It’s time to revisit of two of the greatest games of all time.
THE WORLD’S GREATEST SUPERHERO GAMES
It was welcomed news to hear that Rocksteady would be bringing two of the last generation’s top games to current gen systems. Batman: Arkham Asylum & Arkham City return in a slightly more visually polished re-imagination. Aside from minor touch-ups on the visuals (which already looked generally solid overall), the games are largely untouched. Batman: Return to Arkham includes both “Game of the Year” versions of the two games, which packaged each piece of downloadable content from Asylum and City. The only story DLC is Harley Quinn’s Revenge, which is a superb epilogue to City.
2009’s Arkham Asylum proved that good superhero games could come to light. It was originally planned to be a tie-in with 2008’s film The Dark Knight, but thankfully ended up being an incredible standalone title. Based on Batman: The Animated Series and featuring much of the same in terms of voice talent, this unique story brought together a rich, detailed history of Batman villains and introduced many gamers (including myself, at the time) to a vast new comic-book world.
Kevin Conroy reprises his role as Batman, as does Mark Hamill as The Joker. Their performances are supremely legendary, and it’s hard to say that anyone in any medium does a better rendition of the two iconic characters. These games would not be what they are without them.
The story follows Batman’s night throughout Arkham Asylum. Having captured The Joker and returning him to the asylum, it is revealed that it was an elaborate scheme by Joker all along to get caught and take over the asylum. The story is contained completely within the walls of the asylum, as well as the surrounding areas outside on Arkham Island. Because of its containment, many fans prefer Asylum to the more critically acclaimed City. The size of the map is relatively small when it comes to open world environments, but its detail is so incredibly rich that it ranks as one of the best found in gaming.
There’s an inherent creepiness that surrounds the game thanks to the asylum setting. If the main story isn’t enough to keep you satisfied (and it should be), the secondary quests and items to find are a joy. To complete the game 100% is a challenge, but doesn’t take a ridiculous amount of hours to satisfy. Rather, it’s a story that you’ll want to run through numerous times. Better yet, everything that occurs in both the primary and secondary quests has a direct tie into Arkham City. My favorite easter egg is found in one character’s office, which is a map that details the layout and plans to build Arkham City.
The combat system is known as “Free Flow,” which enables you to smoothly jump between the multitude of enemies you are fighting during your time as Batman. It’s a smooth system that isn’t perfect and unfortunately, this remake doesn’t iron out those issues. Essentially, the issue comes down to an inconsistency in timing. A minor yet notable issue. Otherwise, it’s a combat style that other games have taken aspects of in the years since the game originally debuted. Chaining together multiple hits on an enemy while ensuring that counter attacks go defended provides for a challenging and rewarding experience. With the environment and Batman’s numerous gadgets at your disposal, there are more than a few ways to take down a room of thugs. Sometimes you must go unnoticed, while other times you can go in fists a blazing. In addition to different enemy types, you’ll come across boss fights at different times throughout the game. These are generally against some of Batman’s more recognizable enemies, such as Poison Ivy, Killer Croc, and others that I won’t mention here. They are tough but once you unlock the patterns to beating them, you will find yourself getting into a groove.
As I mentioned earlier, the atmosphere is creepy thanks to its dark and grim themes and visuals, but the soundtrack is wonderfully written to enhance those feelings. Though simple in scope, the slightest note or pitch can make all the difference. You’ll know it when you hear it. It’s calming and haunting all at the same time.
Graphically, the game looks good still. It isn’t what I would consider a “gorgeous” game cinematically, but it doesn’t have to be thanks to its comic book background and influence. This collection would have been a good opportunity to truly revamp these graphics (much like Halo 2’s incredible reissue featured in The Master Chief Collection), but they are only just slightly polished.
Arkham City is my favorite game of all time. As in, ever. Many consider it to be the greatest superhero game of all time. 2011’s epic game is highly ambitious on all fronts, from the story & concept, to the gameplay, to the map. Rocksteady’s attention to detail is second to none, featuring even more side quests and more Batman lore than in any other medium outside of DC’s comics.
The stage is set when Bruce Wayne gets sent to Arkham City, a new walled-off portion of Gotham that is set aside for the biggest criminals the city has to offer. In the city, there is little interference or supervision, leading to a dangerous and often chaotic series of events that are led by the various super villains from the Batman Rogues.
Nothing is off limits when it comes to Batman lore and nothing feels like it was tacked on to add more game play. The primary story is one of the greatest Batman tales ever told, featuring a few main villains (truly, there’s one) and an absolutely perfect way of interweaving those stories. Not to mention, the ramifications of the events of Arkham Asylum are pulled into the motivations for Arkham City.
Once the primary story ends (albeit with a completely shocking ending), the fun really begins. Side plots make you the world’s greatest detective, as you have to solve crimes, find & solve items and riddles from Edward Nigma himself, and run into a few characters that only the biggest of fans will know. Asylum contained 240 Riddler tasks to complete, while City has 440. It sounds like a lot on the surface, but the nice part is that nothing becomes tedious, with each new task requiring a new dynamic to tackle. On top of that, there are minor cut scenes and loads of dialogue that only serve to enhance the game and will give you a better appreciation for it. I have a few favorite easter eggs in City. Some I need you to witness for yourself, but I don’t mind sharing one – The Joker references the former ABC show Lost during a dialogue in the main campaign. It is absolutely priceless.
The Free Flow combat system is a little cleaner in City. Any inconsistencies have been removed, providing for tighter gameplay. In addition, enemy types vary even more than the previous game. In short, City is the perfect evolution from Asylum. Just about every boss fight is completely unique with not only its fighting style, but the manner in which you must go about completing it. Though the final boss fight in the game isn’t the most challenging one you’ll ever come across, I like to think that it’s more a matter of the game doing a good job of progressing and developing your character.
The soundtrack in City is different than it was in Asylum but in a way that reiterates the sprawling scale and size of the city. Arkham City is five times larger than Arkham Asylum and that is evident in the scope of the score. The string-based main theme is just simply epic. I still get goosebumps hearing it, 5 years later.
HARLEY QUINN’S REVENGE
Harley Quinn’s Revenge is an add-on to Arkham City that was released in the summer of 2012 alongside the Game of the Year edition. Unfortunately, it is the only DLC that is story-based, while the others are primarily featured in the off-story challenges.
I can’t go into a lot of detail on the story here, thanks to Arkham City’s mega important ending. You alternate between controlling Batman and Robin (Tim Drake). Robin’s fighting style is clearly influenced by Batman’s (as well it should be), but he still feels unique. Robin has different special moves and uses twin batons in a way that makes him feel like a faster, more sleeker fighter, while Batman is more of a brute, stronger fighter.
If you originally bought Arkham City in 2011, you had to pre-order the game to gain access to the Cat Woman DLC that contains 4 mini chapters spread across the main storyline of the game. It’s actually quite relevant, so it would have been a shame to have missed this. Playing as Cat Woman also has a significantly different feel than you’d experience as Batman or even Robin. She is quick and nimble, much like a, well, Cat. Her chapters in the game are some of my favorite. The best part is that she has her own musical score that plays and reflects the feel of being Cat Woman. She even gets her own set of Riddler Trophies that cannot be obtained by Batman.
Aside from both games’ campaigns, you can enter challenge modes. Each one features different scenarios and challenges to beat, such as clearing a room of thugs without being detected, or taking down a group of them in a certain period of time. They are fun to play and there are leader boards that show you where you stand against the world, or simply your friends.
There are multiple skins that you can choose to use for each character, including different versions such as the Animated Series or Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.
Arkham Asylum – 9.25/10
Arkham City – 10/10
Return to Arkham brings the two greatest superhero games together for a new generation of gamers to experience in one amazing collection. Or, it brings them back for longtime fans to journey through for the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th time.
+ Superb stories. Each game has an entirely unique feel while still relating together in an incredible way.
+ Attention to detail is better than any game ever thanks to Rocksteady’s love, passion, and respect of the entire history of Batman lore.
+ Combat is challenging yet rewarding.
+ Relevant usage of vast amount of characters.
+ Shocking ending to Arkham City.
+ Soundtracks enhance the atmosphere and are different in each game, providing each story with an identity. It’s hard not to smile when hearing Arkham City’s main theme.
+ Legendary performances by definitive Batman & Joker voice actors Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill.
Josiah LeRoy is The Geekiverse’s founder. 2017 is the year that gaming takes the forefront in his geeky life again. Challenge him to a match on Xbox Live via JosiahIsLegend.
Batman: Return to Arkham was reviewed on an Xbox One. It is also available on Playstation 4. All pictures taken using the Xbox One Screenshot Feature.
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