The Arkham series has been steadily ramping up in ambition and intensity since leaving the claustrophobic corridors of the asylum, carving out bigger and bigger chunks of everyone’s favourite dystopia each time. With Arkham Knight, they have delivered the biggest version of Gotham yet, and one that is very much on point in terms of art direction. The amount of concept art and scrapped ideas that the trilogy (Origins doesn’t count for a couple of reasons) must have churned out over development is staggering, which explains why this particular book is such a weighty tome.
Even coming in at over 307 pages it’s bursting at the seams with stuff. Area layouts, digital art, character sketches – pretty much everything from conception to implementation. The art direction of the Arkham series has delicately balanced between photorealism and the comics that they draw their inspiration from. The towering, neon-laced spires of Gotham are almost characters by themselves, and they are represented in sumptuous colour prints here, a mix between Tim Burton’s eighties version of Batman and Rocksteady’s own vision for the city and its inhabitants.
The art itself is brilliant – high quality renders, character models, a really unique and valuable insight in itself into the development of the most ambitious superhero series in gaming. Unfortunately the written content alongside it is pretty average and doesn’t seem to contribute that much. There’s no real defined structure to it and compared to the massive, sprawling pieces of concept art the tiny little footnotes just seem a bit underwhelming. There’s some good context in there but with no structure beyond art being confined to sections depending on which game in the trilogy on you will just end up leafing past the text to get to the next screaming Joker painting.
Arkham City feels more like the awkward middle child here than ever before, with a measly fifty pages while the rest is divided evenly between Asylum and Knight (but if City is the middle child, Origins is the red-headed stepchild). Arkham Knight comes off a little underdeveloped too as they’re obviously trying to dodge spoilers and avoid any big bad guy revelations but the book is poorer for it. Arkham Asylum is probably the most interesting part of the book for several reasons – the rogues’ gallery the most diverse, the claustrophobic nightmare realm of the island, the twisted Scarecrow hallucinations. Asylum was where it all began, and seeing it in so much depth is almost worth the cost of the book alone.
It’s a hefty tome and you really aren’t left wanting in terms of visual content. But it would be nice to have some more compelling text – it’s the only part of an excellent book that falls short. But here you can see the reverence and care with which Rocksteady treated their subject matter, every subtle nod to existing Batman media, every deft visual flourish added to make Arkham’s Batman their own. It’s a must have for any fan of the series – or even fans of the caped crusader in general – rarely, if ever, do we get this comprehensive an insight into just how much artwork goes into making games.
The Art of Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Asylum, Arkham City & Arkham Knight
- Daniel Wallace and Rocksteady Studios
- Published by Abrams
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.