Rocksteady’s Arkham Series – The Best Superhero Games Ever Made

It’s been just under three years since Arkham Knight, the final chapter in Rocksteady’s award winning series was released, and it has left me wanting. The series started with the amazing Arkham Asylum for the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360, which centered around Batman trying to re-take Arkham Asylum after Joker had taken control.  The second game Arkham City took place several years after the first one when the city of Gotham had walled off a large section of the waterfront and dubbed it Arkham City; this game also released for the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360 but near the end of their run. The final installment came with the releases of the Xbox One and the Playstation 4, Arkham Knight. This final installment centered around Batman as he attempts to foil the plans of Scarecrow who has rallied his enemies together to destroy Gotham and kill Batman once and for all.

Before we dive into why these games are so amazing let’s get a rundown of the plot for each one…

Arkham Series

*This post will contain massive spoilers for the Arkham series of games. Though they have been out for at least three years now, so I don’t feel guilty about the spoilers*

ARKHAM ASYLUM

The game begins with Batman capturing Joker after a very botched attempt at assaulting City Hall. When Batman drops Joker off on Arkham Island, he questions as to why the Joker allowed himself to be captured so easily. With the help of Harley Quinn and some corrupt guards, Joker breaks out of his restraints and begins his rampage through the prison with Batman hot on his tail. Joker calls in bomb threats at various locations across Gotham stating he will blow the bombs if anyone steps foot on the island, forcing Batman to bring the entire island to order by himself. Joker releases various members of Batman’s rogues gallery  including: Bane, Killer Croc, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, and Mr. Zsasz before disappearing saying he was preparing his “party”. Batman defeats and captures each of these Rogues as his idea of Joker’s plan remains a mystery. After discovering a secret production facility for a drug called “Titan”, which was developed by a doctor on staff named Penelope Young; Batman discovers that Joker has secretly been funding her research to gain the formula in order to make an army of superpowered henchmen. When Young refused to turn the formula over to Mr. White (the alias Joker was using to fund her research), Joker was forced to return to Arkham to extract the formula from her himself.

Joker eventually obtains batches of the completed Titan formula and kills Dr. Young in the process, forcing Batman to seek help from Poison Ivy to create an antidote. Ivy explains that the spore necessary to counteract the Titan agent is found solely in Killer Croc’s lair deep in the Asylum. After obtaining the spores and defeating Croc, Batman ventures to one of his satellite Bat caves, which is located on Arkham Island, to manufacture an antidote. Ivy attacks with her mutated plants and Batman is forced to fight her, eventually winning and destroying the plants responsible for manufacturing Titan.  Joker announces his party is ready to accept guests and when Batman arrives, he discovers the Joker has captured Jim Gordon and intends to inject him with Titan. Batman jumps in front of Gordon taking the dart filled with Titan and saving Jim. As Batman resists the change, Joker grows angry and overdoses on Titan turning into a giant monster. Batman defeats Joker and brings the asylum to order. In the post credit scene, Scarecrow is seen floating away on a container of Titan into the Gotham harbor.

ARKHAM CITY

This game picks up several years after the conclusion of Arkham Asylum, Bruce Wayne arrives at a press conference in front of the gates of Arkham City to protest its creation. He is ambushed by TYGER guards and the press conference is cut short as he, along with Jack Ryder, are imprisoned in Arkham City. Hugo Strange, the Warden of Arkham City, explains to Bruce that he knows he is Batman but will keep the information to himself for the time being. Bruce defeats the Penguin and some thugs before climbing to the top of the ACE Chemicals building and retrieving his Batsuit which was air dropped via the Batwing. As he dons the Batsuit, Strange comes over the PA system in Arkham City and says “Protocol 10 will commence in 10 hours”.

Bruce deduces that if anyone knows what’s going on in Arkham City it would be Catwoman, but he overheard some TYGER guards saying she has been captured by Two-Face. He saves Catwoman from the clutches of Two Face and then stops Joker from killing her with mechanical sniper rifle apparatus. He tracks Joker to the Sionis Steel Mill and infiltrates the mill to find him. In his pursuit of the Joker he saves several doctors that tell him the Joker is unwell and was forcing them to try and save his life. Batman discovers the Joker’s lair and is knocked unconscious by Harley Quinn. He wakes up to find Joker transfusing some of his blood into Batman afflicting him with the same degenerative disease Joker has. Joker is suffering from massive cellular degradation as a result of the Titan serum he took on the island to kill Batman. He also tells Batman that he has been shipping his blood to hospitals in the area for weeks infecting as many people as possible in hopes that this would force Batman to find a cure. Batman questions him asking if this is “Protocol 10” to which Joker replies that he has no idea what Batman is talking about.

Arkham-Games

As he exits the Mill, Batman seeks out Mr. Freeze who has been imprisoned in Arkham City as well. He tracks Freeze to the old GCPD building where Freeze has set up his own lab. As he infiltrates the building it has become apparent that Penguin has kidnapped Freeze for his own entertainment. Batman arrives at the old museum which Penguin is using as his hideout and discovers Freeze and his suit, but Freeze’s gun is missing. As Batman sets out to find Freeze’s gun, Freeze himself returns to his lab to begin work on a cure. Batman confronts Penguin who is using Freeze’s gun and defeats him but in his anger Penguin detonates the floor of his lounge causing Batman to fall into a chamber that houses Solomon Grundy. Batman defeats Grundy and returns Freeze’s tech to him at the old GCPD. Freeze tells Batman that he has managed to create a cure but due to its instability it is rendered useless. Batman hypothesizes that Ra’s Al Ghul’s restorative properties in his blood would render the cure stable and sets off to find him by tracking one of his operatives. He does battle with both Ra’s and his daughter Talia before obtaining the blood sample he needs to complete the cure. As Freeze finalizes the cure he battles Batman to find the location of his wife, believing Batman to know where she is. After Batman defeats him, they open the safe to find that Harley Quinn has stolen the cure. Batman returns to the Mill and finds a Joker that has been fully restored who tries to kill him.

As they fight, Strange activates Protocol 10 which is revealed to be the eradication of Arkham City to destroy the criminal element of Gotham. Talia arrives and offers Joker the use of the Lazarus pit in order to save Batman’s life, Joker accepts and leaves Batman in the wreckage of the steel mill. Batman wants to pursue Talia to save her from her eventual betrayal by the Joker, but Alfred and Oracle refuse, stating that Batman is needed to save the people of Arkham City. Batman scales Wonder Tower (the tower at the center of Arkham City that doubles as Strange’s headquarters) and confronts Strange. When Ra’s Al Ghul reveals himself to be the mastermind behind Arkham City, he kills Strange for his failure. Ra’s and Batman battle once again, with Ra’s being beaten again. To avoid the dishonour of being captured alive, Ra’s commits suicide and Batman is contacted by Joker to come alone to Monarch theater or he will kill Talia. When Batman arrives Talia confesses she stole the cure from Harley and stabs Joker through the chest. She is then shot by another Joker still dying from the disease. The impaled Joker is revealed to be Clayface who tries to kill Batman before being defeated using Freeze-tech. Batman drinks some of the cure leaving enough for someone else and destroys the Lazarus pit located beneath the theater before Joker is able to use it. Joker stabs Batman in the side causing Batman to drop the vial of cure, which smashes on the ground. As Joker slowly succumbs to the disease Batman admits that despite everything Joker has done and everyone he has killed and injured, he still would’ve saved him. Joker dies laughing at a joke that only he understands, leaving Batman alone in the destroyed theater. Batman carries Joker’s body out of Arkham City and places it on the hood of a police cruiser before disappearing into the night without a word.

ARKHAM ORIGINS

While not produced by Rocksteady, Arkham Origins is still part of the Arkham story line taking place 5 years before the events of Arkham Asylum. It centers around Black Mask putting out a hit on Batman on Christmas Eve for 50 million dollars. This attracts several well known Rogues to Gotham in order to collect the bounty, the Rogues include: Deathstroke, Deadshot, Bane, Copperhead, Killer Croc, Firefly, Electrocutioner, and Lady Shiva. Throughout the night Batman confronts and defeats several of the Rogues until eventually it’s revealed that Joker was the mastermind behind the entire thing. Bane learns Batman’s secret identity and nearly kills Alfred by assaulting and wrecking the Batcave. This also marks the point in Batman’s career where he realized he was unable to do the work by himself. Though initially against him, Captain Gordon eventually comes around and helps Batman when Joker takes control of Blackgate prison. Batman and the police work together to bring the prison back to order with Batman being forced to stop Bane’s heart and then restart it again to save the Joker. Bane suffers amnesia after his near death experience securing Batman’s secret identity and infuriating Joker. Batman apprehends Joker rather than killing him and leaves him to be found by the Gotham Police Force and Captain Gordon. This marks the beginning of the professional relationship between Gordon and Batman as well as the rivalry between Joker and Batman. Gordon is promoted to Commissioner for his part in securing the prison, but he keeps Batman’s involvement a secret. During the credits there’s a radio interview with Gotham mayor, Quincy Sharp, where he states he intends to re-open Arkham Asylum to help with some of the more dangerous criminals.

Arkham Origins

ARKHAM KNIGHT

The third (technically fourth) and final entry in Rocksteady’s award winning series is Arkham Knight. The Halloween following the events in Arkham City, the Scarecrow enacts his plan to destroy Gotham City and kill the Bat for good. He has developed a new fear toxin that he tests on a diner full of innocent people and broadcasts it all over Gotham. He allows the people of Gotham 12 hours to evacuate the city before he will disperse the toxin. With the city deserted except for Batman and his allies along with a few remaining Police Officers, the criminals of the city run rampant. Batman tracks Scarecrow to Chinatown and finds an imprisoned Poison Ivy who refused to go along with Scarecrow and the other Rogues’ plot for Gotham. Batman frees Ivy who says that she will be taken in willingly to protect her from Scarecrow.After taking Ivy to the GCPD, Batman meets Oracle at the clock tower where, with her help, he pinpoints the location of Scarecrow’s toxin production facility as Ace Chemicals. When Batman assaults the plant he is confronted by the Arkham Knight and his well armed militia. Scarecrow converted Ace Chemicals into a toxin bomb, with a potential blast radius of the entire Eastern seaboard of the United States, and told Batman that he had captured Oracle from the Clock Tower before fleeing from the facility with the help of the Knight. Batman renders the bomb useless but not before being exposed to a large dose of the fear toxin. Due to the remaining Joker infused blood in his system and the massive dose of toxin, Batman begins hallucinating the Joker throughout the City and interacting with him. As explained before, during the events of Arkham City, Batman is infected by Joker’s poisoned blood. Along with Batman, who has hidden his infection form the others, 4 other patients were poisoned with the blood before all of the infected blood had been accounted for. The infected patients are slowly mutating and turning into the Joker with the eventual endgame being multiple Jokers running around Gotham.  It’s later shown that Robin has all the other victims in a containment ward underneath Panasa Studios where he’s working on a cure.

Arkham KNight

As Batman escapes the destroyed plant he speaks to Commissioner letting Gordon know that Oracle had been kidnapped by Scarecrow. Gordon is angered that Barbara stayed in Gotham to help Batman, and goes off on his own to hunt down Scarecrow. Batman discovers that Scarecrow had manipulated Simon Stagg, a wealthy businessman, to force him to create and deploy the Cloudburst. The Cloudburst, allowed for the Fear Toxin to be massively dispersed into the air which would coat the entire planet in a matter of weeks. Stagg owns and operates his company out of two docked Airships tethered in the Financial District of Gotham City. As Batman assaults these airships he is forced to battle the Knight’s private militia which have taken control of the tethered stations. Eventually Batman once again confronts Scarecrow only to be once again dosed with a massive amount of Fear Toxin. This new dose allows the Joker to temporarily assume control of Batman’s mind and body. As Batman fights to regain control of his body, the Arkham Knight and Scarecrow steal the Cloudburst right out from under his nose. Once he recovers, Batman tracks Scarecrow to his hideout in Chinatown and arrives to find Oracle trapped in a hermetically sealed chamber. Before he can rescue her the chamber is filled with fear toxin and Oracle seemingly commits suicide out of fear.

Harley Quinn seizes control of the Panasa Studios cave, and releases the Jokerized patients into the studio in an attempt to free them. Batman and Robin must work together along with one of the remaining patients Henry Adams, who assists them from the containment ward. As Batman and Robin capture all the patients and Quinn herself, they return to the ward to find that Henry has killed all the other patients. Henry then kills himself stating that Batman will become the perfect Joker. As Robin turns to see Batman’s eyes glowing green, he attempts to subdue and imprison Batman in one of the research chambers in the ward. Batman easily counters Robin and imprisons him in the ward stating that he will not stop until the Scarecrow has been apprehended.  Elsewhere in Gotham, the Knight activates the Cloudburst and blankets the entire City of Gotham in Fear Toxin. Batman manages to destroy the Cloudburst and convinces the captured Ivy to utilize a giant tree hidden beneath Gotham to filter out the Toxin from the air to save the City. Ivy manages to save the City, but the strain of the effort causes her death. Batman manages to track the Knight to a construction site in the Financial District where the Knight has taken the captured Commissioner Gordon. Batman arrives to rescue Gordon and confronts the Knight who reveals himself to be Jason Todd. Jason Todd was the second Robin who was seemingly murdered by the Joker many years ago in an attempt to break the Bat. It’s later revealed that the Joker didn’t murder Todd right away, but actually tortured him for months effectively shattering Todd’s psyche and deeply traumatizing him. Todd, blaming Batman for his torture and subsequent near death experience, allied with Scarecrow in an effort to make Bruce feel the pain and helplessness he felt at the hands of the Joker all those years ago. As Batman attempts to reason with Todd and even offer to help him recover from what happened to him Todd refuses and escapes. Batman frees the Commissioner and the both of them head up to the roof to confront Scarecrow. Scarecrow is revealed to have Oracle alive and well, her previous suicide being a hallucination produced by the Fear toxin and Joker control, which allows Batman and the Commissioner the ability to save her. As Batman saves Oracle, Scarecrow captures Commissioner Gordon and escapes. Batman and Oracle return to the GCPD which is then assaulted by the militia forces of the Arkham Knight. Batman fends off the attack on the GCPD but in the fray, Scarecrow uses the distraction to overwhelm and kidnap Robin as well.

Arkham City Combat

Scarecrow offers to release Gordon and Robin unharmed if Batman surrenders to him without a fight. Believing that his surrender is the only way to ensure everyone’s safety, Batman surrenders. He is knocked out and taken to the ruins of Arkham Asylum, where it all began, and is strapped to a table before having his identity revealed on live television. Scarecrow then injects Batman with another massive dose of Fear Toxin which allows the Joker to fight for control over Batman’s mind and body. As the two battle inside Batman’s mind, Joker recounts all the horrible things he did in an effort to knock Batman off balance allowing the Joker to take control. Bruce not only resists, but manages to find the one thing Joker is afraid of most in the world, being forgotten. He battles the Joker in his mind, eventually winning and locking him away in his deep psyche to be forgotten for the rest of time. As Scarecrow watches Bruce fight through the Toxin he grows enraged that Batman keeps finding a way to win and attempts to inject him again. Jason Todd, now going by his alias of Red Hood, arrives at the broken down asylum and frees Batman who then injects Scarecrow with his own Fear Toxin.

Batman then finishes cleaning up the City and ensuring it’s safe for the citizens to return. Once he has cleaned up the City and captured all his Rogues, he activates the “Knightfall Protocol”. As he arrives back at Wayne Manor, the paparazzi are all around the property and shouting questions at him from beyond the fence line. Batman walks inside the manor and as the door shuts, the house explodes and is engulfed in flames, presumably killing Bruce and Alfred. In the epilogue, James Gordon, now Mayor of Gotham, is rushing over to the church so he can attend the wedding of his daughter, Barbara/Oracle to Robin/Tim Drake. Elsewhere in the City a young couple and their son cut through a back alley to avoid the rain and are accosted by some muggers. Before the muggers can get away with any goods, they’re assaulted by a silhouette that resembles a nightmarish Batman.

WHAT MAKES THEM AMAZING

I will be the first to say, most superhero games are shit. Seriously, just garbage. Every now and then you will get some good nuggets like Marvel Ultimate Alliance or Spider-Man: Web of Shadows; but for the most part, they tend to be lackluster. The main problem with superhero games is that they always tend to be tied to some other  film or television property which severely inhibits the stories that can be told. The tie in games for various movies work well enough to bolster sales and ride the coat tail of the movie’s success, but they lack all substance themselves. Rocksteady changed that formula.

The big change that Rocksteady had was they brought in renowned comic book writer Paul Dini to craft a 100% original tale that would take place in their universe. Drawing heavy inspiration from several of his other works, Dini delivered a dark and gritty story that focused on the Batman himself and how close he is to teetering on the edge. It wasn’t until the final game Arkham Knight, that we really got to see what a Batman looks like as he slowly loses control of everything around him. There are several quotes from DC Comics that detail Bruce Wayne/Batman’s obsessive need to control everything he can. Dini took this obsessive trait and showed us exactly what it would look like to watch a man who the rest of the world thinks has all the answers, struggle to maintain his grip on a reality that is slowly slipping through his grasp. It was a stark contrast to the invincible superhero most people know. He doubts himself, he makes mistakes, he questions his crusade, and he even loses in the end; all these things happen over the span of three games and really show just how human Batman really is.

Arkham Counter

The story isn’t the only part of the series that really drove it home for most fans, it was the gameplay. You can make a game with an amazing story, that really captures everything you need it to, but if the gameplay can’t hold up to the demands the story needs, you’ll end up with a product that doesn’t sell. Rocksteady wanted to focus on the aspects of Batman’s character that make him so terrifying like his combat skills, detective work, and stealth. They derived to show the game from Batman’s point of view while still making the NPC’s react to your actions and not feel like you were some all powerful invincible being.  Entering a room with 10 enemies is a challenge because, as I said before, they react to your actions. Take one out and let another see you? They’ll group together and operate as a team making it harder to catch them off guard. They will also work to remove your advantages like destroying vents with grenades or destroying gargoyles making you stay on the ground. This coupled with the amazing combat mechanic gave us a series which delivered two games noted as Game of the Year. The combat mechanic utilizes counter attacks along with gadgets to string together combos that allow for easier taking down of enemies. As the difficulties increase for the story the combat becomes harder and you lose the visible notifier to hit the counter button. One of the best aspects to the games though, is the Detective vision. This is a vision mode which you can toggle at any point which highlights enemies and interactive objects in the environment. It adds a whole new level to planning out your moves to remove a group of enemies from a room or trying to figure your way out of some tough spots. It also is used during the moments of the game where to progress the story you must use your detective skills to follow the evidence and draw conclusions.

 

Rocksteady’s Arkham series delivered a full and immersive story that has really only been seen from AAA game studios. They brought us a full cohesive narrative with accompanying gameplay that helped to restore faith in the superhero game genre. Batman has been one of the easiest heroes to make games for based on his style and skills. There have been many attempts to make a great Batman game but none of them have been able to compare to Rocksteady’s series. I personally loved the entire series and own all the games on both the Xbox 360 and the redux versions for the Xbox One. I have logged more hours into this series than I have probably logged into Skyrim which puts into perspective the replayability of the series. There have been rumours that Rocksteady has been working on another superhero game but so far it has been kept under a tight lock as to who it will feature, but the most popular theory is either Superman or Green Arrow. There was also another rumour that a further game would be added to the Arkham series taking place before Arkham City but after Arkham Asylum. It was to feature the dynamic duo with Robin being a 100% playable character. Nothing much has been said on this front and the rumour mill has recently dies down on anything remotely related to this “new Arkham Game”. I know that while I don’t think this series needs another installment, if they did release another game, I would FOR SURE be one of the first people to pick it up. I would highly recommend that anyone who enjoys adventure games with a great story checkout this series; you don’t even have to be a Batman fan to like the game, Rocksteady does a great job of explaining everything so that even someone who has no knowledge of Batman or his history can follow the story. That being said, they do jam pack the game full of Easter eggs and little nods so that even a seasoned fan of the Bat, like myself, still finds awesome little nods to several other characters throughout the series. I would give this game series a rating of 9.0/10 for all the reasons listed above and for the amount of fun you will have while playing, as I said before, I highly recommend this series!

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