Ranking the Arkham Games

With the launch of Arkham VR on PC, Steam has wisely chosen to discount the previous (and far superior) Arkham games. Since the sale prices are that good, plenty of people will be tempted to indulge themselves in buying at least one, and rightfully so considering its one of the few franchises that has consistently garnered positive reviews. But for those of us with a limited budget, we’ll want to know which games are the best, and which ones we should hold off on. So here’s a quick list I made listing from worst to best, every significant entry in the Arkham series. But no, I won’t count the VR game because it’s $20 for an hour of story which is ludicrously expensive; just save your money for any of the titles listed below (Note: ‘ll also briefly go over the DLC if there is any because a lot of it is on sale for a really good price as well):

5. Batman Arkham Origins: Blackgate 

…okay except for this one. I was considering whether or not this game deserved to be on the list since it was originally a portable spin-off, but seeing as its been released on PC and consoles, I feel like it’s worth mentioning for those looking to get more out of Arkham Origins, don’t buy this game. It’s designed to take place a couple days after the events of Origins, where Batman has to stop a riot in Blackgate but everything from the story to the gameplay is pretty banal. The idea that Joker’s already caused a riot a couple of days after such a massive event in Gotham and that Batman must stop yet another riot/asylum breakout is such an uninteresting concept paired with pretty bland 2D design that waters down the excellent gliding and Freeflow combat systems that made the real Arkham Games so revolutionary. It’s a needless expansion and one of the few games I couldn’t be bothered to finish because it was so dull. You’re better off getting the Mr. Freeze or Initiation expansions for the original Origins game.

4. Batman: Arkham Asylum 

It may have been the game that started it all, but it hasn’t aged as well in the past eight years. Don’t get me wrong, the boss fights, especially Scarecrows, are great, and its cool to look back and see how far the series has come, but the problem is that looking at it now, its just a decent game. Nothing’s bad, but there’s very few moments where I’ll go back and say, “Yeah that’s something worth replaying,” largely because there’s not a lot of great content to look forward to after beating the story (unless you count mindlessly searching for chattering Joker teeth hidden throughout the asylum because Riddler told you to, which…okay?). All that being said it is a fun game to play one time around, and it might give you a greater appreciation for the vastly superior follow-up, Arkham City.  In all fairness, this game more than any other in the franchise gives off a much more gothic vibe and takes a greater inspiration from horror films than its counterparts. So if this looks like something right up your alley, don’t hesitate to grab it for that extremely low price of $4.99:

3. Batman: Arkham Knight 

This entry is a big hit or miss with fans and I can see why. The long-awaited conclusion was hyped to enormous amounts largely because of how much smoother and cinematic the combat and navigation systems look. Make no mistake, Arkham Knight is a gorgeous game through and through, from the brutal Fear Takedown animations to Gotham on Halloween night, there’s a stunning amount of detail applied to make this game feel as visceral as any Batman property should be. That being said, after the massive framerate debacle on PC at launch, a lot of people were turned off by the game for awhile. Thankfully the game runs a lot smoother and even on medium to low settings, portrays itself as a visual treat. The reason it’s  entering a so-so number 3 position though is because the game does fail to apply a lot of its gameplay the right way. There’s a tighter focus on side quests, e.g. far less Riddler trophies to collect (243 down from City’s staggering 440, which is fine because there’s a bigger focus on solving actual Riddler puzzles, and there’s a great story to tell that comes with the return of a welll-loved character), but very few of these extra villains gets enough time to close out their long-running story arcs. There’s one particularly irritating side quest where a villain who left City on a massive cliffhanger returns, but its only for about five minutes and then he’s promptly defeated, which is a massive disappointment. There are some standout side quests involving a serial killer who leaves no trace of who his victims were or stepping into the shoes of Azrael to prove he’s a worthy successor of the cowl, but overall a lot of the side content feels like a needless distraction, which is disappointing after nearly five years of patiently awaiting the conclusion of so many character arcs.

Speaking of, the story is enjoyable for the most part; ignoring the occasional plot holes and predictable tropes, there is one excellent surprise early on which not only changes the narrative, but does so in a way that even non-Batman fans won’t see coming, and it’s an excellent example of how a plot twist should work. It’s not the best in the series, but its a decent conclusion to a great series of games. Tat is if you can unlock the full thing. The only way to see the full ending is to defeat every villain in the game, which would be a fun reason to come back if Riddler wouldn’t refuse to fight you until you completed all of his challenges. I love the Riddler content in Arkham games, and I do believe Knight created an excellent finale for his character, but there are plenty of people who don’t enjoy the endless puzzles that come packaged with the game and only want to see the real ending. If everything I’ve wrote above isn’t any indication it’s a difficult game to write about because some characters/aspects really shine and others fall so short of their potential. But I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys the two games I’ll be listing above, since it’s at least a very good game if nothing else. Oh, and before I forget, yes you can drive the Batmobile, and its really fun up until the latter half of the game where you’re using almost nothing but the Batmobile to solve every problem in the game.

So, onto the DLC, which there’s a lot of, originally $40 worth. Most of the challenge map content is cut out from the main game and repackaged which I personally think is inexcusable, but since its there I’ll still go over it. This doesn’t show off all the content, but it does show all the different types save one:

-Crime Fighter Challenge Packs- Exactly like they sound, these are just extra challenge maps designed to test your skill in combat or predator maps. Despite the fact that most of these take place in areas from the main game, there are some fun extra twists involved; for instance, one map challenges how long you can last without taking a single hit, another has Batman and Nightwing team up and add more seconds to a 2:00 clock with each thug they knock out. It’s mostly focused on the five playable characters already in the game (Batman, Robin, Catwoman, Nightwing and Azrael), but if you’re interested in purchasing Red Hood, Harley Quinn and Batgirl they’re all compatible with the extra maps as well. They’re fairly priced at 1.99 each, save for the free sixth pack that remasters old challenge maps from previous games (which is also the best one, something to keep in mind if you’re wary of purchasing extra content).

-Batmobile Packs-Okay so these are probably the worst add-ons available. Most of them are skins for .99 which are pointless considering for an extra dollar you could buy one of the challenge packs listed above. Some of the packs offer extra race tracks for the Batmobile, and if you’re into that then great news, but I found them to be uninteresting ways to give the game more content. It feels more like excess fat than extra content, and that’s probably because there’s a ton of the Batmobile in the main game to begin with, so this just feels pointless.

-Arkham Episodes- These vignettes are focused on the other characters in the game and for the most part take place after the events of Arkham Knight. They’re not more than an hour long, if that, but for anyone who got invested in any particular character, this is a fun way to see more of a character who likely didn’t get enough time to develop on their own. Each of the episodes plays to its characters strengths and weaknesses, with mixed results:

1.Harley Quinn- This is one of two episodes that takes place before Knight and has Harley Quinn break into Bludhaven’s police station to break out Poison Ivy. Harley’s a fast character and the only one interested in throwing one liners with almost every punch she throws, but she has the unique ability to enter “Mayhem Mode” which allows her to instantly perform takedowns on enemies for a brief period of time. She also provides a unique twist to Predator maps due to her inability to perform a silent takedown. It adds more challenge to a Predator map when every body you drop will alert other enemies to our position. It’s not more than 15 minutes long, but Harley is playable in all the challenge maps, so do with that as you will.

2. A Matter of Family/Batgirl-This is the second to take place before Knight (specifically several years before Arkham Asylum) and is by far the longest episode in the game, which isn’t a bad thing. Joker and Harley Quinn kidnap Commissioner Gordon and threaten Batgirl and Robin to come alone or the Commissioner dies. It’s an excellent way to put the spotlight on the sidekicks, even if it does very little to tie into Knight’s main story. The ~3-hour affair was developed by WB Montreal, who were also responsible for Arkham Origins, and it shows. The story is fast but fun, and never takes itself too seriously. There’s also a great final boss fight with the two sidekicks battling Joker and Harley Quinn; however, even though it shares Origin’s strength, it doesn’t manage to ditch that game’s flaws. You can explore the area after completing the story, but there’s no reason to thanks to a lack of interesting collectibles that don’t end up benefiting the main story. Batgirl however is one of the best characters in the game: her moveset is fluid and brutal, and in Predator maps she can only perform Fear Takedowns by shutting off the lights which is a really fun twist. Its more expensive than the other episodes, but its great fun while it lasts.

3. Red Hood- Okay, this one is without a doubt my favorite, and that’s partially because Red Hood is such a great character and partially because the entire pack feels like something out of John Wick. There are very few nonlethal ways to kill thugs in this pack as Red Hood’s signature weapons are dual handguns, but you can use them as melee weapons in close quarters combat. The focus is on dismantling Black mask’s gang and while there’s no reference back to the main story its a great self-contained adventure, and Red Hood’s brutal yet unique character makes him a welcome addition. I can’t recommend this pack enough.

4. GCPD Lockdown/Nightwing-Taking place a week after Knight, this episode focuses on Nightwing trying to stop Penguin from breaking out of GCPD. It’s insanely short coming in at maybe 15 minutes, but the game tries to justify this by setting the game in the largest predator map ever (there’s one brief section in Bludhaven but its maybe five minutes long). You do unlock these two areas as challenge maps, but again, stay away from this if you’re looking for a large narrative.

5. Catwoman’s Revenge- Focusing on Catwoman taking revenge on the Riddler, this isn’t anything that’ll blow you away. Like Nightwing and Robin, she’s already a playable character in the game so there’s no incentive to buy this for more gameplay, but Catwoman and Riddler’s banter is entertaining, short as it may be. I wasn’t crazy about how there was only one Predator map either. This being a Catwoman-focused episode, it was kind of odd that so much of the focus went to combat, but it didn’t detract from the experience.

6. A Flip of a Coin/Robin- One of the more compelling episodes, this one focuses on Robin infiltrating Two Face’s secret headquarters which, aesthetically, is a home run. The marble floors on the right are in stark contrast to the ashen and decaying left side. It feels very comic-booky in a good way, and makes up for the episodes incredibly forced message.

Season of infamy-Most Wanted Expansion- This is the only add-on content that I actually loved. Every problem with Arkham Knight is addressed in these four extra side quests: There’s a tight narrative, INCREDIBLE boss battles, and a unique twist that gives each mission its own variety:

I’d go into more detail about each one but this post is already going to be long enough: but where one is a great sendoff to previous Arkham games, another is an excellent focus on the return of the dynamic duo, and where one offers Batman a chance with closure at one of his most dangerous villains, another shows the heart-wrenching end to a story that’s spanned decades in the Batmn Franchise. All in all, there’s a near-literal ton of extra content offered at a steep discount of $7.99, and I think for that price its a great way to add more fun to an already decent game.

2. Batman: Arkham Origins 

Wow, I didn’t think I was going to get through Knight, but here we are. I’ve said quite a bit on why I think Origins is criminally underrated, and while it does take time to grow on you, its a Batman story full of something a Batman story doesn’t have: heart. The flawed and impatient Batman shown here is still honing his craft, and the story follows him up to that point where he truly becomes The Dark Knight. Along the way there’s some of the best boss battles I’ve seen in gaming and an incredible narrative, two things Rocksteady certainly isn’t bad at, but in this particular case, WB Montreal beats them out. Unfortunately, most of the side quests are painfully dull filler, save for some new crime-scene investigations where you use forensic evidence to digitally reconstruct a crime scene and piece together where other clues might be. That’s a ton of fun. Origins could be my favorite Arkham game, but there’s a reason why Number one is where it is, and I’ll get to that in a second.

As far as the DLC goes, there’s a lot less here (thank God). The skin packs are admittedly really cool, and being able to play as Black Lantern Batman is always an enjoyable experience. The only other character included is Deathstroke (which is fine because you get to play as Deathstroke how cool is that??), and while there is an extra challenge map pack available that includes two extra maps, its only two maps, which isn’t really worth it. There are two story expansions available, Initiation and Cold, Cold, Heart. Initiation is more of a challenge pack with very small cutscenes tying it all together, but it’s a cool look at Batman in his final days of training. You can also unlock this Bruce Wayne as a character, and there’s a lot more martial arts influence put into his moveset which makes him a great playable character all around. Cold, Cold Heart takes place a week later and shows the origin of Mr. Freeze. it’s a great way to set up events in Arkham Knight if you have the Season of Infamy expansion, and it adds a bunch of fun twists to gameplay such as thermal batarangs or an all-new batsuit. It’s not a narrative masterpiece but its a fun way to keep the story going.

1. Batman: Arkham City 

This was the first Arkham game I played, and to this day it still blows my mind how incredible the entire game is. Not once does the story feel like its pacing itself or pulling punches as Batman races to save both himself and uncover the mystery of Protocol Ten. This game made my top ten list for a number of reasons but in keeping this under 3000 words, I’ll just say this: Arkham Asylum is a great comic book game. Arkham Origins is an excellent action game. I have no idea what was going on with Blackgate. Arkham Knight is a great summer blockbuster game. But Arkham City is a fantastic detective game, because it plays to Batman’s strengths as The World’s Greatest Detective. Combat, stealth and fluid navigation all exist, but they’re all there to enhance the case you’re working on, not replace it. All of those extra things are there to show off how Batman is a detective first, but a lethal combatant in a very close second. Not only does the game masterfully wrap up about ten main plot threads, there’s a great ending that will leave you in shock and awe thanks to the truly remarkable writing prose of Paul Dini. It’s the best superhero game ever made, but its also one of the best games ever made period.

This is exactly at 3000 words, so I’m stopping here, but buy at least three of these games.


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