Superheros in video games. Before and after Arkham.

Editor’s note: First of all, be warned. This article includes possible mild spoilers for the Arkham video games. Duh!

Since the first time I saw Super Mario Bros flickering on my neighbor’s TV I have been in love with video games. It has been an exhilarating ride with many highs and lows. But the one thing, that always seized to amaze me, is the constant evolution in video games when it comes to graphics, game mechanics, story telling, player involvement … I can remember when my parents gave me a Game Boy as a christmas present. Soon after that, I played Batman the video game.

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Me as a young boy, I always liked the thought of solving crime with the caped crusader. And these games gave me a glimpse of how it could be. Of course minus the actual violence, the bone/mind shattering experiences and all those nasty near death experiences.I think that the thought was more compelling than the actual game(s). Since a couple of those were, in reality, pretty weak games.

Some exceptions that proved the rule:

 

The classic superhero transitions into the gaming genre were often times intended to make money, more than to provide gamers with a real cool experience. Don’t believe me? Just watch let me take you back on memory lane for a second.

 

Just a few I personally played as an example.

Some of them had a incredible good sense of capturing the character, telling a story or just had gory gameplay that could entertain in the long run.

 

I am not going to mention all those cheap rip offs from well received game mechanics (superhero pinball, superhero angry birds, superhero race game, superhero mortal kombat, …) since it would blast this article out of proportion. So let’s concentrate on the more bigger budgeted superhero video games.

And as we do that, we will figure out that they all had one thing in common. None of these games reinvented the superhero gaming genre, because they mostly had nothing new to them. As an example: the wolverine origins game wasn’t a really that bad (way better experience as the movie … Deadpool … #yikes … going off topic here), but it stood in direct competition with the God of War, Devil May Cry, Dante’s Inferno, Darksiders and other supernatural hack ‘n’ slay game-franchises.

Those other non classical heros/anti-heros were designed for those specific games. This is why they work so well. Those games are balanced and brought something new to the table. From how to play them, to how they tell a compelling player involving story, they had it all figured out.

So classic superhero video games had a bit of an issue.

That was of course until the glorious day Batman Arkham Asylum got released.

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The first time I laid my hands on this masterpiece I went in with the mindset of ‘please don’t suck, please don’t suck’ – but after the first 15 minutes I was hooked.

The graphics of the unreal engine were stunning for that time. The design and the whole tone and visual mood were exactly on point. I knew at that point – this is how a superhero game should be. The story is one of the best Batman arcs in a very long time (of course only my opinion), and the game mechanics brought something new to the table. The mixture between direct fighting, stealth attacks, puzzle solving, jump ‘n’ run elements, a bit of strategy, combined in an open-ish world scenario was all a superhero fan and game enthusiast could ever hope for.
The successor Batman Arkham City cemented the Arkham series as the top dog in the superhero gaming niché. Bigger, better, bombastic Batman experience.

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This game is the ultimate proof, that Arkham Asylum wasn’t a fluke. Rocksteady Studios managed to revolutionize their own style and created an instant classic. The transition from one game to the next was flawless. The Joker injects Batman with his own poisoned blood, which is a big part of the Arkham Asylum story, so he needs to find a cure for the both of them. All while Hugo Strange and Rh’as al Ghul plan a diabolic scheme in Arkham City, a jail district in the heart of Gotham, only inhabited by the criminals and supervillains.

Please tell me your heart didn’t just missed a beat there. Liar. Anyway.

Now, let’s skip to the unpopular part of this article. After those two masterpieces the third installment in the Arkham series was Batman Arkham origins.

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A new developing team went to the roots of the Dark Knight. An inexperienced Batman has to deal with a new player in town and a pretty huge bounty on his head.

I consider myself lucky, because my copy of the game wasn’t as buggy and full of other flaws as it was reported all across the internet. The moaning was real people. But let’s be honest here for a minute. Was it the best Batman game? No? Was it a bad game? Not at all. Ok, it didn’t have that open world feeling of Arkham City, nor the grimy feeling of the Asylum, but I never felt the urge of danger or high stakes like in this game.I guess all I want to say is that I will not jump on the band wagon and bash this game. It was still pretty good in my opinion.

Of course it would be unfair to compare it to the pinnacle of the series. The first installment on current consoles (PS4, Xbox1) Batman Arkham Knight.

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Yes, you fight a lot of tanks in the batmobile. A LOT. But come on guys, you are driving the batmobile. For real this time, not in a sucky side scroller. That feeling alone, to see Batman jump down from a skyscraper, calls the batmobile and somersault right into the driver’s seat is the stuff geek dreams are made of. Gotham looks nearly perfect. The rogues gallery is huge and features everything I want to experience in a Batman game. Was the true identity of the Arkham Knight predictable? To a certain degree. We’re there way more tanks than necessary? I tank so …

Is it worth whatever the price is these days on amazon? You can most certainly believe it.

Buy it, own it, love it many, many hours. Thank me in the comments. But by know I am pretty sure you have already played it somewhere. But the Arkham games not only influenced it’s own series. Superhero games since then, evolved as well and tried to come close to this new measure stick. I am talking about titles like Injustice. Think about that awful Mortal Kombat DC crossover game and then look at Injustice. Tell me you can’t spot the difference in quality there.

By the way: Injustice might have the best story in superhero games, period.

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If you look at that games style, you will soon find a lot of influences seeded by the Arkham series.

You may wonder why I don’t talk about the various Lego super hero games … well, I only to wanted to cover stand alone games. And I have only played Batman 3. So my opinion is limited to only one installment.
Please tell me in the comments which superhero game you have enjoyed most and let me know, which ones I missed out on.

Header image from non-productive.com

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