In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’m looking at multiversal crossovers every Tuesday in April in an event I call “Crossover Crisis”.
Story Title: “Disordered Minds” Published: September 1995 Writer: J.M. DeMatteis Artist: Mark Bagley
The Review: Our story begins with Peter Parker wrestling with the guilt and shame of being partially responsible for the death of his beloved Uncle Ben. In a nightmarish revisitation of the fateful night when Dennis Carradine broke into the Parker home and gunned down Ben, Peter (as Spider-Man) is on hand to strike with a furious vengeance, viewing the gunman as some maniacal monster who simply laughs at his murderous actions so hard that he eventually turns into the Joker! Peter awakens in horror, eased through the aftermath of this oft-recurring nightmare by his beautiful and busty wife, Mary Jane Watson-Parker. As ever in times of emotional crisis, Peter takes to web-slinging to help clear his head and ventures out into the night reaffirming his commitment to using his powers responsibility in order to live up to the examples set by his doting aunt and uncle. Coincidentally enough, that very same night, Bruce Wayne is also reliving the night that his parents died, gunned down in an alley in a senseless act of violence. Similar to Peter, Bruce’s dream sees him (as Batman) leaping into action, hatred for the inhumane monster boiling in his veins, and awakens to find himself, as ever, alone in his vast mansion with only his heartache and faithful butler and father-figure, Alfred Pennyworth. However, while he appreciates Alfred’s concern and loyalty, he heads out into the night as Batman without a word, determined to ensure that none should suffer as he did from random acts of violence. With our characters and their motivations firmly established, the story jumps over to the Ravencroft Institute, where Spider-Man is accompanying Doctor Ashley Kafka for a visit to the imprisoned Cletus Kasady/Carnage, who’s being held in a specially-constructed cell that keeps his violent symbiote at bay presumably using heat. The purpose of this is similar to the opening panels as Kasady simply taunts Dr. Kafka with a summary of his abusive and disturbing childhood, some of which may be true and some of which may just be another aspect of his twisted personality since Kasady is obsessed with murder, mayhem, and (quite fittingly) carnage.
Carnage surprises both of them by breaking out of his cage, claiming himself to be a “walking impossibility” beyond logic and reason, but luckily Spider-Man and a security force led by Colonel John Jameson are on hand to subdue the serial killer with their fists and microwave guns, respectively, though newcomer Cassandra Briar proposes a far more permanent (if radical) solution to Kasady’s frequent maniacal outbursts. Utilising a “bio-technic cure” for Kasady’s insanity, Briar has a computer chip installed in his cerebral cortex, which promises to render him for more docile and stable, though Dr. Kafka likens it to the equivalent of a modern-day lobotomy and Spidey remains doubtful that it’ll stick since he’s more than familiar with Kasady’s volatile nature. Similarly, over in Gotham City, Batman puts a stop to the Joker’s latest scheme to infect millions of people with a deadly virus transmitted through bats and returns the Harlequin of Hate to Arkham Asylum (though he’s disgusted when the Joker lands a bite on him during their scuffle). There, Briar proudly shows off how meek and timid Kasady has become from her controversial treatment and uses this success as all the justification she needs to implant a similar chip into the Joker’s head, thus becoming a media sensation for rendering two of the country’s most violent and sadistic supervillains “as harmless as a puppy”. Determined to ride these successes to a wider rollout of her “miracle cure” and receive Presidential approval to eradicate psychopaths everywhere, Briar receives the shock of her life when the Carnage symbiote suddenly bursts out of Kasady’s body after shorting out her chip, taking both her and the terrified and submissive Joker hostage. Thankfully, the Batman is on hand (having disguised himself as a guard) to confront the demented killer, but his usual tactic of goading a villain into discarding their hostages in favour of him fails to work since Carnage has no interest in prioritising Batman over anyone else. Luckily, Spider-Man makes a surprise appearance to whisk Briar out of the maniac’s clawed grip and the two masked heroes take the fight to Carnage, despite Batman’s assertion that he doesn’t need the help.
Regardless, the two briefly knock Carnage off balance, but he’s able to slip away by firing shards of his symbiote at the nearby cops and strangling the others with his bloody tendrils, creating an effective distraction to cover his escape. Naturally, Batman is less than thrilled to see Spider-Man encroaching on his turf, both out of a desire to keep the web-slinger from getting hurt due to his unfamiliarity with the city’s unique dangers and because he doesn’t need or want his help or him getting in the way, though Spidey naturally ignores this warning. In comparison, Carnage admits to an admiration for the Joker’s “homicidal genius [and] shameless depravity” and uses a small fragment of his suit to short out the chip and return the Clown Prince of Crime to what asses for normal. Although initially confused, frustrated, and angered at the Joker’s babbling and insolence, Carnage quickly gleefully rejoices in the Joker’s commitment to the absurd meaningless of anarchy. However, their partnership is short-lived. When the Joker takes Carnage to his secret, fairground-themed hideout to retrieve the remainder of his virus, joyfully expositing his plan to douse hundreds of Joker-themed jack-in-the-boxes with the toxin and distribute them to kids, Carnage is disgusted since it would take too long for the bodies to start piling up and he delights in getting his hands bloody from up-close-and-personal slaughter. The two come to blows over their differing methods and mentalities, with the Joker easily slipping away through a hidden trapdoor and even attempting to kill Carnage by blowing up his lair. In contrast after Batman contemplates Carnage’s unique brand of madness and sadistic nature in the Batcave and Spider-Man sees first-hand how different things are in Gotham when nobody bats an eyelid when a random civilian is screaming bloody murder in the streets, our heroes finally come together when Batman not only picks Spider-Man up in the Batmobile but even apologises for giving him the brush off.
Though he has no time for Spider-Man’s quips and jokes, Batman recognises that he has unique insight into Carnage, and the two are able to track him to the wreckage of the Joker’s lair, where they find what appears to be his dead body but is, in fact, a decoy Carnage set up to trick the Joker. Delighted to have the Batman in his coils instead, Carnage plans to publicly execute Batman on top of Gotham Towers and, while comparing Carnage to Death itself, which passed him by back in Crime Alley, Batman orders Spider-Man to stop Carnage despite the threat to his life. However, it’s the Joker who actually intervenes in the tense showdown; claiming ownership over the Batman and determined to drop his virus on the four of them, killing all of them and everyone else in the city simply to spite Carnage, Kasady’s briefest flicker of fear is all the opening Batman needs to break free from his grip and leap into action. Spider-Man easily webs up the threat and, despite it taking the combined might of Spider-Man and Eddie Brock/Venom and many others in the past, the Batman is easily able to pummel Carnage into unconsciousness since, for all his powers and bloodlust, he’s simply another sloppy punk and a “scared little boy”. With Carnage subdued, Spider-Man chases down the Joker with an uncharacteristic rage; easily manhandling the Clown Prince of Crime, Spider-Man is barely able to stop himself from killing the Joker since he’s too great a threat, too dedicated to violence and chaos, to be left alive. While his better nature prevails and he ultimately spares the Joker, Spidey does deliver a knock-out punch to the cackling villain, finally bringing the story’s combined threat to an end. As if seeing Spider-Man pushed to the point of killing wasn’t surprising enough, Spidey is unusually quiet in his final confrontation with the Batman; weary from the night’s events, the two choose not to ruin the moment with words and instead part ways with a hearty handshake having found a common ground and a mutual respect through their conduct and escapades.
The Summary: “Disordered Minds” is an interesting approach to take for an intercompany crossover. You might think with characters as wildly different as Spider-Man and Batman that the focus would be on their different methods; if Dick Grayson/Nightwing is an athletic chatterbox and the various Robins are brightly-coloured distractions to throw criminals off from Batman’s darker, more measured approach, then Spider-Man should drive the Dark Knight absolutely batty (heh!) with his constant chatter, quips, and annoying tendencies. Instead, there’s actually not much in the way of banter between the two; Spider-Man mouths off a little in the Batmobile, but that’s about it and the rest of their interactions basically boil down to Batman telling Spidey to fuck off and Spider-Man sticking around because of his innate sense of responsibility. This is a bit of a shame as I would’ve liked to see their contrasting personalities and methods more on show beyond “Gotham’s not what you’re used to sod off!” and “Boy, you’re grim” but the story does have to two united in their shared grief. Both carry a tremendous amount of survivor’s guilt, though for different reasons; Bruce was too young to do anything about his parents’ murder whereas Peter chose not to use his powers responsibly, so both are on the same path towards safeguarding others to ease their guilt and pain but have very different outlooks on the world. This comes up multiple times, with Spider-Man raging against the chaos and violence around him and Batman lashing out at “Death” and determined to rally against it however he can.
The art is where the story really shines; Mark Bagley is one of the top Spider-Man artists and, thanks to his work on the character and his various run-ins with symbiotes before, has more than proven himself capable of delivering a dynamic and visually exciting Spider-Man and menacing and dangerous Carnage. His Batman and Joker fare really well too, naturally, and the art is absolutely stunning all throughout even if the writing fails it somewhat. We spend no less than eleven pages recapping the origins of Spider-Man, Batman, and Carnage, which is probably great for newcomers but somewhat unnecessary for long-term readers when, normally, a simple text box sums it all up nicely. Thankfully, all of this is rendered in an interesting way through the use of nightmares and Carnage’s dramatic escape from custody, but the writing stumbles a bit mid-way through, too, since Cassandra Briar basically disappears after being rescued despite so much time being spent on her computer chip cure. I feel like a simple story about Kasady or the Joker being transferred across the country might’ve been a much simpler and faster way to get things moving since the chip is easily destroyed by Carnage and doesn’t factor into the plot beyond being a contrived way to get him and the Joker to cross paths. There’s also not a huge amount of interaction between Batman and Spider-Man; they don’t physically fight (which is unusual at the best of times but even more so for a crossover like this), join forces pretty quickly after Batman stops being irrationally stubborn, and it doesn’t really take much at all for them to defeat the villainous duo despite Carnage being so powerful that Spider-Man alone usually struggles to defeat him. there’s a promise of a twisted partnership between Carnage and the Joker but it’s almost immediately squandered simply because Carnage gets impatient, which is in keeping with his character but basically means the villains don’t actually do anything besides compliment each other, scuffle a bit, and then get taken out by the heroes. All in all, this was relatively entertaining and interesting first meeting between my two favourite comic book heroes but it didn’t quite deliver on its potential, despite the fantastic art work and some fun moments.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Have you ever read Spider-Man and Batman? If so, what did you think to it? Do you own a copy of the original comic or do you remember reading it when it was first published? Were you surprised that there wasn’t more time spent on contrasting the different methods and personalities of the two heroes? What did you think to the brief team-up between the Joker and Carnage the ease that they were defeated? Would you like to see DC and Marvel collaborate again in the future and, if so, what stories would you like to see? Whatever your thoughts onSpider-Man and Batman, and comic book crossovers of this kind, sign up to share them below or comment on my social media and check back next Tuesday as Crossover Crisis continues!
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 suitthat 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
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!
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 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
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!
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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).
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.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
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!
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
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!
In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this conceptagain and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’m looking at multiversal crossovers every Wednesday in April in an event I’m calling “Crossover Crisis”.
Story Title: “The Monster and the Madman” Published: September 1981 Writer: Len Wein Artist: José Luis García-López
The Background: Although the two companies both publish stories of colourful, superpowered heroes in a cut-throat industry, the relationship between DC Comics and Marvel Comics has been surprisingly collaborative and amicable over the years (especially compared to many of the toxic “fans” who argue on social media every day…) Sure, there’s been lawsuits and underhanded tactics from both companies, but not only were the legendary Stan Lee and the disreputable sham Bob Kane actually good friends but both companies borrowed from and inspired each other and they’ve even collaborated on many joint publications in the past.
The Review: One of the most reliable constants of many comic books, especially back in the 1960s through to the mid-1990s, was that many stories derail or pad out their narrative with a recap of their character’s origins and background. This seems to mostly happen to Spider-Man, who often interrupts whatever problem he’s having in the issue to recap his iconic origin and, don’t get me wrong, I get why this happens (you can’t expect every reader to be familiar with your characters, after all) but I much prefer it when comics simply have a bit of text before the story to catch readers up. Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk opts for this latter option and is all the better for it; before the story starts, we get a one page, two-column spread the recaps how Bruce Wayne saw his parents shot and trained his body and mind to become Batman and how Dr. Banner was bombarded with Gamma radiation and subsequently transforms into the rampaging Hulk whenever stressed or angry.
Like Superman vs. Spider-Man, Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk begins with a prologue that establishes the villains of the story; the first is more of an abstract introduction as people all over Gotham City suffer from horrific and disturbing nightmares while the second is far more tangible as is shows that the Joker is back in town and has joined forces with a disembodied voice for nefarious reasons. The story then shifts to find Banner, under the pseudonym of “David Banks”, working a menial job for Wayne Research in order to get close to their “experimental Gamma-Gun”, and who is the only person to act fast enough to slip into a radiation suit and avoid the Joker’s debilitating laughing gas when the Harlequin of Hate and his goons show up to steal that same device!
When Banner moves to raise the alarm, he is tackled and beaten by Joker’s thugs which, of course, causes him to transform into the Hulk! Quickly realising that their firepower is absolutely useless against the creature, the Joker orders his men to grab the Gamma-Gun and flee but their escape is impeded by the sudden arrival of the Batman! Unfortunately for Batman, the Joker immediately takes advantage of the Hulk’s child-like demeanour to convince the Green Goliath that Batman is his enemy and thus the two engage in fist fight! Batman initially holds back from confusing and potentially further antagonising the Hulk but finds his attempts to paralyse his foe by striking his nerve centres fruitless. Unable to harm the Hulk, Batman tries to keep his distance and out-think the creature and almost gets his spine snapped as a result! Batman is finally able to subdue the Hulk, however, by forcing him to breathe in a big lungful of his special Bat-gas but, though the Hulk is finally toppled, the Joker escapes with the Gamma-Gun. Batman returns to the facility as Bruce Wayne and immediately enlists the services of the grief-stricken Banner in the construction of a replacement Gamma-Gun.
Back at the docks, the Joker activates the Gamma-Gun and allows his newfound friend, the Shaper of Worlds, to partially manifest in the real world and give us all a run-down on his origin as a parasite who feeds upon the dreams of others and bring them to life. He’s struck a bargain with the Joker (whose insane mind makes him “unique in all the universe”) to help restore the Shaper’s failing abilities, though exactly what the Joker is getting out of this deal is left unclear (and it is heavily implied that the Shaper scares even the Joker!) While Batman hits up Gotham’s underworld in search of the Joker, Banner finds the stress of his assignment putting him on edge. Although he’s briefly calmed down by a cup of Alfred Pennyworth’s tea, he continues to push himself without food or proper rest. Thus, when the Joker’s men arrive disguised as military officials charged with arresting Banner, it isn’t long before he turns green once again. When a specially-designed taser-rifle fails to have the desired effect on the Hulk, a massive blob-like creature enters the fray. Despite the Hulk’s increasing rage and best attempts, the creature is effectively able to absorb and contain the Hulk and spirit him away and Batman arrives in time only to hear Commissioner Jim Gordon receiving confirmation from General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross that the soldiers were fakes.
Back at the Joker’s warehouse, the Hulk goes on a rampage when he hears the Clown Prince of Crime’s plan to revert him to Banner in order to make adjustments to the Gamma-Gun; despite the Shaper’s best efforts to quell the beast’s rage, both he and the Hulk are tormented by disturbing nightmares that leave the two physically and emotionally drained. Bored by the conflict, the Hulk flees but the Shaper comes to the conclusion that the crippling pain and madness his condition brings him can be cured not by the Gamma-Gun…but by the Hulk himself thanks to his unique Gamma properties and orders the Joker to recapture the beast. To facilitate this, the Joker explains the bind he’s in to Batman and enlists his aid, which soon leads to a second confrontation between the two characters. Bored of Batman and being constantly hounded by “puny humans”, the Hulk chooses to flee but a fight soon inevitably breaks out.
Once again, Batman chooses to fight smarter rather than harder, rolling with and doing everything he can to avoid or survive the Hulk’s attacks while trying to talk sense into the increasingly-enraged Hulk. Batman’s tricks result in the Hulk demolishing the building the two were fighting in and once again fleeing in order to be left in peace. Batman is finally able to get through to the Hulk by posing as a harmless old blind man and offering the creature his friendship, which calms the Hulk enough to the point where he willingly goes along with the Joker to confront the Shaper. However, angered that the Joker is willing to let the Hulk face this foe alone, Batman slaps his archenemy down and finally joins forces with the Jade Giant to battle a legion of their enemies brought to life by the Shaper’s powers. Finally on the same page, the two are easily able to overcome the living nightmares and fight their way to the Shaper, who holds them at bay with an impenetrable barrier. Angered at the idea of anything being stronger than he is, the Hulk charges ahead at full speed and exhausts his Gamma energy, reverting to Banner and curing the Shaper.
Despite Batman’s pleas, the Shaper honours the bargain he made with the Joker and, having been cured, bestows the Joker with “limitless, infinite power”. Effectively acting as a genie for the Joker, the Shaper makes all of the Joker’s wishes come true, transforming him into a God-like jester who unleashes chaos and madness throughout Gotham City and uses his reality-warping powers to shape the city, its people, and even Batman however he sees fit. When the Shaper refuses to renege on his word, Banner transforms back into the Hulk and finds himself transported to the Joker’s increasingly mental world. Batman goads the Joker into pushing his powers to the limit by criticising his creativity and lack of imagination; although this results in things becoming even more warped and abstract, it also has the intended side effect of overwhelming the Joker, leaving him wide open for a knockout punch. In the aftermath, the Shaper takes his leave, the Joker is confined to Arkham Asylum once again, and Batman allows Banner to slip away in order to find the peace he so desperately desires.
The Summary: Given that I grew up mainly reading DC and Marvel Comics and annuals published in the seventies and eighties, Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk’s presentation is immediately recognisable to me and these are the quintessential representations of these characters at that time, in my opinon. Batman is much more of a stoic tactician and a fair-minded vigilante than a grim, overly paranoid avenger of the night and the Hulk speaks with a child-like demeanour and, while he just wants to be left alone, is more than ready to throw hands when provoked.
Thanks to the Hulk’s unpredictable and explosive demeanour, Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk features a couple of fights between the two characters that are instantly believable. It’s not the first time that someone/a villain has manipulated the Hulk into trusting them or going nuts on a specific target and Batman is smart enough to not try and match the Hulk blow for blow. Instead, their fights are more about Batman trying to outmanoeuvre his foe, trying to reason with him, and using his physical skills and gadgets to stay out of the Hulk’s reach and to subdue him. It’s definitely a battle of brains versus brawn, which isn’t unusual when characters fight the Hulk but it’s definitely a spectacle seeing Batman trying to take on such an overwhelming foe. Superman versus the Hulk obviously makes more sense on paper but I don’t think it would have resulted in as interesting a story and probably would have descended into a slugfest instead.
I’m not familiar with the Shaper of Worlds but the story does a pretty good job of establishing his powers and what he wants; desperate to cure the crippling pain and madness caused by his fading abilities, he enters into a partnership with the Joker to use Gamma radiation to stabilise him. It’s unusual to see the Joker acting out of fear or subordinate to another but his characterisation remains completely on point and he never seems to be a diminished threat. Instead, he remains in control and a tangible menace throughout; he’s smart enough to manipulate the Hulk and even convince Batman to help him, and then obtains God-like power and goes berserk bending and twisting reality, forcing Batman to think of ways to outsmart him, which is always fun to see.
Overall, it was quite a decent crossover between the two. The Hulk typically doesn’t have one set location so setting the entire story in Gotham City was a good idea; seeing Banner and Wayne (and Alfred) interact was a nice little inclusion and something missing from Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man. While neither character’s supporting cast have very much to do, it was nice to see Gordon show up (and to have him communicate with Ross) and having the Shaper conjure up nightmarish visions of both character’s foes was pretty awesome, especially when the Hulk reacted to Batman’s enemies with disinterested rage. There could have been more interactions between Batman and the Hulk; entire pages and chapters go past without the two interacting at all, either in or out of costume/form, which is in contrast to Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man but I think this was done to keep the story from descending into a series of one-sided fights. After all, there’s only so many ways you can show Batman avoiding being pummeled by the Hulk before it gets repetitive, and we do get to see interesting character combinations and interactions (and a pretty decent Batman story featuring the Hulk) as a result.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Have you ever read Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk? If so, what did you think to it? Do you own a copy of the original comic or do you remember reading it when it was first published? Were you surprised that Batman was pitted against the Hulk? Do you think he should have met a different Marvel character instead? What did you think to the team-up between the Joker and the Shaper and the Joker’s acquisition of phenomenal cosmic powers? Would you like to see DC and Marvel collaborate again in the future and, if so, what stories would you like to see? Whatever your thoughts on Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk, and comic book crossovers of this kind, drop a comment down below and check back next Wednesday as Crossover Crisis continues!
In April of 1940, about a year after the debut of arguably their most popular character, Bruce Wayne/Batman, DC Comics debuted “the sensational find of [that year]”, Dick Grayson/Robin. Since then, Batman’s pixie-boots-wearing partner has changed outfits and a number of different charactershave assumed the mantle as the Dynamic Duo of Batman and Robin have become an iconic staple of DC Comics. Considering my fondness for the character and those who assumed the mantle over the years, what better way to celebrate this dynamic debut than to dedicate every Sunday of April to celebrating the character?
Released: 27 July 2010 Director: Brandon Vietti Distributor: Warner Home Video Budget: Unknown Stars: Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, John DiMaggio, Wade Williams, and Jason Isaacs
The Plot: Gotham City’s underworld is terrorised by a murderous vigilante known only as “The Red Hood” (Ackles). In investigating this new threat, Batman (Greenwood) is forced to face the greatest failure of his career as old wounds reopen and old, once buried memories come into the light.
The Background: As I detailed in my review of A Death in the Family (Starlin, et al, 1988), readers were first introduced to Jason Todd in March 1963. With the original Robin, Dick Grayson, having grown up and gone away to college, Jason was initially almost indistinguishable from his predecessor until he was given an “edge” by writer Jim Starlin following the Crisis on Infinite Earths(Wolfman, et al, 1985 to 1986). Readers didn’t take kindly to the new Robin and, in a moment that went on to define Batman for years to come, DC Comics made the decision to kill the character off in the aforementioned Death in the Family storyline. For over fifteen years, Jason Todd stayed dead and his death haunted Batman; his monument in the Batcave served as a constant reminder of Batman’s greatest failure and he was long considered one of only a handful of comic cook characters who would stay dead. The character made a surprise return during the “Hush” storyline (Loeb, et al, 2002 to 2003) before being officially brought back to life (through cosmic, reality-bending shenanigans, of course) in the “Under the Hood” arc (Winick, et al, 2004 to 2005; 2005 to 2006). Jason’s resurrection was generally positively received and he has gone on to become a popular anti-hero as the Red Hood and, 2010, Winick came onboard to write the animated adaptation of his influential storyline. Batman: Under the Red Hood was the eighth animated feature of the DC Universe Animated Original Movies line-up, which aimed to be more mature than the DC Animated Universe popularised by Bruce Tim and Paul Dini. Batman: Under the Red Hood was one of the most successful of DC’s animated ventures, making over $12 million in sales and being critically applauded; a follow-up even surprisingly landed in 2020 in the form of an interactive animated feature that was also quite well received.
The Review: I never really had any strong feelings for or against Jason Todd as I read comic books so sporadically as a kid that, by the time I even read A Death in the Family, Dick Grayson had already become Nightwing and Tim Drake was already the third Robin so, if I didn’t like what happened to him, it was too late to be mad about it. I do feel, though, like the idea of bringing him back was great…on paper….but that DC Comics screwed it up in execution. Personally, I think Jason should have been Hush all along as his outfit in Hush was way better than the Red Hood look and, considering DC kind of retconned that Jason was present during Hush anyway, I think this would have made a lot more sense. Plus, it took DC a long time to find a way to mention Jason’s dramatic return without having to reference the reality-breaking shenanigans of Infinite Crisis (Johns et al, 2005 to 2006) and, in that regard, if feels like Under the Red Hood tells a far simpler and much more coherent version of events surrounding Jason’s resurrection thanks to the benefit of hindsight.
Under the Red Hood opens with its interpretation of the events of A Death in the Family; in this adaptation, Ra’s al Ghul (Isaacs) allied with the Joker (DiMaggio) in his latest bid to disrupt Europe’s economy. He realises the error in his judgement all-too-late as the Joker captured Jason Todd/Robin (Vincent Martella) and was busy amusing himself by taunting Robin and mercilessly beating him with a crowbar. Although Jason remained defiant, even with a collapsed lung and having been beaten half to death, he was helpless against the Harlequin of Hate. Despite Jason struggles with all his failing might to hold out for Batman, who raced to aid his young partner, he was killed when the warehouse that he was trapped in explodes (again, take note: Jason is killed by the explosion and not by the crowbar!) The film then jumps ahead five years to find Gotham’s criminal figureheads lured into a meeting and confronted by the mysterious Red Hood. Red Hood delights in taunting the criminals and muscles his way into the operation, promising to protect them from both Batman and Roman Sionis/Black Mask (Williams) on the proviso that they don’t peddle their wares on young kids and proves himself a credible threat by presenting a bag full of the severed heads of their lieutenants. Meanwhile, Batman continues to operate within the city; however, his experiences with Jason have left him more of a loner than ever, to the point where he even out-right refuses Nightwing’s (Harris) help in taking down Amazo (Fred Tatasciore), a superpowered android with all of the powers of the Justice League. Nightwing, of course, completely disregards this and helps anyway and, in the process, the two learn of the Red Hood’s bid to muscle the Black Mask out of power and control Gotham’s underworld.
When the Red Hood kills the thugs transporting Amazo, Batman gives chase in the Batwing but loses him in the Axis Chemical Plant (though not before having a flashback to his first encounter with the Joker, who, at that time, was hidden under the guise of the original Red Hood). Back at the Batcave, Batman and Nightwing analyse the footage of the biker-gear-clad vigilante and note that, since he arrived in town, crime has fallen significantly. Suspecting that the Joker may be behind the new Red Hood, they head to Arkham Asylum to interrogate the Clown Prince of Crime, who denies any involvement in his activities but takes the opportunity to rile Batman up over failing to save the former Robin. Meanwhile, the Red Hood’s activities have angered Black Mask, the ruling mob boss of Gotham City. In this incarnation, Black Mask is similar to Johann Schmidt/The Red Skull in that, rather than wearing a mask or a helmet, his head is literally a charred black skull. Apart from that, he’s a bombastic, maniacal gangster who viciously beats anyone who dares to stare at his gruesome appearance. His efforts to kill the Red Hood meet in failure as he is closely monitoring Black Mask’s meetings and movements so that he can steal his weapons and merchandise. Thankfully, Batman has also been monitoring Black Mask, correctly guessing that the Red Hood would hijack his latest shipment, and as a result comes face-to-face with Gotham’s newest vigilante once more after an exhilarating chase through a construction site, across the city rooftops, and even across the city’s famously impractical blimps.
Thanks to the Red Hood’s impressive skills, physical aptitude, and apparent knowledge of Batman’s weapons and tactics (all of which Nightwing, and even Batman, admit to being amazed by), this proves to be a trap as Batman and Nightwing are lured into an explosion that leaves Dick’s leg injured. Both of them marvel at the Red Hood’s physical abilities and skills and knowledge of Batman’s tactics but Batman is stunned when he reviews the playback of their encounter and hears the Red Hood calling him “Bruce”. Black Mask steps up his campaign against the Red Hood, beating, threatening, and killing all of those who have sold out to him and hiring mech-wearing mercenaries to hunt him down, but Batman interrupts the fracas and takes the mercs out alongside Red Hood. Although Batman is disgusted when the Red Hood uses lethal force to kill one of the mercenaries, he nevertheless attempts to offer Red Hood help but the helmet-clad vigilante angrily refuses, believing that his willingness to kill is making an actual difference as opposed to Batman’s more merciful ways. By analysing the Red Hood’s blood, Batman confirms, without a doubt, that he is Jason Todd resurrected. Realising that only one man could possibly have been responsible for Jason’s return to life, Bruce angrily confronts Ra’s and learns about what happened all those years ago: remorseful for allowing the Joker to kill Bruce’s young partner, Ra’s recovered Jason’s body (leaving a dummy in his grave) and revived him by submerging him in the restorative Lazarus Pit.
The Nitty-Gritty: Aesthetically, Under the Red Hood greatly resembles many of DC’s other animated efforts; characters aren’t quite as exaggerated or cartoony as they are in the DCAU but are still quite stiff and rigid. Luckily, this allows the film’s many chase and fight sequences to shine even more, but it does make prolonged scenes of dialogue and exposition to appear a bit inflexible. The voice cast, however, is pretty stellar; Bruce Greenwood makes for a gravelly and intimidating Batman, even if he is imitating the iconic Kevin Conway somewhat, and the film does a pretty good job of showcasing the impact Jason’s death had on him and his rage at allowing himself to be so easily duped by Ra’s’ deception. John DiMaggio makes for a serious and menacing Joker who appears to be evoking both Mark Hamill and Heath Ledger’s take on the character, and Neil Patrick Harris makes for a great Nightwing as well and makes an impression despite being taken out of the film before long (although it’s a bit odd that common thugs know about his past as Robin) but it’s Jensen Ackles’ wit and biting tongue as the Red Hood and Wade William’s explosive portrayal of Black Mask that are the highlights of the feature for me.
The film is peppered with flashbacks to Batman’s time working alongside Jason; during the boy’s (Alexander Martella) first year as Robin, he was an excitable, carefree Boy Wonder who Batman first met as he was in the process of stealing the tyres off the Batmobile and delighted in being Batman’s brightly-coloured, hyper-chatty crimefighting partner. As he grew into a teen, however, he became and angry and bitter young man who constantly defied Batman’s orders and brutalised criminals without mercy. His dip in the Lazarus Pit saw him awaken from death half-crazed and unstable and set him on the path towards becoming a murderous vigilante and making both Batman, and the Joker, pay for their actions. Driven to the edge by the Red Hood’s disruptive actions, and the vigilante’s direct assault on his offices with a rocket launcher, Black Mask arranges for the Joker to be smuggled out of Arkham and sets him loose to kill the Red Hood on his behalf. This, however, was exactly what the Red Hood wanted as it allows him to get his hands on the man who murdered him and deliver a measure of payback with a crowbar.
Luring Batman to Crime Alley, the Red Hood finally reveals his face to his former mentor and demands to know why the Joker is still alive after everything he’s done but especially for taking Jason away from Bruce. He makes a damn good point, one that has been endlessly debated, and states that he can forgive everything Bruce has done and that he’s not talking about mass murder of every two-bit thug or supervillain, but he cannot forgive (or understand why) the fact that Batman hasn’t killed the Joker in recompense for his years of slaughter and for killing him (as in Jason). After a brutal fist fight between the two, Batman apologises but states that he could never kill anyone, not even the Joker, because it would be “too easy” and lead to him becoming just as bad as the criminals he hunts on a nightly basis. Enraged and distraught, Jason demands that Batman shoot him before he executes the Joker; when Batman adamantly refuses to betray his morals, Jason triggers an explosion and disappears once again. In the aftermath, Bruce refuses to have Jason’s monument removed from the Batcave as he never wants to forget how badly he failed young Jason and turned him from a cheery youth and into a damaged, violent killer.
The Summary: Batman: Under the Red Hood is an incredibly bleak and sombre examination of Batman’s greatest failure; one thing I always liked about Jason being dead was how this incident weighed heavily on Batman’s mind and that a constant reminder sat in the Batcave for years so that he (and the reader) would never forget those dramatic events. When Jason returns to life as a violent and unhinged vigilante and twists Batman’s teachings and moral codes into a spiteful vendetta, Batman is forced to confront his failure, and his past, head-on and the film does an excellent job of not only adapting the source material it is based on but also adding to it and, in many ways, improving it. Having Ra’s be the one responsible for Jason’s resurrection as opposed to an alternative version of Superman punching reality just makes so much more sense and seeing Jason snark, shoot, and muscle his way into Black Mask’s dealings was really great thanks to Ackles’ portrayal of the character. I also enjoyed the flashbacks to Jason’s youth and even the Joker’s origin, which helped add some additional context to those who may be unfamiliar with these elements, and overall the film is a great example of the unwavering commitment Batman has to his “no-kill” rule and the impact that has on his never-ending war against crime.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Are you a fan of Batman: Under the Red Hood? How do you feel it works as an adaptation of A Death in the Family and Under the Hood and did you enjoy the changes that the film made to the story and Jason’s resurrection? What did you think to the voice cast, particularly Greenwood, DiMaggio, and Ackles? Were you a fan of Jason Todd when he was Robin, or do you prefer his anti-hero persona? Would you like to see elements of this story make their way into a live-action Batman movie someday? Who is your favourite Robin and how are you celebrating the Boy Wonder’s debut this month? Whatever your thoughts on this film, Jason Todd, and Robin, leave a comment below and check back next Monday as Robin Month continues!
In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this conceptagain and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’ll be taking a look at multiversal crossovers every Wednesday in April in an event I’m calling “Crossover Crisis”.
Released: 16 April 2013 Developer: NetherRealm Studios Also Available For: Arcade, Mobile, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One and Xbox Series One X/S (Backwards Compatible), Wii U
The Plot: In an alternate reality, Clark Kent/Superman has become a tyrant and established a new world order after the Joker tricked him into killing Lois Lane before destroying Metropolis with a nuclear bomb. In an effort to stop him, Bruce Wayne/Batman summons counterparts of the Justice League’s members from another universe to join his insurgency and end the totalitarian regime that threatens to subjugate the entire world.
Gameplay: Just like Mortal Kombat, Injustice: Gods Among Us is a 2.5D fighting game; however, this time you’re able to select one of twenty-four characters from the DC Universe and battle it out in the game’s single-player story mode, one-on-one against another player or computer-controlled opponent (both on- and offline), tackle numerous arcade-style ladders, or take on character-specific missions in Scientific and Technological Advanced Research Laboratories (S.T.A.R. Labs) training scenarios. Just as you’d expect from a Mortal Kombat videogame, Injustice’s fights take place in a best-of-three format (although there are no longer announcements or screen text between each round) and against a time limit, though you can alter these settings (and many others, such as the game’s difficulty) to your heart’s desire in the game’s options to suit your playstyle.
If you’ve played the Mortal Kombat reboot then you’ll be immediately familiar with this game’s fighting mechanics and controls, although there are subtle differences: X, Y, and A are assigned to light, medium, and heavy strikes, for example, and may be either punches, kicks, or weapon-based melee attacks depending on which character you’re playing as. You can still grapple and throw your opponent with the Left Bumper (or X and Y and a directional input), dash towards or away from the opponent with a double tap of the directional pad (D-Pad), but now you must hold back on the D-Pad while standing or crouching to block, which can make blocking a bit trickier as sometimes you’ll simply walk or dash backwards when trying to block. If your opponent is crouch-blocking, you can land an attack by pressing towards and A for an Overhead Attack, and string together light, medium, and heavy attacks with directional inputs and your various special moves to pull off quick and easy combos. As is the standard for NetherRealm Studios’ releases these days, you can practise the game’s controls and mechanics as often as you like and take part in a very user-friendly tutorial to learn the basics of the game’s simple, but increasingly complex, fighting mechanics. You can also view your character’s moves, combos, special attacks, and “Character Power” from the pause menu at any time, allowing you to also see a range of information (such as where and how to pull of certain moves, the damage they inflict, and frame data).
Each character has a range of special attacks that are unique to them; these mostly consist of certain projectiles or grapples and strikes but can also include various buffs for your character or to slow down your opponent. Each character also has a specific Character Power that is performed by pressing B; this sees Batman summon and attack with a swarm of bats, Oliver Queen/Green Arrow fire different trick arrows at his opponent, Doctor Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn gain various random buffs, and allows characters like Diana Prince/Wonder Woman and Rachel Roth/Raven to switch between different fighting styles and thus access different special attacks. While some Character Powers have a cool-down period, others don’t, but they can also be detrimental to you; for example, Slade Wilson/Deathstroke can briefly give his shots perfect aim but, once the Character Power is expended, he’ll miss every shot until it refills. Another new addition to the game is the annoying “Wager” system; when the Super Meter is filled up by two bars, you can press towards and RT when blocking an attack to play a quick mini game where you and your opponent select how much of your Super Meter to gamble. If you win, you’ll regain some health; if you lose, the opponent regains health; and if you tie then you both lose. Personally, if find these “Clash Breakers” even more annoying than the usual “Breakers” seen in the modern Mortal Kombat games as I never win them and they generally just unnecessarily prolong a fight (and, even worse, there’s no option to turn them off).
In a bridge between the differing character movesets of Mortal Kombat and the “Variation” mechanic seen in Mortal Kombat X(NetherRealm Studios, 2013), Injustice features a limited “Class” system whereby characters are split into two camps: Gadget- or Power-class characters. Gadget characters are generally smaller, faster, and rely on various tricks and weapons in fights while Power-class characters are typically bigger, often slower, and rely more on brute strength. One of the main ways you’ll notice the difference between playing as, say, Barry Allen/The Flash and Cyrus Gold/Solomon Grundy is that they interact with the game’s fighting stages in different ways. As in Mortal Kombat X, you can press the Right Bumper when indicated to use (or attack your opponent with) various environmental hazards, such as firing missiles at them or knocking them into the background. But, whereas Superman will wrench a car out of the air and slam it on his opponent, someone like Dick Grayson/Nightwing will rig the same car to explode or somersault off the environment to get behind their foe rather than try to crush them with a wall.
As you might naturally expect, there are no Fatalities or gruesome finishing moves in Injustice (not even “Heroic Brutalities”). However, when your Super Meter is full, you can still press LT and RT together to pull off a devastating Super Move; while you won’t see bones breaking and organs shattering like in Mortal Kombat’s X-Ray Moves, it’s still pretty fun to see Hal Jordan/Green Lantern transport his opponent to Oa to pummel them with his constructs, Ares shower his foe with arrows and stamp on them while grown to gigantic proportions, Arthur Curry/Aquaman force his enemy into the jaws of a ferocious shark, and Bane demolish his opposition with a series of throws and grapples, culminating in his iconic backbreaker. Another way the game separates itself from Mortal Kombat is stage transitions; when near the far edge of certain stages, you can hold back and A to wallop your opponent through the wall or off into the background where they’ll be smashed up, down, or across to an entirely new area of the stage which often allows more stage interactions and new stage transitions available for your use.
You might wonder exactly how someone like Louise Lincoln/Killer Frost can survive being blasting through the brick walls of Wayne Manor or go toe-to-toe with the likes of Doomsday but the game’s entertaining story mode explains that, on this alternative world, the tyrant-like Superman has developed special pills that bestow superhuman strength and dexterity to his generals. As is also the standard in NetherRealm’s titles, the story mode is broken down into twelve character-specific chapters, which is again a great way to experience a wide variety of the game’s roster (though Batman does feature as a playable character in two chapters, which seems a bit lazy). You can replay any chapter and fight you’ve cleared at any time, which is great, and skip through the cutscenes after they’ve loaded a bit, and the story mode isn’t all constant fighting either as you’re asked to pull off a handful of quick-time events (QTEs) at various points, such as blasting cars with Superman’s heat vision. The story is a fairly standard multiverse tale of the main canon heroes fighting against their corrupted or misled counterparts but it’s pretty fun and easy to blast through in no time at all.
Every time you win a fight, you’ll earn experience points (XP) that will eventually level-up your character profile. This, and performing a certain number of specific attacks, playing through the story mode, and tackling the game’s other modes and mechanics, unlocks icons and backgrounds for your profile card as well as additional skins in certain circumstances. You’ll also be awarded “Armour Keys” and “Access Cards” to spend in the “Archives”, which allows you to unlock concept art, music, more skins, and certain boosts that will increase how much XP you earn, to name just one example. Like in Mortal Kombat, you can also take on ten opponents in arcade ladders in the “Battle” mode; these range from the basic tournament-style ladder to specific challenges against heroes, villains, or battling while poisoned, injured, or with certain buffs (such as a constantly full Super Meter or health falling from the sky). We’d see a similar system be incorporated into the “Towers” modes in later Mortal Kombat games and similar scenarios exist here, such as a survival mode, battling two opponents, or being forced to fight against the computer set to the hardest difficulty.
Graphics and Sound: Like its violent sister-series, Injustice looks fantastic; there’s almost no difference between the high-quality story mode cutscenes and the in-fight graphics (which, again, makes it all the more frustrating that NetherRealm Studios insist on having character’s endings represented by partially-animated artwork and voiceovers), though it has to be said that the graphics are much more palatable when in a violent fight. I say this purely because I am not a big fan of some of Injustice’s character designs: The Flash looks a bit too “busy”, for example, and Batman’s suit (and cowl, especially) look really janky to me, though I love the representation of Green Lantern and Thaal Sinestro.
Each character gets a nice little fitting intro and outro for each fight and, between rounds, will perform and quip a variety of taunts to the opponent. In a nice little touch, different character skins get different intros and outros; when playing as the evil Superman, for example, he enters and exits the fight differently to his more heroic counterpart. When playing as different skins, like John Stewart or Hank Henshaw/Cyborg Superman, you’ll also be treated to slightly different dialogue and animations, which is a much-appreciated touch on the developer’s part. Although there aren’t any character-specific interactions in the intros, there are during the Wager cutscenes and, even better, both characters and the arenas will accrue battle damage as the fight progresses! This means that you’ll not only see Selina Kyle/Catwoman’s cat suit rip and her skin be blemished by bruises and blood but arenas will degenerate or change around you the more damage you dish out, which can also allow different intractable options to become available to you.
Speaking of the stages, Injustice really goes above and beyond to make the best use of the DC license; while it’s a little disappointing to see Arkham Asylum and Wayne Manor feature twice in the game, they are made distinctive by having Joker-ised and night-time variants, respectively (and also being clearly modelled after, and featuring cameos by, the Batman: Arkham (Rocksteady Studios/Various, 2009 to 2015) videogames and villains). Additionally, the use of stage transitions really helps to add a whole new dimension to combat, with some stages featuring more than others (or even none at all), to help ensure that every fight can be a little different. Stages also feature a bevy of other little cameos and DC references, such as the Fortress of Solitude being clearly modelled after Superman(Donner, 1978) while also featuring a portal to the Phantom Zone and a cameo from Starro the Conqueror. Similarly, J’onn J’onnz/Martian Manhunter floats in the background of the Watchtower space station, Floyd Lawton/Deadshot is just hanging out at Stryker’s prison, and Amazons are preparing a boat to launch on Themyscira. Every single stage has a number of intractable elements and changes as you fight, cause damage, or smash foes around, with Gotham City being my favourite as you can battle on the roof with the Bat-Signal and then down to the grimy streets below and then blast your foe back up to the roof using a nearby truck!
Enemies and Bosses: Injustice helpfully separates its character-selection screen into heroes (on the left) and villains (on the right) but, despite their different alignments (and that their loyalties change due to the multiverse shenanigans of the story), every single one of them will be an enemy of yours at some point as you play through the story, Battles, S.T.A.R. Labs missions, and on- or offline. Consequently, it’s worth keeping track of which character suits your playstyle as some have easier combos and special moves to pull off compared to others, or more useful Super Moves and Character Powers.
Additionally, the Class system should also be factored in; Lex Luthor, Doomsday, and Solomon Gundy may be powerful and capable of gaining armour to tank through attacks but they’re also a lot slower on their feet and with their jumps. Superman and Shiera Hall/Hawkgirl are much faster Power-class characters but can also have their own drawbacks at times depending on your playstyle (Superman’s Character Power, for example, simply powers up his attacks rather than being a more offensive move like, say, Areas being able to conjure massive magical weapons). Personally, I tend to lean more towards Gadget-based characters, like Nightwing (who can switch between using quick batons or a longer bo staff to attack) or Green Arrow (whose arrows and bow allow for both ranged attacks and blindingly fast melee attacks).
Unlike Mortal Kombat, Injustice doesn’t really feature any secret or hidden fights or unplayable sub-bosses or boss characters; the story mode and basic arcade ladder culminates in a battle against the corrupted Superman that is a far fairer and more competitive fight compared to the finales of NetherRealm’s recent Mortal Kombat games. While Superman is definitely a bit more of an aggressive foe, even on the game’s easiest difficulty, he doesn’t gain inexplicable armour, can be stunned, and doesn’t deal ungodly amounts of damage or spam his attacks like a cheap bitch. Additionally, he doesn’t transform into some monstrous final form and, instead, the final battle is a far better use of the skills you’ve built up through regular gameplay rather than forcing you to resort to cheap tactics and tricks.
Power-Ups and Bonuses: Because it lacks a “Test Your Luck” mode and “Kombat Kodes” for multiplayer fights, there aren’t really any in-game power-ups available to you outside of the various status effects seen in the Battle mode. As before, though, some characters can gain in-game buffs with their special attacks and Character Powers: Lex Luthor, for example, can erect a shield, Doomsday can cover himself in impenetrable armour for a brief period, and Solomon Grundy slows time down and drains his opponent’s health with his swamp gas. However, you’ll earn yourself additional XP if you mix up your fighting style and take advantage of stage interactions and transitions, which will allow you to unlock further customisation options for your profile card, and you can also earn additional skins and rewards by playing and linking up to the mobile version of the game.
Additional Features: There are fifty Achievements up for grabs in Injustice, with three of which being directly tied to the story mode (50- and 100% completion and succeeding at all of the QTE mini games). Others are tied to the game’s online modes, levelling-up to specific levels, customising your profile card, and finishing Classic Battle with one (and every) character. There are also some character-specific Achievements on offer, including performing every character’s Super Move or a ten-hit combat and winning a fight using only arrows as Green Arrow, or landing at least twelve shots without missing as Deathstroke. Batman is the only character to have two specific Achievements tied to him, though, as you’ll get some G for winning a match using all of his special moves and his Super Moves and for defeating every villain as him.
Another standard of NetherRealm Studios is their addition of further skins and characters through DLC; you can get skins to play as John Stewart, Cyborg Superman, and the Flashpoint (Johns, et al, 2011) Batman, among others, and they’re all easily applicable when selecting a character (no need for extraneous “Gear” here). While the game’s DLC characters have no additional Achievements tied to them, Injustice included some fun and interesting extra fighters; Lobo, General Dru-Zod (who also sports his Man of Steel (Snyder, 2013) look as a skin), Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, Zatanna Zatara, and the Martian Manhunter were all great choices to add to the roster and it was nice to see NetherRealm Studios exercise a little restraint and not overload the DLC with additional Batman characters. By far the most exciting DLC fighter was the inclusion of Scorpion, who sports a Jim Lee redesign and began a trend of DC and Mortal Kombat characters appearing in each other’s games.
When you’ve had enough of the story mode and regular battle options, you can take the fight online in a series of matches; here; you can participate in ranked and unranked fights and “King of the Hill” tournaments where you watch other players fight until it’s your turn and bet on who’s going to win. The S.T.A.R. Labs missions will also keep us offline, solo players occupied for some time; these are expanded upon when you download the DLC fighters, which is much appreciated and, similar to Mortal Kombat’s “Challenge Tower” mode, basically serve as extended tutorials for each of the game’s characters. You’ll take on ten character-specific missions, with each one getting a little bit of text and maybe a picture to set the context of the mission, and these range from performing certain combos or attacks, winning fights, or completing tricky challenges (such as guiding Catwoman’s cat through laser trip wires, avoiding damage or debris, or racing against Superman).
The Summary: Injustice: Gods Among Us is a far better marriage of Mortal Kombat and DC Comics than Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe and a fantastic expansion of the gameplay mechanics and features NetherRealm Studios revitalised their violent fighting game series with in Mortal Kombat (2009). While Injustice is obviously not as gory or violent as its sister-series, that doesn’t make it any less fun and it’s still a very brutal fighter; the Super Moves, especially, and certain character’s outros (such as the Joker’s) are definitely in the Mortal Kombat mould. With gorgeous in-game graphics, a fantastic amount of variety thanks to all of the character’s different special attacks and gameplay mechanics and the stage transitions, and a simple to learn, easy to master fighting system, Injustice is an extremely enjoyable game for anyone who’s a fan of either franchise or fighting games in general. The story is a breeze to get through (thought it is essentially every basic multiverse story ever told in comics) and nicely varied with some QTE sequences; the S.T.A.R. Labs missions and different arcade ladders are much more enjoyable and challenging than in its sister-series and there are plenty of character options, variety, and unlockables to keep you busy. Best of all, the game isn’t bogged down by endless grinding to unlock Gear, skins, or other perks and is a much more user-friendly and accessible fighting game, and overall experience, than its sequel.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Were you a fan of Injustice: Gods Among Us? What did you think to it as a blend of Mortal Kombat and DC Comics? What were your thoughts on the game’s story and its depiction of a parallel world terrorised by a corrupted Superman? Which of the game’s fighters was your favourite and why? Did you buy the base game and all the DLC packs separately or did you pick up the Ultimate Edition when it released later? What did you think to the additional DLC characters and skins? Were there any characters or features missing from the game for you? Which DC Comics videogame, movie, comic, or other piece of media is your favourite? Are you a fan of multiverse stories and crossovers? Whatever you think about Injustice, leave a comment down below and be sure to check back in next Wednesday for more Crossover Crisis content!
In April of 1940, about a year after the debut of arguably their most popular character, Bruce Wayne/Batman, DC Comics debuted “the sensational find of [that year]”, Dick Grayson/Robin. Since then, Batman’s pixie-boots-wearing partner has changed outfits and a number of different characters have assumed the mantle as the Dynamic Duo of Batman and Robin have become an iconic staple of DC Comics. Considering my fondness for the character and those who assumed the mantle over the years, what better way to celebrate this dynamic debut than to dedicate every Sunday of April to celebrating the character?
Story Title: “A Death in the Family” Published: September 1988 to November 1988 Writer: Jim Starlin Artist: Jim Aparo
The Background: Having been a regular part of Batman’s adventures since his debut, Dick Grayson eventually grew from a “Boy Wonder” and into a “Teen Wonder” as part of the Teen Titans; to continue the Batman and Robin dynamic, writer Gerry Conway and artist Bob Newton created Jason Todd to, quite literally, fill Grayson’s boots as the new Robin. Originally having a background and personality that was almost an exact copy of Grayson’s, Jason’s backstory and demeanour were dramatically altered by writer Jim Starlin following the Crisis on Infinite Earths(Wolfman, et al, 1985 to 1986). Now a rebellious, impulsive brat from the streets with a volatile temper, readers came to dislike the new Robin and it was writer Jim Starlin who first proposed the idea of killing the character off. Dennis O’Neil decided to run a telephone campaign where the fans themselves would decide whether Jason lived or died following a brutal encounter with the Joker. Starlin and artist Jim Aparo crafted the story and produced two potential outcomes, one where Jason lived and one where he died but, despite some controversy, the results were heavily in favour of the young Robin’s demise. Jason’s death was a pivotal moment in Batman’s career; he kept a monument in the Batcave as a constant reminder of his greatest failure, mentally and physically struggled with the boy’s death even after Tim Drake took on the Robin mantle, and for fifteen years Jason was one of only a handful of comic cook characters whose death actually stuck.
The Review: A Death in the Family begins by immediately emphasising that the dynamic between Batman and Robin has gotten a bit out of whack lately thanks to Jason’s reckless and impulsive attitude. After spending three weeks tracking down a kiddie-porn ring and cutting Commissioner Jim Gordon and the Gotham City police department in on the bust, Jason decides to go off script and attack the thugs head-on. Once they have subduing the pornographers, Batman chews Jason out since not only did his actions mean that Gordon missed out on the bust but they also lead to him (as in Jason) almost being shot in the back.
Although enraged at the time, Batman is left stunned at Jason’s cavalier attitude towards their job and, once back at Wayne Manor, confides in his butler and long-time confidante, Alfred Pennyworth, about Jason’s recent chaotic actions. Alfred suggests that Jason is still struggling to come to terms with the deaths of his parents and that being Robin is probably not the most productive way to work through his grief, a suggestion that Bruce begrudgingly agrees with. Jason, however, is angered at them talking about him behind his back and even more outraged when Bruce grounds him from being Robin and tries to get him to talk about his parents. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Batman is called out to Arkham Asylum (during the day, no less), where Gordon informs him that the Joker was able to get into the janitor’s storage room, mix up a version of his lethal laughing gas, kill a bunch of guards, and escape. Both Batman and Gordon are determined to use every resource available to track Joker down after he crippled Gordon’s niece, Barbara, in Batman: The Killing Joke (Moore, et al, 1988). Joker, however, is fully aware of the heat hanging over him and has a big plan to dismantle a cruise missile he has stored away in a warehouse and sell it off to terrorists and buy his way into politics.
Still fuming, Jason wanders around Gotham City and ends up at his old home near Crime Alley. This provides the story with the perfect opportunity to recap how Jason’s mother, Catherine, died of a “disease” when he was young and his father, two-bit criminal Willis Todd, ended up being murdered by his boss, Harvey Dent/Two-Face, leaving Jason in the care of an orphanage. Quite coincidentally, Mrs. Walker, a friend of Catherine’s, recognises Jason and provides him with a box of his personal effects, much to his stunned amazement. However, when looking through these documents, he discovers that Catherine wasn’t his real mother; thanks to the Batcave, Jason narrows down his mother’s true identity to one of three people and, believing that neither Bruce or Alfred would approve or support his endeavour, steals Bruce’s credit cards and heads out to track his true mother down. Although obviously wishing to chase after Jason, Batman is forced to continue tracking down the Joker after discovering the madman’s plot; this leads him to Lebanon, but he is constantly one step behind the Harlequin of Hate. Thankfully, though, Batman’s investigation and Jason’s search for his mother align when they come across each other in Beirut. Despite being angered at the boy’s impulsive actions, Batman is pleased to be working alongside his young partner once more and, together, the two are able to disrupt the Joker’s sale of his missile, something made all the easier when the missile explodes on its launcher and takes the Joker’s money with it. On the downside, the Joker escapes and Sharmin Rosen, an Israeli agent who helps the Dynamic Duo, turns out to not have ever sired a child, though Batman vows to help Jason track down the other two names on his list.
However, when they track down Shiva Woosan, they find that she has been kidnapped by Shite terrorists. Thankfully, Batman and Robin are able to infiltrate the Shite camp, where Shiva is revealed to be the deadly assassin and martial artist Lady Shiva and responsible for training the terrorists. A brutal fist-fight ensues between the Dark Knight and Shiva but Batman get the upper hand thanks to Jason choosing to help his mentor in subduing her. After destroying the camp, though, Jason is once again left disheartened when (after being subjected to sodium pentothal), Shiva reveals that has also never had a baby. This leaves Sheila Haywood, the last name on Jason’s list, who turns out to actually be Jason’s birth mother. While Jason is overjoyed to be reunited with his mother, he’s horrified when it turns out that she’s being blackmailed into helping the Joker get his hands on some medical supplies to help with his financial woes. This time, Jason does go to Bruce for help and Batman explicitly orders Jason to stay behind while he intercepts the supply trucks tainted by the Joker’s laughing gas. True to form, Jason doesn’t listen; he reveals his duel identity to his mother and she immediately sells him out to the Joker.
While Batman disrupts the Joker’s plot, he’s left relying on one of the supply trucks to get him back to Jason since he loses his little Bat-mini-copter. As a result, Jason is left entirely at the Joker’s mercy and subjected to a brutal beating; he smacks Jason with his pistol, kicks him in the face, has henchmen put a beating on him, and then beats him to a bloody pulp with a crowbar! Note that the Joker does not beat Jason to death with the crowbar; he “merely” bludgeons him into a broken, bloody mess. Indeed, Jason is still cognizant enough to free his mother when the Joker betrays her but the two are caught in a massive explosion when the bomb the Joker left in the warehouse with them explodes. Batman arrives just in time to witness the explosion and, despite hoping against hope and knowing better, is devastated to find that not only has Sheila perished in the blast but so has Jason. Again, while it is a bit unbelievable that Jason’s body isn’t strewn over the wreckage in bloody chunks, it is the bomb that killed Jason; not the crowbar! Anyway, Bruce immediately sets about coming up with a suitable cover story for how and why Sheila and Jason were there and laying him to rest. However, Bruce refuses Alfred’s offer to contact Dick Grayson to help track down the Joker but Batman’s desire to bring the Joker to justice for his actions are complicated by the arrival of Clark Kent/Superman. Although sympathetic to Bruce’s plight, Superman reveals that he has been explicitly asked by the State Department to stop Batman’s vendetta since the Joker has been made he new Iranian ambassador and has thus been granted diplomatic immunity from all prior crimes!
Unimpressed, Bruce ignores Superman’s warnings, and those of the United States government, and prepares for a final showdown. He (as Batman) makes one final attempt to appeal to the Joker’s decency and sanity but that obviously fails, and he spends a great deal of his inner monologue postulating on the mysterious connection between him and his enemy. Here, we learn that Bruce regrets not killing the Joker years ago, lamenting that he let Joker’s clear insanity stay his hand, but he can no longer justify allowing him to live any longer. Equal parts driven by rage and a moral obligation to spare the world (and other children) the Joker’s wrath, Bruce sets aside his usually strict moral code and commits himself to killing the Joker…or dying in the attempt. When Batman’s suspicions about the Joker’s true intentions at being a United Nations ambassador come to fruition, Superman is luckily on hand to put a stop to his attempt to gas everyone but, thanks to panic caused by his explosive back-up plan, the Clown Prince of Crime is able to escape to his helicopter on the roof. Batman, fuelled by a desire for revenge, pursues his enemy and, in the fracas, both are shot by one of the Joker’s henchman. Though Batman is only wounded, the Joker takes a slug in the chest and, with the helicopter in a death spiral, Batman bids his archenemy adieu and dives to safety. However, he remains unsatisfied when the helicopter crashes since he knows that no-one, not even Superman, will be able to recover a body to confirm the kill.
The Summary: A Death in the Family is the quintessential Batman for me. Never mind your Frank Miller’s and Scott Snyder’s; I grew up with the likes of Jim Starlin and the simple, agile elegance of Jim Aparo. Although I’ve never been a fan of Batman’s blue-and-grey suit with yellow oval, it is still an iconic and timeless look for the character and Starlin’s characterisation of the Dark Knight is pretty much spot-on. Under his pen, he’s not just some grim, stoic avenger of the night; he’s a trusted ally of Jim Gordon’s, a respectable partner of the G.C.P.D., a stern (yet, crucially, fair) mentor, and a master detective. Indeed, as adept and skilled as Batman’s physical prowess was during this time (and in this story), it’s his intellect that is often given just as much time to shine, which really help to redefine the character as a more intellectual superhero.
Still, that’s not to say that Batman doesn’t get his fair share of action in this story. Both he and Robin get more than enough chances to shine; Starlin is sure to characterise the two as being a well-oiled unit even when Jason’s explosive temperament causes him to go off the rails. Batman is depicted as being cool, calm, and collected even when facing multiple armed foes and having to account for Jason’s volatile nature. While the everyday, run of the mill goons Batman fights don’t pose that much of a challenge to him, the story still goes to lengths to emphasise the physical skill, co-ordination, and special awareness Batman has to do what he does and it thus makes even more of an impact when Lady Shiva is able to match him blow-for-blow and deal some decent damage to Batman. Indeed, while Batman is characterised as being a master at what he does, he is by no means infallible; not only does his rage drive him into a wholly justified murderous vendetta by the story’s end but he also suffers a few significant physical injuries, including a bullet wound to his arm.
Of course, a focal point to this story is Jason. While far from the insolent little prick he’s often characterised as being in flashbacks these days, Jason is still an emotionally-charged liability. He’s an angst-ridden teenager, one struggling to deal with the worst tragedy of his life and given free reign to unload his anger and resentment on Gotham’s underworld. While Dick was a daredevil and a risk-taker due to his background in the circus, Jason is just reckless and leaps into battle without a plan or a care for his own safety or the intricacies of Batman’s operation. Enraged at being shut out from his responsibilities as Robin, Jason finds renewed purpose in his search for his true mother; this helps mend the fences between him and Bruce, who of course sympathises with his young partner’s plight and genuinely wishes to help him in any way he can. Bruce agonises over having to pursue the Joker instead of Jason and this only adds to the grief and guilt he feels weighing upon him when he arrives all too late to save his headstrong partner from a gruesome fate.
This is an interesting story for the Joker; like Batman, Joker went through a period of time where he was either absent from DC Comics or significantly altered but his threat really ramped up after Dennis O’Neil came onto the main Batman book. Now a calculating, vindictive, and incredibly intelligent villain, the Joker’s usual madcap nature is supplanted by a desperate need to quickly build up his finances and assume a position of real power through a political career. This backfires on him when he is arrogant enough to think he can assemble and reassemble a cruise missile, costing him his cash in the process, but also drives him to spiking medical supplies and trying to gas the United Nations while being protected from reprisals by diplomatic immunity. It’s a story very much driven by the Joker’s psychopathic and callous ways but not necessarily overwhelmed by him; it remains a dramatic tale of Batman struggling to help his unpredictable partner that culminates in a showdown with the Joker rather than him becoming the sole focus of the story like in a lot of later Batman/Joker stories.
Of course, you can’t really talk about A Death in the Family without mentioning the brutal and sadistic torture and death of Jason Todd. One of the things I like about the story is that, as much of a little ass as Jason is, you can totally see where he’s coming from; he’s young, hurting, and lashing out in blind anger. His demeanour shifts from being reckless with his safety to trying to find his birth mother once he finds out that she’s still alive and there’s a definite sense that he just wants to have that gaping hole in his heart filled, which is again obviously something Batman can very much relate to. This is emphasised to the fullest when Jason, beaten and clearly dying, uses the last of his strength to try and save his mother from the blast that kills them despite the fact that she betrayed him to the Joker. In the end, he died every bit the hero Batman raised him to be and is fully deserving of Bruce’s adulation in death. Indeed, while Jason was talented and gifted, he wasn’t quite the all-rounder that Dick was and nowhere near the suitable protégé Tim Drake would prove to be and yet, in making the ultimate sacrifice, he gave himself to Bruce’s cause in a way beyond his other partners and it was fascinating seeing Bruce slowly self-destruct in subsequent stories because of his guilt over Jason’s death, and seeing the incident being brought up every so often to remind him of his greatest failure.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Have you ever read A Death in the Family? What did you think to DC’s decision to kill Jason off? Were you a fan of the character back then or did you think he was an annoying little brat who deserved what he got? What did you think to the characterisation of Batman during this time? Were you a fan of the Joker’s inclusion in this story, and did you like the wrinkle of Superman being brought in to keep Batman in check? Did you realise that Jason died by a bomb and not the crowbar? Whatever your thoughts on A Death in the Family, and Jason Todd, leave a comment below and stick around for more Robin content this month.
To celebrate the simultaneous worldwide release of Mortal Kombat (Midway, 1992) on home consoles, 13 September 1993 was dubbed “Mortal Monday”. Mortal Kombat’s move to home consoles impacted not only the ongoing “Console War” between SEGA and Nintendo but also videogames forever thanks to its controversial violence. Fittingly, to commemorate this game-changing event, I’ve been dedicating every Monday of September to celebrating the Mortal Kombat franchise.
Released: 17 November 2020 Originally Released: 23 April 2019 Developer: NetherRealm Studios Also Available For: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Stadia, Xbox Series X
Mortal Kombat X (ibid, 2015) instantly impressed and out-did its predecessor in every way, being both the most violent entry and having the biggest launch in the franchise’s long history at the time. Mortal Kombat X also scored very well and the success of the game earned it not just a host of additional downloadable content (DLC) but also an expanded version, Mortal Kombat XL, in 2016. Keen to capitalise on the good will they had earned back with these releases, NetherRealm announced the development of Mortal Kombat 11 at the Games Awards 2018, a game that saw the triumphant return of actor Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa to the role of Shang Tsung and sold over eight million copies by October 2020. Like its predecessors, Mortal Kombat 11 received an expanded addition that included all of its DLC fighters and even additional story mode content and was met with favourable reviews, though some criticised the randomisation of the game’s unlockables and the overreliance on grinding, mechanics that, for me, affected the appeal of Injustice 2 (ibid, 2017).
The Plot: After the defeat of Shinnok at the conclusion of Mortal Kombat X, Raiden has become corrupted by the Elder God’s amulet and, angered at the Thunder God’s repeatedly meddling in the fabric of space and time, the keeper of time (and Shinnok’s mother), Kronika, plots to rewrite history to erase Raiden from existence. With past versions of classic Mortal Kombat characters showing up all over the place, and Earthrealm’s most dangerous and long-dead enemies forging an alliance to usher in Kronika’s “New Era”, Earthrealm’s Special Forces and allies face a battle against time itself to keep the realms from being torn asunder.
Gameplay: As you might expect by now, Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate is a 2.5D fighting game in which players can pick from one of thirty-seven characters and battle through the game’s single-player story mode, fight one-on-one against another player or computer-controlled opponent, battle their way though a variety of arcade-style towers, or challenge other players to a variety on online battles. Battles take place in a best-of-three format and against a time limit, though you can alter these settings (and many others, including the difficulty of computer-controlled opponents) from the game’s comprehensive menu to speed up gameplay or make it more accessible.
As in the other 3D Mortal Kombat fighters, fights in Mortal Kombat 11 are extremely accessible and easy to master. You can attack your opponent with punches with either X or Y, kicks with A or B, block with RT, throw (again, this is more like a grapple) with LB or X and Y and a directional input, and interact with the game’s environments when indicated with RB. You can also dash towards and away from your opponent, jump in or crouch down to attack or avoid projectiles, and string together combos by pressing the attack buttons and using directional inputs quickly. The game features a comprehensive tutorial mode that teaches you all of the basics and intricacies of the game’s combat, which gets deeper and more complex depending on your skill level and who you play as but is still extremely easy for even novice players to pick up and pull off a few simple combos.
Each character also boasts a number of special moves, also pulled off by a few simple button and directional inputs (back, forward, X, for example, or forward, down, B); these can be stringed together with combos and augmented with a well-timed press of RB (this will, however, drain a meter at the bottom of the screen but this will quickly refill in time). Unlike in the last two games, though, you can no longer build your meter towards a gruesome X-Ray move; instead, when your health is sufficiently depleted, you’ll have the option of pulling off a “Fatal Blow” once per fight (not per round) to mash your opponent into mush. While these are suitably impressive, violent, and gory, I have to say that I miss being able to build up to and pull off a momentum-changing special move whenever I want rather than when I’m near death. While special moves are pretty easy to perform, you can review them at any time from the pause menu and even “tag” team so they appear onscreen for easy reference, but I would have liked the option to pick and choose which ones are displayed for quick reference.
As horrific as the Fatal Blows can be, though, the real star of the show is, once again, the game’s Fatalities, the trademark of the franchise. At the end of the deciding round (usually round two), you’ll be told to “Finish Him!!” (or her…) and given a short period of time to stand in a specific spot and enter another button combination to tear your opponent to pieces, usually resulting in their guts, brains, and eyes bursting from their body or them being shredded and blown apart. Every character has three Fatalities available to them: one that is readily available, one that is locked and must be unlocked in the Krypt (or looked up online…), and one that is assigned to pulling off special Fatalities in certain stages (“Stage Fatalities”, like the classic uppercut into an acid pit) and you can also find (or purchase) “Easy Fatality Tokens” to pull them off more easily and practice them in the Fatality Tutorial.
Fatalities aren’t the only way to finish your opponent, though; by following a specific set of instructions during a fight (such as not blocking or hitting a certain number of moves and ending the decisive round with a specific attack), you can once again end your foe with a “Brutality” (although, as Factions are no longer included, Faction Kills are also not present this time). You can also pull off a non-lethal “Friendship” if you don’t wish to eviscerate your opponent and even replenish a small portion of their health by showing “Mercy” to allow the fight to continue a little longer. There are benefits to finishing off your opponent, though, as this will award you Hearts, one of four different forms of in-game currency, additional Koins (the primary form on in-game currency), and contribute to your player level and allow you to unlock additional bonuses.
One of the biggest complaints I had about Injustice 2 was the sheer abundance of different in-game currencies and the unfortunate emphasis on grinding for levels and unlockables and the randomness of the game’s loot crates. Sadly, Mortal Kombat 11 carries a lot of this forward; there are numerous customisation options available to you, from backgrounds and icons for your gamer card to individual gear and skins for each character but pretty much all of them are locked behind the game’s time-consuming grinding system. You earn Koins, Soul Fragments, Hearts, and Time Crystals by playing every single one of the game’s modes; while each of these can be spent in the Krypt to unlock chests and release souls (which will net you additional currency, skins, gear, augments, and Konsumables), Time Crystals can be spent in the in-game shop but, as items in the shop at so expensive, you’re encouraged to spend real world money to unlock additional stuff.
Unfortunately, while each character has a whole load of gear and skins and customisation options available to them, these are locked behind grinding; you can find many of these in the Krypt but others are unlocked by playing story mode, completing the character tutorials, or besting the game’s many towers. As in the classic 2D games, you can once again pick between three different towers (Novice, Warrior, and Champion); which tower you pick determines the amount of fighters you’ll face and the degree of the rewards you’ll earn from completion. You can also take on the Endless tower to face and endless number of opponents until you quit or are defeated and the Survival tower in which the damage you receive from each fight carries over to the next. Similar to Mortal Kombat X and Injustice 2, you can also challenge a number of different online towers, the “Towers of Time”; these provide you with a variety of challenges but are only available for a set amount of time before they’re replaced with a fresh challenge. However, you even access this mode you first need to clear a number of tutorials first, which seemed a bit redundant, and you will need to pay and also perform certain tasks (such as a certain amount of attacks or specials) to complete each character’s specific tower and unlock more gear and skins for them.
A big part of the game is its story mode; once again, the story is broken down into twelve chapters, with each chapter assigned to at least one character but, every now and then, you’ll be given the option of picking between two characters. It doesn’t really matter which character you pick, though, as you don’t even need to tick off all of these options to 100% the story mode and it hardly affects the narrative at all. Despite the fact that you can’t finish off and kill your opponents, the story mode is a great way to earn Koins and gear and get to grips with each character; the story sees characters from the past return to life as Kronika attempts to rewrite history, which effectively undoes a lot of the development done to the series in Mortal Kombat X but it’s a good excuse to have classic characters return to the series. You can set the difficulty setting for the story mode whenever you like but there are no Achievements tied to beating it or any of the other mode son higher difficulties but you do generally earn better rewards for taking on more difficult challenges.
Graphics and Sound: Mortal Kombat 11 looks fantastic; character faces still look a bit shiny and odd at times (particularly the females) but there’s even less distinction between the in-game graphics and the many cutscenes you’ll see as you play through the story. Every character is full of life and little quirks, such as Liu Kang constantly hopping from foot to foot in true Bruce Lee style, Kano nonchalantly spitting on the floor, and Skarlet cutting herself open. If the winning fighter is too close to their fallen foe when a round ends, they’ll back away with their own unique animation and voice clips and taunts can be heard throughout each fight as you pull of special moves, combos, and gain victories. Unfortunately, as always, the developers continue to render the character’s different endings using a motion comic aesthetic and voice over rather than utilise the full motion CGI cutscenes used to great effect in the game’s story, which continues to be a disappoint for me and I’ve never really understood this choice.
Where Mortal Kombat 11 fails a little bit is in the stages; stages are a big part of any fighting game but especially Mortal Kombat and NetherRealm Studios’ recent efforts since they introduced the concept of interacting with various parts of the environment. This returns again, allowing you to skewer opponents with spears, throw bodies at them, wall run out of harms way, or toss or wield a variety of weapons (such as a chainsaw and a sledgehammer) to deal additional damage. These will often finally utilise the gruesome x-ray feature that was a big part of the last two games (which can also be triggered with certain special moves and augmented specials) but it feels as though there are a lot less opportunities to interact with the background and pull off Stage Fatalities than normal, making environments look and feel very alive but being disappointingly light on interactive elements despite all of the cameos and interesting elements at work in the background.
One thing I did like, though, was the return of some classic stages from past Mortal Kombat games, such as the courtyard and the dead pool; the best stage for this is, easily, the Retrocade stage, which randomly generates pixel-perfect recreations of classic Mortal Kombat stages complete with music. The game also goes above and beyond to recreate Shang Tsung’s island in immaculate detail in the Krypt; not only does it feature every stage from the first Mortal Kombat but it also recreates scenes and locations from the brilliant Mortal Kombat (Anderson, 1995) and cameos and references to numerous Mortal Kombat characters, which makes it a fantastic area to explore that is sadly let down by how confusing the Krypt’s map system is. Not only that but Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa lends his voice and likeness to Tsung once again, adding his unmatched gravitas to the character, and you can even buy a skin pack that adds skins for Sonya Blade, Johnny Blaze, and Raiden that adds three more likenesses and voices from the film.
While the game does excel in its many cutscenes and does a great job of telling its story with just the right level of cheese and seriousness, the main draw of the game is in its violence and gore and Mortal Kombat 11 certainly delivers in that respect. Skin is literally peeled from the bones, eyeballs fly in geysers of blood, bodies are dismembered, split into pieces, dissolved, and shredded, and limbs are torn apart in a variety of ghastly ways and it’s always a joy to see the horrifying ways characters are going to mutilate their opponents. The Fatal Blows are sometimes just as good, if not better, as any of the game’s Fatalities, with characters being stabbed, shot, and blasted in ways that would surely kill them only for the characters to hop right back up afterwards. While character’s clothes and accessories don’t rip or tear during the fights, they do seem to get stained by blood at times and skin can be seen baring wounds and scars from battle.
Enemies and Bosses: As a fighting game, every single character in Mortal Kombat 11 is your enemy and you’ll be forced to do battle with all of them at least once, at some point, as you play through the story mode and arcade towers. Because every character controls and fights a little differently, with some focusing on ranged attacks or brawling while others emphasis slow but hard-hitting attacks, it’s best to sample each for yourself and to get an idea of your favourite character’s different abilities and variations in order to achieve success. Also crucial is mastering a handful of the game’s combos; many are as simple as X, X, Y or X, Y, X but others require directional inputs, longer button presses, and the co-ordinated stringing together of frame-perfect attacks and special moves. Luckily, though, every character usually has one or two simple combos for you to master so it’s simple enough for players of any skill level to pick up and play.
Some characters, though, play a little differently to others and this affects not only how you play but also how you fight them. Shang Tsung, for example, can not only steal the soul of his opponent, which not only drains their health but also has him assume their form and moveset for a short period, but can also morph into various masked ninjas from the franchise; Shao Kahn primarily attacks with his massive hammer, which can make his attacks slower; Jax Briggs can charge up his metal arms with punches and other attacks, which allows him to pull off his projectile attacks; and Erron Black can whip out a shotgun, which allows him to fire at and melee attack his opponent but also needs reloading and to be manually put away. Other opponents can be a lot cheaper than others; Noob Saibot, for example, is always a bit of a pain because of his vast array of teleporting attacks and the same applies to Mileena, who’s capable of quickly teleporting about the place and launching sais at you. There are also some returning favourites you’ll have to watch out for, such as Sub-Zero’s ice ball, Scorpion’s kunai spear, and Liu Kang’s lightning quick kicks and fireballs but the new characters have their own tricks to watch out for, too. Geras, for example, loves to spam his little sand pit trap and Certrion will spawn elemental hazards out of thin air to trap and hurt you.
When playing through the game’s story mode, you’ll also have to fight a couple of familiar faces in the form of Cyrax and Sektor. These cybernetic ninjas sadly don’t make the cut this time around so they essentially fill the role of mini bosses, in a way, despite appearing quite early on in the story mode. In addition, there will also be time sin the story (and in certain towers) where you have to face two opponents in a handicap match very similar to the “Endurance” matches from the first game, which see your opponents automatically tag into battle once their comrade has fallen while you’re forced to continue with whatever health you have left. When taking on the Towers of Time, you’ll get to battle against a character that has been augmented to “boss” status; this means that you can’t use Konsumables and that your opponent will be super tough, requiring multiple players to take on the challenge while its active to help bring them down and earn rewards.
When you play the story mode or battle through one of the other towers, your final opponent will be Kronika, an unplayable boss character who presents a unique challenge compared to the likes of Shinnok and Shao Kahn. The battle against Kronika takes place in one round but is split between three fights against her and three different locations and time periods, with each phase seeing you having to battle a randomly generated opponent. Unlike other characters, Kronika cannot be thrown, staggered, or hit with a Fatal Blow; when you try any of these attacks and certain combos, she’ll take damage but you won’t see the usual animations play out, which can leave you open to one of her devastating attacks. Kronika likes to teleport around the arena and summon energy balls and projectiles but her most lethal attack is a time warp that renders you helpless and drains a massive chunk of your health bar, which basically means that it’s best to reach her final phase with as much health as possible or else you have to replay the entire fight from the beginning. At the conclusion of the Aftermath story mode, you have the choice of facing either Shang Tsung (who has usurped Kronika’s powers) or “Fire God” Liu Kang (a merged form of Liu Kang and Raiden) as your final opponent. Unlike Kronika, though, these are standard battles and subject to all the normal gameplay mechanics, meaning you’re free to hit your Fatal Blows and augmented special moves and combos without fear of being left vulnerable. Indeed, as long as you’re proficient enough with a few combos and special moves, these fights should be noticeably easier than the one against Kronika though be wary as Shang Tsung and Liu Kang are also much more versatile in their attacks than Kronika, who favours bursts of temporal energy over combo strings.
Power-Ups and Bonuses: Like in Injustice 2, each character has a number of gear that can be equipped but, thankfully, unlike in that game, these do not affect the character’s stats or abilities and are merely cosmetic. As you battle with your character, their gear will level up and unlock up to three augment slots and you can then equip augments to their gear to increase their special attacks, defence, and other attributes to make them more efficient. Similar to Mortal Kombat X, each character has a number of variations available to them but, this time, it’s up to you to equip and assign these variations to each character; these are limited to three slots, which allow you to assign different special moves and abilities to each character to differentiate them (you can have Scorpion, for example, focus on flame or kunai attacks, or mix and match them). You can also assign different intros and outros for each variation (once you unlock these) and tweak their artificial intelligence (A.I.) stats to make them more focused on reversals or brawling, for example, or a more balanced fighter when taking part in A.I. Battles.
To help you clear these modes, you can choose to have the computer battle through each tower on your behalf and also use up to four Konsumables to tip the odds in your favour. These allow you to flick the right analogue stick and call upon assistance from other characters or effects (such as a brief acid rain, missiles, or similar projectiles) and/or earn additional rewards from battle or performing finishers. Other times, especially in the Towers of Time, your opponents will have access to similar Konsumables and augments, which essentially recreates the Test Your Luck feature from Mortal Kombat (2009), and you’ll again have the option of teaming up with others to take on super tough boss battles.Each time you take on a tower, you’ll be asked to take on a number of “Dragon Challenges”; these appear at the bottom of the screen and ask you to do such tasks as switching stance, ducking, jumping, or performing (or not performing) a certain number of actions throughout the fight and the more you complete, the more additional Koins you can earn so I recommend drawing the fight out so that you can pull off as many as possible.
Additional Features: There are fifty-eight Achievements on offer in Mortal Kombat 11 and, unlike most games, most of these are tied to repetitive actions rather than playing though the story mode. You’ll earn an Achievement for pulling off a certain number of Fatalities and Brutalities, one for performing two Fatalities with every character who isn’t a DLC fighter (which is a good way to test out each fighter), using a certain number of Konsumables, and opening a certain number of chests in the Krypt, for example. You’ll also earn Achievements for clearing the Klassic Tower with first one and then ten characters (why not all of them is beyond me), running five miles in the Krypt, and for taking part in A.I. and online battles and clearing half of (and all) of the main story mode.
Sadly, however, the Achievements do not extend to any of the DLC fighters or story content; there are no Achievements to be earned from clearing Aftermath or specifically tied to any of the DLC fighters, which is a real shame when you’ve got RoboCop and the Terminator in your game and when you consider that Mortal Kombat XL had sixty Achievements to earn, with an extra thirteen added with its DLC fighters. On the one hand, this does mean that it’s a lot easier to get Achievements in Mortal Kombat 11 since there are far less devoted to online play but, on the other, I was disappointed that the Achievements didn’t encourage more replayability and variety; instead, it’s all repetitive actions and nonstop grinding and I’d be pretty pissed off to have paid £40-odd for the Aftermath DLC and all those fighter packs only to find that they don’t come with any extra Achievements.
Speaking of which, Aftermath and all of the DLC fighter packs and skins are included in Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate (…except for those released after the game) but you should be aware that your previous save data from the base Mortal Kombat 11 is not compatible with Ultimate. This means that you can play Aftermath right away, if you want, and thus complete the actual story since the main story just kind of ends unresolved. The additional fighters include the likes of Spawn, RoboCop, the Terminator, and even John Rambo (with Keith David, Peter Weller, and Sylvester Stallone all lending their voice talents (and likeness, in Rambo’s case) to the game. You can also play as returning characters such as Sindel, Fujin, and one of my favourites, Rain though I question the inclusion of the Joker as I really think Pennywise the Dancing Clown would have fit a lot better. There are also a number of cheeky DC Comics skins and gear to equip that turn Cassie Cage into Harley Quinn, Geras into Darkseid, Kitana into Catwoman, and Baraka into Killer Croc and you can even dress Jacqui Briggs up in Spawn’s costume.
Aside from fighting, much your time is also spent exploring the Krypt and spending all of your hard-earned currency on skins, gear, augments, and the like. The Krypt is the biggest it has ever been, encompassing the entirety of Shang Tsung’s island and is full of treasure chests, death traps, and references to the videogames and movies. Unfortunately, though, as great as the Krypt is for Easter Eggs and such, it’s a bitch to navigate; you can create shortcuts by smashing through walls and pulling levers and such but the map is dreadful and it can be extremely difficult to get to where you need to be as it relies on an awkward coordinate system. It’s also ridiculously expensive to open the chests, which can lead to you spending over 10,000 Koins just for some useless icons and concept art and it’ll cost you 100 Soul Fragments and 250 Hearts every time you want to open one of those chests. There’s a lot to see and do, though, with new areas to stumble across and fun little Easter Eggs to find but, again, no Achievements really tied to this; when I find the statue of Reptile’s reptilian form from the movie or examine Drahmin’s mask or find Goro’s corpse, I’d expect at least a fun little 5G Achievement but…nope.
The Summary: I knew that we would eventually be getting Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate and specifically held off from purchasing the base game or Aftermath while waiting for this release, which bundles 99% of the game’s content all onto one disc (well…technically it’s two…) for you to play at your leisure (after the lengthy download and installation process, of course). In many ways, I wasn’t disappointed; Mortal Kombat has never looked better, with blood and guts and gore being rendered in exquisitely visceral detail and the recreation of Shang Tsung’s island for the Krypt is stunning, full of little details and references that really reward my many years of fandom. Equally, the story mode and fights are brought to life fantastically and the scaled back approach to gear and customisation is appreciated since it means I don’t have to worry about my character being underpowered if they look how I want.
Unfortunately, though, there are a few things that let it down. The Fatal Blow system is great but seems catered more to new players and a defensive playstyle; tying so much of the game to online servers results in a lot of dodgy slowdown and loading on the menus at times; locking everything behind the towers and such is fine but forcing players to grind for in-game currency to spend on even challenging those towers is not; the handful of Achievements might be pretty simple to get but there’s not a lot of variety or fun to them; and I question some of the choices made for the roster. First of all…why thirty-seven fighters? Why not go all-in and bring it up to a nice, even forty? Where are Takeda Takahasi and Kung Jin, the actual descendant of the Great Kung Lao? They weren’t exactly my favourite characters from Mortal Kombat X but they were just as important to the “new generation” of fighters as Cassie and Jacqui but they’re missing yet that lumbering oaf Kotal Kahn is still there. In the end, there’s a lot of fun to be had in Mortal Kombat 11 but it’s notably more finite and time-consuming than in the last two Mortal Kombat games; it’s not as bad with the randomness and loot boxes as Injustice 2 but some of the better skins and gear and such is still annoying locked away and will take a lot of time and effort to unlock, which is especially aggravating when the game uses four different types of in-game currency and yet your options for actually purchasing new stuff in-game are severely limited.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
What are your thoughts on Mortal Kombat 11: Ultimate? Did you wait for this version to come out or did you buy the base game and DLC separate? Either way, do you think there was enough value for your money or, like me, were you disappointed to find the DLC didn’t have any new Achievements to earn? Which fighter in the game (or the franchise) is your favourite and why? What did you think to the story mode and the use of competing timelines to bring back classic characters? Were there any characters or features missing from the game for you? What did you think to the online options and the different towers the game had to offer? Which Mortal Kombat game, movie, comic, or other piece of media is your favourite? Whatever your thoughts on Mortal Kombat 11, or Mortal Kombat in general, leave a comment down below.
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