Returning to Arkham
What is the Best Arkham Game?
Debatably the most influential superhero games of all time, the Batman: Arkham franchise defied the odds when it kicked off with Arkham Asylum in 2009. Back then, you didn’t have to look too far to find a half-baked, mostly forgettable game based on a superhero. 11 years later, it’s the furthest thing from unforgettable. Its impact is undeniable, with its DNA clearly deeply embedded in the likes of Shadow of Mordor and Insomniac’s Spider-Man.
After five years of yearning for a new entry, fans were met with the announcement of Rocksteady’s Suicide Squad, set in the Arkhamverse itself, along with the alternate universe, Arkham-adjacent Gotham Knights due out in 2021. With the years-long hiatus of the franchise coming to a close, now seems like the perfect time to take a look back on this beloved franchise. Without further ado, here’s our ranking of the Batman: Arkham franchise.
6. Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate
A spinoff of the spinoff, Arkham Origins Blackgate toys with the all-too entertaining idea of making a 2D Metroidvania starring the Caped Crusader. Arkham Asylum has a lot in common with the likes of Metroid Prime, so it’s only natural a handheld spinoff would try to emulate its inspiration’s origins.
But rather than a 2D Metroidvania starring Batman, Arkham Origins Blackgate tries to shove the series’ 3D gameplay into a 2D space, and nearly every aspect is worse off for it. Without the freedom of 3D movement, fighting, sneaking, and puzzle-solving feel weak. Topped off with a mostly forgettable story, it might be worth skipping Arkham Origins Blackgate on your next series playthrough.
5. Batman: Arkham VR
Rather than focus on the high-flying combat and exploration of the rest of the series, Arkham VR places more of an emphasis on the detective portion of Batman’s resume. Consisting of puzzles ranging from solving murders to running autopsies, Arkham VR wants the player to be the world’s greatest detective, and it mostly succeeds. But the lack of combat prevents the player from ever being more than just a detective in a bat suit; for being the only game to allow full, manual control of Batman’s fists, it’s a real bummer.
Fortunately, Arkham VR has a strong-enough story to fall back on. It makes wondrous use of VR technology throughout, serving as a testament to how dynamic storytelling in VR can be. Its contents are tragic, but perhaps the true tragedy is that it’s over in the blink of an eye. It only takes an hour or two to exhaust Arkham VR of its content. But just like Rocksteady’s work on the rest of the series, it’s an expertly crafted experience that makes for a joyous couple of hours.
4. Batman: Arkham Knight
“Overpromise, underdeliver” — There are hardly two words that more appropriately describe Arkham Knight. It toys with several potent ideas: Batman potentially losing his sanity, Scarecrow wanting to pump Gotham full of fear gas, and a villain who is literally a re-skinned Red Hood. All sound like excellent premises on their own, but in practice, feel disjointed, rarely meshing together as Batman is constantly pulled between them.
Fortunately, Arkham Knight compensates for its lackluster narrative by being the most mechanically sound entry. Additions such as stylish fear takedowns, environmental attacks, and utilizing blunt weapons empower the player greatly. However, every so often the game takes several steps back. There’s a regrettably large focus on piloting the Batmobile, which is a clunky mess. And despite boasting an impressive amount of playable characters, the inability to play as them in the game’s open world feels like a missed opportunity. All that said, its pros ultimately outweigh its cons, but just like the escaped convicts scattered around Gotham, they’re difficult to ignore.
3. Batman: Arkham Origins
The black sheep of the franchise, Arkham Origins hasn’t gained the same fervor it’s compatriots have. It’s not even featured in the Return to Arkham collection that brought the series to the next generation. With no current generation ports, and only the physical version being backwards compatible on Xbox, it’s very possible Arkham Origins could one day be a game that’s lost to time, and that would be a damn shame because it’s a hysterically underrated part of this franchise.
Arkham Origins plays more or less the same as Arkham City; aside from a devil trigger-esque mechanic utilizing shock gloves, there’s nothing particularly new, but being too similar to Arkham City is hardly a negative. However, what it lacks in innovation it makes up for in presentation. Some of the story sequences showcased rival the frightening visual spectacle of the Scarecrow encounters from Arkham Asylum. Factor in some of the best boss battles in the series, along with a memorable, stand-alone narrative, and Arkham Origins proves to be a pretty solid package that deserves more than what it got. On the cusp of a new console generation, I can only hope for a remaster so that more people can experience this slept-on gem.
2. Batman: Arkham City
Arkham City might be a perfect sequel. Virtually every element of Arkham Asylum makes a return, featuring myriad improvements. Batman fights as fluid as ever, boasting loads of new gadgets and combat options. Improvements to the stealth gameplay let the series further define its own brand of stealth separate from the likes of Metal Gear Solid or Splinter Cell. The newly introduced open world not only allows for deeper exploration, but also to scope out unsuspecting evildoers, get the drop on them from any angle, and dispatch them however you wish, turning the game into a true Batman simulator.
The story is a treat, offering the strongest, most engaging cast featured in the series. Not being directly inspired by any single Batman story, Arkham City’s story fires on all cylinders, with nary a misfire throughout its 15 wonderful hours. Villains — of which there are twice as many this time around — pop up around every corner, and somehow no two are alike; each delivers a new challenge that feels uniquely tailored to the respective character. All things considered, it’s a fantastically well-made game that sets a high bar that all sequel should strive for.
1. Batman:Arkham Asylum
Arkham Asylum is a triumph of a third-person action game. It’s telling that even without the improvements present in later games in regard to exploration and combat, that the original title feels by no means like a lesser product. Over a decade later, Batman still moves, sneaks, and fights exactly as you would expect him to, which brilliantly highlights the main idea at the core of this franchise — being the Batman.
It’s an earnest love letter to the character across generations. The brutal combat, gritty world and character designs are reminiscent of stories like The Dark Knight Returns or Year One, while other elements like characterization and voice acting, featuring Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprising their roles from The Animated Series, pay tribute to a different era. With such high respect held for the character both mechanically and contextually, Arkham Asylum is the quintessential Batman game. Not only is it a masterpiece of a video-game, but it’s one of the greatest Batman stories out there.