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28th November 2022

There’s plenty wrong with me: The Arkham saga retrospective

A love letter to Rocksteady and the Batman games they made
There’s plenty wrong with me: The Arkham saga retrospective
Photo: Rocksteady Studios

I’m sure anyone who has played Arkham Asylum remembers where they were when they first booted up the game. In my opinion, Arkham Asylum is a perfect example of how Batman can be adapted into a video game.

One of my favourite memories when i was a child was getting to the morgue while pursuing the Scarecrow. My mum was sitting next to me, and when the jump-scare happened we screamed at the exact same time and then laughed for 15 minutes. Over the years I have double-checked, triple-checked, and quadruple-checked whether or not my appreciation for that game was through the rose tinted glasses of nostalgia and each time I am reminded that the game is simply flawless until the final boss battle. 

The stealth and combat sections are immaculate and act as a great foundation to build upon in sequels. However, the best part of this game were The Riddler’s challenges, they open the isolated world of Arkham Asylum and create a really haunting atmosphere. One particular riddle that has stayed with me since I solved it, is the tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee riddle. The image of a dilapidated seesaw with a propeller cap on it immersed me in the game in a way that I cannot describe.

Rocksteady followed up with Arkham City which managed to apply the haunting atmosphere of Asylum to a much bigger map and builds upon all the strengths of the original game. The story of the game is a perfect swan-song for the Joker. But where Arkham city succeeds over Asylum is the inclusion of side-quests other than riddles. You get to interact with many of Batman’s rogues as you glide over the submerged remains of the prison city and captures the feeling of being the Batman.

Then we arrive at the magnum opus of the Arkham Saga, Arkham Knight. This game learns from all of the negatives of the previous games. It tightens the combat system to the point of perfection and the stealth sections being adapted to the character you play as (despite the DLC nature of the extra characters) are the extra cherries on the sundae.

One point of contention within the Arkham fandom is the inclusion of the Batmobile. I am of the opinion that the Batmobile was included in Arkham Knight because all other aspects of the game were perfected so they had to do something while the development cycle kept going. This means that I found the gameplay involving the Batmobile important to the overall game. The way that the Batmobile factored into small tasks like finding The Riddler informants made gameplay feel much more like the player was batman, and although it appeared to be a crutch within the main story missions, I feel that it added more than it took away.

The Arkham games were built upon the excellent world building of Arkham Asylum and Arkham Knight acts as an excellent coda to the song started by Arkham Asylum. The world becomes much more tactile in the story of Arkham Knight and concludes the work of Arkham Asylum and City in a masterful fashion that only a studio like Rocksteady could possibly achieve.

The Arkham games inspired my fascination with the deeper lore of the world’s greatest detective. All the intrigue for the characters that I now hold close to my heart were inspired by the profiles they had in Arkham Asylum. My standards for engaging storytelling were set by Arkham City. My high standards for fighting mechanics came from Arkham Knight, to the point where I judge a game based on a rule I constructed whilst playing it called the Freebird Rule. A rule that only one game since has been able to obey.

These games were incredibly formative to my creative development. No other series of games have shaped me in the way that little details in the Arkham Saga have. To Rocksteady, I extend a very sincere thank you for making my childhood much better than it could have been. And to Batman I extend a very sincere life debt. This character helped me cope with the death of a parent and inspired me to become a writer instead of falling into a pit of despair that I could never get out of. I also want to express my admiration for the late Kevin Conroy. No other actor has affected me so deeply. Gotham will never be the same without him.

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