Tonight is the longest night of Batman’s still short career, as the third entry in the Arkham series steps back in time to look at some of his earliest encounters with regular villains in Gotham. Developed by Warner Bros. Montreal, have they lived up to Rocksteady’s legacy?
The Arkham series of games has quite brilliantly cemented Batman as one of the best new game series of this generation. Coming seemingly out of nowhere, Rocksteady set a new bar for superhero games with Arkham Asylum, and then only upped the ante two years later with Arkham City.
So when it was announced that Warner Bros. Montreal would be handling a new Arkham game, there was understandably some concern amongst the fans. However, on all counts, they’ve done a great job of taking all the elements of Rocksteady’s formula and wrapping a new story around them, with a few gameplay tweaks of their own.
Spread out across the two interconnected islands of Old and New Gotham, the familiar mechanics of gliding and zipping around between the buildings, before swooping down into combat or even off to a “Crime in Progress” side mission, have returned. There’s such a wide array of gameplay mechanics that have carried forward, it’s almost difficult to know what’s new and what isn’t.
The most obvious main addition comes with the new Case Files investigations, through the analysis and discovery of clues from a first person perspective. Each point of detail you discover is uploaded remotely to the Batcomputer, and a holographic reconstruction of events is put together piece by piece. From here, you might then need to scroll through the timeline to find a further clue which those involved left behind.
It’s certainly a nice new element, but the main flaw I find is that after every new clue is discovered, it’s not up to you to interpret what it was you’ve found and how it relates back to the others. Instead, Batman’s internal monologue simply tells you what it was that he’s found and then sends you off after the next clue. This is something that could do with further evolution and development.
Elsewhere, the changes are much more subtle. The predator gameplay is just as appealing as before, striking from the shadows and ducts, through walls and swooping from gargoyles. Combat too is just as good as before, with the combo driven gameplay seeing you always striving to better yourself and reach the end of a brawl without taking a blow. There’s still such a sense of achievement when you win a flawless fight.
Over the course of the game, more kinds of enemy crop up to gradually add more complexity to the fray. One or two new opponents in combat, with the Martial Artists who are better able to block and counter your attacks as an example, and a few new gadgets which don’t diverge too much from those Batman has in the canonical future of Arkham City, but still make nice additions.
Setting the title in the second year of Batman’s career has allowed them to provide a new take on the kinds of stories we’ve seen in the first two entries. This is a Batman with little to no support from his network of friends, one who has encountered very few major criminals, and certainly none of his major nemeses.
On this single Christmas Eve, Black Mask leads a jailbreak from Blackgate prison, calling down eight assassins to try and kill Batman in the process. However, even as you come across Deathstroke, Copperhead and all the others, it’s not just these villains arrayed against him. As Batman tries to hunt down Black Mask, other villains springing up to try and take advantage of the night of chaos.
Enigma (The Riddler) and Anarky set off to level their own forms of justice on the populace, with Enigma’s towers jamming access to the new fast travel system until you take them down. Penguin, Hatter and plenty others have their own city-spanning schemes in play. It’s a collection which will have you occupied with side-missions and collectables wherever you turn.
Although it’s a frantic night of action, hopping from one fight and twist to another, the real heart of the story can be found was in seeing some of the early appearances of other characters and their first meetings with Batman. It might tread some of the most familiar paths in Batman lore, with the death of his parents ever the sore spot, but there’s something special in witnessing these first encounters and blossoming relationships.
The manner in which Alfred disapproves of many of Bruce’s actions as Batman, and yet is always so willing and to help him in any way he can so that he doesn’t die, is one which builds over the course of the story line. Similarly, Captain Gordon’s role as an honest man within a clearly corrupt police department eager to claim the bounty on Batman’s head for themselves, and how Gordon initially sees Batman as a vigilante who needs to be brought in is another key story arc. And, of course, there’s the Joker’s grin, lighting up a room for the very first time.
Throughout the game, I would have liked to see slightly more lenient checkpointing implemented. It’s not always so terrible, but with boss battles often lasting more than five minutes and your minor slip ups in combat leading to decent chunks of your health being knocked off, I was often sent right back to the beginning of the fight. More annoying was when I’d die in a brawl or predator mode and be needlessly spawned 30-60 seconds travel away, rather than a few feet from the fight once more.
Furthermore, at launch, the game is not without its technical issues. On several occasions, the PS3 version I played threw up issues which saw the frame rate plummet and never recover, requiring me to restart the game. It also froze during loading screens a few times, both in single player, and also as I noted in the multiplayer. These are known problems and a patch has been submitted to fix these issues which stem from the fast travel system, but it’s disappointing to see them in the initial release.
Warner Bros. Montreal set out to create a Batman game worthy of Rocksteady’s legacy, and managed just that. There’s some great stuff to see here, but it doesn’t really push the franchise off in a new direction. For a new studio’s first attempt in the franchise, I think that’s really what it needed to be, so they can build their own legacy in the future.
The game’s creative director has since tweeted to say that there is a patch on the way to fix the frame rate issues and it should be available next week.