Eight Things I Liked about the Arkham Series

WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for the following games:

Batman: Arkham Asylum
Batman: Arkham City
Batman: Arkham Origins
Batman: Arkham Knight

Last week, I wrote an article all about things I didn’t like about the Arkham games. If you chose not to read the first paragraph of that article, I should clarify that I absolutely loved the series and it has left me with some great memories to share. So, in the sake of fairness, here’s a list of things that I liked from the main four games.

1. The first inverted takedown (Asylum)

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Sometimes, it’s the little things in videogames that can give you the biggest smile. For me, it was the first time I performed an Inverted Takedown on a mook.

In retrospect, it seems weird that you had to unlock this ability – you’d think even the most basic version of the Batsuit would let Batman pull off this technique. Fortunately, it was one of the first upgrades you could get and it became a basic mainstay of the series and is easily one of my favourite ways to take out a goon.

There’s just something immensely satisfying about hanging from a vantage point, waiting for some poor soul to walk underneath you, prime for a picking. I never get tired of seeing Batman just swoop down and pull a mook up and, to my 16-year old self, it was one of the most awesome things I had ever done in a videogame. It’s part of the reason why Arkham Asylum holds the prestigious title of being the first game that made you feel like Batman.

2. Solving the Chronicles of Arkham (Asylum)

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While the Riddler side-mission formed the crux of the post-game content, I actually found the Chronicles of Arkham to be more engaging. True, slowly driving Riddler mad by solving his puzzles was fun but the Chronicles were very much their own mini-mystery. It was interesting to learn more about the history of the asylum itself, its founder, Amadeus Arkham, and his own descent into madness.

What made it even curiouser, though, was when Amadeus began describing events that he shouldn’t have known on account of him being… well, kinda dead. Despite being long gone before the supervillain craze began in Gotham, he seemed to know the likes of Joker and Poison Ivy. In hindsight, it was probably obvious what was going on but, at the time, I was so confused and intrigued.

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When I found the last Chronicle, and the unknown writer requested that I find him, it suddenly clicked. Warden Quincy Sharp. That up-tight, pompous, spineless coward was also a deluded, schizophrenic murderer? I found it almost impossible to believe until I returned to his hiding place. Except he wasn’t there. Only one last Chronicle that requested I continue his work. This twist really threw me for a loop and was a perfect payoff for this side-mission.

3. The Mr. Freeze boss fight (City)

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I have yet to meet a single person that doesn’t like the Mr. Freeze boss fight. It’s practically perfect. Every boss up until this point has required brute force to deal with. But if you try and straight up punch Freeze in the face, you’re gonna die.

Freeze’s boss fight is all about strategy; using your abilities and knowledge of the room’s layout to your advantage. Freeze is dangerous and having him spot you will send chills up your spine (ha!) but you still feel like you’re in control. You have stealth and a whole bunch of gadgets on your side.

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But what I really love about this fight is that Freeze adapts and prevents you from using the same strategy twice. Attack him from the grates? He’ll freeze the grates. Attack him from the vantage points? He’ll destroy them. He has a countermeasure for everything you have but that’s okay because you’ve got, like, fifteen different ways to take him down.

And if you have no idea what to do, Oracle eventually sends you a list of possible means of attack. This boss is challenging, tense, simple and just plain fun. It’s easily one of the highlights of the game and possibly of the entire series.

4. Joker’s death (City)

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Okay, by show of hands, who saw this coming? Because I certainly didn’t. Asylum, despite its dark tone, had an overall positive ending. City‘s ending, on the other hand, is far more sombre.

Having just beaten Clayface, Batman finally has the cure for his Joker-infected blood in his hands and immediately takes some of it. Now all that’s left is to give the rest to Joker, who’s pretty much moments near death. Or is it?

The hero choosing to save the villain is a pretty common trope but this is Joker we’re talking about. If there was a list with all of Joker’s crimes on it, it’d probably be longer than the complete works of Enid Blyton and Charles Hamilton combined. Nobody (well, almost nobody) would blame Batman for leaving Joker for dead; even Batman himself questions why he should bother saving him, pointing out how no matter how many times he beats Joker and locks him up, he’ll just break out and kill more people.

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Looking back, this is such a great contrast with Batman’s last lines to Joker back at Arkham Asylum, where he vowed that he’ll always stop Joker. It was really triumphant and showed Batman’s dedication to his cause. Here, though, he’s grown tired of the endless battle. Joker has even just killed Talia al Ghul, a woman who Batman allowed himself to develop feelings for. Batman has every right to let Joker rot.

Batman’s questioning seems to shake Joker, since he attacks Batman in a desperate attempt to take the cure, only for Batman to drop the cure on account of being stabbed in the shoulder. The vial breaks and the cure is lost; Joker attempting to lap it off the ground like a dog. With Joker’s fate sealed, Batman has only one thing to say:

“Do you want to know something funny? Even after everything you’ve done, I would have saved you.”

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Even Joker can’t deny the hilarity of that statement and literally dies laughing and with a smile on his face. Mark Hamill’s performance combined with the animation makes for a scene that to this day still gives me slight chills. Even though Joker dying is technically a good thing, there’s no sense of triumph or victory. It’s just hollow, almost like it wasn’t worth it. Which, ironically, makes it one of the best scenes in the entire series.

5. The opening level (Origins)

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Origins was rather unnecessary. It only exists so Warner Bros could make some extra money whilst Arkham Knight was in development, but it’s still a decent game. While maybe not as memorable as the other titles, it did have some moments it could call its own, like that opening section.

Asylum and City both went for more cinematic openings, with the former having you accompany the Joker to his cell, as well as introduce you to the asylum, establish important characters and generally set the mood. The latter was a tad quicker, even including a brief moment where you beat up some goons as Bruce Wayne before he gets hold of his Batsuit and the game truly begins.

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Origins, though, just throws you into the action with a nice tutorial level set during a breakout at Blackgate Prison. There’s just a quick cutscene followed by Batman literally dropping into Blackgate to beat up some fools. It’s quick, it’s fun to play, it introduces you to the basics, it shows how people view Batman at this point in his career, it sets up the main villain (Black Mask) and why he’s a threat (his killing of Commissioner Loeb – who was also in cahoots with Black Mask) and even has a decent boss fight with Killer Croc at the end.

Origins might have been an unneeded prequel but I think it knew that, so it just decides to try and give the player a good time. It’s a lot like going around a friend’s house for a party that’s been put together at the last minute and only a few people have turned up. There’s not much going on and there’s not many snacks to eat, but you’re having fun just hanging out.

6. Batman’s characterisation and reputation (Origins)

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I don’t know about the rest of you but one of the things I was actually interested in seeing in Origins was how different Batman would act, considering it takes place in the early days of his vigilante career.

Compared to his appearance in Asylum, Batman is a lot more aggressive and threatening; he outright growls at goons and doesn’t hesitate slamming them about a room. At one point, he dangles a guy off a roof to get some info… and then drops him anyway, with only a giant Christmas tree to break their fall. Later on, he practically throws Penguin across a room, almost snarling at him.

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He seems more willing to take extreme measures, which makes sense considering he’s trying to instill fear into these criminals; building his legend so to speak. Which is why his first encounter with Joker is quite interesting, as his usual shtick of threats and pummeling doesn’t shake the demented clown in the slightest, which in turn greatly confuses Batman. After two games of Joker encounters, this one felt a little bit more refreshing because of this dynamic.

It’s also fascinating seeing how people react to Batman in general, whether it be confusion, mockery, denial or fear. Now, it’s perfectly natural for the villains to be intimidated but even the people he’s trying to save are terrified of him. There are times where you can save cops (the non-corrupt ones) and while they’re not all ungrateful, they still view Batman as a criminal. Compare that to Arkham Knight where they’re forever thanking him and more than willing to help him.

It’s admittedly a little thing and doesn’t affect Origins all that much, but I can appreciate that it was something different and sometimes that can be enough.

7. The team-ups (Knight)

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I mentioned this briefly in my Arkham Knight review but I just have to write about it again – Batman’s brief team-ups with Robin, Nightwing and Catwoman were frigging awesome.

While Batman hasn’t technically been working solo throughout the series (even in Asylum, he was in constant contact with Oracle), we have never seen him fight side-by-side with his allies, which is something I always felt was a missed opportunity. I actually prefer seeing Batman as part of a team; it gives him somebody else to bounce off of and show another side to the Dark Knight that we never see when he’s on his own.

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Plus, they were just fun to play. Getting to punch up some robots, then pressing a button to kick one up into the air so that Catwoman can slash them apart, complete with a cinematic flair and then being in control of Catwoman was such a rush the first time round and I never got tired of doing it, especially since switching control was so fluid. You know those awesome choreographed fight scenes in movies where two guys beat up some other guys? It’s like playing one of those scenes.

Again, it’s such a shame that these moments were so far and few between. If Arkham Knight spent the entire game with the four of them working together, maybe with a choose-your-next-mission structure, it would’ve made the game ten times better than it already kind of was… at least, in my opinion.

8. Joker being a troll (Knight)

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I don’t think anybody was surprised to see Joker pop up in some form in Arkham Knight, despite the whole ‘dying and having his corpse incinerated’ thing. Honestly, after three games, I wouldn’t have minded to see a game without the Clown Prince of Crime and when he showed up as a hallucination, I couldn’t help but let out a little bit of an exasperated sigh.

But if you take Joker’s appearance as it is and ignore how overused he is in the series, it’s an absolute tonne of fun. I mean, it’s kind of hard to not like Mark Hamill’s performance; he’s been doing it for so long, he’s become synonymous with the character and it’s always a joy to hear his voice, especially since he’s clearly having fun himself.

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What’s great about his appearance in this game, however, is that, as a hallucination, he can appear pretty much anywhere. On the rooftops, in the Batmobile, in the grates; there’s something oddly hilarious about seeing Joker just chilling in the corner.

But the best part is that he spends the entire game just trolling Batman. No matter the situation, he’s got some sick joke already prepared and won’t hesitate to mock Batman’s actions. My personal favourite is when you help save Catwoman from Riddler; throughout the mission, Joker will mention how quickly Batman must’ve got over Talia and even says that the two of them hooked up whilst in Hell. He’s such a dick but it’s hard not to laugh. It’s like having a RiffTrax of your life; some guy making fun of everything you do and say.

In reality, that’s pretty torturous but here, it’s a riot. Joker may have hogged the limelight again but he’s so good at it. He’s very much like an over-saturated comedian. You’re kind of sick of seeing him but once he starts telling the jokes, you remember why he keeps coming back.

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