80 Years of The Bat is a column created to celebrate the 80th anniversary of one of the most beloved characters ever created, Batman. Since his creation in 1939, Batman has managed to transcend his native medium of comic books. Eight decades later, the character has a presence in every area of entertainment. Over that time, Batman has garnered generations of fans; thus, always remaining relevant. Throughout the latter part of 2019, 80 Years of The Bat examined decades worth of Batman material from every medium — including the history of Batman in video games. In this final installment, Pixelated Shadows: A History of Batman Video Games Pt. 3, we look at an era of simultaneous brightness and darkness for games featuring The Bat.
[PLEASE NOTE: Pixelated Shadows will cover THE MAJORITY of Batman video games, but not every single one of them. If it did, that would take longer than one season of Batman ‘66!]
For now, the video games covered in the following column represent the latest, and for some arguably most significant batch of Bat games. In essence, the past decade of video games is a fluctuation between family-friendly gaming and strictly adult fare. One which kicked off with LEGO Batman: The Video Game in 2008. A title that proved two beloved brands worked beautifully outside of their respective native mediums.
However, the game would define this most recent chapter gaming in Gotham came next:
Batman: Arkham Asylum
- Developers: Rocksteady Studios, WB Interactive, Eidos Interactive
- Consoles: PlayStation 3 (PS3), Xbox 360, PlayStation 4 (PS4), Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, MAC OS X
- For better or worse, Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009) set the tone for every game featuring The Caped Crusader that would come after it. In other words, the games of this era are decidedly dark and violent. Like many graphic novels, Arkham Asylum takes a high-concept and pushes in an adult direction. As the title suggests, the game takes in Batman’s ultimate Hellscape, Arkham Asylum.
The game (penned by Harley Quinn creator Paul Dini) begins as routine with Batman (Kevin Conroy) delivering his arch-nemesis, The Joker (Mark Hamill), back into the bowls of the notorious corrections facility. However, The Crown Prince of Crime turns the tables on The Dark Knight, trapping our hero inside the asylum with seemingly his entire rogues gallery. Now, Batman must survive the night and fight his way out of the Arkham! While such a setup is a nightmare for Bats, it’s a dream for the player.
There’s one word that I would you use to describe the gameplay of Arkham Asylum — intense. Unlike the games I’ve covered up this point, Arkham Asylum truly puts the player into the cape and cowl of The Bat. With every hard press of my controller buttons, I felt as if I had dispensed the punches and kicks of justice! Furthermore, I got to employ detective skills to solve certain puzzles and progress throughout the game. All the while, I was utterly immersed in the game, thanks to it being such a cinematic experience.
Now, all this praise isn’t to say that Arkham Asylum is perfect. On the contrary, I do have two issues with this game. Firstly, as I said, Arkham Asylum is very intense. As a result, though, the game can also become tiresome. (Although I’m sure some of my fatigue had to do with me getting very physically involved in the gameplay.)
Secondly, I’m not a big fan of the game’s overall design. Yes, it creates a dark atmosphere, but it is one that I find to be slightly overbearing. Those couple of qualms aside, though, Arkham Asylum is still one of the best Batman games on record.
Batman: Arkham City
- Consoles: PlayStation 3 (PS3), Xbox 360, PlayStation 4 (PS4), Xbox One, Wii U, Microsoft Windows, MAC OS X
- My few criticisms of Arkham Asylum put me in the minority as most video game critics and gamers themselves find the title to be a masterwork of the medium. With its success, Arkham soon became a series. The entire creative team regrouped for a 2011 follow-up, Batman: Arkham City. Set one year after its predecessor, Gotham has essentially become a prison island (ala Escape from New York) known as Arkham City. This newly-minted “City” is supervised by none other than psychiatrist Dr. Hugo Strange; a madman who quickly puts Bruce Wayne’s (Kevin Conroy) into the prison population.
Like any sequel, City’s whole goal is to be bigger-and-better than Asylum. Well, I can easily say that City achieved such. Once again, the intensity is present, as is that brooding, almost oppressive atmosphere that is key to these Arkham games. However, the gameplay this time around is genuinely third-person, open-world, and features a smoother design. Arkham City only has one major flaw, in my opinion. I cannot buy into the story. Despite a history of ill decisions from Gotham’s city government, I doubt even they would greenlight an institution such as Arkham City!
Following that, two more sequels in this series were spawned. Both Batman: Arkham Origins (2013) and Batman: Arkham Knight (2015) were released on all major gaming platforms. Now, I don’t want it to seem like I’m giving these games short shrift in not giving them their headers. Frankly, the Arkham series becomes repetitive in its story and gameplay at this point — be it the prequel that is Origins or the over-the-top M-rated finale that is Arkham Knight. All-in-all, I find the Arkham games to be fun but ultimately redundant.
Batman: The Telltale Series
- Consoles: PlayStation 3 (PS3), Xbox 360, PlayStation 4 (PS4), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, MAC OS X, iOS
- Fittingly, the final video game examined in this column is one of innovation. Batman: The Telltale Series (2016) and its sequel, Batman: The Telltale Series — The Enemy Within (2018) are graphic point-and-click adventures. Hence, where the innovation comes in. Each installment of The Telltale Series is split into five episodes that make up the entire narrative. The thing is that every decision you make will impact the story’s outcome as you make your way through it.
The Telltale Series is set in modern times and finds our hero with a full-plate. By day, Bruce Wayne is running Wayne Enterprises and backing DA Harvey Dent for mayor. By night, Batman is gaining a reputation as a fresh vigilante. Sure, we’ve all heard this story before, except for that this series makes every character darker and different than you would expect them to be.
It is a choice that makes these visually-scintillating games both moderately entertaining and perpetually frustrating. In my mind, The Telltale Series is Elseworlds story. A novel approach if these games didn’t strive to be so hardcore for the sake of merely being so. As much as it pains me to say it, The Telltale Series and The Enemy Within quickly diminish from exciting and edgy into boring me with its very edge.
Currently, it seems that Batman’s future in video games is on hold. But, I expect that to change once the next generation of consoles come along. And if the rumors are true, this next era of Bat games will begin with Arkham Legacy. In the meantime, I hope you all found this trip through Batman’s Pixelated History to be an informative one!