Experienced Points: The Real Villain of Arkham Knight is the Batmobile

By Shamus
on Jun 30, 2015
Filed under:
Column

My column this week is a linkbait-ish list of 10 reasons why the Batmobile in Arkham Knight sucks. Sometimes a numbered list is the right tool for the job.

I thought of a bunch more since I finished the column, so here are ANOTHER ten reasons the Batmobile sucks and makes me mad:

11. The entire premise of the tank fights is ludicrous!

This is Batman we’re talking about. His go-to skills are: Stealth, gadgets, and brawling. It’s absurd to imagine he would try to stop the tanks by driving around the city and engaging them in open combat. Batman would track down the source of their remote pilot using his gadgets, sneak up on it using his stealth, and PUNCH THE PILOT IN THE FACE using his Bat-fist.

That’s not just what Batman would do, that’s what any sane person would do when faced with an army of remote controlled tanks.

And if Batman was this dumb? Then the villains are dumb, too. Because they could effortlessly stop the Bat-tank if they wanted to.

The whole idea is a clumsy device for Rocksteady to be able to make yet another game about shooting shit.

12. Burnout: Batman

”Wiped out”, Batman? You mean “knocked out”, right? RIGHT?

Sometimes you have to chase down a half dozen or so APC’s and destroy them. You can “disable” the vehicle with a “disruptor missile” (which works exactly like a “regular missile”, including the FIREBALL EXPLOSION) or you can slam them into a wall at speed. To use the missile, you have to keep the target vehicle in the center of the screen so the lock-on thingy can work. This takes several seconds, and the process can easily get interrupted during the twists and turns of the chase.

The real problem here is that if you’re homing in on the APC (which is your real target) and trying to hold off the various escort vehicles. If you slam an escort vehicle into the wall, the game does the Burnout-style thing of dropping into slow-mo and swinging the camera over to admire the carnage. While that’s awesome in the Burnout games, it’s completely inappropriate here. It breaks your missile lock-on, which makes it feel like Batman is this bloodthirsty madman who can’t control himself and has to rubberneck and watch the destruction he’s causing instead of keeping his mind focused on ending the chase as quickly as possible.

13. Challenge brawls

My favorite thing in Arkham City was the challenge rooms. These were preset brawls that you could jump into quickly and perfect your technique. At the end you’re given a medal based on your performance. I spent HOURS on these challenges. I started out barely able to score bronze on the easy fights, and practiced until I was scoring gold medals on the “extreme” difficulty brawls.

In some you were just trying to survive as long as possible. Some were this side-scrolling beat-em-up thing. Some were against a fixed number of foes and your goal was to try to get a high score by playing as flawlessly as possible: Don’t get hit, don’t break your combo, use as many moves and gadgets as your can. There were 16 total brawls, in a variety of locations and scenarios, with different groups of foes. Even better, you could play each of these 16 scenarios as one of four characters: Batman, Robin, Catwoman, and Nightwing. Each character had their own feel and special abilities to make their brawls feel a little different. It was like having 64 different challenges.

In Arkham Knight we get FOUR. Four stupid brawls. And you can’t choose your character.

But!

There are FIFTEEN different challenges for the stupid Batmobile, spread across three categories of “Racing”, “Combat”, and “Racing with Combat”. Maybe it’s not fair to hold this against the Batmobile. Too bad. I think it was unfair to strip my favorite feature down to nothing in order to cram EVEN MORE BATMOBILE into this game.

14. Gas and gun are on the same trigger.

“Oh man, I’ve been spotted by a super-tank. I have to switch out of tank mode and drive away in the Batmobile!” So I let go of the “Be The Tankman” button and hit the gas. Except, the gas pedal is the same button as “shoot your cannon” button, depending on which mode you’re in. The Batmobile hasn’t finished putting it’s dick gun away, so instead of driving away at high speed I end up blasting some random scenery and maybe alerting even more foes.

This sounds minor – and it is – but it gets really annoying after a while. The gameplay is designed to put you into these situations, and then the controls are designed to do this stupid annoying thing, when it should be very clear that what I’m really trying to do is MOVE FORWARD YOU STUPID PIECE OF CRAP.

15. The stupid Batmobile scanner.

The Batmobile has this scan-pulse thing that’s kind of like detective mode. You turn it on, and it reveals hidden stuff. But it’s designed to reveal a trail of stuff, and the entire system in senseless and buggy.

You’re supposed to track down this vehicle based on its tire tracks. So you scan it, and follow the glowing tire tracks as the scanner reveals them. But the scanner “forgets” the tracks behind you, and you must uncover them linearly. And sometimes it’s really picky about revealing the next section and you can’t tell if you’re doing something wrong.

Then later it’s the same gameplay, but now you’re revealing Riddler question marks instead of tire tracks.

What am I doing wrong? Why is the next bit not being revealed? Does it matter which way I’m facing? Do I just need to wait? What if I turn the scanner off and on again? I lost one of the marks right in the middle of the patch. Do I need to back up and start over? The terrain forces me to leave the trail and come back at a higher location. Won’t that cause the whole trail to vanish and the entire “puzzle” to be reset? WHAT ARE THE RULES THIS IS REALLY FRUSTRATING AND EVEN IF IT WORKED IT WOULD BE POINTLESS AND BORING.

16. The streets are filled with people.

In my article I complained about the fact that it looks ridiculous to have the Batmobile “non lethally” run someone over by shocking them during the impact. If you haven’t played the game, you might say, “Shamus, this is clearly just the developers giving you a break so you don’t get a game over when you mess up. Stay off the sidewalk and this won’t happen.”

Except, pedestrians aren’t on the sidewalks. There’s a riot in the city, and the streets are filled with people, thus maximizing the opportunities to do a hit-n-run. Given the way mooks bunch up in little clusters, it feels like the developers thought we’d want to drive around, running people over in the Batmobile.

17. Cars explode when you smash into them.

It would be so much easier to humor this game’s preposterous notion that Batman is just “disabling” vehicles if it didn’t cause a Michael Bay style gasoline fireball when you hit one. (And there’s even an upgrade to make it easier to do this.)

18. “Car Takedowns”.

If you happen to get in a brawl near the car, the game helpfully prompts you that you can press X+A to toss the guy up in the air and the Batmobile with shoot him with its “take a nap, no seriously this isn’t lethal” cannon. It’s like this stupid Batmobile is sitting there like, “Bruh, BRUH! Tag me in, dude!”

Apparently the developers were worried that there might be some tiny corner of the gameplay where you didn’t get to use the damn car.

19. That engine-revving minigame.

Hold down the accelerator, but not too much! Oops, too much power start over. Oops, not enough power, now you’ve over-compensated. Start over.

Seriously, screw that game.

20. Carkour

There’s one part of the game where you need to get your car on the roof of a building. There’s some electrical doodad on the roof that needs power, and Batman decides to get his car up there and play the engine-revving minigame to power it up.

Rather than calling his magical hover-plane, Batman decides to parkour all over the neighborhood… while inside the car. In some places he uses the winch to tear up the roof of the building and turn it into a ramp to jump between buildings. This is the most impractical and destructive way of solving this problem. All he needs is some electricity! Does this require rooftop driving parkour and destroying all this property? Do we not have enough Batmobile gameplay in here already?

And one last bonus complaint:

21. This achievement:

All those sexy, sexy, guns.

“The seduction of the gun”? Really developers? Guns are not seductive in a Batman game, and certainly not while being used by Batman himself. Ass.

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From the Archives:

  1. Annikai says:

    Before reading this I was finishing off a Batman graphic novel I bought called Bruce Wayne Murderer? where one of the main reasons the Bat Family is pretty sure Bruce didn’t kill the woman he was accused of killing was his intense hatred of guns. They eventually find out that it was his gun that he seemingly only bought as kind of an exposure therapy type thing. So yeah Batman having a turret mounted on his Batmobile is really out of character.

    Now looking up the wiki page I think I understand why this is happening. Paul Dini, the writer for Arkham Asylum and City wasn’t on the staff for Arkham Knight. He also didn’t write Arkham Origins which has an awful story and reduces Batman to that annoying growly Nolanverse Batman.

    • lethal_guitar says:

      I’d say the story in AK is still great and very well told, which is absolutely not the case in AO. I can already barely remember what happenend in AO now, whereas AK had truly memorable moments.

      • MrGuy says:

        I would say that, when the best you can say about a Batman game is that it’s not worse than Arkham Origins, than you’ve actually said a lot about the game.

        • lethal_guitar says:

          Oh that’s not what I wanted to say. I really like the story in AK, I even think it’s better than in City. What I wanted to get at was that AK has a very competent story even without Dini, which AO doesn’t.

      • Annikai says:

        I have been playing Arkham Origins this week from the beginning and it took me a solid half hour yesterday to remember how it begun. With the exception of a few scenes with the Joker the entire story is forgettable. The thing that I was pointing out though is that a lot of the flavor from one and two comes from Dini’s writing. He’s one of the guys that may the animated series what it was. The tonal differences come from the fact that people seem to emulate Nolan and Miller without the kind of nuance that Dini added. Dini writes Batman in a way where he is dark and brooding without turning him into some one like the Punisher. Admittedly I don’t know what he is like in AK but in Origins he loses all of the subtlety in favor of anger and growling.

    • MaxieJZeus says:

      You’re kidding, right?

      Arkham City, isn’t that the one where Batman gets insta-pwned by a neckbeard, then detours from Job 1 (investigating Arkham City) because he’s distracted by Catwoman and (via Catwoman) by Joker; then has to chase after a technobabble MacGuffin because he was too dumb to keep one eye on a corpse and another on his back, and this is a chase that—deep breath here—sends him to Penguin to find Freeze to run after Ra’s to retrieve some blood to take to Freeze who’s working on a serum that’s stolen by the Joker who shot at the Cat that ate the rat that lives in the city that Hugo Strange built? AC’s plot is nothing but side quests inside nested side quests, and the central story is solvable if you can get thru one brawl room and two predator rooms.

      The plot is so restrictive that “railroad tracks” is too kind an epithet to apply, and every time you come to a place where a competent crimefighter/detective would make an intelligent choice, Batman makes the worst choice possible. I find it intensely frustrating—and not at all consistent with Batman’s much-vaunted character—that in AC the experienced, omnicompetent Gotham Knight is consistently dumber than I am.

      And don’t even get me started on the inane, ear-deadening dialogue. You think Batman is growly in AO? How about the way in AC he spit-growls the names of the adversaries every time he sees them? “Joker!” “Penguin!” “Cobblepot!” “Ra’s al-Ghul!” “Newman!” (I may be confusing that last one with a running “Seinfeld” gag, but I’m sure AC’s Batman would have said it if he’d run across the guy.) I thought this kind of thing went out with “Superfriends”, so why is a staff writer from BTAS reviving it? Did you love how Strange starts monologuing every time he opens his mouth? How about Protocol … Eleven! (I guess Strange is a Spinal Tap fan.) Then there are the mooks and goons who have the personality of paper cups.

      AO has a dumb premise—eight assassins with six hours to kill Batman—but at least it’s consistent with the Joker’s preference for causing havoc. It is also structured as a mystery where you are invited to want to go to the next waypoint in the hope that it’ll clear up what’s going on, instead of as an idiot obstacle course yelling, “Go here! Get this! Find him! Hurry before you run out of time thanks to a totally arbitrary deadline that will never actually arrive or which will arrive no matter what you do or how quickly you do it despite everything I’m yelling at you!” Is AO’s story less memorable than AC’s? Maybe that’s because it’s not designed as a one-note, high-concept gimmick (“Oo! Let’s cross Batman with ‘Escape from New York’!”) but as a character drama that gradually unfolds against a lurid background.

      In AO the major villains have personalities far more distinguishable and varied. In AC they are all of them, even Riddler and Penguin, gang leaders with interchangeable gangs. In AO, Penguin is an arms merchant with Richard Crookback’s hump and no trick umbrella in sight; Riddler is a vigilante with a perverse sense of justice and a major side line in snark; Bane is a smart and ruthless merc; and Joker is a killer with profound psychological acuity and almost Satanic depths of malice. I do not mean “Satanic” hyperbolically—he means to corrupt Batman through torture—and he cuts Batman far deeper than does the avuncular jokester with the chem lab in AA.

      Even the nameless background people have a much richer existence. The cynical corruption of the GCPD in AO is far more entertaining than the monotone military talk (which consists of about 10 phrases grunted over and over) of AC’s Tyger guards; and the mooks, when you catch up to them, engage in fun little conversations and mini-dramas. “The Bat? I thought he was an urban myth.” “Oh he’s real alright. Just as Mickey.” “Mickey?” “You know, Lefty.” “Lefty? Oh. Lefty. Ycchh.” You actually think that’s worse than “We own Arkham City! Screw anyone else who says they do!” I challenge anyone, off the top of their head, to quote any good, memorable lines of dialogue from AC. For every one of those, I bet I could pitch back half a dozen smart, vivid exchanges from AO.

      You want to know how I feel about Paul Dini and BTAS? Peruse some of the stuff I wrote mumblety-mumblety years ago at anbat.toonzone.net. BTAS is one of the best things ever done, and he was the best writer on it. I have immense respect and affection for his work. But I am not such a fanboy that I don’t recognize the writing in AC for its catastrophic failures.

      TL;DR: AO felt written by people who wanted to create a drama with game play. AC felt written by a guy who invented a bunch of plot gimmicks to motivate a string of challenge rooms.

      • Darren says:

        Thank you! AO is the best written of the games.

      • Falterfire says:

        I’m not sure I’d praise AO as highly as you have, but you’re definitely right about AC being a mess.

        Personally I think the central failing of the Arkham games is in trying to tie the entire story into a single over-arching plotline. It would make way more sense for the game to be a series of ‘episodes’ where each villain has a plot you can thwart. Maybe you spend the first few missions fighting against Scarecrow, and just as you wrap that mission up, a different and unrelated story starts where you have to deal with Mr. Freeze terrorizing the town.

        It’s such a simple solution and it gives each villain breathing room without needing to force minor villains to play pawn for major ones. The only real problem is that it goes against the industry-standard “One Game, One Story, One Main Plot” dynamic, but it would be so much more Comic Book and would almost certainly lead to better writing.

        • MaxieJZeus says:

          That’s a cool idea. They almost had something like that in AC with the Catwoman chapters, but that felt more like an extra they were tentatively testing out.

          What about this (as long as we’re fantasizing)? A story where the player shifts POV between multiple characters. In some chapters you’re Batman; in others you’re Robin*; in some you’re the villain; in some you’re one of the mooks**; in some you’re a walk-on bit villain (like Catwoman was in AC). That way you get variety and different kinds of challenges inside a single, unified, villain-specific game.

          * And in one you’re Alfred and it turns into a cooking challenge! Can you get the yams made and the turkey out of the oven before Thanksgiving dinner is ruined?!?!?!? Okay, maybe not.

          ** I give AC credit for having the stones to knock Batman out at one point; that always has to happen in a good Batman story. But instead of making it a dumb, unavoidable cut scene, give that job to the player, who takes on the role of a mook in a predator room. Wouldn’t it be fun and suspenseful if you had to survive in such a room–while all the other mooks are screaming and vanishing into the rafters–and (because you, the player, know Batman’s tricks) you might be able to flush him out and blast him into unconsciousness?

    • Vorpal Kitten says:

      I am officially the stupidest person on the planet – I only just now connected Batman’s disdain for guns with his parents being shot to death in front of him. I’m such a moron…

  2. venatus says:

    I have to admit ever since asylum I’ve been hoping one of the arkham games would let me drive the batmobile. but I always pictured a batmobile like the one from the 90’s batman cartoon or the opening of arkham asylum. which is mostly just a cool way to get between two points.

    I know that wouldn’t make for the best gameplay unless they just imported need for speed mechanics or something, and that’s why I was never surprised when the previous games didn’t include batmobile sections.

    I still think a decent batmobile could be a fun (if small) addition to an arkham game but the implementation in arkham knight probably killed that possibility.

    • Taellosse says:

      The batmobile would be a great addition to a game that wasn’t a singular, unified open world. If it were a group of islands of gameplay, and the batmobile was the way you moved between them. Sometimes you’d have to deal with car chases or obstacle course, or something. But the batmobile has no business being playable in an open world game like the Arkham series – Batman’s got better methods of getting around, and plenty of tools to do the job more in keeping with his style – quietly – that he can carry around with him.

      These days, with Batman having a grappling hook he can fit in a pocket and a cape that turns into glider wings, the only reason to have a batmobile at all is to reach Gotham city limits from the Wayne estate outside, or to transport captured supervillains to Arkham Asylum once it’s all over (which is also outside the city proper). When he was a guy that had to hoof it and climb buildings the old-fashioned way, a car made a lot of sense for moving around the city, but now it just slows him down because it locks him to moving along streets with traffic and pedestrians, as well as being gaudy and attention-grabbing.

  3. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I have two words that will explain everything about the batmobile:
    Frank Miller

    • Thomas says:

      It’s _so_ Frank Miller

      • They’re rubber bullets…

        …honest.

        • MrGuy says:

          Sapphire bullets. Bullets of pure love.

          • Wide And Nerdy says:

            But that can’t be. Only women can be Star Sapphires. I’d written out John’s explanations for why that is, but lets just say it hews dangerously close to sparking one of THOSE threads that we don’t want here.

            Granted, my info is old. I dropped out of comics for good after Blackest Night. People always want to give Bruce a yellow ring but frankly, i think he’s just as good a fit for the red rings.

            • Viktor says:

              There are rage-driven Batmans, but IMO those are generally from writers screwing up the char. More often we get anger and yelling, but that’s not the driving force. The rage is caused by whatever his primary motivation is, it’s not a motivation by itself. I’d peg him as compassion more than anything, “No child should ever lose their parents”, but that would keep me from making Cass indigo on the following list:

              Red: Jason (obvious)
              Orange: Damian (Most people would go red for him, but I never saw him as driven by rage. He’s angry, yes, but he’s angry because he wants something and isn’t getting it. That’s greed, just greed for approval or for a Robin costume instead of money.)
              Yellow: Bruce
              Green: Oracle. (Screw the Nu52)
              Blue: Stephanie Brown (Hope is an ongoing theme of hers)
              Indigo: Cass (She’s a hero because a life of training and abuse at the hands of a sociopathic assassin couldn’t eliminate her compassion. I can’t give anyone else this ring.)
              Violet: Dick Grayson (SOMEONE needs to be in a bright-pink thong and I can’t think of anyone better suited for that than him. )

              • Wide And Nerdy says:

                I’ll give you Indigo for Cass because of how her skill is built on reading body language. Normally she’s not a fit because Indigos are sociopaths who have compassion forced on them by the ring. Cass didn’t need a ring for that.

                I’d be more inclined to give Violet to Tim than Dick. Tim sought out Batman because he could see that Batman needed a Robin.

                As for Orange, if you want to stay in the Batman mythos, the best fit is Catwoman, at least her classic characterization. Possibly Carmine Falcone if he was still alive. Its surprising how few of Batman’s villains are really driven by greed actually. He drove away most of the big conventional criminals early in his career.

                • Falterfire says:

                  If you’re allowing villains for Orange, the Penguin is automatically my vote. In the better Catwoman stories I’ve read, she’s in it as much or more for the adventure than she is for the loot. Penguin on the other hand is consistently motivated almost entirely by profits.

  4. Stephen says:

    I agree with all of this, but #12 SO MUCH. That stupid explosion cam is the worst. At least in Burnout, the system generally has an ideal racing line that it can keep you on while it steals your car controls, often leaving you in a better position when you get control back. I’ve lost track of the times that the explosion cam in the battank has stolen my controls just long enough to hang me up on an obstacle so now I have to catch up with the fight.

    A problem that you don’t mention is just that the controls feel extremely floaty. Even the parts that are racing/chasing game aren’t a very good racing game. I’m flipping this multi-ton tank through the streets of Gotham with no real sense of inertia. Even the Burton film engaged with the problem of cornering sharply in tight city streets, and the Nolan movies were constantly showing the tumbler rolling over or otherwise having to compensate for turns. Most of the time in AK, you don’t even have to tap the brakes to corner really sharply at high speeds.

    Also, speaking of brakes, I’m really, really used to left trigger being brakes in racing games. I am CONSTANTLY momentarily switching into tank mode when I just want to drift around a corner.

    In general, I’ve been assuming that the batmobile started with the best of intentions. Maybe with a core of “let’s do some racing/chasing games, let you use it to get around in a new way (particularly with prisoners or rescuees), and maybe some obstacle courses if we can get the controls right.” And then somebody with more authority over the whole thing than sense got a wild hair to add guns and explosions if they were already doing all the vehicle tech. “I don’t know… maybe they’re UNMANNED tank drones. See, no killing problems there. And put tasers on the bumpers for when you manage to hit someone.” seems like the way such a thing would go.

  5. Daniel Ross says:

    The name “Seduction of the Gun” references a classic Batman one-shot. It’s possibly the most strongly anti-gun Batman story ever, and that’s saying something. It was actually released as a Very Special Episode in response to the real life gun murder of a DC exec’s son.

    To say using the name as the title of an achievement for shooting a bunch of dudes misses the point is a very generous understatement.

  6. Wide And Nerdy says:

    I haven’t started reading this article yet but Shamus beating up on Arkham Knight’s batmobile . . . its like Christmas.

    What pisses me off about the PC Port issues is that its distracted everybody from how much the Batmobile sucks.

    But Shamus came through. Bless you.

    • Wide And Nerdy says:

      Taking your point about how Batman would go after the pilots, not the drones. Given who the Arkham Knight is (it shouldn’t be a spoiler for anyone at this point that the Arkham Knight is someone who is familiar with how Batman operates, that much is stated within the first thirty or so minutes) he shouldn’t be using drones at all for the reasons you stated AND because drones can be signal jammed, cutting them off from human control.

      Batman is already established even in this series as having extensive experience with signals and the jamming thereof. He even quickly figures out in this game which signal Arkham Knight is using to talk to his own goons.

      If I were Batman, I’d jam the tank transmission then dispatch the drones at my leisure.

    • Wide And Nerdy says:

      Additional note. I bought this game bundled with a GTX970 and Witcher 3 and what little of Arkham Knight I’ve played seems to run well enough. I’ve heard there’s still a GTX970 + Arkham Knight bundle so if you’re looking for a video card upgrade you’re probably fine to get this.

      Don’t want to defend the game too much as I have my own beefs with it but with the right hardware, the game will run.

      • Taellosse says:

        According to the NVidia website, that promotion is over (probably because Batman’s been pulled). I didn’t spend a lot of time on it, but I didn’t find anybody still selling the bundle.

  7. lethal_guitar says:

    You know which part is way worse than the tank battles? The “excavator” boss battle. Not only is it stupid DIAS style gameplay, which makes you drop into non-immersive meta-gaming after dying a couple times, it’s also totally pointless. You could remove it from the game entirely and the story wouldn’t change at all.
    Granted, it serves the purpose of destroying the batmobile, which adds a short moment of tension to a particular cutscene afterwards, but is still meaningless since Batman just conjures up a new one.

    God how I hated the otherwise truly great game during that part..

  8. Sean Payne says:

    As one important character said in-game: “I love the new car, it’s almost as if a [REDACTED] was whispering in your ear as you drew up the plans” (I’ve redacted a few words to prevent spoilers).

    I didn’t mind the car too much, changed the button to “toggle” within the first half-hour and the game felt alright after that. Why they made non-toggle the default is beyond me though – especially as by default the battle mode button is exactly where you would expect the reverse button to be (I’ve been playing too much GTA, probably).

    I get the feeling that the car was WB mandate in response to popular comments online from fans. Well, the fans got what they wanted, I guess?

    To paraphrase Kevin Smith: “A gun killed my parents, so I have mounted many to the front of my car”.

    • Epopisces says:

      I now have a mental picture of Kevin Smith driving around with a bunch of middle-aged adults taped to the front of his car.

      I blame the escapist comic you linked to. And English, I also blame English.

  9. AR+ says:

    Given how part of the justification for the “Batman doesn’t use guns” is that his parents were killed with guns, I do have to wonder what sort of hero Batman would have become if his parents were punched to death.

  10. James says:

    So something came to me, who in all the rouges gallery would make and use “drones” the Arkham Knight wouldn’t because Jason Todd/ Red Hood A) doesn’t mind his men dieing, and B) knows batman doesnt kill wouldnt he have normal tanks? .

    The one villain who remains as distant physically form Batman, who wouldnt trust other people because they are too stupid, and is smart enough to design them, and finally unlike any other villain doesn’t really want to fight Batman he just wants to outwit him.

    That’s right Edward Nashton (Nigma/Nygma) the Riddler, tone the numbers down ALOT, have it appear sparingly, and maby even have bats use a “BatDrone” Riddler made for the challenges. then if you need a Batmobile make it like the one in Arkham Asylum and use if ONLY as a mode of fast travel and maby for moving prisoners/rescued people to GCPD.

  11. Peter H. Coffin says:

    Frankly, I think the whole progression in the Batman games is actually backwards. Most of the Batman games would be excellent places to play with resource management. But instead the game keeps giving you more and more skills, better and better armor and weapons, and has to keep amping up the mooks and bosses in order to make progress through the game increasing difficult, or even just to keep pace with the loot. Wouldn’t it be more sensible to have Batman start out with LOTS of resources, and use them up? Maybe there’s caches of stuff to restock, but not enough to really be comfortable. Fists and brawling he can always rely on. Lots of batarangs, but eventually he’s out of those and has to improvise with bits of rubble or crockery or other improvised throwables. Give him two cans of explosive gel, but no counters on them, and burning through the first can gives a feel for how long they’ll last, and there’s a cache or two with a spare. Even crazy-prepared can only prep so much… Maybe at some point, the Batclaw gets jammed in something and has to be abandoned, leaving Bats with just the rope launcher. Etc. The difficulty of the enemies needs to scale less because the typical player is running on tea saucers, broken armor, and a pair of knuckle sandwiches by the endgame, and a skilled player might have a couple of hits of explosive gel left and a treasured sleep-gas grenade or whatever the new game’s CoolThing is.

    • MrGuy says:

      My favorite idea to pitch to an actual game designer if I ever meet one is a Superman-type hero who levels backwards.

      You start the game with amazing powers, and in the tutorial easily overpower and beat the mooks. Then a Bad Thing Happens, and there’s a bunch of kryptonite-like substance all over the place. To get around, and do sidequests (because you’re a Big Hero), you have to walk past the kryptonite, and whenever the “reverse level” meter is full, you have to choose a skill to downgrade (laser eyes, jumping ability, super strength, X-ray vision, etc. – something goes down a notch).

      As the game goes on, the mooks don’t get tougher – you get weaker, so the guys you were mowing down by the roomful in the tutorial are suddenly a tough challenge individually.

      Thinking the organizing principle might be this is a space station/lunar outpost, and it’s going to explode, so you need to save all the people and their dogs and all the research. Your ending is tied to how many you save, but saving the optional people means a LOT more weakening than staying on the “main” path.

      • This is a suggestion that pops up on /r/truegaming quite often, and perhaps surprisingly, a certain consensus has emerged that is at least semi-reasonable. If you really get down to the nitty-gritty of how to make it work, it’s really hard. It’s a neat idea superficially but too many things are backwards.

        As it happens I can give a relevant example… I played Arkham City before Arkham Asylum. In that game, Batman starts with most of what he had at the end of Asylum, and then builds on top of that. I’m an experienced gamer of many decades and at least tolerably skilled in action platform gaming like Batman (no expert, but I get through OK), and I was nearly overwhelmed with the choices. If you started taking them away, you’d be taking things away I hadn’t even properly internalized that I had yet. That means… there really isn’t any drama there. I’d also be cheesed off if you took away the one mechanic that I’d mastered and now suddenly I’m supposed to play with the mechanics I don’t know, in a game that is presumably not going to notch the challenge back.

        I get the idea of reversing the feeling of progression, and abstractly even support it, but the problem is that with that reversal must inevitably come the reversal of a lot of other things as well, such as progressive training, and I’m yet to see anybody make a reasonably concrete proposal of mechanics that doesn’t sound like the problems wouldn’t outweigh the advantages.

        And let me clearly say I do not believe it to be impossible… just really, really hard, because you can’t just reverse this one element (“feeling of progression”) in isolation from the rest of the design.

        As a sort of alternative, I’d complain that I’d like to see RPG mechanics come out of more action-adventure games, i.e., eliminate that artificial progression and make it purely player-skill based again. Progressively unlocking new skills is OK with me, but I’d like to see more games that don’t shower you with health powerups, “better healing”, “5% better punches”, etc. Bayonetta is another that almost got this right, but there really wasn’t much reason for the health & magic unlocks. I really wanted to like Code of Princess but the whole experience was IMHO ruined for turning what should have been a skill-based brawler into an incredible, incredible grind.

        • Syal says:

          I’ll add that I don’t think a superhero game is a good place to set up disempowerment mechanics, at least not one like Batman. These are the kind of characters that get stronger with stronger enemies.

          An alternative approach (for whatever character would be a better fit); have all the tools available from the start, but make the basic attacks or certain weaponry so powerful that people don’t need to use the other stuff in the beginning. Then start scaling back the strength of those abilities; the gun guy that used to go down in one punch now takes two, now takes three, now takes eight, and you’ve got to learn how to use the rope to hold him in place while you fight off his friends, and the grapple to get clear of enemies you used to be fast enough to simply dodge.

        • Legendary says:

          I wonder then if perhaps a good idea would be a game that slowly introduces you to a bunch of skills, and then at the halfway point starts taking them away. You know all the mechanics, you are presumably competent in more than one, and the challenge comes in working out how to survive enemies who you thought could only be beaten a certain way.

        • “eliminate that artificial progression and make it purely player-skill based again.”

          Then you’d lose a lot of your players. In a game that’s so heavily story-driven (even if it’s just “Batman punches the bad guy again”), cutting the player off with no hope of progress unless they “git gud” is a recipe for resentment. I find it’s far better to have rewards for players that can do things quickly, without taking damage, without resorting to certain tactics, etc. than it is to put up a giant wall where they can’t get any farther without devoting their free time to mastering a bunch of button-combos.

          Additionally, it’s not that hard to challenge a superhero. If it was, they’d never get beyond issue 10 in the comics. The problem is that the devs need to come up with plots and mechanics in games that don’t solely rely on punching someone until they give you points, which puts us into the “role” bit of “role-playing games.”

      • Mintskittle says:

        This reminds me of the Warcraft 3 expansion, The Frozen Throne. In the Undead campaign, Arthas starts the first mission at max level, but stuff happens, and the Frozen Throne starts weakening, and since Arthas’ power is tied to the throne, he weakens too. Of course, this is an RTS, and you don’t need to rely on your heroes quite so heavily to succeed, and the last mission boosts Arthas back to max level anyways, but it’s there.

      • Kagato says:

        I’ve got a God of War style concept along those lines.

        The player is the Hand of the Gods, their human warrior avatar on Earth. Each supplied a magical artifact that makes up your armour and weaponry, giving you various superpowers.

        At the start of the game you effortlessly plow through endless enemies, getting you to use all your abilities so you can get used to them. At the end of that mission the gathered gods betray you; you rebel against them, surprise-killing the one god who could directly control you. The other gods flee to their respective corners of the map and surround themselves with their armies.

        You vow to hunt down and kill the remaining gods in turn. You have to fight your each army first, then take down the god in a boss fight. Every time you kill a god, you lose the artifact and the powers they provided you… with each victory, you become less powerful. The final god must be defeated using only your natural skills and a single special ability.

        I think an important aspect of this concept is that it you have to choose the order in which you tackle the fights, so that you can determine which abilities you retain to use against the remaining gods.

        I imagine the tricky part would be balancing the game so that every path has a viable strategy while still providing suitable challenges. (It would be fine for some choices to make later victory much harder, but it should always be possible).

        I guess the New Game+ mode would be to start the game with no powers whatsoever, and fight every god using your base moves…

  12. Undefined says:

    I’ve not played AK since I don’t like the Arkham games. Interestingly I don’t like these games for pretty much the same reasons you listed for just the Batmobile. Funny how it works:

    – Batman kills people. He smashes their heads to knock them out, throws them off very tall ledges and I don’t know what else. Yea, he kills people.
    – When I fight the baddies, to me it doesn’t feel like a superhero dispensing justice. It feels like some incredibly rich guy who has parents issues and who feels like he’s above the law beating up small time criminals and mental patients who can’t help themselves.
    – I always felt the gameplay was dull, fights dragged forever and puzzles were annoying.
    – But it looks cool!

    Basically I think the Batmobile probably fits in what RS was doing from beginning. They just didn’t gauge very well what people actually liked about the previous games, and then overshoot with the tank.

  13. Mechaninja says:

    I keep meaning to pick up one of these Arkham games, mostly because you seem to like them so much.

    Meanwhile, I’m laughing because Gabe and Tycho love the Batmobile, and the contrast between you and them is one of the ways I flavor my meals.

  14. Your first three points are all the same point.

    …and so are your last three.

    Jeeez sayin.

    • Not exactly. I can see that being the case if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s in a Batman game. Batman not using guns is one point (BTW, the pilot episode of Batman Beyond really drives this home).

      Batman looking like a killer is another, since he’s supposed to be the good guy and so awesome at dispensing justice that he doesn’t resort to dropping a piano to squash a fly. There’s loads of character development that establishes this, which makes the idea of him being a four-wheeled bull in a china shop about as sensible as a ninja whose primary weapon is a rocket launcher.

      The Batmobile being destructive is also a separate point, again, thanks to the comics. The Batmobile is how he gets his fists and detective skills from one place to another. It’s not a primary attack weapon, except possibly as a last resort (Mumbles may have more insight on this). Christopher Nolan is the one that made the Batmobile into a tank, and if one is going to do that, it’s best if the tank-like aspect of the vehicle is more along the lines of soaking up damage, not dispensing explosive rounds.

      Without going further, the points are contrasting the Batmobile’s flaws against Batman as a character, as well as the way it makes the game less fun. The idea of him having to bring the Batmobile through a door makes even less sense to me given his wealth. He probably has five newer prototype Batmobiles stashed in nearby buildings, so why sweat having to leave one behind? Just set the self-destruct and jump past the closed door or whatever…

  15. Mintskittle says:

    I haven’t played Arkham Knight, so I don’t know if this is explained ingame or not, but where do all these drone tanks come from? They look like serious military gear, and probably cost a fortune each. Who designed and built them? Who paid for them? How did they get all this to Gotham without the government finding out? Why isn’t the government bringing in the military to deal with this literal invasion force?

  16. Dragmire says:

    Just a heads up Shamus, there’s a typo in the second paragraph of your seventh point on the Escapist’s article.

    “There are a few different types of foes, but they have basically two kind of of attacks.”

    I’m not sure if you can fix it once the article goes live but I thought you’d like to know.

  17. Tizzy says:

    Doesn’t anyone playtest crap any more?

    I don’t expect they would cut out the batmobile. These design decisions must be made early on, and by the time they get a sense of what works and what doesn’t, the feature’s already been advertised to death.

    Still, you’d think they’d be able to dial it down if it’s that bad…

    • If I were wildly guessing, the Batmobile was a “must-have” mechanic early on, and by the time the dev unit in charge of it had created what might be an okay car-based combat-game by itself, so much money had been put into the Batmobile (both in-game and via marketing), the suits considered it “too late” to drop.

      • Tizzy says:

        But that’s what I mean: fair enough, it’s too late to drop the batmobile. The game will have a lame gimmick. I can honestly live with that. I understand that they can’t simply iterate, they must bring something new to the table.

        But reading Shamus’s article, I realize that the batmobile hogs the game time, as if it was good! Surely, dialing down the number of tank fights and making them shorter would be the first move!

        I don’t want to spend 30 minutes on a good fight, let alone a bad one!

        And the stupid “hold the trigger to be the battank” control scheme? Why couldn’t this be flagged at the playtesting stage?

        This is truly baffling: the devs strike me as the consumate professionals. Games like the Arkham series don’t just happen: you have to put a lot of smart design into it. But it’s as if they had a blind spot with the batmobile…

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        I don’t think playtesting is really used to decide featuers in AAA games, at least not often. By the time a major mechanics is ready to be tested the investment is already way to big to just “drop it”, at best it can be rebalanced and tweaked. And let’s face it, in case of AK the testing didn’t even result in working out the mechanical issues persistent throughout the whole game.

  18. #20, Carkour. Welcome to why I hated Carmageddon 2.

  19. hborrgg says:

    Strangely enough I noticed that the Joker did try to lampshade the batmobile at one point (“Love the new ride, bats. Lots of guns. It’s almost as if you had an evil clown whispering in your ear as you designed it.”). Although it still doesn’t even remotely justify requiring the batmobile to solve every other puzzle and having this crummy tank game take up most of the combat (I say “tank game” it’s really just a top-down bullet hell made 3D).

    Some batmobile action would have been fine, it is pretty awesome when you first use it and the cobra tank battles were a nice change of pace. But this nonsense where you apparently need to blow up more drone tanks than actual mooks is just absurd.

    And again yeah, who would ever think that unmanned drones were a good idea against batman? Surely it would have been many times cheaper to just put mooks in regular tanks.

    • The batmobile should have been a way to link travel points, used as a decoy (you could draw mooks away by pressing a remote control and making them think you were escaping in the vehicle), and as a temporary shield (again, press the remote and have it drive in for a few seconds so you could use it as cover while it soaked up incoming fire). Maybe if the devs wanted some more “powers,” the car could drive in and drop smoke bombs or let Batman use his “crime vision” over a larger area with the Batmobile’s sensors or something.

      It shouldn’t have tried to be Gotham Theft Auto.

  20. ChristopherT says:

    Having not played Arkham Knight, the more I hear/see about the game the less I want to. I don’t think the batmobile itself, in a game like this, is even that bad of an idea. I think it worked fine in Lego Batman 2, and vehicles in Lego Marvel, and it can’t be simply because of the cartoony vibe and visuals, compared to the seriousness of the Arkham games, I know it doesn’t help, but I think, as the list(s) suggests there’s plenty of more reasons to it.

    I think a question comes down to, how much can/could a player overlook/ignore running over innocent civilians IF the game did not call extra attention to it, which I feel is what the taser does, it calls unwanted attention to a mechanic that either needs to be worked around, or conjure up enough good will in other places for the player to willingly ignore it.

    I don’t know the extent that this batmobile can do, but it really sounds limited, sadly, to shooting non-bullets and missiles. Where, we’ve been given media depicting batmobiles that have extra armor, net launchers, caltrops, oil, smoke, we could have a batmobile that sends out a pulse, that acts just like a gun, that simply shuts down vehicles, but it doesn’t sound like we do, we get the easiest answer.

    It feels like they (or maybe the lack of the previous writer) don’t know what they’re doing. Maybe what I haven’t seen yet (anything not within the first hour of the game) has much better characters, story, ques, and action pieces, but so far, it’s not looking good. Being grumpy about it – the early scene with Poison Ivy and the elevator and the early introduction of the batmobile seriously calls into question their sense of timing. So far I worry they have no idea how to time or pace anything.

    Poison Ivy walks into an elevator, Batman right behind her, some vines come in, and pull Batman away. She rides the lift alone. The doors open, no Batman. She takes two steps outside the elevator, and then, slow pan to Batman standing there as about as cardboard as Batman can get, and it feels like they just couldn’t understand the timing of it. If as soon as that elevator door opened Batman was standing there, it’s instant reaction, it’s “yeah, that’s Batman.” or, the lift doors open, and there’s nothing, and as soon as Ivy breathes a sigh of relief a gloved fist comes through the opening from near the top, and yanks her out, and we get a sort of “Oh shit, Batman’s being a badass.” Or anything. But, we get, slow pan after seconds of silence, at that point it’s already over.

    And, then, he puts the criminal in the trunk!? I don’t know if that’s something Batman happens to do in the things I haven’t seen, or in the comics, it just really doesn’t seem like Batman. That’s a villain thing to do.

    Also, does Barbara seem way too young? Like, two or three years older than in Origins? I doubt they’d even touch the topic of Batman using children, but when you make a veteran, wheelchair bound Barbara look that young, it raises questions.

    Then with the Arkham Knight, further just seems like they have no idea what they are doing with his “Arkham Knight” persona. What, with the opportunity to have that connection to dead Joker, and what all that SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILERY STUFF. If you get what I’m trying to get at.

  21. Kdansky says:

    I don’t understand how everyone (except for Jim Sterling) gives this game such high praises. Most of the game is spent with mediocre driving and tank-battles. If most of the game is bad, then the game is not great.

    It’s as if people have decided that AK deserves a score between 8/10 and 9/10 before even playing it, and game-breaking bugs only deduct a tenth of a point.

    It’s a mediocre-looking (30 fps cap does never deserve “pretty”), bug-ridden GTA clone with a batman license.

    • Tizzy says:

      I’m guessing it’s a glass half-full/half-empty kind of situation. How do you combine the great and the terrible into a single score?

      For my part, I’m definitely in the half-empty camp. I don’t feel like wasting my gaming time on tank combat and races (especially not races! I suck at this stuff), even if the rest of the game is outstanding.

      The series has managed the amazing feat to draw me in despite the fact that I’m really not a natural at the core gameplay. But I fear this one has to many strikes against it already.

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      You’re new to AAA reviews, aren’t you?

  22. Sleeping Dragon says:

    You know what Shamus? As much as I respect you I hate how you wrote this article without bothering at the slightest to research the battechnologies used in the game. People are getting zapped to give them a charge, which actually gently pushes them away from the charged batmobile and the car fireball lowers the oxygen content causing the mooks to fall unscionscious. True, the explosion thing has not been explicity described in the game but any real Batman fan would figure out it works the same way as batnapalm. I can’t even imagine what nonsense people like you will write about Bats being a killer when they add things like the dirty batnuke or the flesheating nanobatswarm into the game, stuff that has been in the comics since basically the beginning!

    • Nimas says:

      Ok, so to give the benefit of the doubt, I went and watched a youtube video of someone running over a mook in the batmobile.

      No, he’s dead. That’s not “gently pushes them away”, thats “launched through the air at high velocity from a standing start”. He’s dead Dave, everybody is dead.

      And completely reading your comment (that’s what I get for responding halfway through), I’m no longer sure if you’re being earnest here ><

      Tell me good sir, satire or no?

      Edit: Ok, definitely satire, my bad :D

      • Shamus says:

        I went through the same arc when reading.

        Hm. This sounds a little unreasonable.
        Oh, it’s REALLY unreasonable.
        Wow. This is so unreasonable it almost sounds like satire.
        Oh, actually, it clearly IS satire.
        Heh, this is crazy, over-the-top satire.
        I feel dumb.

  23. Joshua says:

    Some people on the Escapist column commented that the Batmobile was added because fans were clamoring for it.

    As a long-time LOTRO player, we saw the same thing with people who wanted MOUNTED COMBAT. “When can we finally attack on our horses?!?” Etc., Etc.

    Eventually, Turbine went with it and introduced Warsteeds with Riders of Rohan. And the system sucked and the game took a serious nose-dive afterwards.

    It’s that good old classic, “Be careful what you wish for”.

    • MrGuy says:

      This is an instance of what I consider a general human failing. People are better at knowing what they DO like than projecting what they WOULD like. Smart, creative people will usually design something that people will enjoy BETTER than what you’d get if you ask the audience and build what they ask for.

      My favorite example of this came from when the TV show Seinfeld was ending. There was an outpouring of fan clamor for Michael Richards (Kramer) to get his own show. It seemed plausible – spinning off from a popular show, and Kramer was a popular character. Fans THOUGHT “More Kramer!” would make a great show. The only problem was that it was a terrible idea – the wacky comic relief made a great accent, but couldn’t carry a show (and the show was quickly cancelled).

      Designing by opinion poll is a terrible way to design entertainment in any form.

      There’s a corrollary here around things designed by committee, but that’s a different rant.

  24. Alex says:

    I’ve been watching a Let’s Play of the PS4 version in glorious 640×360, and one thing I noticed is that the Battank fails to keep the link between offense and defense that makes Arkham combat what it is. When you’re on foot you can use chained attacks to evade attacks (since you start jumping from enemy to enemy as your flow meter increases), you can stop your current attacks to either counterattack an enemy or to dodge or distract an opponent, a good hit staggers an enemy so they can’t attack you, and a bad hit makes you a sitting duck. In the Battank, two out of three attacks are avoided by moving, which is independent of your attacks. You have to shoot down the guided missiles but apart from that you’re evading attacks with one system and making attacks with the other, without much overlap.

  25. Vorpal Kitten says:

    You know, it’s hard to take the list seriously considering this is Old Man Shamus taking down a newly introduced element to his favorite game franchise – I mean, none of those elements ever lead to people arguing vehemently against something that could easily be ‘suspension of disbelief-ed’, right?

    I mean, the points are good but it still sounds like ‘they changed it now it sucks’

    Especially when Shamus isn’t tearing into other aspects of the game! I only watched an hour or two, but Ivy’s outfit is so stupid more people should be complaining about it!

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