Available on: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
This third installment of the popular ‘Arkham’ trilogy of Batman games was handled by a different studio from the previous two games, but uses the same familiar template of a vast open-world environment and its brutal, combat-based fighting system. Despite being the final part of the trilogy, the game actually takes place five years before the events of Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, acting as a prequel and origin story.
As with the earlier games, there is a strict reverence for the original source material with an abundance of characters, major and minor, adapted from the comic books. This particular storyline makes use of a range of third-tier Batman villains, such as Firefly, Shiva, Bird and Black Mask. However, old favourites such as Bane, The Riddler and The Penguin also return, looking remarkably younger and inexperienced.
Fans of the original comics will recognise subtle references to iconic Batman stories, such as Frank Miller’s Year One and Jeph Loeb’s The Long Halloween. With its Christmas setting, there’s even an element of Batman Returns to the atmosphere of the game. As well as remaining true to the comics, the game also helps build up the ‘Arkham’ video-game universe, by depicting the introduction of the Joker into Batman’s world.
The first time we meet the Joker, there’s a Heath Ledger-esque edge to him as we see a more youthful and rebellious side to his character, although he seems more focused and efficient than his later incarnations which appears throughout Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, respectively, but this could be due to his overpowering obsession with the Batman. The game manages to continue to build upon its brilliant and complex depiction of the Batman/Joker relationship, even if Mark Hamill himself isn't present as the clown prince of crime.
While the game doesn't make the same advances in its single-player campaign that were made between Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, it does offer an interesting experiment in the form of a multiplayer mode, which allows players to assume the role of either Bane or the Joker’s henchmen whilst being hunted by Batman or Robin. This is a really interesting blend of a standard death-match game, as well as the Invisible Predator challenges from the single-player game, and helps create a ‘hide and seek’ atmosphere akin to Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell’s multiplayer modes.
Other minor upgrades to the game’s format include more expansive challenges and collectibles, as well as a flexible 'leveling up' tree, allowing players to exert a greater degree of strategy over what they upgrade, allowing them to improve the odds on either combat or predator encounters by unlocking new gadgets and techniques. One improvement which made the game easier for me was the electric shock glove upgrade midway through the game, which makes the tricky job of attaining high combo counts much easier than before.
Gameplay - The core gameplay mechanics remain unchanged, although there’s still a focus on maintaining high combo counts with achievements and unlockables favoured to those dexterous button-bashers who can achieve 50x combos. While the introduction of the electric shock gloves helps to alleviate the difficulty of this particular area, it can still be tricky to engineer the desired ‘free flow’ attacks required to unlock certain challenges.
Achievements / Trophies - The game features a mix of campaign and multiplayer achievements, but the list seems to reward those who are able to achieve high combos or unlock multiple medals through the game’s challenge maps, whereas online achievements seem to reward experience rather than skill.
Longevity - There is plenty here for gamers to enjoy with a huge variety of content ranging from unlockables in the campaign, challenge maps (combat and predator) and a whole multiplayer section. There are also unlockables in the single-player mode which transfer over to the online multiplayer, which is a nice incentive to play through both modes.
Overall, this installment in the Batman: Arkham franchise manages to keep the same razor-sharp blend of exploration, combat and adventure from the previous games in the series, with a few new tricks that accentuate the existing format. It does feel a tad short in terms of the actual core plot, but this brevity is balanced out by the hundreds of unlockables and hefty multiplayer mode. Fans of the previous games will love this, and if you've never played a Batman: Arkham game before, be prepared for a fantastic narrative experience that feels just as cinematic as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.
Score - 9.4 out of 10