Return to Arkham: Ranking the Games in the Best Batman Franchise Ever

With last week’s release of Return to Arkham, beautifully remastered versions of the PS3 hits Arkham Asylum and Arkham City for the PS4, it allows us to look back at this incredible franchise, now nearly a decade old and still going strong. There have been four games released in the main Arkham series, one every other year since RockSteady shattered expectations with 2009’s Arkham Asylum. There have also been games for the PlayStation Vita (Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate), iOS (Batman: Arkham Underworld) and PlayStation VR (Batman: Arkham VR). However, we’re here to rank the games in the main series, all available for the PS3 and/or PS4. Given that I would recommend three out of four, there’s some logic in suggesting you start with the first one chronologically and just play 'em all, but if you need to prioritize, here’s the order in which to do so.

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Batman: Arkham City

Just as the second film in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy (The Dark Knight) is the best in the series, the sophomore outing for Bruce Wayne and The Joker in 2011’s Arkham City is the best here. In fact, it’s a strong contender for the best superhero game of all time. Why? The developers didn’t just repeat what worked in the first game, they built on that title’s foundation, taking the melee combat style and gorgeous art direction and applying it to a much-bigger world with a more ambitious story to tell. From the very first scene, in which you play Catwoman, one can sense that this game is going to spin that which you know about the legend of the Dark Knight. What unfolds is a greatest hits of Batman villains—including The Joker, Harley Quinn, The Penguin, Mr. Freeze and many more—all beautifully rendered and voiced, and all in a gorgeously designed open-world setting. Arkham City recreates the pressure of being a superhero better than any game to date by giving you the control. Who do you save? When do you save them? As you stand on a roof high above the city and see all the places in which your help is needed, this game taps into something greater about heroism than we’ve seen before or since.

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Batman: Arkham Knight

I’m surprised by how many people dismiss the most recent Arkham game, mostly due to the over-reliance on Batmobile missions in the second half of the game and how repetitive they admittedly got over the final act of the game. Your mileage may vary in the Batmobile, but there’s so much interesting material outside of that gameplay that it’s disappointing how much of the criticism of this game comes back to it. What about the brilliant writing of The Joker, reimagined as The Devil on Batman’s shoulder? Many Batman comic writers have noted how the similarities between The Joker and Batman are more interesting than their differences, but this take is one of the best. The environment of Arkham Knight is also the best since the second game, making it a universe I wanted to keep revisiting until I could get to 100% completion. And it’s one of the very few PS4 games with which that felt like something worth doing.

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Batman: Arkham Asylum

Just as young movie goers probably don’t understand how awful superhero movies used to be before Bryan Singer and Christopher Nolan and the MCU changed it (and blockbusters) forever, young gamers may not get what superhero games used to be like. They were horrendous for decades, often tie-ins to the bad movies they promoted or titles made by people who never read the comic books on which they were based. Arkham Asylum changed it all, bringing us into the world of these iconic characters and introducing a combat style that would be almost instantly copied. Playing it again on the PS4 in its remastered version, one can appreciate how much of the groundwork was laid in this excellent game.

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Batman: Arkham Origins

The only real misfire for this franchise came in 2013, and it’s the only game in this series that you can essentially skip outright. What’s interesting about Arkham Origins is that it doesn’t falter by breaking the mold—the gameplay and design elements are largely the same—but it doesn’t do anything new or interesting in terms of storytelling. Every comic book series has a few issues that feel repetitive or like variations on themes done better in other issues. Such is the case with this prequel, a perfectly fine game in a series of great games. It’s interesting that Rocksteady leap-frogged this title—going from City into Knight—and that both Mark Hamill (as the voice of The Joker) and Kevin Conway (as the voice of Batman) and the great writer Paul Dini left the series before this one. 

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