his attacks and then mash X to beat him down, similar to the fight against Rā’s al Ghūl in Arkham City, but he also fires his Remote Claw at your chest to send an explosive barrel flying at you. You need to quickly counter this and throw it at him to keep him from shooting you and, eventually, you’ll snap his bo staff and the fight continues with Deathstroke now attacking with a sword! This doesn’t make things any easier as it’s hard to build up your combos and strikes or get a rhythm going since he counters you so quickly and hits so hard that you can only afford to make a couple of mistakes throughout the fight (which has no checkpoints). This fight is easily the most challenging in the series so far and it would be fun if the counter window wasn’t so damn small but, as it is, it can be one of the most aggravating boss battles in any of the Arkham games because of how brutally unfair it gets.

Lady Shiva and Copperhead recall previous battles against Rā’s al Ghūl and his assassins.

One of the other assassins is Lady Shiva, who is relegated more to a side mission and who challenges you to rescue an innocent man from a death trap. In doing so, you have to battle her sword-wielding ninjas and, similar to when you tracked the assassin’s blood in Arkham City, track her down by following a blood trail to the bottom of Wonder Tower using your Detective Vision. This leads to a fight against her, her ninjas, some martial artists, and a bigger martial artist variant in what is, essentially, a scaled down version of the sword fight with Rā’s al Ghūl (or, alternatively, a more troublesome version of the fights against the assassins in Arkham City). Basically, your standard striking, counter, and combat skills are more than enough to win the day here but watch out for Shiva’s random attacks in the city as you’ll need to be quick to counter these. The fight against Copperhead also recalls the Rā’s al Ghūl fight; she poisons Batman and causes him to hallucinate being attacked by multiple versions of herself, dashing at him from the darkness much like Rā’s al Ghūl but attacking with agility and claws similar to Selina Kyle/Catwoman. She also leaps onto you, requiring you to mash A to throw her off, and it can be quite a headache dealing with the distorted camera and trying to land a decisive hit on the real Copperhead (though, once Batman is cured, she goes down in one hit).

Bane is your most recurring foe and requires both agility, brute force, and stealth to defeat.

One of the more recurring antagonists in the game is Bane, who you’ll battle multiple times throughout the story. In the first instance, he charges at you very much like a TITAN enemy and will deal massive damage if he hits you or grabs a hold of you. Simply cape stun him three times and beat him down and then perform a takedown, however, and he’s not too difficult to overcome. However, he then overdoses on Venom and takes the fight out onto the rooftop; when full of Venom, he charges at you like a rhino and is very hard to dodge out of the way of, and he also leaps at you, causes shockwaves to ripple across the ground, and can easily spam-charge you to death if you’re not careful. You also have to be wary of the never-ending supply of goons who join the fight to distract you but, again, your cape stun and beatdown will do the trick, as will the Shock Gloves, but it can get very aggravating trying to avoid his charges. Later, in the finale, you have to go through it all again but this time, Bane also powers himself up with TN-01 and becomes a hulking, mindless brute who rips you out of floor grates and stomps around a small enclosed area looking for you. Similar to the fight against Doctor Victor Fries/Mister Freeze in Arkham City, you must sneak around behind Bane and use the vents to your advantage to surprise him from behind and then ram him into electrified walls before finally subduing him in a QTE with your Remote Claw.

While Firefly requires your projectile-based gadgets, the Joker fight is basically a QTE.

Another of the game’s more troublesome and complex boss battles is the encounter with Garfield Lynns/Firefly, who is raining destruction down on the bridge. Before you can even reach him, you need to take out his goons and disarm three bombs while forging a practical relationship with Gordon and then battle Firefly amidst the wreckage on the bridge. Firefly hovers out of reach of your strikes, blasting at you with his flamethrower, so you need to dive out of harm’s way and toss Batarangs, Concussion Detonators, and Glue Grenades at him until he’s stunned. Then you can quick-fire your Batclaw, mash A to haul him down, and put a beating on him and damage one of his wings. In the second phase, after chasing you around the twisted underside of the bridge, you have even less opportunities for cover and Firefly now tosses grenades at you but the tactic remains the same. It can be tricky to dodge and quick-fire your gadgets at him but by far the hardest part is firing your Batclaw and countering his final attack when he flies off with you attached to him via your line so be sure to keep your wits about you. The final moments of the game finally see you track down and get your hands on the Joker, the mysterious anarchist who has been causing death and destruction across the city and who causes a full-blown riot at Blackgate Prison that more than recalls the tense, claustrophobic moments of the first game where the Joker would taunt you constantly. This fight is little more than a QTE, really, requiring you to hit Y to counter the Joker’s attacks and then pummel him into submission with presses of X. It’s a satisfying conclusion given all the chaos the Joker has wrought and how quickly the animosity between him and Batman escalates and, fittingly, is in no way a physical challenge for Batman (there’s enough of that with the likes of Deathstroke and Bane).

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Like its predecessors, Arkham Origins features a level-up progression system; every time you defeat enemies, pick up Data Packs, scan parts of the environment, and such, you’ll gain XP and, eventually, level-up. This allows you to upgrade Batman’s armour (again, into two blocks to improve damage from melee attacks and gunfire, respectively), add more elaborate takedowns to his repertoire (all of which return from Arkham City), and upgrade his various gadgets to improve their range and efficiency. Upgrading can be tricky this time around, though, as the menus aren’t as easy to navigate; you can still view tutorials and such and you’ll actually receive a grade and additional XP depending on how dangerous a combat or Predator scenario was and how versatile you were in beating it, which will net you more XP if you happen to meet certain criteria in movement, combat, or Predator scenarios and you can get more by talking to Alfred in the Batcave and hearing his wisdom. All of Batman’s gadgets from Arkham City make a return, with many looking and acting a little differently or being expanded upon in new ways. The main exception to this is the Line Launcher, which is entirely absent and replaced with the Remote Claw; this fires a line between two specific points that you can grapple up to, crouch-walk across, or speed along on a zip wire to effectively fulfil the same function but in a way that ties into the game’s more vertical layout.

Batman has a few new gadgets, most of them repurposed variants of those from Arkham City.

There are some other new gadgets here, too. The Disruptor is now a gun-like device that disables enemy weapons, speakers, and jamming devices from a distance (which is super useful when facing armed goons), and the Freeze Blast is eventually evoked in Batman’s Glue Grenades, which can trap enemies in glue and allow him to form rafts. The Remote Electrical Charge gun is gone but Batman acquires the Electrocutioner’s Shock Gloves, which charge up as he deals damage and can dish out extra hurt to enemies (even punching through shields and negating the need to cape stun) once activated by pressing in the analogue sticks (they also come in handy for charging electrical panels and opening doors and for resuscitating characters). The Concussion Detonator is a bit like the R.E.C. blast in that it goes of and disorientates and confuses enemies after a short time and, if you purchase the ‘Cold, Cold Heart’ DLC, you’ll gain access to a new Batsuit and thermal gloves to dethaw Mr. Freeze’s victims and heat up your Batarangs.

Additional Features:
Batman: Arkham Origins has fifty Achievements to earn, the vast majority of which will pop as you play through the story, taking down the assassins, and completing side missions. There are specific Achievements for taking out thugs in certain ways (such as not being seen), stopping twenty random assaults in the city as they pop up on your radar, gliding a certain distance, and fast travelling to every point on the map but you’ll also get them for collecting all of Enigma’s Data Packs and finishing the game on New Game Plus. Doing this unlocks the one-life, “I Am The Night” mode that sounds gruelling, at best, though all of your XP and upgrades do carry over to each of these save files.

Batman encounters some of his most infamous rouges for the first time in side missions.

As in Arkham City, there are numerous side missions to fill up your time with: Enigma’s data collectors need to be interrogated and his Data Packs found to bring him to justice, Black Mask’s drug stashes need to be destroyed (similar to the Bane side mission in Arkham City), and Barbara Gordon tasks you with destroying the Penguin’s weapons caches across the city. You’ll also have to find and deactivate three bombs placed around the city by Lonnie Machin/Anarky (and you’ll find his tags spray painted all over, too) before confronting him at the courthouse (where you’ll have to fight a wave of goons and Anarky himself, who is armed with stun batons). One of Bane’s henchmen, Bird, is also at large and inspiring gang fights all over the city, as is Floyd Lawton/Deadshot, and the chaos doesn’t end after the main story is cleared as Gordon tasks you with hunting down a number of escapees from Blackgate. Challenge Mode appears once again, now accessible from the main menu and from the Batcave in the main game world. Just like in Arkham City, you can take on self-contained combat and stealth challenges based on encounters in the game that see you battling waves of increasingly difficult enemies and racking up points by sustaining and varying your combos, or picking off goons from the shadows while handicapped by a number of modifiers (such as enemies having access to gun racks and weapons or Batman’s gadgets or combos being disabled).

Replayability is bolstered by a variety of DLC and a team-based multiplayer mode.

There is also a series of “Campaign” maps that mix up the two challenges to present a sort of adjacent side story to the main game and you can compare your high scores against friends and other using the online leaderboards. As before, all of this can be further expanded by purchasing a range of DLC. This includes a whole bunch of new skins for Batman (including Jean-Paul Valley’s “AzBats” armour), additional challenge packs that see you playing as Bruce Wayne during his training years, and even the ability to play as Deathstroke in the Challenge Mode, which is pretty cool. The “Cold, Cold Heart” story pack adds a whole extra story-based mission that takes place after the main campaign and features an encounter with Mr. Freeze; it even includes additional Achievements, gadgets, and things to scan and find (though they are limited only to this story mode). The biggest additional mode to Arkham Origin, though, was the inclusion of an online multiplayer that sees players battling as a member of the Joker’s gang, Bane’s gang, or Batman and Dick Grayson/Robin. Unfortunately, though, I never experienced this mode even when I played on the PlayStation 3 so I can’t really comment too much on it but it sounds like a standard, team-based deathmatch kind of mode; my only real grip is that the developers didn’t incorporate Robin into the main game or even as a playable character in the Challenge Mode this time around, and that the DLC can no longer be purchased.

The Summary:
Even now, Batman: Arkham City remains one of my favourite videogames and a standout in the Arkham series; it expanded upon all of the mechanics and features of the first game and truly defined the standard for Batman videogames. For me, then, Batman: Arkham Origins is a lot of fun; it’s (literally) everything Arkham City was but more; it’s not like they just slapped on a reskin or opened up the map a little bit either like some glorified DLC, there is a lot of story and additional features at work here that expand the game world considerably. The Christmas setting is inspired and seeing Batman nearer to the beginning of his career and encountering some of his famous villains for the first time is a blast, as is the intricate development of Batman’s character from a wanted vigilante to a trusted ally of the city and, especially, Jim Gordon. The Batwing, additional gadgets, bigger emphasis on Batman’s detective skills, and the unique, challenging boss battles are all really solid additions and help to make the game very unique. What lets Arkham Origins down a bit, especially compared to its predecessor, is undoubtedly how derivative it can be and how needlessly frustrating many of these boss fights can be. The lack of inspiration in the game’s Enigma puzzles, simple reuse of many of Batman’s gadgets (when this would have been a great opportunity to strip him of many of them to really evoke the gritty feel of the first game), and reskinning of areas we’d explored to death in the last game do take it down a notch but I still maintain that there’s plenty to like about Arkham Origins. I’m not sure if it was worth developing the multiplayer component and it would have been nice to see some of these elements incorporated into the single player story but, overall, I feel if you enjoyed Arkham City then you kind of have to enjoy Arkham Origins as it’s the same game but with a new coat of paint.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think to Batman: Arkham Origins? How do you feel it compares to the other Arkham games, particularly Arkham City? Did you think the game was too derivative or did you enjoy the additions it made to the gameplay mechanics and revisiting the world in a new, expanded way? Which of the game’s assassins was your your favourite, and how did you fare against the likes of Deathstroke and Bane? Did you ever play the online multiplayer mode and, if so, what did you think to it? Did you enjoy the game’s DLC and the side missions? How are you celebrating Batman Day and what is your favourite Batman videogame? Whatever you think about Batman: Arkham Origins, or Batman in general, please leave a comment below and check back in next Wednesday for one more Arkham review!

Game Corner [Bat-Month]: Batman: Arkham City (Xbox 360)


In the decades since his first dramatic appearance in the pages of Detective Comics, Bruce Wayne/Batman has become a mainstream, worldwide, pop culture icon. The brainchild of writer Bob Kane, Batman was brought to life by artist Bill Finger and has been a popular staple of DC Comics and countless movies, videogames, and cartoons over the years. Accordingly, September celebrates “Batman Day” and is just another perfect excuse to celebrate comic’s grim and broody vigilante and, this year, I’m dedicating every Wednesday of September to Gotham’s Dark Knight Detective.


Released: 18 October 2011
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Also Available For: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Wii U, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X

The Background:
Batman quickly became a successful and dynamic character after his 1939 debut in DC Comics; over the years, the character’s world and mythos has grown considerably to include numerous spin-off comics and adaptations into not just cartoons and movies but also videogames. While Batman has fared rather well in that department, it can’t be denied that there were a few stinkers as well before Eidos Interactive acquired the rights to make a Batman game and brought in both Rocksteady Studios and celebrated Batman scribe writer Paul Dini to create the critically and commercially successful Batman: Arkham Asylum (ibid, 2009) at a time when the character was hot off a resurgence thanks to the recent success of The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008).

Batman: Arkham Asylum was a celebrated triumph that perfectly captured Batman’s essence.

Development of a sequel began work before Arkham Asylum had even been completed; despite apprehensions about system limitations, Rocksteady had big ideas for the sequel, which would move away from the claustrophobic trappings of Arkham Island and into more open world territory. Having learned from their mistakes and feedback from the first game, the developers greatly expanded Batman’s arsenal, animations, and gadgets to make him a more capable character and significantly expanded the range of exploration and side missions available to players in the much-larger game world. All of that hard work paid off as Arkham City became one of the fastest selling videogames in history. Critically, the response was universally positive; critics lauded the voice acting and additional features and the high quality of the game’s mechanics and content. The game was so successful that it was released in multiple editions with access to different downloadable content (DLC) and won numerous awards for the sheer expansiveness of its included, and additional, content.

The Plot:
Some time after the events of Arkham Asylum, the city’s criminals and maniacs have been locked up inside a walled off section of Gotham City known as Arkham City, from which there is no escape and both supervillains and TYGER mercenaries under the command of Doctor Hugo Strange enforce martial law. Infiltrating the prison to investigate Strange’s unlawful incarceration of those who spoke out against him, the odds against Batman increase when the Joker shows up, apparently dying from TITAN poisoning, and infects Batman with his blood, forcing him to delve into the city’s underworld to find a cure.

Gameplay:
Like its predecessor, Batman: Arkham City is a third-person, action/adventure game but, this time, you’re prowling the streets and rooftops of “Old Gotham”, a dilapidated and rundown area of Gotham that has been encased in high perimeter walls sporting gun turrets to house the city’s undesirables. Arkham City’s game world is five times the size of the one seen in Arkham Asylum and features even more recognisable landmarks from Batman’s famous city and areas to explore, as well as an endless supply of inmates and lowlifes to get your fists on. One of the best things about Arkham City is how the control scheme and core mechanics remain exactly as in the first game, just expanded considerably. Once again, Batman’s main method of traversal is his operatic cape and grapnel gun, which can now be used in conjunction and upgraded to allow him to effortlessly zip across the city. You can also dive bomb while gliding to take out enemies or pull up and gain additional height and length on your glide, allowing you to traverse the city prison in no time at all.

Combat and stealth are more fluid and satisfying than ever thanks to additional animations and options.

This more than makes up for Batman’s continued inability to jump and allows him to easily dart out of danger when spotted; Batman can still crouch with the Right Trigger and toss a quick Batarang with the Left Trigger, but now he can also quick-fire other gadgets, which is incredibly useful in combat and for solving the myriad of brain-teasing puzzles scattered around the city by Edward Nashton/Edward Nygma/The Riddler. The “freeflow combat” mechanic of the previous game returns intact but greatly expanded thanks to the addition of more attack animations and combos; X allows you to strike in quick succession while a well-timed press of Y (indicated when the “counter” indicator appears) will allow you to block and counter incoming attacks and rack up a bigger and more fluid combo. The higher your combo, the more damage you’ll deal and the more dynamic the perfectly-placed fight camera will move to allow you to lunge at other enemies before they can land a blow. Since the streets are crawling with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of thugs this time around, there are far more opportunities to sneak up on them and perform a “Silent Takedown”, but this time you can perform a “Knockout Smash” (though this will attract nearby enemies) and you can even perform takedowns from floor grates, double or even triple counters and takedowns when in combat, attack parts of the environment (like fire extinguishers and electrical boxes) to disorientate or disarm opponents, and even slam inmates into walls or dangle them over ledges during combat or interrogations.

New additions to the Predator sections increase the threat to Batman and his takedown options.

Also returning is the stealth-based “Predator” mechanic; in addition to sneaking up on enemies, Batman can grapple up to stone gargoyles and other high ledges to review rooms of armed thugs using the x-ray and thermal vision offered by his “Detective Mode”. A simple press of the Left Bumper and you’ll be able to see enemies by their body heat, their current condition, and any interactable parts of the environment. Batman’s new array of gadgets (easily accessed using the directional pad) can also be used in new ways to lure enemies into traps or take them down and, while traversing the city, you’ll need to make liberal use of these (and Batman’s new smoke pellets) to dart away from gunfire and dispatch gun-toting enemies. Again, Batman is tough but can’t take sustained gunfire or explosions; however, his health will replenish after you clear out all nearby enemies, solve riddles, or find the many Riddler Trophies. These same criteria will earn you experience points (XP) to improve Batman’s armour, abilities, and weaponry once more but the game definitely mixes things up by having enemies be able to jam your Detective Vision and electronics and lay traps of their own.

Navigation is easier than ever thanks to a comprehensive map, waypoint, and compass system.

If you thought Arkham Asylum had a lot of riddles and Riddler Trophies, then Arkham City will blow your mind! The Riddler has placed his trophies not just out in the open but hidden behind walls, in cages, and a myriad of pressure pads and context-sensitive puzzles that will require all of Batman’s skills and gadgets to acquire. Similarly, there are riddles to find across the city and you can solve them by tapped LB to scan the environment when you spot glowing green question marks or the answer to the riddle. This time, there are also far more destructible elements to snag you some XP; the chattering Joker teeth return but you’ll also be destroying TYGER security cameras, balloons, and massive bobbleheads of Doctor Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn, which all adds to the fun, as well as more opportunities to use your gadgets to open vents or shut off steam from pipes. The map screen returns, far more expansive and user friendly (as are all of the menus) than before; you can now set waypoints to your next mission or any other location on the map and a very useful onscreen compass and Bat-Signal will direct you towards your location with a minimum of fuss. Take note, though, that these features are suppressed when you have Detective Mode activated but, again, there are some opportunities to track targets using this vision mode.

The streets are crawling with more baddies than ever and they’ll repopulate areas as you progress.

Like the first game, Batman: Arkham City gets progressively difficult as you play but this is expanded upon greatly. You might come across a gang of Harvey Dent/Two-Face’s minions and engage them in combat, only for more and more nearby inmates to hear the fight and join in, for one thing. These enemies will, eventually, repopulate areas after you’ve cleared them out so you constantly have to be aware of enemies on the streets and rooftops and, like in the last game, enemies will increase in their aggressiveness and capabilities as you progress through the story. Also, like before, you can select different difficulty levels to play the game on from the start, with “Hard” mode including counter indicators this time but increasing the damage enemies will put out, but there are no Achievements tied to playing on Hard mode so you may as well play on “Easy” or “Normal” since “New Game Plus” offers an even tougher challenge than the game’s Hard mode. Where Arkham City excels, though, is in its sheer size; Arkham City is full of buildings to enter, Easter Eggs and references, riddles to solve, and side quests to keep you busy. For a returning player like me, it’s really easy to get distracted with side quests on your way to the main story objective and you can keep track of all outstanding missions from the main menu. From here, you can also view stories and character biographies, review Batman’s moves and abilities (and even view a tutorial if you need a refresher), and check up on any outstanding riddles and such. In fact, the only real downside to Arkham City is, again, the inability to quickly exit an area, which can be particularly bothersome when deep in the bowels of the city subway or the forgotten steampunk city, Wonder City, as it can still be a tad laborious to find your way back out sometimes.

Graphics and Sound:
Batman: Arkham Asylum managed to hold up impressively well over time and Arkham City holds up even better; it was already a big step up in terms of graphical quality and visual presentation so it’s only natural that it’s aged even better. As before, it’s a very dark game and takes place in one night so you might be relying on your Detective Vision or brightness settings to navigate in some areas but, thanks to many of the game’s locations taking place in indoor, more suburban (if equally dilapidated) areas, there are far more opportunities to bask in the impressive art direction of the game. Arkham City is split into different regions, with each one being primarily controlled by gangs of thugs affiliated with a different supervillain (Oswald Cobblepott/The Penguin, Two-Face, and the Joker) and having a distinctive feel to them.

Each region of Arkham City is controlled by a different villain and has a different look to it.

Because the game takes place within a walled off cityscape, it must be said that it’s not immediately as visually distinctive compared to its predecessor as you’re surrounded by skyscrapers but I can forgive this as there are far more opportunities to see and explore the wider mythos of Batman’s world. You’ll stumble across Crime Alley, explore the remains of the old Gotham City Police Department (complete with Bat-Signal on the roof), fight through the museum and into the Penguin’s Iceberg Lounge, and take on the Joker’s gang at the dilapidated remains of the Sionis steel mill over on Amusement Mile. Similar to Arkham Island (which you can still see lingering in the misty distance), the city prison is a rundown, desolate place full of graffiti, burned out cars, litter, and chaos and there’s a real sense that the dogs have been literally let loose within its high walls and have turned the city into a veritable war zone. As you might expect, there are some more intricate and elaborate areas of the city, too. You can venture down into the abandoned subway and, of course, navigate through some stony catacombs and sewers beneath the city but, luckily, the game is far bigger and makes much better use of these environments when it comes to utilising Batman’s abilities so there’s far less awkward jumping and climbing and much more emphasis on the Line Launcher and grapnel boost, though you will need to get used to the new dive bomb mechanic in order to swoop in through some tight areas and get 100% completion.

Some nightmarish sequences, jump scares, and chilling encounters add to the world’s mythos.

Things definitely start to take a more visually interesting turn once you venture into the abandoned Wonder City, a town populated by deactivated robots and lost to the midst of times, and scale Wonder Tower to confront Hugo Strange. Sadly, there aren’t the same dynamic sections as those involving Doctor Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow from the last game but Arkham City does go to some lengths to recreate these sections when the plot demands that Batman suffer the effects of his poisoning. Later, during a side quest involving Jervis Tetch/The Mad Hatter, you’ll experience a much more similar, twisted nightmare world but the game does include far more elaborate and layered areas to explore that change as the story progresses. The GCPD will freeze over because of Doctor Victor Fries/Mister Freeze, the steel mill needs to be cooled down and then you have to enter through a different entrance that involves navigating past giant machinery and drills, Julian Day/Calendar Man is imprisoned beneath the courthouse, and the museum contains a gigantic frozen pool with a very large and unfriendly denizen awaiting you.

The attention to detail, new villains, and cameos are even better than ever this time around.

Thanks to the diversity in the game’s inmates, enemies have a lot more visual variety this time around as they wear different colourings and outfits. There is also a lot more chatter as Batman picks up on his enemy’s radio signals and broadcasts, with both Joker and villains like Penguin taunting you and issuing commands to their underlings. Batman’s suit, while visually very similar to the last one, still takes on battle damage as the story progresses and, as you’d expect, both Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill knock it out of the park with their stellar work as Batman and Joker, respectively. Like before, Batman stops to converse with Barbara Gordon/Oracle but he also talks with his faithful butler and father-figure, Alfred Pennyworth, who sends additional equipment and offers council. The game also features far more references to Batman’s cast of characters and the wider DC universe and there’s even a much-appreciated cameo from a really well-designed version of Tim Drake/Robin for good measure. Cutscenes still make liberal use of the in-game graphics, which are even closer to the higher quality cinematics, and you’ll now see a helpful little recap of the story and your current outstanding missions when reloading a save.

Enemies and Bosses:
With Arkham Asylum gone, its inmates and the rest of Gotham’s criminals have been tossed into Arkham City instead; for the most part, the bulk of the game’s enemies are the same scumbags you fought in the last game but in different clothing and with more jeers to throw your way. Inmates will throw punches, grab weapons, toss items at you, and attack with both knives, guns, grenades (in a new twist), electrical batons, and will even pick up car doors to use as shields and ram you. Eventually, you’ll also have to contend with snipers, enemies wearing collars that will attract their allies when they’re downed, enemies that can jam your technology, ones that take hostages, and thugs will even use thermal vision to spot you and start destroying the ledges you’re hiding on if you linger too long or fail to stay hidden. While the crazed lunatics from the last game are gone, the TITAN monsters make a return and some inmates with be decked out in protective armour. A simple Batarang to the face is no longer enough to dispatch these goons; this time, you must use three cape swipes to stun them and mash X to beat them into submission while also countering incoming attacks. You’ll also have to contend with the one-armed Abramovici twins a number of times; these big bastards swing huge sledgehammers or scythes and must be blasted with a bolt from Batman’s Remote Electrical Charge gun to inflict damage on nearby enemies and pummelled with your attacks as they can’t be stunned so you have to strike, hop over to avoid their swings, and strike again to defeat them.

Solomon Grundy more than makes up for Two-Face and Penguin’s lack of physical challenge.

Arkham City is populated by a number of Batman’s most notorious rogues, basically all of them being new additions to the roster of bosses. The first you’ll encounter is Two-Face, who has taken over the courthouse and held Selina Kyle/Catwoman hostage. This is more of a tutorial for the basics of combat and Dent is dispatched by Catwoman in a cutscene rather than in an actual boss fight, and the following encounter with the Penguin is quite similar. This is basically the culmination of a side mission that sees you rescuing frozen police officers, freeing Mr. Freeze, and acquiring tech from his suit to deactivate his freezing gun (which the Penguin is using to keep you at bay). In fact, the first real physical challenge you have (aside from gladiatorial bouts against swarms of inmates or fights against one of the Abramovici twins) follows this encounter with the Penguin, which sees you facing off against the hulking zombie Solomon Grundy. You fight Grundy in a kind of gothic laboratory and must use your quick-fire explosive gel to close up three holes on the floor that regenerate Grundy’s health with lightning (while dodging said lightning) and allow you to put a beating on Grundy. This continues into the next phase, where Grundy tries to crush you with leaping attacks and two giant wrecking balls and sends weird little mice-things scuttling towards you. The third phase is more of the same but Grundy has one arm trapped in a machine; this time, the floor holes open sporadically for even shorter bursts and you need to avoid the shockwaves Grundy produces. Once he’s finally defeated, you have to dodge out of the way of the Penguin’s missile to punch him out once and for all, all of which is more interesting and engaging than the final boss of the last game.

While Rā’s tests your reflexes, you’ll need to use all of Batman’s skills and gadgets to bring down Mr. Freeze.

The next main story boss you’ll battle is Rā’s al Ghūl but, before this, you must first track down one of his ninja assassins by her blood trail, get past more of them in Wonder City (they can dodge your strikes and teleport in puffs of smoke before attacking with sword swipes), and endure the “Demon Trials” (gliding sections through a twisted hellscape where you can’t touch anything but the highlighted areas). You’ll face Rā’s in a desert that is part delusion, part reality, and have to take out hoards of sand men while he dashes at you from out of nowhere. Once you get past them, you must dodge the shurikens and blades he sends your way while blasting at him through his human shield with your Disruptor, and then mash Y to counter his attacks. The speed and aggressiveness of his attacks increases as the fight goes on but the final blow comes down to a well-timed toss of the reverse Batarang and Rā’ later meets a very gruesome end for his part in the game’s events. Next, you’ll have to take on easily the most intricate and complex boss of the game (or most games, for that matter) as Mr. Freeze betrays you and forces you into a confrontation. Depending on the difficulty you’re playing on, you may be forced to use every single one of Batman’s gadgets and abilities to deal damage and leave him vulnerable for a beatdown as Mr. Freeze learns and adapts his strategy as the fight progresses. Mr. Freeze will plod around the laboratory searching for you and sending heat-seeking globes to seek you out; you can use Batman’s glide attack, takedowns, and gadgets (like the explosive gel and Remote Electrical Charge gun) to deal damage but he’ll take action to ensure that you can’t do this twice (he freezes the ledges, grapple points, and vents, destroys parts of the environment, erects a shield, among other defensive measures), which forces you to think on your feet and explore options you might not normally use.

After stopping Strange and defeating Clayface, you’ll find some other villains to take down.

In the game’s finale, Strange activates the mysterious “Protocol 10” and commences a strategic bombardment of Arkham City; this briefly forces you to hack into circling helicopters in order to get inside of Wonder Tower and shut Strange down but, after you do, you’re forced into a confrontation with the Joker, who seems revitalised and has taken Talia al Ghūl hostage. Earlier in the game, you actually fight the Joker in his base form while his goons and out of control dodgem cars fill the arena but, when you confront him at the end, it’s revealed to have been Basil Karlo/Clayface in disguise; thus, the finale is, again, a battle against a hulking enemy. This time, you have to dodge Clayface’s cannonball attack and swinging arms while repeatedly spamming Freeze Blasts to whittle his health down. In the second phase, you grab a sword and slice up the mud men he spawns while repeating these tactics and avoiding his big sledgehammer shot in order to take him down. In between each of these main mission boss fights, you’ll come across a number of side missions that will draw you into confrontations with more of Batman’s rogues gallery: Floyd Lawton/Deadshot has been killing targets all over the city but Batman eventually tracks him down and must sneak past his one-shot rifle-arm to take him down; Victor Zsasz/Mister Zsasz has been killing people by luring them to ringing phones so Batman has to listen to his macabre life story to triangulate his location and then sneak around him in a partially flooded area to rescue his hostages; the Mad Hatter abducts you and forces you to battle waves of demonic rabbits; and the Riddler has also taken five hostages and placed them in Saw (Wan, 2004)-like traps. These hostages can only be saved by finding the Riddler’s Trophies, solving riddles, and interrogating his informants (highlighted in green) to gain access to his “Enigma Device” and locate each one in turn using the Cryptographic Sequencer.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As before, Arkham City features a level-up progression system; every time you defeat enemies, solve riddles, or pick up Riddler Trophies and destroy cameras and such, you’ll gain XP. Upon levelling-up, you can again upgrade Batman’s armour (now separated into one that improves damage from melee attacks and one from gunfire) to gain additional health, add more elaborate takedowns to his repertoire (including a swarm of disorientating bats, bone-breaking takedowns, and weapon disarmaments), and upgrade his various gadgets to improve their range and efficiency. Again, it’s pretty easy to fully upgrade all of Batman’s abilities if you engage with enemies and search out riddles on a regular basis, and it’s best to mix and match your upgrades for a balanced playthrough but you can choose to focus on making Batman more durable if you so wish.

Batman’s new toys let him charge power points and create temporary platforms, among other things.

Batman begins the game with many of the gadgets he had at the end of the last one, making him far more equipped for the rigours of Arkham City; many of his weapons, such as the grapnel gun and explosive gel, can now be used as quick-fire attacks to mix up your combos to allow for more diverse combat. Although Batman can no longer rip down walls with his grapnel gun, the Line Launcher can be upgraded to fire a second line and allow Batman to walk along it like a tightrope and he also has access to some new toys. The smoke pellets allow him to disorientate enemies and make an escape if needed, the Remote Electrical Charge gun allows him to power up electrical appliances, the Disruptor deactivates mines and renders up to two enemy guns useless, and the Freeze Blast (and upgraded Freeze Cluster) can plug up steam pipes and form ice floats on bodies or water to allow Batman to float around by grappling onto conveniently-placed hooks around the environment.

Additional Features:
Batman: Arkham City has fifty Achievements to earn, with the bulk of these popping simply by playing through the story, meeting certain objectives, and defeating bosses. One has you fiddling with the Xbox’s internal date and time in order to hear Calendar Man ’s chilling acts while most of the others are tied specifically towards starting or completing the game’s many side missions rather than solving or finding riddles (although this is a factor since you need to do this to rescue the Riddler’s hostages). No matter what difficulty you complete the game on, you’ll unlock a New Game Plus mode that offers and additional difficult challenge, mixes up the enemy placements, allows you to play the story with any additional DLC costumes, and carries over all of your gadgets and upgrades to a new game file. You’ll also be able to return to your original save file in a post-game world where the inmates will comment on the dramatic conclusion of the game and be freely able to switch to Catwoman at certain points on the map.

Alongside the Riddler challenges, there are a number of additional side quests to occupy your time.

This is super useful if you have any outstanding side missions to complete; not only are there some diving simulations to complete and a bunch of Riddler challenges tied to performing combat and gameplay manoeuvres, there are many other mysteries and villains out there to confront, such as tracking down Thomas Elliot/Hush (who has been mutilating victims to impersonate Bruce Wayne), figuring out the motives of the mysterious Michael Lane/Azrael, saving a number of political prisoners from random acts of violence, locating and reunited Nora Fries’ cryogenically frozen body with Mr. Freeze, and destroying TITAN containers in a fragile alliance with Bane. Additionally, there are way more Riddler Trophies hidden throughout Arkham City, many of which require precision gliding, pressing pressure pads, and using a variety of Batman’s gadgets to pick them up. Catwoman also has her own Riddler Trophies to pick up and, while there are no audio tapes to find this time, you can still unlock biographies, news stories, and audio clips by solving and finding riddles. As before, the game features a Challenge Mode, now rebranded as “Riddler’s Revenge”, which allows you to take on self-contained combat and predator challenges based on encounters in the game. You’ll battle a few waves of increasingly difficult enemies and rack up points by sustaining and varying your combos and pick off goons from the shadows while handicapped by a number of modifiers (such as disabling your Detective Mode, shielding enemies from damage, or having reduced health).

Arkham City makes up for the last game with a whole bunch DLC skins, characters, and challenge maps.

There is also a new series of “Campaign” maps that mix up the two challenges to present a sort of adjacent side story to the main game and you can compare your high scores against friends and other using the online leaderboards. These challenge maps, and the main game itself, can be expanded by purchasing the many different DLC packs for the game. As mentioned, Catwoman was a big selling point of the game and those who pre-ordered Arkham City or purchased her DLC can switch to playing as Catwoman during the story to follow a side mission involving Poison Ivy and stealing from Hugo Strange. The DLC for Arkham City is such a massive step up compared to the last game, adding twenty Achievements to collect and numerous costumes for Batman to use in New Game Plus and on challenge maps, and, best of all, the ability to play as Robin and Dick Grayson/Nightwing in the challenge maps. Each of the four playable characters plays a little differently (Catwoman is faster but weaker, slashes with her claws and tosses bolas; Robin uses his bo staff, riot shield, and faster (but shorter) version of the Batclaw; and Nightwing batters thugs with batons and utilises his acrobatic skill to take out enemies) and has their own gadgets but, sadly, only Catwoman is available to play as in the main game. Robin does take centre stage in a post-game DLC story, “Harley Quinn’s Revenge”, that sees him infiltrating the steel mill to rescue Batman; I had all of this DLC on the PlayStation 3 and greatly enjoyed the variety offered by the skins and each character but I do wish that the studio had allowed these additional characters to be used in the actual main game.

The Summary:
I was massively impressed with Batman: Arkham City when I first played it on the PlayStation 3; the game was just so much bigger and better than the original thanks to expanding the scope of the game world and the range of Batman’s abilities and gadgets. Everything that worked in the original game is back and improved upon, making combat even more fluid and diverse and truly defining the essence of Batman to set the standard for the remainder of the series. Rather than being confined to a claustrophobic, gothic prison, Batman is freely able to roam and fight around a dilapidated, walled off section of the city full of Easter Eggs, references, inmates to fight, secrets to find, and side missions to keep you busy for far longer than the first game. Best of all, the game is packed full of post-game and additional content thanks to these side missions, the New Game Plus mode, the expanded Challenge Mode, and the impressive abundance of DLC. Including additional skins, a short post-game story, and two of my favourite Batman characters in Robin and Nightwing really helps to expand the lore of this interpretation of Batman’s world and offers far more replay value. For me, Arkham City is still the gold standard for the Batman: Arkham series (Various, 2009 to 2015) and, while Arkham Asylum finally offered all of Batman’s abilities in a fun and engaging way, Arkham City expanded on them to the nth degree and truly defined what it means to play as Batman in an open world environment and it definitely deserves all of the praise it earned upon release and even to this day.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

What did you think about Batman: Arkham City? How do you feel it holds up compared to the original games and its sequels? Did you enjoy that the game world was expanded into a city-sized open world or did you prefer to more claustrophobic aesthetic of the first game? Which of Batman’s new gadgets and rogues were your favourite to use or fight against and why? Did you ever track down all of the Riddler’s trophies and secrets? Which of the side missions was your favourite to complete? What did you think to the game’s DLC and would you have liked to see Robin and Nightwing playable in the main game? How are you planning on celebrating Batman Day this year and what is your favourite Batman videogame? Whatever you think about Batman: Arkham City, or Batman in general, please leave a comment below and check back in next Wednesday for my review of the next Arkham videogame!

Game Corner [Bat-Month]: Batman: Arkham Asylum (Xbox 360)


In the decades since his first dramatic appearance in the pages of Detective Comics, Bruce Wayne/Batman has become a mainstream, worldwide, pop culture icon. The brainchild of writer Bob Kane, Batman was brought to life by artist Bill Finger and has been a popular staple of DC Comics and countless movies, videogames, and cartoons over the years. Accordingly, September celebrates “Batman Day” and is just another perfect excuse to celebrate comic’s grim and broody vigilante and, this year, I’ll be dedicating every Wednesday to Gotham’s Dark Knight Detective.


Released: 25 August 2009
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Also Available For: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X

The Background:
Ever since his debut in the pages of Detective Comics back in 1939, the Batman has been a popular staple of DC Comics and has appeared in numerous comic books, cartoons, live-action films and, of course, videogames. The first videogame adaptation of Batman was an isometric adventure game released in 1986 and, over the years, Batman has been placed into numerous different videogame genres, from beat-‘em-ups, sidescrolling brawlers, and adventure games, but it’s safe to say that there have been more than a few duds during that time. By 2009, Batman’s videogames had been very hit and miss but the character’s popularity had received a resurgence thanks to the recent success of The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008).

Batman has starred in many videogames over the years but not all of them have been well-recieved.

After Eidos Interactive bought the rights to make a Batman game, they turned to developers Rocksteady Studios after being impressed with their prototype for the title. Noted writer Paul Dini, who had spearheaded the popular DC Animated Universe (DCAU), was brought on to develop the game’s story and characterisations, which drew inspiration from some of Batman’s grittier and more grounded tales and included the vocal talents of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill to capitalise on their success in the DCAU. Rocksteady spent their time not only meticulously crafting a unique world that drew from Batman’s vast comic history to create a dark, claustrophobic game world, but also building an intuitive combat system and perfecting the depiction of Batman’s cape and gadgets to really encapsulate the feeling of being the Batman for the first time. The result was a game released to widespread critical acclaim; critics praised the game’s story and mechanics, and intricate marriage of combat and stealth and the game was later bolstered by some downloadable content (DLC), various re-releases and remasters, and kicked off one of the most celebrated and successful superhero videogame franchises ever seen.

The Plot:
After apprehending the Joker and bringing him to Arkham Asylum, Batman finds himself trapped on Arkham Island when the Clown Prince of Crime causes a mass breakout. With guards, doctors, and other innocents at risk, and hoards of his rogues and other rabid criminal thugs freely roaming the asylum, Batman has no choice but to use his skills and gadgets to fight back and uncover the true nature of the Joker’s plot.

Gameplay:
Batman: Arkham Asylum is a third-person, action/adventure game that takes place in a quasi-open world; though not as large as other open world videogames, such as those seen in the subsequent sequels, Arkham Asylum still presents Batman with a number of different locations and areas to explore on the grim, gothic island that houses Gotham City’s most depraved and dangerous criminal maniacs. While other Batman videogames often focused purely on mindless combat or poorly implemented his gadgets and skills, Arkham Asylum featured the most diverse and intuitive range of movement for the Caped Crusader that players had ever seen at that point. Although players cannot make Batman jump, they can hold down the A button to sprint and vault up/over walls and Batman will automatically hop across gaps and spread his elaborate cap to glide through the night air. Pressing the Right Bumper will see Batman grapple to nearby ledges and higher areas (usually stone gargoyles) to avoid enemies or reach new sections of the asylum. Holding the Right Trigger sees Batman drop into a crouch to stay hidden and sneak up on thugs while tapping the Left Trigger will see him tossing a quick Batarang to stun foes or activate switches (holding LT will allow you to better aim and direct this projectile) and you can select any of Batman’s gadgets using the directional pad (D-pad) to access his gadget wheel.

Combat is fast and fluid, allowing Batman to strike and counter with a deft swiftness.

Of course, one of the most prominent aspects of Arkham Asylum is the game’s unique combat system.; rather than simply mashing buttons, combat is a fluid and slick affair somewhat akin to a rhythm game. Pressing X will see Batman strike the enemy nearest to him; repeated presses begin a combo and you can stun enemies with Batman’s cape by pressing B or hop over them by tapping A. During combat, the camera automatically pans to show you the best view of your immediate area and any enemies around you and, when enemies try to strike at you, a “Counter” indicator will appear. When it does, tap Y and Batman will automatically counter the oncoming attack and, by successfully stringing together strikes and counters, you can build up bigger and more elaborate combos and fluidly take down multiple enemies at once. Once an enemy has been knocked down, or when sneaking up on them, you can press RT and Y to perform a takedown that will knock them out cold and, as you defeat enemies and uncover secrets, you’ll earn experience points (XP) which can be spent purchasing new takedowns and combat options when you level up.

Batman’s Detective Mode is perfect for striking fear into armed thugs and taking them out silently.

Another important aspect of the game is stealth; utilising the “Predator” mechanic, Batman can sneak up on enemies and make use of high ledges to stalk rooms full of armed thugs and pick them off one at a time by utilising the infrared filter offered by his “Detective Mode”. This is activated by pressing the Left Bumper and will wash the environment in a grainy, black and white filter that highlights enemies by their body heat and shows their current condition. Using the shadows and your gadgets, you can drop down on enemies from above, sneak through grates, and set up traps to take them down and pick them off and their cohorts will react accordingly, becoming increasingly agitated and trigger happy as the section progresses. Batman is extremely vulnerable to sustained gunfire so it’s better to be patient and take down each enemy one at a time but you can grapple away to safety if you’re spotted and are even able to take down enemies while hanging from ledges or from afar with Batman’s many toys. Detective Mode also allows you to scan your environment; for the most part, this will be to solve riddles placed all over Arkham Asylum by Edward Nashton/Edward Nygma/The Riddler but, at various times during the game’s story, you’ll have to set up a crime scene to scan evidence and filter out aromas and other elements that will lead you to your next objective as long as you have Detective Mode activated. Although there is no onscreen map, you can view a comprehensive blueprint of Arkham Island by pressing the “Back” button. From here, you’ll see all of the unsolved riddles in the game and where your next objective is, as well as being able to enter any of the game’s environments to review the layout and any remaining secrets to be discovered.

The game world is constantly changing and you always need to find new ways to progress.

You can’t set up a waypoint and there’s only a few sections where you’re literally shown the way but, thankfully, Arkham Asylum isn’t too difficult to explore or navigate for the most part (though there some areas that are quite frustrating or mired in overly dark lighting). Batman: Arkham Asylum features not only a level-up system but also a progressively increasing difficulty curve; while the game’s “Hard” mode will obviously offer the most challenging experience (enemies are more aggressive and counter indicators are omitted entirely), the game world will constantly change as you progress through the story. New areas become accessible as you acquire and upgrade Batman’s many gadgets and areas that you’ve previously visited will become populated by snipers, maniacs, or over-run by Pamela Isley/Poison Ivy’s monstrous plants to keep the game feeling fresh and allowing your actions to actually have an impact on the environment. Backtracking is a prominent feature of the game as some areas will be locked off until you get a new gadget; other areas are locked off entirely, forcing you to use vents, grapples, or explode walls in order to progress and you’ll definitely need to explore every nook and cranny to solve all of the game’s riddles and collect all of the pickups. Although there is no manual save option, the game is extremely generous with checkpoints (which, thankfully, also appear mid-way through certain boss battles) and Batman’s health bar is replenished after successfully defeating enemies in combat, solves riddles, or finds secrets.

Graphics and Sound:
Even now, some fifteen years after its original release, Batman: Arkham Asylum is a visually impressive game. The entire game takes places in a single night, meaning the gothic, decrepit asylum is constantly bathed in an ominous, murky darkness that goes a long way to adding to the game’s claustrophobic and oppressive atmosphere. At times, the game is a little too dark and you’ll either be relying too much on Detective Mode or adjusting the brightness settings to get around but I can forgive this as the dark, moody aesthetic really encapsulates the nature of what it means to be Batman. Arkham Asylum is quite an elaborate environment for what amounts to a glorified sandbox; the prison/facility has been depicted in many different ways over the years but, here, it’s a gloomy, gothic prison confined to an island separated from the greater city. The island itself adds as the hub world, of sorts, and you can travel to different areas by passing through large, automated doors (that are clearly masking loading zones) or using Batman’s various gadgets and skills, and at each compass point you’ll find a different area to explore.

Environments are seeped in a dark, ominous aesthetic that adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere.

The island is home to a high-tech penitentiary, a dilapidated mansion, a dock, a hospital/morgue, a cemetery, and even has a large botanical garden to visit. Each area is suitable foreboding and shows signs of wear and tear (to say nothing of death and anarchy from the breakout of the inmates) and, despite the overwhelming use of blacks, greys, and darkness, stands out from each other through their unique layouts and gameplay mechanics. The island is also home to a vast network of sewers and caves; Batman has even set up a small Batcave on the island, where you’ll travel a few times to acquire upgrades, but these stone catacombs are by far the worst areas to explore in the game. The sewer system that Waylon Jones/Killer Croc has taken as his home isn’t too bad but the caves are dark and crumbling, meaning that your grapnel gun is all but useless and you’re forced to rely on Batman’s jumping skills. For the most part, these are serviceable, but the game’s focus is not on precision platforming so it can sometimes be a pain to get Batman (and the camera) pointed in the direction you need to go. When you later revisit these areas to mop up any unsolved riddles, it’s easy to get lost and confused and it’s a shame that the game doesn’t give you the option to fast exit an area or building from the map screen as there’s nothing worse than venturing deep into the catacombs and then struggling to find your way out.

Your encounters with the Scarecrow will have you questioning the stability of the game!

While the game is tight as a drum in terms of its stability, there are noticeable times where you’ll have to sit and wait as the next section loads and it can sometimes be a little too easy to get caught on the environment or botch a ledge grab but these moments are few and far between. By far the game’s most impressive sections, though, are the nightmarish illusions and hallucinations brought about by exposure to Doctor Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow’s fear gas and toxins; these cause the game to warp, restricting your moment, perception, and controls, and transform the environment into a chilling recreation of Crime Alley or show Batman visions of his dead parents and allies. This leads to a series of really unique, 2.5D sections where you must navigate a disparate hellscape, avoiding the Scarecrow’s gaze and trying not to get too freaked out by his Freddy Krueger-like appearance or Batman’s character model briefly flashing to that of Scarecrow’s. Easily the most memorable moment of all of these sequences is the moment the game abruptly appears to crash and resets on you, only to restart with a recreation of the game’s opening cutscene with the Joker delivering a manic Batman to Arkham while his villains taunt and jeer at him.

In-game graphics are top notch, with Batman’s suit progressively taking damage over time.

In terms of character models, Arkham Asylum also still holds up really well. While generic thugs and goons quickly get a bit repetitive, the game’s interpretations of Batman’s different rogues is very unique and compelling and the influence of the legendary artist Jim Lee is readily apparent in the appearance of Killer Croc, Doctor Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn, and Batman himself. Fittingly, Batman benefits the most from the game’s graphics; not only does Kevin Conroy deliver sterling work as always as the character but Batman’s suit will accrue damage as the story progresses, with rips, tears, bullet holes, and other bits of wear and tear showing up as you progress through the story. So strong are Arkham Asylum’s in-game graphics that they are generally the default for the game’s cutscenes; many times throughout the story, Batman will stop to converse with Barbara Gordon/Oracle to comment on and progress the plot and his current investigation but there are instances of higher quality cutscenes as well, which aren’t too far off from what is seen during gameplay. The game’s music is suitably brooding and gothic, picking up when enemies spot you or you’re in combat and being used very effectively to establish a foreboding mood to the game’s events. Finally, not only do the thugs and inmates constantly chat, banter, and taunt you but the game is frequently punctuated by announcements from the Joker. Like Conroy, Hamill excels in the role and adds a glorious entertaining dark humour to the events, stealing the show every time his voice is heard and, overall, music, sound effects, and visuals are all married perfectly to encapsulate the dark, moody atmosphere of the game and really add to the experience of being the Batman.

Enemies and Bosses:
Being that it’s home to the criminally insane, Arkham Asylum is populated by all kinds of maniacal inmates; however, as part of his elaborate plan, the Joker also struck when a number of Blackgate Penitentiary’s prisoners were on the island, and these are the thugs you’ll encounter the most. Generally, goons are spread across the hub world or waiting in corridors or large, open rooms and can either be engaged head-on or from the shadows if they have firearms. Enemies will attack as a group, meaning you’ll have to be constantly aware of incoming attacks, and will even grab items and objects to throw at you or use as makeshift weapons.

Eventually, more dangerous and monstrous enemies spread across the asylum.

As the story progresses, you’ll encounter more formidable enemies: snipers will take up positions above and must be taken out before they can put a bullet in you; inmates with knives must be stunned with your cape before you can attack them; those with electrical batons must by jumped over and attacked from behind; and crazed lunatics will leap at you and must be countered at the right time to stop them from pinning you down. You’ll also have to contend with those exposed to the Joker’s “TITAN” serum, which transforms them into monstrous, hulking beasts; these guys will charge at you, necessitating a quick toss of a Batarang and a dive out of the way to stun them so you can land a few shots and, eventually, hop on their back to whittle their health down and batter about any nearby enemies. Sometimes you’ll have to fight two of these at once, alongside a variety of other thugs, and you’ll also have to dispatch Ivy’s TITAN-infused plants, which spit out homing spores and must be slowly approached in order to destroy them.

Battles with Mr. Zsasz and Bane will teach you fundamental, life-saving tactics for later in the game.

The Joker’s plan also requires him to unleash a very specific number of Batman’s most notorious rogues, who you must take down in a series of encounters as boss battles. The first of these you’ll go up against is Victor Zsasz/Mister Zsasz in what is, essentially, a glorified tutorial to teach you about grappling from cover to cover to sneak up on an enemy. You’ll also encounter him later in the game in a similar situation designed to teach you how to use the reverse Batarang feature and, in both cases, you can easily take him down with no trouble at all as long as you’re not spotted. Similarly, though she’s a constant thorn in your side throughout the game, you can easily apprehend Harley Quinn after battling a short gauntlet of goons, which is only fitting considering that neither villain is much of a physical match for Batman. Bane, however, is. Like the TITAN goons, he must be stunned with a Batarang when he charges at you and battered with a quick combo to yank out the Venom pipes supplying his superhuman strength. However, as the fight progresses, goons will drop into the arena to distract you; again, like the TITANs, Bane can grab downed enemies and launch them at you as projectiles but he’ll also toss parts of the environment your way as well so it have to constantly be thinking on your feet and ready to dodge out of the way. As long as you can deal with the annoying goons, avoid Bane’s wild strikes and ground pound, and dodge out of his charges, he’s not especially difficult and battling him (and the TITANs) serves as great practise for the game’s final boss.

You’ll need patience, skill, and gadgets to conquer Killer Croc and the Scarecrow.

Before that, though, you’ll have to contend with Killer Croc in the sewers. Down here, you must slowly walk across wooden platforms to avoid attracting Croc’s attention; when he lunges out of the water, you must quickly toss a Batarang to subdue him and make a run for it when he starts smashing up the platforms. Eventually, you’ll avoid him and collect the samples Batman needs to synthesise an anti-virus for the TITAN formula and Croc will chase you down. This forces you to run towards the camera as quickly as possible and then detonate explosive charges before Croc can reach you to send him plummeting down a deep chasm. As mentioned before, you’ll also have to contend with the Scarecrow on no less than three occasions. Each time, you must navigate his hellscape using your stealth, gadgets, and jumping/shimmying skills to avoid being spotted but, as the encounters progress, you’ll also have to fend off waves of skeletons. In the final encounter, Scarecrow summons more of these enemies, including a TITAN variant, in three waves; after defeating each one, Batman activates a Bat-Signal and will eventually dispel and break free of the Scarecrow’s harrowing nightmares once and for all.

Sadly (or thankfully), the final boss isn’t anywhere near as interesting as the one with Poison Ivy.

By far the most frustrating boss battle of the game, though, is the one against Poison Ivy; encased in a monstrous man-eating plant, she sends out a bunch of tentacles that will choke the life out of you in seconds, commands besotted thugs and guards to attack you, and fires super-fast and painful bolts your way. To defeat her, you must avoid her attacks, defeat her goons, and toss a quick Batarang at her when she exposes herself while firing at you. When she collapses, you can use your explosive gel to damage the pod but this battle can get very harrowing on the game’s Hard difficulty. When you finally confront the Joker for the final showdown, he arranges a gaggle of thugs to greet you at the door, tries to kill you with an exploding television, forces you to fight a whole bunch of enemies and two TITANs at once, and then transforms himself into a TITAN monster for the finale. In this fight, you must avoid his claw swipes and then dispatch the goons that come into the arena, destroying exploding teeth and avoiding the electrified walls until it’s safe to pull the Joker down from his ledge and put a beating on him. Sadly, it’s not a very compelling final boss battle as it’s fundamentally the same as battling the TITANs and Bane, and it’s a bit of a missed opportunity to not have Batman undergo a similar transformation, but it’s decent enough for what it is and not too surprising that you wouldn’t fight the Joker one-on-one.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Batman: Arkham Asylum features a level-up progression system; every time you defeat enemies, solve riddles, or pick up Riddler Trophies and other items (like audio tapes and so forth), you’ll gain XP. When you level-up, you can spend the Skill Points you earn on improving Batman’s armour to give him more health, adding additional takedowns and combat moves to his repertoire, or upgrading his various gadgets to improve their range and efficiency. I recommend pacing these upgrades out (armour once, then a new takedown, armour again, maybe upgrade a gadget, and so forth) and fighting every enemy you see in order to upgrade Batman as fast as possibly. It’s very easy to fully upgrade Batman on even a casual playthrough on Hard mode, though, so it shouldn’t be too hard to get there.

Use XP to upgrade Batman’s abilities and gadget, and acquire new toys to progress further.

Along the way, Batman will acquire or construct new gadgets to help him progress. Explosive gel will allow him to knock enemies off balance or break through certain walls, the Line Launcher will allow him to cross chasms and gaps too wide to jump or glide across as long as there’s a solid wall behind and in front of him, the Sonic Batarang can be used to lure enemies away from each other or into a trap, the Ultra Batclaw allows Batman to tear down certain walls by tapping A after firing, and the Cryptographic Sequencer allows him to hack security panels by matching radiowaves with the analogue sticks to access Riddler Trophies, secret rooms, or open previously-inaccessible areas. The Batmobile and Batwing also make an appearance but you cannot utilise these in the game, unfortunately, but you can upgrade the Batarang to throw up to three at separate targets or be remote controlled (though this is also quite limited in its application).

Additional Features:
Batman: Arkham Asylum has forty-seven Achievements for you to earn, the majority of which are acquired simply by progressing through the story and clearing certain missions or defeating bosses. Some require you to defeat enemies in certain ways or rack up a certain combo score, others are tied to gliding consecutively or completing the game on each difficulty setting, but the majority are tied towards finding the Riddler Trophies, solving his riddles, and completing combat and predator challenges in the game’s “Challenge Mode”. To elaborate, the Riddler has hidden numerous glowing green trophies all across Arkham Island; some are hidden in plain view, others require your gadgets or a bit of exploration to find. Pretty much every single room or area of the island also has a number of riddles associated with it that you must solve by scanning parts of the environment; these are generally linked to Batman’s history or rogues and will unlock character biographies of guys like Harvey Dent/Two-Face and Arnold Wesker/The Ventriloquist. Every time you solve or find these, you’ll gain XP and get one step closer to 100% collection so it’s worth taking time to look for a small tea set or a plague dedicated to Martha and Tomas Wayne.

Riddles and secrets are scattered all over the damn place.

Additionally, there are stone monuments to Amadeus Arkham, the founder of the island and its facility, to be found and scanned to learn more about Arkham’s morbid history as well as audio tapes and maps to further flesh out the characters’ backstories and reveal the Riddler’s secrets. From the main menu, you’ll also see the option to take on Challenge Mode. These are specific, self-contained combat and predator sections based on encounters in the game and pit you against waves of increasingly difficult enemies and rooms full of thugs, respectively, and are unlocked by finding Riddler Trophies and solving riddles. When you take on a Challenge, you’ll either have to face a number of rounds against different enemies in different environments or pick off thugs from the shadows according to a number of requirements (such as using explosive gel or a vertical takedown). Each time you successfully meet these criteria, or rack up enough points, you’ll earn up to three medals, and eventually some Achievements, and can compete against friends and others using the online leaderboards. Sadly, though, unlike subsequent games in the series, there is no “New Game+” option, you only unlock one alternative outfit for completing the game and it’s restricted to the Challenge Mode, and the only DLC available is for additional Challenge maps. Those who have the PlayStation 3 or Return to Arkham (Rocksteady Studios/Virtuos Studios, 2016) versions (which I also do), though, can choose to play as the Joker in the Challenge Mode, which is pretty entertaining as he comes with his own unique and madcap fighting style and gadgets that separate him from the Batman.

The Summary:
I remember the first time I played Batman: Arkham Asylum when I first got it for the PlayStation 3 and being just blown away by how intricate, smooth, and impressive its controls, mechanics, and presentation were. Never before had a videogame offered such a range of versatility for Batman; rather than simply focusing on combat or one aspect of the character, Arkham Asylum really delved into what it means to be Batman and gave players the chance to experience each of those elements in a new, dynamic, and incredibly entertaining way. Combat is fluid and easy to master, stealth sections are exhilarating even when it can take a while to pick enemies off, and even the game’s more frustrating enemies or bosses are fun to encounter thanks to the overall aesthetic and top-notch presentation given to the game. It truly feels like a legitimate, authentic, heartfelt attempt to capture the “spirit” of being Batman and some of his most notorious villains. Restricting the action to Arkham Island may make the game much smaller and quaint compared to its successors but it adds to the claustrophobic tension that permeates the narrative and the desperate situation Batman finds himself in as he’s trapped on an island with no means of escape and duty-bound to hunt these criminals down. While the sequels may have expanded and improved upon literally aspect featured in this first game, as well as adding much more fan service and additional features, Batman: Arkham Asylum is still a really enjoyable experience and I had a blast playing through it again for this long-overdue review.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think to Batman: Arkham Asylum? How do you feel it holds up compared to its sequels and other, similar videogames? Did you enjoy being restricted to the titular asylum or do you prefer the bigger, more open worlds of the later games? Which of Batman’s gadgets and rogues were your favourite to use or fight against and why? Did you ever find all of the Riddler’s trophies and secrets? Were you a fan of the game’s freeflowing combat system and the various gameplay options available to you? How are you planning on celebrating Batman Day this year and what is your favourite Batman videogame? Whatever your thoughts on Batman: Arkham Asylum, or Batman in general, please leave a comment below and check back in next Wednesday for my review of the sequel!

Talking Movies [Superman Month]: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace


In 2013, DC Comics declared the 12th of June as “Superman Day”, a day for fans of the Man of Steel the world over to celebrate Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman, the superpowered virtue of “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” who is widely regarded as the first ever costumed superhero. This year, I’ve been spending every Sunday of June celebrating the Man of Steel by expanding Superman Day to “Superman Month“.


Released: 24 July 1987
Director: Sidney J. Furie
Distributor:
Warner Bros. / Columbia-Cannon-Warner-EMI Distributors
Budget:
$17 million
Stars:
Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, Mariel Hemingway, Jon Cryer, and Mark Pillow

The Plot:
When criminal mastermind Lex Luthor’s (Hackman) nephew, Lenny (Cryer), breaks him out of prison, he enacts a diabolic scheme to destroy Superman (Reeve) by creating his own super-powered minion, “Nuclear Man” (Pillow/Hackman). As if this threat wasn’t bad enough, Superman (and his alter ego, Clark Kent) is suffering a crisis of conscience and the heart as he struggles to keep the world from nuclear destruction and to balance his love life.

The Background:
Superman III (Lester, 1983) might have been a critical disappointment but producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind were happy to produce a fourth film if its predecessor made over $40 million at the box office. Somehow, it did, but the duo’s financial concerns and Reeve’s reluctance to return to the franchise ultimately saw them selling the Superman rights to the Cannon Group for $5 million in June 1985. Cannon managed to entice Reeve back with a $6 million payday, additional creative control (the anti-nuclear angle of the film was his idea), and financing for another project. However, the production was off to a rocky start almost immediately; Richard Donner turned down the director’s chair, Reeve clashed with Wes Craven and was unable to convince the studio to hire Ron Howard, and co-star Jon Cryer described the entire film as a “nightmare” to shoot. Thanks to Cannon’s ongoing legal issues, the film’s budget was routinely slashed, an entire sub-plot was cut, and the once-vaulted special effects took a dramatic decline in quality. Unsurprisingly, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace was a dismal box office bomb; the film fell short of $40 million, which is frankly pathetic after the success of the first film, and has been repeatedly touted as not only the death knell of the franchise but one of the worst movies ever made.

The Review:
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is another difficult one for me to revisit; as a kid, I remember being entertained by the film, which was full of bright colours, action, and another physical confrontation for the Man of Steel but, as many have stated in the years since, it can’t be denied that the series had taken a massive and unexpected dip in quality since the ground-breaking original and its influential sequel. The film opens with a poignant scene at the Kent farm where, following the offscreen death of his mother, Clark is preparing to sell his childhood home. Before doing so, he retrieves a glowing Kryptonian energy module from the remains of his ship, which is rendered forever cold and silent as a result, and Clark’s day-to-day life is made all the more complicated by the interference of David Warfield (Sam Wanamaker) and his daughter Lacy (Hemingway) in the running of the Daily Planet; annoyed at the Planet’s lack of profitability, the Warfield’s put pressure on editor-in-chief Perry White (Jackie Cooper) to sex-up the traditional publication and the elder Warfield is so full of himself that he makes his daughter’s promotion front page news!

An odd three/four-way love triangle develops between Clark, his alter ego, and his leading ladies.

Although Lana Lang (Annette O’Toole) is sadly missing from the film and no mention is made of her, an awkward love triangle (more like a love square, I guess) does become a sub-plot of the film when newcomer Lacy takes a shine to Clark Kent. This leads to such “hilarious” moments as Clark visiting a gym with Lacy and feigning difficulty with the machines, and a laughable sequence where Clark and Lacy double date with Lois Lane (Kidder) and Superman, forcing Clark to dive in and out of costume to keep both women happy before thankfully being called away by a greater threat. The film even unashamedly rips off the Superman/Lois romance from the first two films; having a crisis of conscience regarding the world’s nuclear crisis, Clark reveals his identity to Lois, takes her on a terribly composited flight around the world, and asks for her advice before wiping her memory once again. While there is a poignant moment to be found here when Clark laments how unfair it is that he is forced to share himself with the entire world rather than the woman he loves, this largely amounts to an uncomfortable bit of selfishness on Superman’s part since he freely toys with Lois’s emotions and her memory rather than finding a less invasive way of decided what he should do about the looming threat of nuclear war.

After a moral debate, Superman ultimately decides to rid the Earth of all nuclear weapons.

Indeed, perhaps the film’s most promising and appealing element is the question of worldwide nuclear destruction; I know a lingering fear I’ve always had about our world is the presence of nuclear weapons, just one of which could cause a cataclysmic disaster that could end all life on the planet, and tackling this issue with Superman has a lot of potential that really deserves to be in a better movie. When begged to intervene in the nuclear arms race, Superman finds himself torn between his morals since the ghosts of the Kryptonian council vehemently forbid him from interfering in human history. Ultimately, however, Superman decides that he loves the Earth too much to see it go the same way as Krypton and announces to the world’s governments that he is going to rid the planet of all nuclear weapons. He does this by, of course, having them all shot into space so he can gather them up in a giant net and hurl them into the Sun, an ingenious solution that potentially means the world should calm down into a semi-utopia but actually gives birth to a supervillain whose powers match (and, in many ways, surpass) Superman’s.

Using Superman’s DNA, Luthor births Nuclear Man, a ridiculous supervillain capable of crippling the Man of Steel.

This Nuclear Man is the latest brainchild of criminal genius Lex Luthor; easily freed from his imprisonment by his loud-mouthy, goofball nephew Lenny, Luthor (now completely disregarding both bald caps and wigs for Hackman’s natural hair) hatches a plot to take advantage of Superman’s deeds and birth a superpowered minion of his own using a strand of Superman’s hair (also acquired with a ridiculous amount of ease) and some ill-defined genetic tissue attached to one of the nukes. The result is the violent but child-like Nuclear Man, a being born of both Superman and Luthor who exhibits incredible superhuman powers when exposed to sunlight but becomes useless and dormant when bathed in the slightest of shadows. Still, Nuclear Man proves to be a formidable threat; not only does he cause all kinds of chaos and destruction across the globe with his powers but he is also able to cripple Superman with radiation sickness using his talons. However, thanks to the energy module from his ship, Superman is able to recover and ultimately defeat Nuclear Man by shifting the orbit of the Moon and dropping his inert form into a nuclear power plant.

The Nitty-Gritty:
I find Superman IV incredibly fascinating in a lot of ways; considering both Margot Kidder and Gene Hackman were pissed at the treatment of Richard Donner, I find it mind-boggling that the two (especially Hackman) agreed to be in this absolute mess of a movie. While the film doesn’t have to worry about being dominated by the buffoonery of Richard Pryor, any drama and tension that might be felt by Nuclear Man is completely negated by the presence of Lenny. Thankfully, he’s nowhere near as prominent as Gus Gorman but he’s basically Otis (Ned Beatty) dialled up to eleven and infused with a lazy, surfer-dude persona and I never quite understood why these films felt compelled to lumber Luthor with halfwit accomplices (though I actually probably would have preferred to see Otis take Lenny’s place).

The special effects and film logic have taken a massive hit thanks to the miniscule budget.

Of course, one of the first things you’ll notice about Superman IV is that the once-lauded special effects have taken a massive hit; the budget cuts are apparent right from the off as the opening titles pale in comparison to the first film, John Williams’ score seems devoid of all its usual enthusiasm, and even Superman’s rescue of a runaway subway train is lacklustre. Rather than film dynamic and unique flying sequences, the film simply reuses the same shot of Reeve flying at the camera over and over again and, unlike in the previous films, it’s pretty much impossible not to spot that this is a poorly-composited effect. The film’s wirework is equally sloppy and embarrassing compared to the last three films; the fight between Nuclear Man and Superman on the Moon is a plodding affair the lacks any of the intensity seen in Superman’s battles in the second and third movies. Add to that the frankly ludicrous depiction of Superman’s powers (he can now rebuild the Great Wall of China using just his eyes) and concepts as simple as outer space (not only do Nuclear Man and Superman move around freely on the Moon but Lacy is somehow able to breathe in the great void, despite astronauts and space-faring equipment being seen in the opening sequence!), and it’s frankly humiliating to see just how far the series has fallen since the first movie.

Superman IV‘s few good moments would shine all the brighter in a film that was actually good…

Superman comes under fire when he initially turns down the heartfelt plea from schoolboy Jeremy (Damian McLawhorn) to step in and help with the nuclear crisis, something he feels compelled to do despite the urgings of the long-dead Kryptonian council. Feeling a deepfelt love for his adopted world, he feels morally obligated to step in but only does so after confiding in Lois once more. Truthfully, the nuclear plotline is something I’d love to see addressed in the comics some time; I get that it’d be “too easy” to have Superman simply solve the world’s problems but I feel like getting rid of the world’s nuclear weapons deserves a bit of a pass. Clearly attempting to leech off what worked in the first movie, Superman IV’s various call-backs (Superman and Lois go for a fly, Luthor impersonates a military officer and communicates with Superman on a special frequency, Lois gets flustered interviewing Superman, and his abilities are restored using Kryptonian technology, to name just a few) just paint it as a pale, low-budget imitation of better movies. While there are a few decent moments in the film (Superman addressing the United Nations and being accepted by the world’s different representatives is pretty inspiring, and Reeve and Hackman continue to elevate even the weakest of scripts), all of them belong in a far better film. As a kid, I was enthralled by the battle between Superman and Nuclear Man but as intimidating as Nuclear Man with his demonic voice (his declaration of “I am the father now” hints at the potential of him to be a significant threat) and own array of terrible superpowers, but he looks absolutely ridiculous in his little black-and-cold outfit and his menace is ultimately neutered with ludicrous ease (though I guess this makes sense and goes a long way to show how Luthor prepared for his “son’s” hostile impulses).

The Summary:
I mean…what can you say about Superman IV: The Quest for Peace that numerous others haven’t already said? The film’s been picked and critiqued and criticised to death and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone say a good thing about it beyond praising Reeve for maintaining a consistent portrayal of the Man of Steel. I think the one thing you can say about the film is that it’s probably a decent amount of fun for little kids who, if they’re anything like I was as a child, will be easily pleased by the bright colours, daft comedy, and fight scenes between Superman and Nuclear Man. Once you grow a old enough to recognise how cheap and lazy the film is, though, it’s hard to look past Superman IV’s glaring flaws. If there’s any concept that can’t be done on the cheap, it’s Superman, because the result is this; a whole mess of recycled, low-quality shots, poor special effects, and a lame rehash of concepts realised far better in even the third film. Ultimately, there’s a reason people avoid this film as it’s a pretty sad state of affairs to find the once-lucrative and ground-breaking franchise in and you should only check it out if you have kids to entertain or if you’ve got nothing better to watch and want to get drunk to a bunch of ridiculous nonsense.

My Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Terrible

I don’t suppose you’re a fan of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace? I mean, probably not but it’s worth asking the question, right? What did you think to the focus on nuclear weapons and do you think Superman should tackle this issue more directly? Were you a fan of Nuclear Man and his ability to injure Superman? What did you think to the romantic sub-plot and the return of Gene Hackman to the franchise? How influential was Christopher Reeve’s turn as Superman on your perception of the character? Whatever your thoughts on Superman IV, and Superman in general, drop a comment below.