42 Shades of Grey
From pixels to polygons: the videogame evolution of the Dark Knight
Batman: Arkham Knight is coming. If you havent already Bat-Penciled June 23 into your Bat-Diary, do it now. The Arkham Knight realisation of Batman, his environment and adventures have never been as impressive - eye-popping, brain-blowing, more real than real, you get the idea To experience the pointy-eared ones adventures via a state of the art NVIDIA graphics card is to look into the mind of God - and if you fancy the sound of that, skip to the end to find out how that experience can lead to a free copy of Batman: Arkham Knight.
So, with the best Batman ever to look forward to, what better time to take a look back at nearly 25 years of Dark Knight games? Weve compiled an exhaustive list of the 42 games starring the Caped Crusader, based on some simple rules:
+ The game has to star Batman and have Batman in the title so no Justice League games.
+ The game must have appeared on PC or console (handheld/home) so no mobile games.
+ If games were released alongside each other on different formats but have no significant differences beyond graphics and minor gameplay elements, we list them together.
And thats it. So strap yourself into the Batmobile and brace yourself: trust us, this is going to be bumpy ride...
Year: 1986 Publisher/Developer: Ocean Software / Jon Ritman (code) & Bernie Drummond (graphics) Formats: Amstrad CPC, Amstrad PCW, MSX, ZX Spectrum (shown)
Strange that an iconic American hero like Batman should first be brought to virtual life by a British publisher on that most quintessentially British of home computers, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Strange too that while the plot goes on about Robin being kidnapped, you never embark on the actual rescue mission; instead youre tasked with finding and re-assembling the lost pieces of the Bat-hovercraft so Batman can set off in pursuit. Stranger still, the main villains a teamed-up Joker and Riddler dont even appear in the game; instead, our pacifistic Bats dodges bizarre non-canon things. Yes, its all very strange. But in a good way. Trust us, the isometric-3D graphics were state-of-the-art back in the day, even if this Batman is less the ripped abs of Christian Bale and more the rippling paunch of Adam West after a binge on the Bat-pies.
Batman: The Caped Crusader
Year: 1988 Publisher/Developer: Ocean Software / Special FX Formats: Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64 (shown), Apple II, MS-DOS, ZX Spectrum
Batmans second nibble of the videogaming cherry took the form of a 2D action adventure. You got not one but two (count em) unique adventures here starring either the Joker or the Penguin and yes, you actually got to beat up the buggers this time with Batarangs! Although a fairly standard Collect item X and use it at location Y affair, the game employed an innovative graphics system that displayed new locations like comic book-like panels. The only bat in the ointment was the animation, with the hunched Dark Knight stomping around like a surly teenager whos had their iPhone confiscated.
Batman: The Movie
Year: 1989 Publisher/Developer: Ocean Software / In-house Formats: Amiga (shown), Amstrad CPC, Apple II, Atari ST, Commodore 64, PC, ZX Spectrum
With its varied mix of platforming and driving/flying sequences, this official tie-in with the Tim Burton blockbuster is essentially the template for many of the Batman games that followed. At long last the grappling hook makes its videogaming entrance an event so momentous well forgive the fact that when Batman uses it he looks like hes busting for a pee.
Batman: The Video Game
Year: 1989 Publisher/Developer: Sunsoft / In-house Format: NES Batmans first foray onto console was also based on the movie, albeit very loosely as well as the Joker, you faced-off against the likes of Deadshot, Killer Moth and more. As will become dispiritingly common, the game took the form of a run n gun platformer. Sadly theres no grappling hook but as compensation this is most agile Bats yet, able to cling to and spring from walls. Lovely purple threads too.
Batman: The Video Game
Year: 1990 Publisher/Developer: Sunsoft / In-house Format: Game Boy The handheld version offered more run n gun platforming but aw, just look at that ickle Batmite! Even wondered what Batman would look like played by Peter Dinklage? Wonder no more!
Batman: The Video Game
Year: 1990 Publisher/Developer: Sunsoft / In-house Format: Sega Megadrive Segas 16-bit version offered largely the same as the Nintendo versions, with the welcome addition of some side-scrolling Batmobile/Batwing interludes. But while the detail and heft of the graphics are a step up from the NES version, the grey my god, the grey!
Year: 1990 Publisher/Developer: Sunsoft / In-house Format: PC Engine Batman? Sounds a bit like Pac-Man. And that seems to about as far as the ideation went when Sunsoft created this game. But to be fair, it works pretty well even if it can get repetitive and, in common with many games of its era, teeth-grindingly tough.
Year: 1990 Publisher/Developer: Atari Games / Numega Format: Arcade Okay, we know arcade games are designed to be hard so you keep shelling out your coins to play on. But theres hard and then theres this, which seems to have been by crafted from pure sadism by Hells own game designers. Honestly, the only way it could be more painful to play is if a sudden earthquake made the cabinet topple on top of you.
Batman: Return of the Joker
Year: 1991 Publisher/Developer: Sunsoft / In-house Formats: Game Boy, Sega Megadrive (shown), NES Or, as the less-prissy Sega version is entitled, Revenge of the Joker. This is a more aggressively action-oriented Batman game than most, taking its cues from the frenetic likes of Contra.
Year: 1993 Publisher/Developer: Sega / In-house Formats: GameGear, Sega Master System, Sega Megadrive (shown), Sega Mega-CD Another film, another tie-in. And, oh sweet lord, another run n gun platformer. Well done, Sega!
Year: 1993 Publisher/Developer: Konami / In-house Formats: NES, Super NES (shown) For the Nintendo consoles, Konami served up a solid if uninspired scrolling beat-em-up in the vein of Final Fight. That said, probably the best-looking Batman so far.
Year: 1993 Publisher/Developer: Atari / In-house Format: Lynx Atari clearly put some effort into this handheld exclusive well, the graphics anyway, if not the gameplay.
Year: 1993 Publisher/Developer: Konami / Spirit of Discovery Format: PC It may have taken over a dozen games but at last Batman gets to do some proper detecting in this graphic adventure for PC. Searching locations for clues and then analysing them back at the Batcave is a great idea, but unfortunately it turns the game into Batman: Office Clerk as you spend an inordinate amount of time watching the Dark Knight sit staring at a monitor. Gripping.
Year: 1993 Publisher/Developer: Konami / Denton Designs Format: Amiga The pre-release screenshots for Batman Returns on the Amiga were taken from the very different PC game. So you can imagine the outcry when eager Bat-fans fired up the game on launch day to be greeted by this. Suffice to say, it plays as well as it looks.
Batman: The Animated Series
Year: 1993 Publisher/Developer: Konami / In-house Format: Game Boy Based on the TV cartoon series (which was rapidly and sensibly retitled The Adventures of Batman & Robin), there are no surprises in the gameplay. You do get to play as Robin in a few places, though. Wed prefer you didnt, but there you go.
Batman: The Adventures of Batman & Robin
Year: 1994 Publisher/Developer: Konami / In-house Format: Super NES The stylised art design of the cartoon leant itself well to the limited capabilities of the 16-bit consoles.
Batman: The Adventures of Batman & Robin
Year: 1995 Publisher/Developer: Sega / Clockwork Tortoise (MD) & Novotrade (GG) Formats: Game Gear, Sega Megadrive (shown) Developer Clockwork Tortoise pulled off minor miracles with the Megadrive hardware to create some dazzling pseudo-3D effects.
Batman: The Adventures of Batman & Robin
Year: 1995 Publisher/Developer: Sega / Clockwork Tortoise Format: Sega Mega-CD For the Mega-CD, Sega focussed on using the machines sprite-scaling abilities to make an action driving game. Each level is linked by animated cutscenes created especially for the game by the TV shows creators, which are considered by many fans to be lost episodes.
Year: 1995 Publisher/Developer: Acclaim / Probe Entertainment Formats: Game Boy, Game Gear, Super NES, Sega Megadrive, PC (shown) Back in the mid-90s digitising actors to create game characters was considered, heaven forfend, cool. Of course, in these more enlightened times, we know better and that digitised sprites look like shite. Its the usual gameplay but with the twist that two players can assume the roles of Batman and Robin and fight side-by-side a feature that resulted in arguments between siblings over whod play as the Dark Knight and whod get lumped with the Boy Blunder.
The Adventures of Batman & Robin Activity Center
Year: 1996 Publisher/Developer: Gryphon Software / In-house Format: PC If the other Batman games were too violent for your delicate little nippers, there was always this: an educational game set in the world of The Adventures of Batman & Robin well, if you consider match two card games and jigsaw puzzles educational. For the record: we dont.
Batman Forever: The Arcade Game
Year: 1996 Publisher/Developer: Acclaim / Iguana Entertainment Formats: Arcade, PlayStation, Sega Saturn, PC (shown) Acclaim made its first foray into the arcades with this, yet another scrolling fighter that was little played and little liked. Subsequently converted to home systems.
Batman & Robin
Year: 1998 Publisher/Developer: Tiger Electronics / In-house Format: Game.com Ah, the Game.com the little handheld that couldnt. Youve got to feel sorry for them: as if it wasnt hard enough competing with Nintendos mighty Game Boy, they then go into battle with an exclusive tie-in game based on the worst Batman movie ever made. Imagine the excitement when they secured the license, then the dry-mouthed terror when they saw the finished film. Tragic.
Batman & Robin
Year: 1998 Publisher/Developer: Acclaim / Probe Entertainment Format: PlayStation Sony had just gate-crashed the console party with its rowdy mate, the PlayStation, and gaming would never be the same again even if its 3D revolution was something PC gamers had already been enjoying for yonks. Batmans first proper 3D game is essentially Grand Theft Auto but without the graphics, gameplay or indeed any redeeming quality. Admire the ambition, lament the realisation.
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker
Year: 2000 Publisher/Developer: Ubisoft / Kemco Formats: Game Boy Color, Nintendo 64, PlayStation With the advent of the 32-bit consoles, everything but everything had to be in 3D. But to paraphrase Jeff Goldblums character in Jurassic Park, publishers were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should. The stupid twats. Batman Beyond (Batman of the Future in Europe) is a case in point: compare this to the Adventures of Batman & Robin games from five years previous which do you think looks better?
Batman: Chaos in Gotham
Year: 2001 Publisher/Developer: Ubisoft / Digital Eclipse Software Format: Game Boy Color Apart from being based on the TV show The New Adventures of Batman, this is very much business as usual.
Batman: Gotham City Racer
Year: 2001 Publisher/Developer: Ubisoft / Sinister Games Format: PlayStation Gamers like driving, right? And they like shooting, right? And they frikkin love Batman, right? Now imagine how cool those three things would be mashed together! Well dream on, dear reader, because this abomination is a nightmare of terrible handling and hideous graphics.
Year: 2001 Publisher/Developer: Ubisoft / In-house Formats: Game Boy Advance, Nintendo GameCube, PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox (shown) Platforms: check. Fighting: check. Tedium: check.
Batman: Dark Tomorrow
Year: 2003 Publisher/Developer: Kemco / HotGen Formats: Nintendo GameCube, Xbox (shown) You can see the seeds of the modern Batman games in Dark Tomorrow. Like Arkham Knight and its predecessors, the game is based on the Dark Knight of the comics, has an intricate plot featuring all the major villains, focusses heavily on stealth and silent takedowns, features loads of bat-gadgets Sounds good, right? Wrong: almost everything Rocksteady Studios gets so right in its games, Kemco gets so wrong. Lets put it this way: if Arkham Knight is Shinola, surely we dont have to spell out what Dark Tomorrow is.
Batman: Justice Unbalanced
Year: 2003 Publisher/Developer: The Learning Company / In-house Formats: Mac, PC (shown) Come on, lets take a break from all this fighting and have a good old learn. Yes, tickle your brain cells with a suite of logic puzzles aimed at the young uns. Nuff said.
Batman: Toxic Chill
Year: 2003 Publisher/Developer: The Learning Company / In-house Formats: Mac, PC (shown) A companion piece to Justice Unbalanced, featuring yet more knotty conundrums to unravel. Oh, the Batmanity!
Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu
Year: 2003 Publisher/Developer: Ubisoft / In-house Formats: Game Boy Advance, Nintendo GameCube (shown), PlayStation 2, Xbox Created especially for the game by artist Jim Lee, Sin Tzu was meant to be a permanent new exhibit in Batmans gallery of villains but fan response to his debut was less than enthusiastic indeed, the poor devils never been seen since. His case probably wasnt helped by yet another cookie-cutter combat game. And that you can play as bloody Robin.
Year: 2005 Publisher/Developer: EA / Eurocom Formats: Game Boy Advance, Nintendo GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox (shown) With Christopher Nolan swooping in to rescue the Dark Knight from the cinematic car-wreck that was Batman & Robin, what better time for Electronic Arts to take a stab at raising his rep in the gaming community? Unfortunately the game, although polished (it even featured voice-overs from the films cast), lacked the complexity and depth to lift it above the mediocre. Begin Again, Batman.
LEGO Batman: The Videogame
Year: 2008 Publisher/Developer: Warner Bros Interactive / Travellers Tales Formats: Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Sony PSP, Xbox 360 (shown) The Dark Knights modern gaming renaissance started in the most unlikely of places: a game based around toy plastic bricks. Although Bat-purists may choke on the slapstick, tongue-in-cheek tone and hardcore gamers repelled by the basic button-mashing combat and simplistic puzzles, theres no denying the developers obvious love for the characters. This is a rare thing: a great kids game.
Batman: Arkham Asylum
Year: 2009 Publisher/Developer: Eidos Interactive / Rocksteady Studios Formats: Mac, PC (shown), PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
After years of so-so 2D platformers and shonky 3D adventures, Bat-fans finally got the hero they deserved. Rocksteadys triumphant action adventure blended the visceral with the cerebral: for example, while the balletic, bone-crunching combat is a delight, its just as satisfying to hide in the shadows and silently eliminate the increasingly-terrified goons one by one. The way that the intricately-constructed asylum offers up its hidden paths and passages is perfectly paced, and the drip-feed of new Wayne Technologies gadgets ensure there are always new ways to play, new secrets to unlock. And for the PC version, developers Rocksteady went all-out to take advantage of Nvidia's PhysX technology to bring an added level of realism and immersion to the game. Batman's cape benefits from its complex cloth simulation, which is also used to create banners and cobwebs, and throughout the game you'll encounter wind-blown litter, breakable scenery and beautiful volumetric fog and smoke that billow response to the Dark Knights movement. Where do they get those wonderful toys?
Batman: The Brave and the Bold The Videogame
Year: 2010 Publisher/Developer: Warner Bros Interactive / WayForward Technologies Formats: Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii (shown) After the highs of Arkham Asylum Actually, lets not be unfair: take on its own terms as an action game for younger players this rates better than most, but when youve tasted steak you cant go back to hamburgers.
Batman: Arkham City
Year: 2011 Publisher/Developer: Warner Bros Interactive / Rocksteady Studios Formats: Mac, Nintendo Wii U, PC (shown), PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
The eagerly-awaited sequel to Arkham Asylum moved the action out of the loony bin and into a walled-off section of Gotham. Yes, this was open-world Batman, with the Dark Knight able to grapple and glide smoothly between the rooftops and spires of the city in his pursuit of criminals. Almost every element of the game was improved, from the combat that now allowed inventive on-the-fly weapons use to the augmented and all-new gadgets. So, better than Arkham Asylum? Its a difficult one to call: Citys freedom of movement inevitably means it lacks the claustrophobic haunted house intensity of Asylum and the encounters with super-villains can feel episodic, but were being really picky here. Like Arkham Asylum before it, the PC version gets a thorough makeover thanks to Nvidia PhysX and DirectX 11; alongside improved destruction, cloth and fog simulation, it uses tessellation to add an extra level of detail to many objects, as well as techniques such as High Definition Ambient Occlusion, Multi-View Soft Shadows and Coverage Sampling Anti-Aliasing to maximise image quality throughout the game. For a real blast, if you have a compatible Geforce GPU, grab an NVIDIA 3D Vision Kit and enjoy the flight in full 3D forgetting playing as Batman, you ARE Batman!
LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes
Year: 2012 Publisher/Developer: Warner Bros Interactive / Travellers Tales Formats: Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Wii U, PC (shown), PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360 Given the success of the first LEGO Batman, a sequel was inevitable. The formula is near identical to before, albeit with the addition of dozens of new heroes from the DC Universe. The still-enjoyable gameplay just about gives this one a pass, but theyd better not try it a third ti Hang on!!!
Batman: Arkham Origins
Year: 2013 Publisher/Developer: Warner Bros Montreal / In-house Formats: Nintendo Wii U, PlayStation 3, PC (shown), Xbox 360
With Rocksteady beavering away on Arkham Knight, Warner Bros Montreal took the third game in-house and created a prequel to Asylum and City. Origins is worth playing as its never less than entertaining, but theres a strong sense the game exists purely for financial gain rather than creative desire the changes made to the template laid down in City are either minimal or misguided. Thankfully it features some fantastic visual enhancements on PC: tech such as HBAO+ Occlusion brings ultra-realistic shadows to the entire world, while Batman's cape receives added detail and realism thanks to Nvidia-Enhanced DirectX 11 Tessellation. The folds and creases in the capes material that are self-shaded, self-shadowed, self-occluding, and dynamically affected by external lighting, PCSS, HBAO+, and the games simulated wind. Depth of field effects add cinematic focus effect to the experience, and best of all it's the first Arkham game that to support 4K monitors, providing you with an unprecedented level of detail providing you have the hardware to support it.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate
Year: 2013 Publisher/Developer: Warner Bros Interactive / Armature Studios Formats: Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, PC (shown), Xbox 360 Originally designed for handheld but later ported to console and PC, this takes some of the Arkham series mechanics like free-flowing combat and exploration and attempts to apply them to a side-scrolling pseudo-3D viewpoint. Its okay but its very much an amuse bouche compared to Arkham Origins main meal.
Year: 2013 Publisher/Developer: Raw Thrills / Specular Interactive Format: Arcade This recent coin-op takes the vehicular combat of Gotham City Racer but does it in a not-completely-rubbish way. Arguably its coolest feature is that it lets you race pretty much every incarnation of the Batmobile or Batwing youve ever seen in the comics, on TV or at the movies. And yes, they all come in black.
LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham
Year: 2014 Publisher/Developer: Warner Bros Interactive / Travellers Tales Format: Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Wii U, PC (shown), PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One Its LEGO Batman. In space.