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 Thursday of April to celebrating the character?
Released: 1996 Developer: Probe Entertainment / Iguana Entertainment / Iguana Entertainment UK Also Available For: Arcade, MS-DOS, and SEGA Saturn
First Impressions: If there’s three things you can always count on with me, it’s that I’m a big fan of arcade titles, sidescrolling beat-‘em-ups, and Batman. Although I didn’t grow up with a Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), emulators have allowed me to have a great deal of fun with Batman Returns (Konami, 1993), which was a cracking licensed videogame simply because it aped the formula of genre staples like Final Fight (Capcom, 1989) and X-Men (Konami, 1992). While Batman Forever had an extremely dismal and almost unplayable sidescrolling adventure game released on Mega Drive and SNES, arcades were blessed with this far more enjoyable and fitting videogame, which thankfully came to the PlayStation so I was able to snap it up (and at a pretty good price, too, all things considered). Batman Forever: The Arcade Game can be played on three different difficulty settings (Easy, Normal, or Hard), with enemies increasing in number and toughness on the harder difficulty settings, and allows you to assign yourself up to seven continues. You begin the game with three lives and, once you’ve lost all three, you can enter a high score and switch your character to return to the action once more. In terms of controls, Batman Forever is as simple as it gets: one button punches, one kicks, and one jumps and that’s it. you can customise these in the options menu and choose to play as either Batman or Robin (or both together, if you have a friend), before jumping into the game proper. There doesn’t appear to be any technical differences between the two, but they do have different animations and Robin seems to be a bit faster on his feet, but that could just my psychosomatic on my part. Right away, you’re treated to a pretty impressive in-game cutscene as Batman and/or Robin heads to the streets of Gotham City in the Batmobile, and the first thing you’ll notice is how impressive and ambitious the graphics are. The game utilises pre-rendered, 2.5D backgrounds that, while murky and a bit washed out, are immediately evocative of many of the neon-drenched, bizarre locations seen in the film, such as the graffiti-and-litter-strewn streets, Edward Nygma/The Riddler’s big gala (with partially animated guests in the background), and Harvey Dent/Two-Face’s lair among others. The playing field allows you to wander into the background, with sprites scaling accordingly, though they do lose a fair amount of graphical fidelity, becoming even more pixelated and ugly as you move about.
Sprites in general look decent enough; they appear to be digitised, similar to the early Mortal Kombat games (Midway/Various, 1992 to 1996), and Batman and Robin have a glistening sheen to them that makes them look like action figures. Batman looks a little goofy, with his massive chest symbol, but Robin looks pretty good; the thugs you encounter, however, are swarms of Two-Face’s goons, robots modelled after the Riddler’s fortune teller machine, and other generic beat-‘em-up mooks, none of whom have a life bar. The sheer number of enemies is pretty impressive and overwhelming, however. It doesn’t take much for you to get pummelled to death as enemies swarm around you and trap you in an unblockable beatdown, and enemies will fire guns, toss grenades, drive motorcycles and cars at you as well as spring out from the scenery. To make matters worse, Two-Face occasionally pops in, riding a wrecking ball or shooting rockets at you from the foreground, though there are times where you can swing and grapple parts of the environment to barge trough enemies. Combat is a pretty simple affair, with you mashing punch and kick to string together combos, tossing and jump-kicking enemies as you’d expect, but the game makes a big deal out swamping you with various power-ups. As you take out enemies, little Bat Symbols scatter everywhere which power-up your “Combo Meter” as well as a variety of gadgets and pick-ups: Bat-Signals, Two-Face Ying-Yangs, and Riddler Symbols appear frequently, bestowing either gadgets or temporary buffs and debuffs. When you grab a gadget, like the Batarang, grapple gun, taser, or Bat Bola, your regular attack is replaced with a projectile; the grapple gun is particularly useful for landing up to 150 hit combos on enemies and sees you swinging and flailing all over the screen, while the Batarangs can quickly rack up points and the taser and bola can stun enemies for a short time. You can also pull off a screen-clearing attack, summon bats to protect and attack enemies, and toss a stun grenade, and all of these attacks will increase in power and change their appearance as your meter builds higher. However, this can make the combat and action extremely chaotic as the screen is constantly filled with enemies, items, and your almost incomprehensible attacks, making for a very frantic and confusing experience.
My Progression: As you fight your way through the game, you can pick up and throw objects, grab the odd bit of health to sustain yourself, and will be blessed or cursed with power-ups such as invisibility, duplication, invulnerability, and shrinking you (or your enemies), among others. After clearing a stage, your score is tallied up; the more enemies you defeat and the more gadgets and such you use, the better your score and rewards. You can then pick from these rewards to start the next stage with a gadget or power-up advantage; some are merely cosmetic, like “VR Mode”, which sees enemies burst into green computer coding upon defeat, while others increase your combo by default, allowing you to build your meter faster. There are no save points, password, or checkpoints in the game, however; once you exhaust all of your continues, the game is over and you’ll need to start from the beginning, which is always a pretty shitty thing to do in a home conversion of an arcade game since its purpose isn’t to relieve you of your pocket money. All I’m saying is at least have the option to earn more lives or continues, or limit your continues on the harder difficulties and have them disabled entirely on Easy mode.
Naturally, you’ll have to battle a few bosses over the course of your playthrough, however not as many as you might think. The game is structured more to have you battle wave upon wave of the same goons over and over until you reach the end of a stage, where a boss may be waiting for you, but it’s not always the case. I didn’t fight a boss until the second stage, for example, which pits you against three slightly tougher goons: Nick, Blade, and Flex, each of which fires at you with an Uzi, tosses grenades, or throws knives at you and can block your attacks (something you’re incapable of doing). You’ll know when you’re facing a boss as they actually have a life bar and the screen flashes dramatically after you defeat them, and these three weren’t all that difficult but, again, it’s easy to get caught in a crossfire and just whittled down to nothing in no time at all. At the end of an alleyway, you’ll fight Tassel (who seems to be the neon-painted, clown-like goon who hassled Dick in the film), who’s joined by a couple of gun-and-grenade-toting henchmen and shows off a bit of flippy, martial arts skill. After battling through goons on a rooftop, you’ll be confronted by a helicopter and a seemingly endless supply of enemies; simply fend them off, dodging the chopper’s machine gun fire, and press attack to toss projectiles when prompted. Two-Face will continually pop up to fire rockets at you in the subway and at the gala, and two of the Riddler’s robots will attack you with their extendable arms to cover their escape. These then become regular enemies in a construction site full of explosive barrels, where you’ll battle Feather and Stew, with Feather proving pretty tough thanks to being very handy with his bo staff. My run came to a disappointing end in Two-Face’s lair, however, where his beautiful bodyguards, Sugar and Spice, absolutely wrecked me with their fast attacks, which pummelled me from both sides without any chance of fighting back, treating to me to a rather bland game over screen (in the Batman: The Animated Series (1992 to 1999) font, no less) informing me of my failure to save Gotham City.
I was having a pretty good time with Batman Forever: The Arcade Game once I got past the visual and sensory overload. The game includes a renditions of Elliot Goldenthal’s score and some brief sound bites from the movie, but the sheer number of enemies and chaos happening onscreen at any one time can be a little overwhelming. The game looks fairly decent, even though things can get a bit ugly and distorted at times, but the depth of combat is a little odd compared to other beat-‘em-ups; the gadgets and various pick-ups mean there’s always something happening and you can rack up big combos, but it also feels like a lot of control is being taken away from you as Batman and Robin leap into action with these big, elaborate movements at the touch of a button. Unfortunately, neither are particularly durable; your health bar can be whittled down to nothing in the blink of an eye and you’ll burn through your lives and continues in no time, with no passwords or cheat codes to make things easier for you. It’s probably do-able, maybe in two-player mode, and I’m sure I’ll return to it again as I do enjoy a bit of sidescrolling, beat-‘em-up action, but lumbering you with limited continues for a home console release always irks me and there’s not really anything to unlock or to discover outside of the main campaign, which continues basically no story and very few cutscenes (and even these are limited to the in-game graphics, impressive as they can be). I’d like to know if you’ve ever played this one, either in the arcade or at home, and how well you fared against Gotham’s colourful swarms of criminals? Which character did you prefer, and what did you think to all the gadgets and power-ups? Which licensed Batman game is your favourite? Who is your favourite Robin and how are you celebrating the Boy Wonder’s debut this month? Whatever your thoughts on this game, and Robin in general, sign up to leave them below or share your thoughts on my social media, and check back soon for more Robin content!
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!
Released: 4 March 2022 Director: Matt Reeves Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures Budget: $100 million Stars: Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, Colin Farrell, and Andy Serkis
The Plot: During his second year of fighting crime, traumatised billionaire socialite Bruce Wayne (Pattinson) struggles to balance rage with righteousness as he investigates a disturbing mystery that has terrorised Gotham City. During his pursuit of the sadistic Edward Nashton/The Riddler (Dano), the Batman is forced to make new, unlikely allies to bring the corrupt to justice.
The Review: Like many, I was somewhat sceptical going into The Batman, but probably for very different reasons; as much as I disagree with many of the choices made in the DCEU, and the direction Snyder took the films, at least we were finally getting DC movies where these wonderful characters actually co-existing and interacted. Now, though, Warner Bros. seem to think that it’s perfectly acceptable and understandable to have different variations of Batman onscreen at the same time, which is a far cry from the infamous “Bat Embargo” they usually place on their property. While I can just about get my head around this, I wonder how many in the casual audience will get that this Batman and this new world isn’t part of the DCEU as we know it, and is unrelated to the Ben Affleck and Michael Keaton Batmen that are in that universe. Personally, I feel things would’ve been much simpler if Warner Bros. had pushed for a new Batman solo film after Man of Steel, or simply recast Affleck with another grizzled veteran and retooled their script. However, I had no doubts about Robert Pattinson; he’s successfully reinvented himself as a high calibre actor and, at this point, I’m resigned to just hoping that these DC movies will be enjoyable in their bubbles and trying to ignore the absolute mess of the DC multiverse.
Similar to Batman and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice(Snyder, 2016), The Batman begins with Bruce having been active as Gotham City’s bat-themed vigilante for some time. Specifically, he’s in his second year of crimefighting and is already relatively well established as a vigilante; many in the Gotham City Police Department (GCPD) and positions of authority are aware of him and do not approve of his methods, but the city’s such a corrupt and rotting cesspool that there’s really not much of an effort being made to bring him in. Unlike pretty much every single interpretation of the Batman, however, we are spared a recreation of the night Bruce’s parents are killed; their deaths are still mentioned, and are a pivotal part of the plot, Bruce’s motivation, and the city, but the film very much takes inspiration from Spider-Man: Homecoming(Watts, 2017) and assumes that the audience will have a working knowledge of who Batman is and how he came to be. Obviously, for myself and a lot of us, this is the case, but if you’re new to the Batman than you might struggle a little bit with understanding exactly why Bruce was driven to such extremes. The film, in many ways, is framed as though you’ve picked up a random issue of DC Comics; it drops you right into this hellhole of a city and forces you along this intense investigation with a haunted young man who stalks the streets night after night. one thing I really enjoyed was the use of Bruce’s voiceover and the depiction of him keeping track of his nightly activities in a journal, two things which are common staples of the character in the comics and really help to reinforce the film’s seventies-inspired crime noir feel, though Pattinson’s narration dies down for the majority of the film, so that one explicit window into his mindset is shut off from us and the film instead becomes a masterful exercise in subtlety and body language. This is a very different Batman from the ones that have come before, one that is both new and familiar in a lot of ways; like Michael Keaton, he rarely speaks and, when he does, it’s in a hushed whisper. Like Christian Bale, he clearly put his Batsuit together and is still finding his way as Gotham’s protector, and he has a physical intensity not unlike Ben Affleck but fuelled by a rage so intense that it’s almost surprising to find he has such a strong moral code against guns and killing. This Batman is also firmly grounded in the real world, perhaps even more so than Bale’s; it’s suggested that, rather than travelling the world to learn crimefighting and solving methods, he was trained to fight by his faithful butler, Alfred Pennyworth (Serkis), but he also demonstrates an extremely keen mind.
More than any other Batman, this Batman is a detective; he works closely with Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Wright), who vouches for him, allows him access to crime scenes, and even calls for him using a makeshift signal atop a seemingly abandoned skyscraper. Batman’s relationship with Gordon is easily the closest ever seen on film; the two have a clear trust and respect for each other, and feel that the system is so broken that they have no choice but to turn to the other (one an extreme vigilante, the other one of the city’s few honest cops). Despite the disapproval of his peers and superiors, Gordon constantly stresses that the Batman is their ally and he even colludes with the brooding vigilante to help him escape police custody. Gordon is depicted as a jaded and bleak individual who’s clearly seen too much death and corruption in Gotham and is near the end of his tether, yet he continues to fight on for justice; we don’t explicitly learn much about his personal life outside of work, but it was pretty great to see the two literally teaming up to investigate clues and having a relationship that’s much more equal than in other interpretations. On the flip side, we really don’t get many interactions between Bruce and Alfred; clearly inspired by Batman: Earth One (Johns, et al, 2012 to 2021) and more than a little reminiscent of Sean Pertwee’s take on the character, Alfred clearly fully supports Bruce’s endeavours as Batman but, like other versions of the character, is dismayed to find that Bruce’s nightly jaunts have all but consumed his life. Indeed, this is truer here than of any other Batman; Bruce Wayne is merely a brooding shell of a man, one who is rarely seen in public and has made no efforts to put his wealth towards improving the city, and Alfred is dismayed that the young billionaire is letting his family’s legacy go to waste in favour of pummelling thugs as Batman. Having said that, though, Alfred assists in looking into the Riddler’s ciphers and helps Bruce to figure out clues to the madman’s next victims, and Bruce is delivered an unexpected blow when his last remaining member, whom he has long shunned, is critically injured after the Riddler targets Bruce Wayne. Bruce’s anger at this turns to feelings of betrayal, and finally appreciation for his elderly butler, after he learns that his father, Thomas Wayne (Luke Roberts), got caught up in Gotham’s underworld during his mayoral campaign.
Similar to some modern Batman storylines, and Joker (Phillips, 2019), Thomas Wayne’s normally morally upstanding reputation is called into question after he is duty-bound to save mob boss Carmine Falcone’s (John Turturro) life and then to turn to the gangster to help keep a scandal under wraps. Though Bruce initially believes that Alfred has lied to him about this and that his father was as corrupt as the city’s system, he’s grief-stricken to learn that Falcone took extreme measures simply to have leverage over Thomas and that his parents were killed as a result. A prominent discussion point in the media, this Batman has taken the concept of inspiring fear into criminals and dialled it up to eleven; brutal and intimidating, he stalks his prey from the shadows and then engages with them, unarmed, with little regard for his own safety. He’ll take on gangs of thugs in the subway as readily as barging into the Iceberg Lounge to get answers from Oswald Cobblepott/Oz/The Penguin (an absolutely unrecognisable Colin Farrell), and utilises minimal gadgets beyond his tough and durable Batsuit, grapple gun, and somewhat unrealistic contact lenses (which record everything he sees and hears). It’s in the Iceberg Lounge that he first crosses paths with Selina Kyle (Kravitz) who, in just one of many homages to Batman: Year One (Miller, et al, 1985), is a working girl, barmaid, and frequent arm candy for some of Gotham’s seedier individuals. Selina is drawn to donning a figure-hugging catsuit in order to retrieve the passport of her friend and lover, Annika Koslov (Hana Hrzic), which one of the Riddler’s victims had taken to keep her quiet about her knowledge of Falcone’s illicit activities, and she ends up forming a rocky alliance with the Batman in order to track Annika down when she goes missing. Similar to Anne Hathaway’s take on the character, Kravitz never actually uses the pseudonym Catwoman, but she is depicted as a slick, cat-loving opportunist who is more than capable of fending for herself in a fight. Her vendetta against Falcone is deeply personal; she feels he owes her a shit-load of money after what he did to her mother and is so driven to making him pay for his actions that she’s willing to kill himself, which causes tension between her and Batman, who cannot abide the senseless taking of lives.
Speaking of which, Gotham City, already a powder keg of anarchy and crime, is gripped with fear when the absolutely terrifying and psychotic Riddler begins targeting prominent members of the city government and posting viral messages and threats in a bid to expose how corrupt the city’s system is. Garbed in a hunting jacket and masking his face behind a gruesome visage, the Riddler takes more than a little inspiration from the real-life Zodiac Killer to create a version of the character that is far beyond anything I’ve ever seen before. The closest analogy I could draw was with the Riddler seen in the Batman: Arkhamvideogames (Various, 2009 to present) and a mixture of “John Doe” (Kevin Spacey) from Seven (Fincher, 1995) and John Kramer/Jigsaw from the Saw franchise (Various, 2004 to 2021), which honestly was exactly what I was hoping for for this film considering how heavily inspired the city and the presentation is by Seven. The Riddler is an unhinged psychopath who stalks his victims from afar and either bludgeons them to death or rigs them up to ghastly death traps to be eaten alive by rats or serve as a veritable suicide bomber; his televised threats are an incoherent and frightening example of a mind twisted and snapped, and his tendency towards leaving riddles and ciphers bamboozles the GCPD and hints at a deeper corruption within Gotham. The Riddler specifically addresses these puzzles to the Batman and comes to see the Dark Knight as his intellectual equal; in actual fact, the Riddler is so warped that he believes the Batman is his partner, an accomplice who can perform the physical tasks he (as in the Riddler) is incapable of, and his plot to expose Gotham even goes as far as to not only target Bruce Wayne but to flooding the city and recruiting a number of likeminded lookalikes to assassinate mayoral candidate Bella Reál (Jayme Lawson).
The Nitty-Gritty: Although it starts in a very subdued manner, The Batman quickly escalates into an intense and gritty noir-style thriller than showcases a side to the Batman that we’ve really never seen before. Accompanied by a dark, haunting orchestral score from Michael Giacchino, this Batman is drawn into the Riddler’s twisted plot and spends the majority of the film attempting to figure out what the madman is doing and who his next target is. Perhaps more than any other Batman before him, Bruce has become obsessed, utterly lost, in his vigilante persona; he can no longer differentiate between day and night, sleepwalks through life as Bruce Wayne, and even pushes Alfred away all in service of his fixation on trying to salvage what’s left of Gotham City from the criminals and the corrupt. Consequently, this really isn’t a movie where you learn much, if anything, about Bruce Wayne; the differentiation between his private, personal, and vigilante life is practically non-existent and Pattinson spends almost the entire movie in the cape and cowl of the Batman. Furthermore, although he’s referred to as “The Batman” by the Riddler and the media, Batman actually believes himself to be vengeance personified, to the point where the Penguin and Selina both frequently refer to him as “Vengeance”, which is all part of the character’s larger story arc where he realises that he is actually making an impact in the city not just as an instrument of fear and revenge but also as a symbol of hope. The Batman may very well be the most visually interesting and stylistically aesthetic Batman movie ever made; every shot is like a work of art, with the camera frequently utilising odd angles and long, lingering shots to really sell the atmosphere of Gotham City and the character of the Batman.
Gotham is shot almost entirely at night and in the rain; it is a moody, gritty, and dangerous city that feels like it’s on the brink of total collapse at all times. It feels very much like the cesspit seen in Joker and the grimy streets of Batman Begins’ (Nolan, 2005) Narrows but, again, dialled up to eleven. There are some shots of the city at sunrise and sunset, but there’s hardly any scenes that take place in the daytime, all of which really helps to make Gotham feel like an absolute hellhole and really helps sell the idea that Batman is facing an uphill battle. Previously, Batman Begins delivered easily the most grounded and realistic take on the title character ever seen, but The Batman takes that even further; many aspects remind me of director Darren Aronfosky’s God-awful pitch from back in the day, but these elements have thankfully been tweaked with clear inspirations from Year One, Earth One, and Batman: Zero Year (Snyder, 2013 to 2014) that show Bruce operating out of a subway beneath Wayne Tower rather than a more conventional Batcave or Wayne Manor and largely bereft of his usual gadgets and unparalleled efficiency. Even two years into his career, this Batman remains a flawed character; though extremely intelligent, driven, and observant, his body is riddled with bruises and scars and he takes quite a beating during the film’s vicious fight scenes. Although we don’t get a step-by-step insight into Bruce’s trauma and transformation into the Batman, much of this is wonderfully conveyed through Pattinson’s body language and demeanour; he is clearly a haunted, broken man filled with rage and desperate to protect others from the pain that has all-but crippled him. More than any other Batman, he says an awful lot just with a glare of his eyes and his mere presence is enough to leave roomfuls of people, even those already familiar with him, speechless. This is only aided by his absolutely fantastic Batsuit; clearly cobbled together by himself, presumably using some of the resources afforded by his wealth, his Batsuit is as realistically believable as the rest of the film, comprised of an armoured outer shell and a variety of practical gadgets such as his trusty grapple line (hidden in his wrist) and a gliding suit built into his cape. Batman’s use of gadgets is refreshingly limited; he uses the vague bat-shaped symbol on his chest as a cutting tool and has a taser function built into his gauntlets, but he isn’t busting out high-tech equipment at every opportunity and is largely reliant upon a torch and his grapple line. Taking inspiration from the likes of Gotham by Gaslight (Augustyn, et al, 1989) and Batman: Arkham Origins(WB Games Montréal, 2013), this Batsuit is surprisingly flexible and durable; Batman regularly tanks gunshots but can flip and swing about with ease, making him an agile and dangerous enemy to Gotham’s criminals. The only part of it I didn’t really like was the cowl, which seemed a bit too leathery and like it wouldn’t really protect him from headshots, but the suit is constantly shot in a way that makes it fearsome and impressive to behold.
Though Batman utilises a motorcycle for much of the film, he does bust out an absolutely mental rendition of the Batmobile; essentially a supped-up muscle car with a jet engine on the back, the Batmobile is like a roaring beast that tears through the rain-slick streets in a thrilling chase to run down the Penguin and a far cry from the overly tech-laden Batmobiles of the past. Also impressive are the make-up effects used to literally transform Colin Farrell into the bulbous, grotesque Penguin; portrayed as an underling of Falcone and proprietor of the Iceberg Lounge, the Penguin is a gruesome gangster who aspires to usurp Falcone’s position as Gotham’s top crime boss. As much as I would’ve liked to see someone like Ray Winstone take on the iconic role, Farrell absolutely steals the show in every scene he’s in, portraying the Penguin as a sleazy and manic mobster who seems to relish Gotham’s descent into freakish anarchy. Although not seen without his mask until quite late into the film, Paul Dano makes for a terrifying take on the Riddler; this isn’t Frank Gorshin’s madcap camp or Jim Carrey’s zany buffoonery, this is a Riddler who is dangerous and sadistic and empowered by his anonymity. Like Bruce, he has completely lost himself to his masked persona and addicted to the rush of breaking and taunting others, and is so far gone that he wants to literally wash away Gotham’s sins by flooding the city. This results in a finale where Batman is effectively powerless to stop the Riddler’s mad scheme and, instead, transforms into a symbol of hope for the terrified and endangered citizens. Although he gets plenty of opportunities to smash up the Riddler’s lookalikes, it’s his heroic actions in leading trapped civilians to safety that marks the turning point for Batman’s character, and potentially will result in him further refining his approach and mindset in a sequel. Although sequel bait is kept largely to a minimum and the focus is clearly on making an intense standalone film, The Batman definitely leaves the door open for continuations; the plot only scratches the surface of the corruption and degradation that threatens Gotha, there’s little hints and references towards the Court of Owls and even Doctor Thomas Elliot/Hush, and the filmmakers just couldn’t help themselves from included a brief, somewhat obscured cameo by Barry Keoghan as a maniacal Arkham inmate who proposed a team-up with the incarcerated Riddler.
The Summary: As I said, there were doubts heading into The Batman simply because I’m tired of seeing Batman and other DC superheroes existing in self-contained worlds and am eager to see them interacting with each other. However, from the moment the first trailer dropped, I could tell that this was going to be a very different Batman movie from anything we’d seen before, and it certainly was that! “Intense” is the best word I can use to describe this film, which is so dark and gritty and so full of rage and brooding bleakness that you’d bee forgiven you’d walked into a crime thriller like Seven. This, however, is exactly what I’ve been waiting to see from Batman; a back-to-basics detective story where the Batman is met with suspicion, isn’t surrounded by high-tech gadgets, and is simply a broken man trying to fight an uphill battle against crime and corruption. Robert Pattinson brought an intensity to the role that rivals that of Christian Bale, clocking up so much time in the suit and maintaining a ferocity in and out of the cowl that paints Bruce Wayne in a very different light. While newcomers to Batman may be left wanting to know more about Bruce (it’s not even stated why he chooses the iconography of a bat here), a lifelong Bat-fan such as myself really appreciated that we just jumped head-first into the story and largely stuck with the Dark Knight throughout the story. The greater screen time afforded to Jim Gordon was very much appreciated, and more than maybe up for Alfred’s comparatively smaller role, and I loved how grimy and desolate the city was. The portrayal of the Penguin and, especially, the Riddler was fantastic; both actors really threw themselves into the roles and changed the assumed perception of the characters, transforming the Riddler into a calculating, sadistic psychopath and really bringing an intellectual challenge to the Batman. With so much room left to explore, I can’t wait to return to this gloomy new Bat-world and see what else can be done with this version of the character, which easily makes it to the number two spot for me (I still have to give the number one spot to Christian Bale for delivering an overall unmatched performance as Bruce/Batman).
Rating: 5 out of 5.
What did you think to The Batman:? How do you feel it compared to other live-action versions of the character? Were you impressed with Robert Pattinson’s performance or are you too short-sighted to give up on your precious Ben Affleck? What did you think to the Batsuit, his car, gadgets, and setup? Did you enjoy the reinterpretation of the Riddler and Colin Farrell’s transformation into the Penguin? What did you think to the mystery, the noir-style presentation, and the inclusion of Catwoman? Which villains or story arcs would you like to see utilised in potential sequels? Whatever your thoughts on The Batman, or Batman in general, please sign up to leave a comment below or leave a reply on my social media, and be sure to come back for my Batman content later in the year.
The Review: Our story begins by giving us some backstory on Bruce Wayne/Batman and Dick Grayson/Robin’s newest confounding criminal as we flash back to the youth of the Riddler, known here as Edward Nygma and shown to be a conniving little creep even as a schoolboy. When his teacher sets the class an assignment to complete a jigsaw puzzle to win a prize, Nygma cheats by taking a picture of the completed puzzle using his “flash camera” and continuously humiliates his class mates by challenging them to solve puzzles and using slight of hand and other underhanded tricks to showcase his supposed skill. As he grows into adulthood, Nygma becomes an accomplished con man, fooling and cheating the general public out of their money as “E. Nygma – The Puzzle King”, but grows bored of the lack of challenge his cheating ways bring him. He becomes so sure of his genius and talent with puzzles that he decides to test his abilities against not just the police, but the Batman himself, donning a garish question mark-themed costume and taking the name of the Riddler for the first time.
The Riddler’s first heinous act is to commandeer a massive advertising billboard that features a crossword theme and challenge Batman and Robin to learn a clue regarding his planned crime. Within two panels, Batman and Robin decipher the solution to the Riddler’s crossword and accordingly head to the Basin Street Banquet. However, when they blunder in hoping to apprehend the crook, they find the city’s upper class safe and sound and are stunned to learn that the Riddler tricked them with word play and actually flooded a nearby bank (“bank-wet”). The Riddler floods the bank’s underground vaults using a water main and robs the bank after easily figuring out the combination to the vault, and is safely washed away to safety using the sewers. Bamboozled by the Riddler, Batman is doubly determined to nail his newest adversary, who delivers a massive jigsaw puzzle to Police Commissioner Jim Gordon at police headquarters. Batman has the police transport the giant jigsaw to the football stadium and directs them, via loudspeaker and microphone, in solving it to determine that the Riddler plans to target the Eyrie nightclub atop a skyscraper. The Dynamic Duo head to the Eyrie later that night, and Batman sends Robin in alone, where the Boy Wonder is left to see Gotham’s socialites party away with no sign of the Riddler.
It turns out that the Riddler actually meant that he was planning to rob the home of Harrison Eagle, a millionaire collector, but this time Batman is smart enough to figure this out and interrupt the Riddler…though he is momentarily stunned by the Riddler’s gas bomb and the puzzle master is able to slip away as Batman is forced to break apart an elaborate steel rod trap before Harrison Eagle suffocates to death. Riding high on his momentum, the Riddler’s next conundrum is a little more direct and dangerous to the general public as he sends a truck careening through the streets carrying a massive corncob and a devious riddle: “Why is corn hard to escape from?” Luckily, Batman and Robin are on hand to halt the out of control vehicle with the Batmobile, and Batman deduces that the solution is “maize”; or, more specifically, the big glass “maze” at the Pleasure Pier amusement park. Despite arriving in time to spot the Riddler fleeing into the glass maze, having robbed the park, the Dynamic Duo find themselves trapped in the translucent labyrinth and left at the mercy of the Riddler, who has planted a bomb in the maze that is set to go off in half an hour! Although the glass is shatter-proof, Batman marks their route using the “diamonds on [his] badge” but, when they reach the exit, they find it closed up and the Riddler watching them as time ticks down. Batman comes up with the unlikely ingenious plan to pile up rolls of carpet against the glass panel and set it alight; the heat expands the glass just enough for Batman to force the pane open, but the Dynamic Duo are left with no time to apprehend the villain as they have to dive for cover to avoid perishing in the Riddler’s explosion. Trapped on the edge of the pier, the Riddler is flown into the sea, cursing his failure, and leaves behind only a question mark where he landed and the lingering riddle of whether he drowned or escaped to bewilder the Dark Knight another day.
The Summary: I was pleased to find that the Riddler’s conundrums weren’t as simple as they first appeared; Batman and even Robin easily decipher the Riddler’s clues, only to be fooled by the master of puzzles thanks to wordplay and deceit, as is his speciality. Thanks to his devious ways, the Riddler is able to make fools out of the Dynamic Duo and get away with bags full of loot, and his victories only spiral his superiority complex into overdrive. Crucially, however, it’s important to note that the Riddler eludes capture, and Batman, at every turn; even when Batman is upon him, Nygma slips away using a smoke bomb and endangering an innocent man’s life. The Riddler constantly stays one step ahead, and traps the Dynamic Duo within the glass maze, and is only undone because his hubris demands that he lord it over his adversaries. However, even in defeat, he remains ultimately victorious as he eludes capture, imprisonment, and consequences for his crimes, and is even afforded the luxury of being assumed dead so he can carry out more elaborate crimes at a later date.
“The Riddler” is certainly a colourful and whimsical debut for one of Batman’s most notorious and clever adversaries; Edward Nygma is presented as an arrogant and deceptive little creep who cheats and uses underhanded tactics to bamboozle others with his supposed genius when, in actuality, he’s just a liar and a con man. Having cheated his way to victory countless times over the years, his narcissism is exacerbated by an inflated sense of accomplishment to the point where he’s no longer satisfied with duping the general masses and wishes to pit his “skills” against the Gotham police and the ultimate challenge: The Batman. Ultimately, “The Riddler” is a wholly ridiculous but fun little tale from Batman’s Golden Era, one that is more about presenting a quick, colourful tale that taxes Batman in a new way with a bombastic new villain, but I can’t say it’s the most memorable or influential story of Batman’s early years. It’s fun seeing the absurd means that the Riddler delivers his puzzles, and to see him outwit Batman on technicalities and semantics, and the bizarre ways that Batman gets out of his predicaments during this time is always amusing, but there are definitely better Batman stories from this era – and Riddler tales – to find.
Rating: 2 out of 5.
Could Be Better
Have you ever read “The Riddler”? What did you think of the Riddler’s debut and the puzzles he threw Batman’s way? Did you correctly solve the Riddler’s conundrums or were you also outwitted by his deceptive ways? What are some of your favourite Riddler stories? Which interpretation of the Riddler, whether animated, pixelated, or live-action, is your favourite? Whatever you think about the Riddler, sign up to share your thoughts below or leave comment on my social media, and be sure to check back in next Saturday for more Batman 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 an entire month to celebrating the character?
Released: 9 June 1995 Director: Joel Schumacher Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures Budget: $100 million Stars: Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, Chris O’Donnell, Michael Gough, and Pat Hingle
The Plot: Gotham City is being terrorised by former distract attorney turned acid-scarred supervillain Harvey Dent/Two-Face (Lee Jones), whose madness is only exacerbated when he teams up with Edward Nygma/The Riddler (Carrey), who has concocted a mad plan to absorb the intelligence and memories of Gothamites. As if all this wasn’t bad enough, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Kilmer) finds himself struggling with both the futility and loneliness of his life’s mission and his desperate need to discourage Dick Grayson (O’Donnell) from following the same dark path.
Although Schumacher initially wanted to produce an adaptation of Batman: Year One (Miller, et al, 1987), Warner Bros’ weren’t too keen on this idea and pushed, instead, for a more light-hearted affair that would sell toys and be more akin to the popular Batman television show of the sixties. This approach held little appeal for Michael Keaton, the star of the previous two Batman movies, and the role was recast with the notoriously-difficult, but far more physically-imposing, Val Kilmer assuming the mantle. Despite the wildly different tone of the film, Batman Forever contained a number of allusions, call-backs, and references to the previous films to set it in roughly the same continuity (save for recasting Harvey Dent from smooth-talking Billy Dee Williams to the maniacal Tommy Lee Jones). Warner Bros’ new approach appeared to be successful, with the film making over $330 million at the box office and pleasing parents and corporate sponsors, though the film garnered a somewhat divided critical reception. Much has been made of Schumacher’s aesthetic choices and direction, though the film but has earned a cult following compared to its grandiose sequel, with many calling for the release of an extended version to restore many of the excised scenes that added a darker subtext and scenes to the film.
The Review: Right from the moment Batman Forever begins, you can tell it’s a very different film to its predecessors; gone is Danny Elfman’s iconic theme, the Gothic, enclosed sets, and the vast majority of the cast, replaced by an admittedly heroic and boisterous (if a bit over-played) score, a vast, near-incomprehensible Gotham City filled with neon, towering skyscrapers, and impractical architecture, a host of new faces, and, of course, a whole load of new toys. First, there’s the new Batsuit; though no longer as armour-plated as the Burton-era suits, this suit seems much more form-fitting and famously included nipples to give it a more anatomically-correct look. Unlike in the previous films, where Keaton was forced to be very stiff and was heavily restricted by this suit, Kilmer (and his stunt and fight double) move much more freely. He’s still not able to move his head, sure, but he’s far more agile and capable in his fight scenes, delivering easily the best live-action Batman fights at that point in time. With a new suit comes new gadgets, a new Batcave, and a new Batmobile, all of which are far more stylised and elaborate than in Burton’s movies and are introduced in a pretty cool “suiting up” scene during the opening credits. However, as much as I defend this movie, I do feel this scene is tarnished a bit by that cringey “I’ll get drive thru” line which, while amusing and I’m sure made McDonald’s happy, is a bit out of place. A simple “Don’t wait up” would have sufficed.
I haven’t had much exposure to Val Kilmer in my life but, as much as I love Keaton’s intensity and the dark edge he brought to the role, Kilmer is actually pretty good as Batman. In Batman Returns, we saw that Gotham City was starting to become acclimatised to Batman but, in Forever, he’s very much in the public spotlight as a widely celebrated “superhero”. To clarify, I feel there’s a difference between a superpowered superhero like Clark Kent/Superman and a street level vigilante like Batman or Oliver Queen/Green Arrow. They are, technically, superheroes but I feel they shouldn’t be publically celebrated or acknowledged in-world like a Superman; in these Batman movies, though, Batman is pretty much the only masked crimefighter out there and, here, we see that he openly works with Commissioner Jim Gordon (Hingle) and appears in public, when necessary. Like Keaton, Kilmer assumes a deeper, gravelly “Bat Voice” for the role that is somewhere between a growl and a whisper. He tries to emulate Keaton’s intense glare but, where he fails in that regard, he succeeds in his imposing physical stature, appearing far more physically fit for the role than the slighter, shorter Keaton. Kilmer’s Batman is also much chattier than his predecessor, sporting a dry wit and a pragmatic drollness that would be amusing if not for the film’s excessive, over-the-top and cartoonish humour elsewhere. Kilmer is also pretty decent as Bruce Wayne; he doesn’t betray much emotion but he’s both awkward and charming when interacting with Doctor Chase Meridian (Kidman), arranges for full benefits for Fred Stickley (Ed Begley Jr) and his family after his apparent suicide, and is very patient with the fanatical Nygma when they first meet.
Speaking of Nygma, if you’re not a fan of Jim Carrey than a) What’s wrong with you? and b) This really isn’t the film for you. This was peak Carrey, with the actor riding a wave of well-received comedies, and he really gives it his all here, stealing every scene he’s in with a madcap, zany performance that is part Frank Gorshin and part classic Carrey. As Nygma, Carrey is a hyperactive and overly-enthusiastic employee who is completely obsessed with Bruce Wayne. Carrey brings a natural manic energy to the role, hogging the spotlight and stealing every scene he’s in with his rubber-faced antics and you really get that this guy is a fanatical individual who is infatuated with Bruce Wayne and desperate to showcase his mind-manipulating invention. This proves to be his downfall, however, as Bruce cannot in good conscience approve Nygma’s brain-altering invention, which crushes Nygma’s spirit and turns his heroic worship of Bruce into a sadistic mania. Nygma takes to sending Bruce threatening riddles (though Bruce is able to solve each one almost immediately, he spends the majority of the film completely stumped as to who sent them and what they really mean) but doesn’t descend into full-blown supervillain territory until seeing Two-Face in action. As the Riddler, Nygma is a completely unhinged maniac, teaming up with Two-Face to put his 3D “Box” in every house in the city to increase his intelligence and wealth. Amusingly, as Nygma transforms into a successful businessman and bachelor, he begins to borrow Bruce’s look and mannerisms but becomes increasingly unhinged as the Riddler, eventually setting himself up on a ridiculously elaborate island and freely partaking of the knowledge of all those connect to his Box.
While the Riddler gets much of the film’s focus, Two-Face’s tragic origins and complex relationship with Bruce and Batman is almost completely glossed over; we’re introduced to Two-Face (annoyingly and constantly referred to as “Harvey Two-Face” for no discernable reason) after he’s already suffered his horrific scarring (here rendered in a far less disturbing manner, with a ridiculous straight line literally splitting Harvey’s face in two) and there’s only ever the briefest hint towards the character’s nuance and fall from grace. Instead, we’re left with a frenzied clown, a character far removed from the dark, tragic supervillain of the source material and more akin to the Joker, for lack of a better comparison. Ruled by his obsession with duality, his double-headed coin (which he is perfectly happy to flip over and over again until he gets the result he wants), and killing Batman (since he blames Batman for his condition), Two-Face is a ludicrous, flamboyant carton of a villain who would make Cesar Romero blush. I can only assume that it was Schumacher’s decision to make Two-Face this overexcited buffoon since Tommy Lee Jones, apparently, detested Carrey’s ostentatious antics and yet seems to be going out of his way to try and match Carrey’s far more amusing and far less grating physical humour.
Two-Face’s inclusion, though, allows Batman Forever to do something I will forever hold it in high regard for and that is introducing Dick Grayson/Robin. As a kid, I grew up watching the sixties Batman TV show and reading a number of different Batman comics, many of which included Robin in various forms and I remember being super excited about Robin’s inclusion here. In a fantastic example of adaptation, Robin is a combination of Dick (name/origin), Jason Todd (bad boy attitude), and Tim Drake (costume); garbed in motorcycle gear, with a piercing in his ear, he’s clearly an angst-ridden rogue who has no time for the luxury of Bruce’s lifestyle and wishes only to avenge the death of his family. Even better, the film does a great job of retelling Batman’s origin through the parallel of the deaths of Grayson’s family, which triggers Bruce’s flashbacks of his own parents’ deaths and delivers a haunting scene where, in relating the parallels between the two events to Alfred Pennyworth (Gough), Bruce slips on his wording and mutters “I killed them”, providing a glimpse into the survivor’s guilt and responsibility he feels. Bruce sympathises with Dick and takes him in; though he is angry and hungry for revenge, Dick is convinced to stay through a combination of Bruce appealing to Dick’s love for motorcycles and Alfred guilt-tripping the troubled acrobat with hospitality. Alfred plays quite the sly role this time around, offering Dick understanding and comfort but also subtly influencing his discovery of the Batcave and transformation into his own masked persona. Dick’s first instinct, though, is obviously to steal the Batmobile and take it on a joy ride; after taking his anger and pain out on some colourful street thugs, Dick directs these same emotions towards Batman when he arrives to confront him, blaming him for his family’s murder but, having vented his emotions, becomes insistent on Bruce training him to be his partner to give him the means to bring Two-Face to justice. Bruce is angered at the very idea and discourages him at every turn, not wishing Dick to go down the same path as he, much less commit murder.
Finally, there’s Chase Meridian; Kidman is absolutely gorgeous, of course, but man is her character one horny bitch! Chase is immediately fascinated, sexually and psychological, by Batman; she, like pretty much all of the public, isn’t deterred by Batman’s appearance and is, instead, in awe of his presence and attracted to his mystery and physique and even goes so far as to use the Bat-Signal as a “beeper” to tell him things about Two-Face that he already knows and are painfully obvious and to explicitly voice her interest in Batman in her attempt to seduce him right there on the rooftop! She is overwhelmed by the sexual magnetism and allure of Batman as the “wrong kind of man” and the mystery about what drives him to do what he does but is just a enamoured by Bruce, seeing him as something of an enigma who is haunted and hiding more than he lets on. It’s not the same as her attraction to Batman, which is very primal and sexual, but it eventually grows into the more “grown up” choice on her part and she is clearly elated to find that the two are one and the same.
The Nitty-Gritty: Batman Forever is a loud, bombastic action film; essentially, it’s a live-action cartoon, with every set and action sequence having a garish, over-the-top presentation. The film starts off, as Two-Face says, with a bang; the sequence of Batman hanging from Two-Face’s helicopter looks pretty shit but I can appreciate the blending of practical stunts, early-CGI, miniature sets, and the age of the film, to let it go and the entire set piece of Batman’s chase after him is explosive and frantic and really helps open the film with a huge amount of energy, albeit energy that screams “live-action cartoon featuring a lauded superhero” rather than a dark, broody piece about an urban vigilante. Also, people think that Schumacher’s Batman films were all light-hearted and campy and, yes, they are but while Batman isn’t as vicious or brutal as before and is much more of a “superhero” than a brooding vigilante, he still directly and indirectly causes a lot of death and destruction, including the death of Two-Face (something he specifically ordered Dick not to pursue).
Easily the star of the show, for me, is Jim Carrey as the Riddler. While I think Batman Forever would have benefitted all the more if Nygma had been the only elaborate comedic element in a film full of straight men, I am a massive fan of Carrey and his work in the nineties and the way he hogs every scene is just fabulous to me. I just love his many garish costumes, his elaborate movements, the way he emulates Bruce Wayne, and how he switches between manic energy and a sinister glee on a dime. Ultimately, neither Riddler or Two-Face are much of a physical threat to Batman and, far from the master of puzzles and conundrums of his comic counterpart, Riddler opts to force batman into making the now-cliché “choice” between the love of Bruce’s life and his crimefighting partner. Having faced his demons throughout the film and been reminded of why he became Batman, Bruce chooses to save both, reducing Nygma to a gibbering, crazed wreck in the process and finally putting to rest the demons that have haunted him all his life. Of course, it’s naïve to pretend like Batman Forever is perfect; it’s mindless entertainment for kids, to be sure, but is maybe a little too loud, bombastic, and slapstick for parents or hardcore Batman fans. There are a few narrative inconsistencies as well, such as Bruce inexplicably deciding to retire Batman and settle down with Chase. I never quite got the logic here; Bruce seems to think Batman is no longer needed but it also seems like he’s willing to give up his crusade to be with Chase since he can’t justify being Batman anymore (despite the fact that, as Dick says, “there’s monsters out there” like Two-Face and the Riddler). Then there’s the ridiculously cartoony security guard from the start of the film, the garish new Batmobile, the way in which the Batcave opens up and comes alive every time there’s an intruder, the ludicrous moment where the Batmobile drives up a wall to safety (how the hell did it get down from there?), the sheer ineffectiveness of Gotham’s police department (seriously, the cops are completely useless and call for Batman at the first sign of any trouble), and the overly cartoony sound effects that punctuate a lot of Carrey’s scenes and the fight sequences.
For me, though, the weakest part of Batman Forever is clearly Two-Face; he’s just a grating, annoying villain who goes way, way over the top at every moment. He’s also an absolute idiot; he holds the circus hostage under the belief that Batman is present or that someone there knows who Batman is, which is a bit of a reach, constantly goes against his modus operandi, and ends up being tricked to his death in the simplest way possible. The only positive to his inclusion is that it fuels Dick’s need for vengeance; Bruce lectures Dick about how killing Two-Face won’t take away his pain, how he’ll end up becoming an obsessed vigilante taking his anger and pain out on countless others if he kills Two-Face, but Dick’s only wish is to kill Two-Face for what he did and it’s only in sparing Two-Face’s life that he (Dick) comes to evolve into the same selfless hero we saw him to be when he risked his life to save the circus from Two-Face’s bomb.
Make no mistake about it, this is a great film if you’re a fan of Robin and Stephen Amell O’Donnell perfectly encapsulates the “mad, broody youth” vibe they were going for. After Dick forces himself into Batman’s business, Bruce is livid at Dick’s recklessness and continually attempts to talk him out of pursing the same life as him. In the end, though, with Chase in need of rescue and his motivations resolved (Bruce remembered that he promised his parents that no one would ever have to suffer like he would, that he would take his revenge upon all criminals to safeguard others no matter the cost), Batman throws on his “sonar” suit and is in the middle of choosing between his Batwing and Batboat (all new toys for kids to buy/pine for) when Dick, now Robin, arrives and the two reconcile. Personally, I love this moment; the two basically acknowledge that each other were right, that each of them has their own path, and that they have converged into one destiny. Robin even admits that he can’t promise he won’t kill Harvey but Batman accepts this, and that Dick must walk his own path, and they solidify their partnership with a firm handshake…only to immediately be separated upon reaching Nygma’s island. Regardless, I’m continually entertaining by film’s smart use of Robin as a thematic parallel to Bruce. I’d love to see this concept revisited in a new Batman movie one day; skip retelling Batman’s origin again and, instead, have a darker, more jaded Batman begin to stray from his path but be brought back from the brink by adopting Dick, whose origin can be used as a direct analogy for Batman’s. Sadly, it doesn’t look like we’ll be seeing that in a film any time soon but Titans(2018 to present) has done a really good job, in my opinion, of exploring similar ground with an even better version of Dick/Robin and taking that to its logical conclusion (the debut of Nightwing).
The Summary: Batman Forever is a hugely entertaining kids’ movie which has a lot of potential that is sadly squandered by its execution. A lot of time is spent exploring Bruce’s psyche and motivations; not as much as was originally intended but far more than we had seen in live-action up until that point. The film suggests that Bruce has become so lost, so blinded by his pain, anger, and guilt, that he’s forgotten why he became Batman in the first place (to protect the innocent) and is, instead, lashing out at criminals out of habit. Dick is expertly used as a parallel to Bruce’s life and background; his anger is raw and in need of guidance. Bruce was guided by the bat he encountered as a child but Dick simply wants to kill Two-Face and has no clear focus beyond that. Bruce knows first-hand that killing the man responsible won’t bring Dick the peace or closure he so desperately seeks and that he’ll end up exactly like him, “Running out into the night to find another face. And another. And another!” It’s not massively dwelled upon but the film suggests that Bruce can use his experience to guide Dick in such a way to focus his rage and pain in a more productive way, one that sees him walk the same path but not so tainted by darkness and heartache. This turns out to be the case as Dick refuses to kill Two-Face, turning away from becoming a mindless killer and towards being an agent of true justice, which is something Bruce also learns to do through his relationship with Dick and Chase, which finally sets him towards a more productive path. Sadly, though, the film’s themes and explorations are hampered somewhat by the madcap nature of Schumacher’s world; thanks to several subtle references, this is clearly the same world as Burton’s Batman movies but much bigger, grander, and more…operatic. Gotham City is awash in garish neon and giant, impractical statues and skyscrapers and the film has a manic energy thanks not only to Carrey’s scene-stealing antics but the infantile characterisation of Two-Face and his goons. Cartoonish sound effects permeate many of the film’s action sequences and I can’t help but think the film would have been more appealing if everyone played it entirely straight except for Carrey. Clearly, Schumacher is leaning heavily towards the sixties television show, which is fine since that is a classic in every way and a guilty pleasure, but what made that show work was that everyone played it straight, which only served to make the ridiculousness more entertaining. Here, it’s ridiculous for the sake of being ridiculous so when there are moments or genuine humour (mainly from Batman and Alfred and Carrey’s less zany moments) they get drowned out by the overabundance of cartoonyness and Tommy Lee Jones’ grating performance as Two-Face.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
What are your thoughts on Batman Forever? Where does it rank against the other Batman movies of its era, or even now? What did you think of the cast, particularly Kilmer, Carrey, and Jones? Were you excited to see Robin brought into the franchise or do you prefer Batman to “work alone”? What did you think of Schumacher’s version of Batman, his world, and his rogues? Would you like to see an extended cut of the film or do you think it’s best left as it is? Whatever your thoughts, go ahead and drop a comment below and be sure to come back next Tuesday for my review of the much-maligned sequel!
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