Broken Base: What's the best game in the franchise? Each game has their case. Asylum laid the groundwork for the series with it's innovative combat and stealth systems, and many believe that the level design and Metroidvania elements cause it to stand above its peers. At the same time the game's story is rather lacking, many of the gameplay elements feel unrefined compared to later games, and it's known for having a very Disappointing Last Level. City improves almost every single gameplay mechanic from the first game and is known for having unique and interesting side content, as well as having an extremely engaging story to experience. At the same time, the loss of the Metroidvania level design of Asylum is felt, and some elements (like the uneven pacing of the plot and turning the Joker into a major Spotlight-Stealing Squad) mean that it isn't quite the best it could be. Origins is beloved for its unique Christmas atmosphere, a surprisingly interesting plot that really delves into the theme at the core of the series- the relationship between Batman and the Joker, and creative boss fights. At the same time it's basically a Mission-Pack Sequel for City and is very rough around the edges, lacking much of the design polish that Rocksteady put into their games. Lastly there's Knight, which is an even stronger improvement to the design that City put forth, but also carries with it many of the problems from City, now even more magnified. The game has some serious Visual Effects of Awesome and some very fun side content to tackle, but the emphasis on the Batmobile, Joker once again stealing emphasis from the supposed main villain and the overall lackluster plot hold the game back. All in all, while every game is good, which one is the best is still hotly debated more than five years after the release of Knight.
Due to being a four-game story, there are details (Batman and Joker's Titan Poisoning in City, Deathstroke's sudden appearance in Knight) that won't make sense unless you've played the other ones.
Some plot points require at least some cursory knowledge of the comic books, though the games rectify this somewhat by giving you profiles regarding characters, but still occasionally falls into this trope, particularly in the case of Jason Todd, whose presence was almost completely absent until Knight.
Ensemble Dark Horse: The Arkhamverse version of Harley Quinn is one of the more popular secondary villains, going from a supporting role in the first two games, to being the Big Bad of her own DLC, to being fully playable in Arkham Knight. Harley's portrayal in the games also raised to profile of the comics version.
Scarecrow. His nightmare sequences in Arkham Asylum were considered some of the best parts in the game. When he was absent in Arkham City, people were disappointed. This may have something to do with him being promoted to Big Bad in Arkham Knight, where he is subjected to a lot of Adaptational Badass-ery.
It also developed a low-key one with Spider-Man (PS4) which is also part of the overall meta DC v. Marvel rivalry. Several Arkham fans dismiss the latter for borrowing too much from their game and being too light-hearted. Conversely, several Spider-Man fans argue that their game has better combat and traversal while also having a sense of lightness that contrasted against the bleakness of the Rocksteady games. This escalated when Spider-Man PS4 outsold Arkham City and took the record for best-selling superhero game despite being a platform exclusive as opposed to Rocksteady's multi-platform release.
While all the games are generally well reviewed and well received, the prominence of the Joker as really the primary bad guy among everyone else has been criticized, as it lead to the detriment of other villains having a chance at truly taking stage. But this has been a wider-franchise problem for Batman on the whole, since the Joker is so inherently charismatic that he has overshadowed others for a long time in the comics, the cartoons and avoided doing so in The Dark Knight Trilogy only because of Heath Ledger's death. The Arkham games, being a tribute to Batman in different media, could not help over-representing the already over-exposed Joker.
In most Batman media, the Foe Yay between Batman-Joker is subtext and only becomes relevant to the plot in stories where Joker is the main threat. In the case of the Arkham games, it worked well in Batman: Arkham Asylum because the game's smaller island facility setting, overall Bedlam House atmosphere and the main plot (which is the only time Joker is actually involved at the helm) fits that motif better. But in the sequels, the main plot and threat is Hugo Strange's Protocol 10 (and Ra's Al Ghul's plans for Gotham) and Scarecrow's plans to unleash fear toxin and humiliate Batman. In both cases, the Joker's involvement in the plot, and the time devoted to their relationship becomes a Romantic Plot Tumor since every game ends up offering some commentary on their rivalry and mutual obsession. Origins had a good general plot which advertised the Joker as merely part of Black Mask's general scheme, and comics fans were excited thinking Black Mask was going to be a more prominent villain than he was, only to find out that Origins was in fact about Joker's debut in the criminal underworld and the start of his and Batman's "relationship" while Black Mask gets submitted to a thoroughly humiliating Adaptation Decayending with him being killed off brutally in Arkham Knight's Red Hood DLC, while begging for mercy.
The series and its poor track record with making good boss fights is another example. The original game was criticized for reusing the same bullfight setup with Bane or opting for thug attack waves instead of direct battles for most of its encounters with any other boss fights being deemed lackluster or boring (with the exception of the penultimate battle with Poison Ivy). While City was praised for having the famous Mr. Freeze showdown and more original boss fights, overall it remained a criticism due to the presence of several (albeit mostly justified) Anti-Climax Boss segments. Origins, a secondary game made by a different studio, was widely praised in its handling of boss battles, making it appear to be an inversion at first. However, Knight, with a few exceptions (notably fighting Riddler in a giant robot suit and tag-teaming with Nightwing to take down Killer Croc in the DLC) lacked several proper boss fights while many combat encounters with thugs and Batmobile tank battles filled their place.
Friendly Fandoms: Marvel vs DC rivalry aside, theres a considerable overlap between fans of these games and fans of the Spider-Man (PS4) series. Both series are critically acclaimed open world games with semi-grounded, Darker and Edgier takes on each company's most popular superhero. It helps that Insomniac Games directly cited the Arkham games as a source of inspiration when developing their Spider-Man universe.
Genre Turning Point: For licensed games in general. Before Arkham Asylum, most AAA license titles were movie tie-ins like the Harry Potter games, which adapted the movies rather than serve, as the Arkham games, as an adaptation of the license tailored to the video game medium. Since the success of the Arkham games, most licensed games are standalone games rather than explicit tie-ins to a then-popular movie. While some movie tie-ins do exist such as The Amazing Spider-Man, they are more or less relegated to mobile games, and with the most recent Spiderman PS 4 following Arkham's approach in adapting the license to the game rather than make a movie tie-in. Most famously, where The Lord of the Rings had movie tie-in hack-and-slash licensed games, for The Hobbit, Monolith Studios made a game-centric adaptation of the licensed property, leading to the critically acclaimed Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. Monolith explicitly cited Rocksteady as their inspiration noting that it raised the bar for adapting licensed properties by insisting that it work first and foremost by providing entertaining gameplay.
Good Bad Bugs: For both Asylum and City, Batman's quick ground takedown consisted of straddling a prone thug and punching him in the head, but due to the target rolling back and forth while dazed, the combat animation could randomly flip him around and have Batman hit him straight in the pelvisor tailbone. While Origins tried to correct this mistake, it also introduced a variation where Batman leaned down and punched the victim's ribs, which sometimes meant he accidentally shoved his face into goons' crotches. It was finally fixed in Knight, where Batman leaps to the side before striking.
Harsher in Hindsight: How shall we put it? The Joker himself has been a Death Seeker from the very beginning of the series. In Arkham Origins, he tries to shoot himself in the head in order to end it all, but Batman stops him from doing so for reasons he can't comprehend. In Arkham Asylum, after the Joker says, "I have nothing left to live for," he does shoot himself, but with a Titan formula gun to the throat. His "suicide" is very painfully slow, as it takes a year for the Titan poisoning to course through his bloodstream before his death and its nature complete their course at the end of Arkham City, in fulfillment of his deserving to die as a monster, all the while Batman is unable to intervene with him.
The comments section on Destructoid had a Running Gag about which infamous C-list Batman villains they'd love to see in the Arkham games, with the most common target for ridicule being Professor Pyg. Lazlo Valentin would eventually get a sidequest to himself in Batman: Arkham Knight.
Hype Backlash: The franchise became a critical darling with fans and journalist alike for its story and forits innovative "Free-Form Combat." Since the release, however a number of other games took inspiration from and improved on the combat so a number of first-time gamers going back to play these games have found themselves confused that it garnered so much hype. On the story front, there has also been criticism in hindsight that the series fell victim to Serial Escalation, with the increased presence of characters and Bonus bosses getting criticized for being overly indulgent.
Like You Would Really Do It: The Arkham VR game starts off with the death of Nightwing, and near the end Killer Croc takes a bite out of Robin, which few people believed would stick. It also takes place between City and Knight, and is a hallucination/dream sequence.
Love to Hate: This version of The Riddler is probably the Dolores Umbridge of the Arkhamverse. So detestable that he makes the main villains seem like pretenders, yet you can't help but pat Rocksteady on the back for making him so vile.
Memetic Mutation: Batman doesnt kill.Explanation Fans have posted many short video clips on YouTube and Reddit showing Batman performing takedowns that would almost certainly be lethal in real life, poking fun at Batman holding onto his no-kill rule and Detective Mode being programmed by the devs to always say that everyone Batman takes down is merely unconscious
No Problem with Licensed Games: Not only are these considered the best Batman games ever made, not only are they considered to be among the best-licensed games ever made, they're often placed in the top tier of character action games ever made, period. Related to this is...
Rocksteady Studios developed the Arkham IP and did it so well their popularity exploded. So when Batman: Arkham Origins was announced as being developed by Warner Bros. Montreal — essentially a stop-gap game to fill time while Rocksteady was busy making Batman: Arkham Knight — there was genuine concern about how the game would turn out. However, despite lacking serious gameplay changes and the polish of Rocksteady's games, Origins was well-received as an expansion of the Arkham universe, with some consider it to have a very compelling story, dialogue and more varied boss battles than the first two games. Furthermore, Knight's status as a Contested Sequel and the problems and controversy of its PC Port has led to Arkham Origins being better regarded by some.
Part of Arkham Knight's mixed reaction is a whole other form of this; Paul Dini wrote the story of Asylum and City, while another writing team handled the story of Origins; neither of those writing teams were involved with Knight's story, and many fans feel that it's inferior to the eariler stories.
In an inversion, WBM is often considered to be better at designing boss fights, due to being better at avoiding unintentional examples of Anti-Climax Boss and Zero-Effort Boss which Rocksteady has been criticized for — while Rocksteady has some standouts (Mr. Freeze being the most obvious example), they prefer to design their bosses around a specific gadget, while WBM designs them around the combat & stealth mechanics; as such, their bosses feel much more varied than Rocksteady's, who tend to rely a bit too much on gadget spamming and evading. The facts that WBM also managed to give proper boss fights to characters who had a weak fight on Rocksteady's games (Deadshot, Bane), and pulled off more examples of a Final-Exam Boss than Rocksteady also helps their case. note Knight's Story DLCs provide a good comparision between the two companies - the four developed by WB (Scarecrow Nightmare, Red Hood, Harley Quinn and Batgirl) all end with boss fights, while the only Rocksteady DLC with new bosses are the Season of Infamy and arguably the Community Challenge Pack that reuses Killer Croc as a Bonus Boss.
Polished Port: The Return to Arkham package is a mixed bag - it has much better character models and graphics, adds some new detail to the environments, and comes with all DLC pre-installed (even the previously Version-Exclusive Content), but comes with the cost of the occasional framerate drop, the downgrading of certain effects, and some "controversial" changes in presentation. That said, they still lean to the "polished" side over the alternative, thanks to the more stable gameplay (at least compared to the 7th gen consoles) and outright gorgeous visuals.
The otherwise excellent combat system's biggest problem is that it relies on a largely automatic priorization; it generally does exactly what you're trying to do, but once it decides to attack the wrong enemy, the results can be devastating. Spent your instant takedown on an enemy that is immune to it on your left, while you were actually trying to use it on an armored thug to your left? Martial Artists and the challenge map Shiva boss in Origins are especially guilty of this, but it can happen in other games as well.
More and more critics of the series' Detective Vision have popped up over time. Aside from the occasional Predator Mode fight with enemies that jam your Detective Vision or detect you if you're using it, there's no real disadvantage to just leaving it on 24/7 aside from the game's gorgeous visuals being replaced with an ugly VR-style aesthetic. Later games in the series tried to make the Detective Vision aesthetic less overwhelming, and other games who drew inspiration from it such as Spider-Man (PS4)do leave it on by default without replacing the game's visuals.
Self-Imposed Challenge: Entire YouTube channels have been built around playing these games and using quick fire gadgets, the grapnel gun, or the glider cape as little as possible.
They Changed It, Now It Sucks!: There are quite a number of fan who hate the brighter, more comic book-esque character models used in the Return to Arkham PS4 port of the first two games, especially in the case of Asylum, feeling that they don't fit the mood of the games.
Two-Face is considered by many to be the most underutilized villain throughout the series, as his role in each game is pretty insignificant. In City he's only there to capture Catwoman so Batman can rescue her, and later get beaten up by Catwoman after the main story ends. Knight is a bit better about this, as his split personality is brought up more and portrayed in a sympathetic manner, but his side-mission is one of the shortest ones in the entire game. One can't help but feel that had he not been mentioned in Asylum his origin story could have been a nice subplot in City, as he could easily have been written as an ally in the fight against Arkham City, and have Hugo Strange slowly break Harvey during the game and bring Two-Face out as an attempt to break the Batman.
Black Mask is built up as this poweful Starter Villain for Batman with both the mob and the cops at his payroll. He is taken out by Joker offscreen who then takes over his organization. While seeing his downfall throughout the series is kind of cool, he never really got a chance to be the cruel badass he is in the comics, as he tends to be resident Butt-Monkey of tye Arkhamverse. Knight's Red Hood DLC implies that he is slowly managing to regain his former power, but gets killed by Jason before he really gets anywhere.
Dick Grayson is the most uninteresting of the three Robins, as he first appeared as a quiet DLC character in City, and his personality doesn't come up at all.note To be fair, City's credits imply he was meant to have a speaking role. Like Harvey above, he gets a better role in Knight, but it's still pretty small. (At least he can talk in Knight.)
Talia is stated to be Batman's true love in this series. However, she's got maybe ten minutes of screen time across all four of the games and their relationship is never really actually developed.
The games are one of the darkest adaptions of both the Batfamily and their rogues gallery, so obviously some (especially fans of a Lighter and Softer or outright Campy Batman) are drawn away from them. Each game has a Nightmare Fuel folder for a reason, not to mention that the games don't shy away (they actually zoom in) from Batman breaking limbs instead of just quick takedowns like most movies do.
Another reason is that, while the DCAU ends on a note of hope as does Christopher Nolan's movies, the endings of the Arkham games tend to be far more bitter than sweet, with Batman consistently shown as a Failure Hero and the finale of Knight ends with his secret revealed to the world and the end of his career as Batman, with the DLC implying that his sidekicks pick up and fight the remaining villains. The Arkhamverse Batman ends his career not on a note of triumph or Heroic Sacrifice but in defeat and exhaustion.
What Do You Mean, It's Not for Kids?: The first three games in the series are rated T (appropriate for kids over 13, parental guidance for any younger than that). The series has very minimal blood/gore, but is full of brutal death, intense violence, psychological horror, sexual content, corruption, and of course Batman and his villains acting more nightmarish than ever before, all packaged along with extremely dark themes and storylines that can be chilling from their concepts alone. There's a very good argument to be made that they are the darkest Batman adaptations ever made. There was quite a lot of game industry chatter on the games and effectiveness of the ESRB rating system, and how they escaped being rated M for Mature. Finally rectified with Batman: Arkham Knight, which was rated M.
There's also the matter of Troy Baker and how many different characters he plays- first he's Two Face and Robin in City, then Joker in Origins, and then the Arkham Knight/Jason Todd in Knight. That's overall five different characters done by one actor, which had several fans aghast, especially since Baker appears in nearly every major video game these days.