Let me cut to the chase without an overlong preamble slowly building my case while pretentiously hoping you are reading it on the edge of your seat waiting for my final opinion and say “yes” right off the bat. There should be no more Arkham games. As one of the premiere franchises to come out of the last console generation, these games have redefined everything we thought we knew about comic book games and have far outstripped even Christopher Nolan’s esteemed Dark Knight trilogy as the premier modern iteration of the Batman.
So why do I want it to end? There are plenty of reasons, but let’s look at what the series has accomplished first to put things in perspective. Batman: Arkham Asylum was hailed as an incredible achievement upon its release, and without a doubt it set the pace for the game that followed. New takes on our favorite characters that were both fresh and familiar with an incredibly dark atmosphere, a mature story, loads of unlockables and Easter eggs, plus great gameplay. What more could we want?
Rocksteady’s freeflow combat system is arguably the best gameplay innovation of the last ten years. Easy to pick up, incredibly deep, challenging to master, and it never, ever, ever gets old. It’s a perfect mechanic. This alone would be more than enough for a franchise to be built off of, but the funny thing is that combat is a relatively small part of the game experience as a whole. There was puzzle solving, exploration, character building, excellent stealth sections, and all sorts of other things for the Caped Crusader to do other than bust heads. This variety is what puts the series near the top of the modern gaming pile, but if you wanted to just kick some ass, Rocksteady made sure to include challenge mode so you could play it your way.
Arkham City improved on the winning formula in almost every way, adding an open-world component and playable Catwoman to make a one of the best games of the PS3/360 era. Rocksteady stepped aside at this point and let the fledgling Warner Bros. Game Montreal handle the prequel game, Arkham Origins, which became the black sheep of the series. It was a competent game with a solid story, but it pretty much retraced all of the same steps from the previous game and the ambitious multiplayer component was non-functional, leaving fans wondering when Rocksteady would be back,
And then along came Arkham Knight, Batman’s next gen debut and the biggest game yet. It increased the verticality of virtual Gotham to epic levels and took all of the diverse intricacies of the previous games and expanded them while at the same time rendering them largely unnecessary by focusing the story missions heavily around the newly-playable Batmobile. In fact, a more accurate title might have been Rise of the Batmobile. But in spite of this misstep, Arkham Knight brought the thunder when it came to its story, which proved to be the most artistic entry yet, exploring themes only previously found in the comics in new and exciting ways and really putting the player into the heads of its characters en route to a perfect ending to the tale of the Dark Knight.
But the problem with a perfect ending is that it puts the series in a place where it’s got few places left to go. Rocksteady’s epic finale to their masterpiece trilogy leaves very little more to be said or done on the topic of Bruce Wayne. And I don’t really think any more needs to be said for the time being.
Spoilers in the following paragraphs.
There are three consecutive endings to Arkham Knight, depending on how much you finish. First, the heroic victory over Scarecrow and Batman’s own fear of becoming like the deceased Joker, whose phantasm has been haunting and taunting him throughout the game, which results in his public unmasking as Bruce Wayne. Then having completed all of the side missions, Bruce Wayne enacts his “Knightfall Protocol” in which he lands the Batwing on the grounds of Wayne Manor in full view of the mobs of press and walks in the front door seconds before the mansion explodes in a mass of hellfire. A good death, to quote Frank Miller.
Should you be OCD enough you solve all of the Riddler’s 200+ challenges and haul him into GCPD, you’ll get an initially baffling coda where criminals confidently assailing a very Wayne-ish family in an alley are confronted by a hellish flaming specter of the Dark Knight’s legend. One can assume that Bruce Wayne faked his death and is using what he learned about fear (and chemistry) through his trials against Scarecrow to operate purely from the shadows, not as a man, but as a mythic figure to strike true terror into the hearts of criminals. Like I said, a perfect ending.
How do you top that? With more prequels? Not likely. Multiplayer? Maybe if it actually works this time, but probably not. Base it on The Dark Knight Returns? There are worse ideas, but the fact that Rocksteady focused on the Batmobile as much as they did tells me that they were itching to make a completely different kind of game from their first two installments. So why not do exactly that and move away from the Caped Crusader altogether?
There are plenty of other DC heroes and heroines if nothing else. The highlight of Arkham Knight was the team-ups with Catwoman, Nightwing, and Robin so why not make a team -based game? Suicide Squad was teased in Origins (plus, they have a major film upcoming) and I would give my left something-or-other to see a Birds of Prey game done right.
It’s unlikely that they are going to let a massively successful series like Arkham just lay there gathering dust (but no profit) so don’t expect to see the end until they’ve run it into the ground and everybody is even more sick of it than they are Assassin’s Creed, but I wish they wouldn’t.
As Batman we’ve pretty much done everything there is to do, seen everything there is to see, and been treated to an extremely fitting ending to the Dark Knight’s story that made Christoper Nolan look like a hack in comparison. If I had my way, we’d let the Bat hang up his cape for a while and maybe let somebody else get some spotlight before rebooting. But we should probably brace ourselves for Batman: Arkham Returns anyways, because even if we don’t want it, we’ll probably still buy it.