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Wrapping up the Arkham trilogy for the Xbox 360 / PS3, this final entry in the popular series sees the series flashback to the early years of Bruce Wayne’s career as the Caped Crusader. We join him on Christmas Eve, where he learns that criminal crime boss “Black Mask” has placed a $50 million bounty on the head of Batman which has brought eight of the deadliest assassins to Gotham City.
For one reason or another this game has been branded with this legacy of being the disappointing follow up to the universally acclaimed Arkham City, which has somehow, since its original release, lead to the misconception that this is in some way a bad game. Still seeing how the festive season is upon on us what better time really could there be to revisit it with fresh eyes.
Taking place five years before Batman: Arkham Asylum this is thankfully not an origin story, but rather a year-two story, as we join Bruce who is now established in his vigilante alter-ego though at the same time far from the well-known hero that he is seen as in the previous games. Here the Gotham Police Force have no idea of who or what Batman is and as a result will attack him on site. At the same time while Bruce has gotten used to being tougher than the crooks and gangsters he has been mainly facing, this story marks the turning point in his career as this will be the first time he will have to face villains who are just as skilled if not more than himself while at the same time this game also marks his first confrontations with many of the big villains of the Batman universe.
Thankfully, when it comes to the rouge’s gallery featured here its not a case of just wheeling out the usual suspects that we’ve grown familiar with seeing previously and its great to see new villains like Deathstroke, Mad Hatter and Lady Shiva all make their appearance much like the lower tier villains such as Firefly, Anarky and Copperhead who while perhaps not the best known to your more casual fan still make memorable appearances here. Equally exciting though is the use of Black Mask who has for one reason or another always been far too overlooked by the games and while perhaps his appearance here is really a cover for the first confrontation between Batman and the Joker it was great to finally see him in video game form. This is of course not to say that some of the favourite from the previous games don’t appear as Bane, Killer Croc and penguin all make their return.
Taking over the reigns from Rocksteady who produced the first two games, here WB Games Montreal wisely opt to not making any major changed to the template which made the first two games such a success. As such combat remains as fun as before enabling you to smoothly move from one thug to the next, which the simple counter system still remains as satisfying as before. At the same time there has been little change to the bat gadgets which might come as a disappointment to some expecting to see some new toys, though this game sees the introduction of the electro-shock gloves which help provide a much needed edge when battling some of the tougher opponents let alone the ability to be used as a defibrillator in a pinch as seen in one of the more random moments of the plot.
While the thugs haven’t really changed from the previous games, the boss fights however have been greatly improved so that now you actually get to fight the villains rather than waves of thugs being commanded by them. To this extent the new villains who make their debut here all provide their own unique challenges with Firefly switching the camera between 3d and 2d as you battle across Gotham bridge. Deathstroke meanwhile provides one of the more challenging boss fights we’ve seen in awhile making it all the more surprising that to get a boss this tough as early in the game as he appears. The real stand out though is the Mad Hatter, who here essentially fills the role of Scarecrow as Batman is forced to battle his way though a twisted version of “Alice in Wonderland”.
One of my main concerns going into the game was certainly the voice cast, which in a random move by WB Games opt to bring in a completely new voice cast for this entry with Roger Craig Smith taking over from Kevin Conroy and more controversially Troy Baker taking over the role of The Joker from Mark Hamill, but once more the voice cast do a great job of bringing these characters to life with Smith’s Batman a lot more hot-headed and quick to violence than the older Batman played by Conroy, which considering where the story happens on the Batman timeline really suits the character.
Returning to Gotham there is a sense of familiarity to the world even if its not the maximum security prison that we saw in “Arkham City” and as such its a larger world which the game takes place in ultimately to the games detriment as where as the previous game brought a great sense of life to the city and rewarded exploration were as here it just feels far too flat and empty. At the same time you will find yourself constantly having to cross over Gotham bridge making travel from one area to the next a pain at times. Yes, there are fast-trek points which can be unlocked but the stretched-out loading times caused by these and general amount of bonuses to collect means that you will more often than not just make the trek than use these points. The only time which I found myself encountering something really memorable in the city design was often during a mission giving the game more a feeling of an old school Batman game with levels than any kind of open world experience.
That being said there are still a number of fun sights to take in on this visit to Gotham as you battle Joker around his theme park skyscraper, take in the Penguin’s hulking freighter and most excitingly pay several visits to Blackgate Penitentiary which provides the opening and closing to the game. For those willing to collect all the Riddler tokens you will get rewarded with the ability to look around his lair, which honestly is far from worth the effort you will put into getting them. Still, with each new area providing something new to change up the pace of the game, it only makes it the more disappointing that the open world sections can’t maintain this interest.
While the game certainly has its flaws, it is far from a bad game but rather one hampered by several ascetic choices which prevent this from being as memorable experience as the previous two games. That being said if you were to play these games in timeline order, it might provide a much more for filling experience, especially one where each game gets better than the last. Still, for those regular visits to Arkham this is still a worthwhile experience if perhaps not the close on this trilogy we would have liked.
Developer: WB Games Montreal
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Platform(s): Windows, PS3, XBOX 360, Wii U
Mode(s): Single-player. Multi-player