Arkham City Part 5: The Arkham Series

By Shamus
on Feb 23, 2017
Filed under:
Batman

Arkham City is the second game in a four-game franchise where the third game was an awkward semi-canon prequel made by a different studio who didn’t quite get what made the series special. I suppose before we jump in and talk about Arkham City, we need to talk about how it fits into the franchise, and to do that we need to talk about the Joker. And to do that we’re going to need to do some large spoilers for the series as a whole.

Batman v. Joker: Dawn of “Just Us”

JUST KISS ALREADY!

JUST KISS ALREADY!

One of the problems with Batman is that he’s got one really notorious foe and then a whole bunch of guys all fighting over distant second. This is not a knock on those other foes, it’s just that Joker is one of the most recognizable foes in comics history. Like Batman himself, he’s pretty malleable. He can change in tone and outlook to suit the version of Batman he’s antagonizing. Scarecrow wants to scare people, Penguin wants to run his business, and Riddler wants to outsmart Batman, but Joker can be all things to all Batmans.

If this is a story about violent angry Batman, then we can pit him against sadistic mass-murderer Joker. If we’re dealing with stick-up-his-butt Batman, then Joker’s goal can simply be to cause chaos with a smile. If this is a more cartoony or campy Batman then Joker’s goal can be to pull off a basic for-profit caper. If we’re dealing with stoic emotionless Batman then Joker can be trying to get Batman to laugh at the inherent absurdity of their rivalry. If we’re dealing with Paladin Batman then Joker will work to get him to break him no-kill rule. And so on. You can mix & match these versions of our two leads to suit whatever story you’re trying to tell.

This isn’t to say that Scarecrow, Penguin, Riddler and the other second-string foes are one-note rogues. There have been a lot of versions of them over the years. But one of the reasons Joker stands out is that he’s much more explicitly the “anti-Batman”.

This makes Joker an irresistible villain for anyone trying to turn Batman into a movie or videogame. The folks writing comics year-round have to push the Joker to the background once in a while to avoid wearing him out. But if you’re spending millions of dollars producing a movie or a videogame then you might feel compelled to focus on the “best” villain. When this kind of money is on the line, you want the foe with the best pop-culture brand recognition. You want that clown-faced bastard out there selling tickets, pre-orders, DVDs, DLC, and T-shirts, because he’s going to move more units than the likes of Bane and Mr. Freeze.

This only reinforces the problem, pushing Joker’s brand to the cultural forefront and further neglecting the alternatives. For years comic fans have been telling us about all the cool stories we could be getting if the movie and videogame writers would throttle back on the Joker content.

The Arkham series suffers from (and thus also perpetuates) this problem. Each game feels like the designer was making a promise: Just let me use Joker this one last time, then swear to God we’ll focus on somebody else. But Joker keeps shoving his way to the forefront and dominating the story. It’s like they can’t help themselves.

Arkham Asylum

Aside from the fact that there wasn`t really much room to glide overhead, this was a pretty good size for a gameworld.

Aside from the fact that there wasn`t really much room to glide overhead, this was a pretty good size for a gameworld.

You can tell they didn’t give much thought to how the sequels would work. They named the game after the location instead of the characters. Is the entire franchise going to be an endless series of disasters at the same insane asylum? That obviously would get pretty old by the time we got to Arkham Asylum 3: Holy Shit what is Wrong With The Locks in This Place and Why is Everyone Escaped Again?

How will they keep from making every game feel like recycled content from the previous installment? Are they going to start adding massive new buildings for the Arkham campus and tearing down the old stuff? That might give players new content, but wouldn’t modern buildings ruin the delicious gothic vibe? Are they going to construct old buildings?

No, this makes no sense. You can’t just set every game in the same modest location without constraining yourself mechanically, thematically, and narratively. But if the sequel isn’t going to take place in the asylum, then why are we naming the game after it?

As with the movies, they felt they needed to lead off with their “best” villain. And to be fair, it is an insane asylum, so it makes sense to have the King of All Crazies presiding over the chaos.

The story revolves around Joker getting his hands on a chemical that turns people into berzerker hulk monsters. At the end, the Joker injects himself so we can have Batman fight Joker-Hulk. The fight is a total disaster in a character and thematic sense, and illustrates the “gameplay is king” approach the designers favor.

It’s a fantastic game and was a smash-hit at the time, but I find it really hard to return to Arkham Asylum after playing Arkham City. The combat is a little slow and stiff, and the foes aren’t nearly as interesting. It’s also just a tad too linear for me.

Arkham City

Some people like the size of Arkham Asylum better than Arkham City, but I`m fine with either one as long as I can fly around once in a while.

Some people like the size of Arkham Asylum better than Arkham City, but I`m fine with either one as long as I can fly around once in a while.

The first game is out of the way, so now is our big chance to put the Joker in the background and let one of the other rogues take the spotlight. Except…

Mark Hamill announced he was retiring from playing the Joker. He’s been voicing the character since the 90’s and has become the gold standard against which all other Joker-voices will be measured. It was obvious the Joker was going to need to be killed off, replaced, retired, or otherwise changed. And you don’t want to relegate such a momentous event to the B-plot. So once again, Joker was placed at the center of the story.

For me this game hits the magical Goldilocks zone of fun and engagement. The combat is smoother and more varied than the first game, but we haven’t yet fallen into the trap of pointless bloated open-world that the later games fell into. The various Bat-gadgets can now be used in combat to make things more interesting.

We’ll obviously talk a lot more about all of that as the series goes on.

Arkham Origins

This game world is kind of too big. I wouldn`t say it`s Ubisoft-sized or anything, but you do spend a lot of time flying over places that only exist to be flown over. After my second or third trip across the stupid bridge I was really starting to resent all that empty space on the map.

This game world is kind of too big. I wouldn`t say it`s Ubisoft-sized or anything, but you do spend a lot of time flying over places that only exist to be flown over. After my second or third trip across the stupid bridge I was really starting to resent all that empty space on the map.

I was not a fan of Arkham Origins. I thought the environment design was incoherent, the combat was too hard and frustrating until it become too easy and boring, and the quicktime-based fights needed to die faster than an Arkham orderly on escape night.

Worst of all, I found Young Angry Thug Batman to be intolerable and uninteresting. Looking back on early Batman could make for a cool story. Maybe show us a Batman back when he was still wearing grey spandex. We could explore a Batman who is unsure of himself. We could see a guy who is discovering how all the training in the world can’t prepare you for the Real Thing™. We could see early prototypes of his gadgets. We could see him start out as an idealist who thinks he can get this job done without hurting anyone, and is slowly obliged to adopt rougher techniques as the stakes go up.

But no. Every single thing is backwards. This Batman has apparently been wearing black tactical armor since day one. He didn’t start out an idealist and was forced to hurt people to get the job done. He started out as a vicious thug who learned to stop shouting all the time. He didn’t gain confidence through overcoming adversity. He began as an arrogant jackass who thought he knew everything, but then had to learn not to be such a jerk to Alfred.

There’s just no way this arrogant, undisciplined rage-monkey became the world’s greatest detective, much less the forward-thinking and pragmatic Batman of Arkham Asylum. That’s not “maturity”, that’s a completely different personality.

This game was made by a new team, and once again their lack of confidence compelled them to hobble around on the Joker-crutch. Since this game was a prequel, they wouldn’t need Mark Hamill and they wouldn’t need to deal with the end of Arkham City. Vocal virtuoso Troy Baker did an amazing job as the Young Joker, but it doesn’t change the fact that this is the third game in the series where the joker was front and center.

Arkham Knight

BE THE BATMOBILE

BE THE BATMOBILE

Mark Hamill is retired. Hamill’s Joker is gone forever. The game is all about Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight. Finally we have a game that leaves the Joker behind and allows the other characters to-

Actually, no.

Hamill is reprising the role again for some reason. The Joker is still part of the story. Oh sure, he’s just a phantom, or a hallucination, or a flashback, or whatever, but that doesn’t stop him from being a major driving force in the story and getting far more dialog than either of our supposed “main” villains. Look, I know that nobody stays dead in the comics, but at least when someone dies in the comics they stop showing up for a couple of issues.

I disliked this game when I played it the first time, but that dislike grew into hatred when I re-visited Arkham City and realized just how much better that game was.

As I (and many others) have belabored, the Batmobile is a chore. You will spend more time driving around in the Bat-Tank blowing shit up than you’ll spend brawling, meaning the car completely eclipsed the core mechanics the series was built around. This wouldn’t be such a terrible sin if the Bat-tank combat wasn’t so much slower, shallower, and less interesting than the brawling mechanics. The character designs shook off the last vestiges of comic stylization and aimed for photorealism. The open world took the game away from its Metroidvania roots and towards something more Ubisoft-esque. Batman’s upgrades make thematic sense in terms of the larger stakes this time around, but they also leave him feeling overpowered. The stealth sections were never as satisfying, for reasons I couldn’t put my finger on. The Batmobile was dragged into the puzzle sections of the game, meaning there’s a lot of tedious hopping in and out of the car so you can push a button to open a door so you can get in the car and drive the Batmobile to the next button / door.

Arkham Knight is a loud, showy, bloated mess. I suppose it’s better than Arkham Origins, but it was obviously supposed to be the crowning achievement of the franchise and instead it lost its way and staggered under the load as the game designers pulled it in six different directions at once.

Anyway

That’s four games, all of them with Joker at the center of the story. The series is named after an asylum that only appeared in the first installment. Joker has been in need of a break since the end of the first game, but the writers can’t seem to help themselves.

I don’t know where the series is going to go next, but I don’t see them breaking out of this rut anytime soon. If I had to guess, I suppose I’d put my money on the developers rebooting the series and then repeating all the same mistakes again.

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A Hundred!2015There are 135 comments here. I really hope you like reading.

From the Archives:

  1. Wolf says:

    The throughline of this part is a little vague and somehow that left me less engaged.
    Having the ending remark focus more on the Joker and his place in the series would maybe have tied a nicer bow on it.

  2. Lachlan the Mad says:

    Formatting check: the hyperlink on “the Batmobile is a chore” is not working properly.

  3. ehlijen says:

    Is Mark Hamill that fond of the joker? I’d heard doing that was actually causing him pain? How much money were they stuffing into his luggage to do this to himself?

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      He is fond of the character,but he is not fond of what it has done to his vocal chords.He didnt return for the money,thats for sure.

    • FelBlood says:

      Joker roles seem to be Mark Hamill’s Pringles chips. He just keeps coming back for just one more.

      For real, last one this time, he swears.

    • Taellosse says:

      He’s apparently come to feel extremely paternal towards the character – if given the opportunity to voice The Joker, he’ll almost always say yes. But yes, the things he does to his voice to play the role are apparently very hard on his throat, so he’s been forced to be more reluctant to do it over the last few years.

      In general, he is most negative about reprising Joker again right after finishing a project, and his fondness/interest rises steadily the longer it’s been since he last did it.

  4. Durican says:

    Ironically, for all of its shortcomings, I thought the Arkham Origins retelling of the Killing Joke origin story from the Joker’s perspective was one of the best examinations of the character I’ve ever seen.

    And in the same game, having angry thug Batman admit his own failures and try to change his behaviour towards others did actually buy me into the character.

    It’s just a shame that both those things happened at the very end of an extremely long game that didn’t quite live up the quality standards of its predecessors.

    • Darren says:

      I genuinely consider Origins to be better written, overall, than any of the other games. It’s much more focused, in that virtually all of the side content directly ties into the “assassins out to get Batman” main story or takes about 5 minutes, start to finish, to complete, and also much more stylish. The big weakness is the overemphasis on Bane, including the nonsensical “Bane knows who Batman is, trashes the Batcave, but apparently tells none of his lackeys and conveniently loses his memory about it all in the end” element. Setting that aside, I think the story is much more overtly fun than the grime and grit of the “real” Arkhams. .

      • Wide And Nerdy ♤ says:

        They pulled the Bane thing in from the comics. Thats what he’s famous for.

        His plot in the comics is actually pretty brilliant. He’s been hunting Batman and he can see that Batman is sick (he has a flu but in typical Batman fashion he’s pushing through it) and has already gone days without sleep.

        So he blows holes open in Arkham Asylum setting all of Batman’s villains free at the same time. So Batman has to wear himself out even further putting everyone back in jail. In true Batman fashion he doesn’t stop to rest except for when its body literally just gives out on him. During this time, Bane manages to figure out who Batman is. He’s been studying him so much that when he sees Bruce Wayne at a gala he’s targeting, he can tell its the same guy.

        So, only after Batman is completely spent from putting everyone back in jail does Bane show up at his house for a very one sided match that ends with the now famous breaking of his Bat-Spine.

        But they didn’t really think about it in this context. They needed to explain why Bane keeps this to himself. It wouldn’t be hard.

        The comics had the Riddler figure out Batman’s identity and he kept it for the same reason I imagine Bane does, because it feels special to know things other people don’t.

        • Michael says:

          Knightfall is kinda a trainwreck, especially when you try to put the whole thing together into a single comic. But, Bane was a really interesting villain when he was originally introduced. Some of the subsequent stuff has managed to get that character, but a lot of it has either gone, “oh, hey, meathead on steroids,” or, “meathead who reads the script on steroids.”

    • Macfeast says:

      Not being particularly well-versed in Batman-lore, beyond what the few movies I had seen had taught me, I was really looking forward to seeing some other villains get the spotlight in Origins, to learn more about Batman’s rogues gallery… and so I was initially disappointed to learn that Origins again turned to the Joker. However, when I took Origins’ story for what it was, a Batman-vs-Joker origin story, I found myself really enjoying it. The Joker-reveal at the bank, that’s one of my most favorite moments of the series.

  5. Thomas says:

    It was nice that Batman Begins _wasn’t_ a Joker story. And whilst it obviously wasn’t the plan (and weirdly the Nolan trilogy does seem to have had a plan), I liked that it didn’t end with the Joker either

    • Syal says:

      It even could have worked. Bane was a fine villain to make a more personal vendetta story around, but then they wanted to keep escalating the threat to Gotham instead of focusing on just Batman.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      Batman Begins was good, but had the unintended consequence of making every successive action franchise try to follow its formula: first film is the origin story, then introduce the franchise’s most iconic villain in the next (or later) installment. The Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films, the new Star Trek films, and the Daniel Craig Bond films all tried this and I wouldn’t say any of them got it right.

      The Holmes film is maybe the least egregious, since Doyle did retcon Moriarty into the secret mastermind behind all crime so he could have Holmes killed off by a “worthy opponent” so he wouldn’t have to write him anymore. But otherwise there’s so little to work with in the original canon you have a lot of freedom when adapting Moriarty. But Khan is not Kirk’s Joker (Kirk completely forgot about him for 20 years!) and he’s only interesting because of his history with Kirk and because he represents the archaic “Great Man / Mighty Conqueror” mindset that the Federation has rejected. Otherwise, he’s just a tougher and more charming than usual villain of the week. And it seems stupid to give Bond a personal connection to Blofeld from the get-go: Bond doesn’t need a personal reason to go after Blofeld, it’s his job to go after Blofeld.

  6. Daemian Lucifer says:

    One of the problems with Batman is that he’s got one really notorious foe and then a whole bunch of guys all fighting over distant second.

    Batman doesnt have one worst enemy,he is fighting a lot of guys simultaneously at the moment.

    JUST KISS ALREADY!

    And he definitely doesnt do ‘ships.

    • Christopher says:

      About his notorious enemies. One problem with Batman’s villains in my eyes is that it’s difficult to fill the chair of the overarching big bad if you aren’t using the Joker. He’s crazy enough and colorful enough to be interesting, but smart enough to pull off elaborate stunts and plots. Not out of any personal motivation either, besides having a good time and messing with Batman.

      My experience with Batman villains, which granted is just a few comics, Arkham Asylum and City, the Nolan movies and the DCAU, is that the heavy hitters that actually have superpowers of some sort(Killer Croc, Bane, Clayface, Solomon Grundy, Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, Man-Bat) aren’t up to the task of being the big bad. They’ve all either got very personal hang-ups or a work ethic that leads to them being more muscle.

      Meanwhile, the villains that are known for being smart or leaders of organized crime(Black Mask, Rupert Thorne, Falcone, Hugo Strange) are literally too dull to live, and whenever they appear in the Arkham games they’re incredibly overshadowed. There are some characters with the face recognition that could possibly do it. Penguin is famous. So is Two-Face. Riddler, certainly, but he’s busy handing out trophies. They’ve got a little crazy mixed in with the suit, so that even with no superpowers they’re pretty fun dudes, especially as long they hire one of the thugs as muscle. They were all used as Arkham City’s gang leaders, fittingly, while Mr. Freeze, Solomon Grundy and Clayface played the part of the thug. Everyone besides the Joker got to be a thug in Arkham Asylum, though Scarecrow probably wore it best, seeing as he wasn’t forcibly drugged by anyone or just hung out in the sewers.

      And finally there is Scarecrow, who I’d put money on as well if I was making Arkham Knight. The dude is kind of a punk, but his superpower(in the loose sense, I know it’s a gas) allows the writers to use whatever crazy visuals or hallucinations they want as gameplay, and he’s not as much of either a thug or a suit as some of these other guys. He’s also not very hung up about his past, I couldn’t tell you a thing about his origin.

      And like, that’s not true in the strictest sense. That the characters have to fit these rigid roles, I mean. In the only Killer Croc story I read, he was a sort of big “event” villain who put out a bounty on Bat’s head and made every rogue try and get him. I haven’t read it, but Bane’s first appearance was also famously as an “event” style villain who pitted Batman’s villains against him and then ambushed him when he was exhausted to break his back. They used a version of that intelligent Bane for the Nolan movies too. In those incernations, they were both capable of being the bad guy. But in Arkham Asylum and City, that’s not how they’re portrayed. Croc is a wild beast. Bane is a drugged-up moron. They’re both just muscle.

      If they wanted to use any of the big names after Joker, they were out of luck, because they already used them as second-stringers and thugs in Asylum and City. You can’t elevate them to a higher level just like that and expect them to be taken seriously. I think they made a good choice by going with the by definition scariest villain they had and adding some new guy in too. But judging by who that guy has got to be(I have yet to play Knight), they couldn’t have chosen a less treathening guy.

      Whatever happened to Hush? He had a sidequest in City that seemed like a great big setup for a sequel, and I’m pretty sure he got to be an “event”-style villain at the point of his introduction in the comics as well, like Bane and Croc. I’m not huge fan of him or anything, but he’s at least got a stylish coat.

      • Vermander says:

        Personally, I’ve always liked Ra’s al Ghul as a Batman foe. In most versions he has a personal history with Batman, and usually seems to genuinely admire him on some level, while also being perfectly willing to kill him if he gets in the way. He works well as a shadowy puppet master who hires other villains (almost any assassin type character can work as one of his henchmen), but he’s much more interesting than the generic gangsters and mad scientists who usually fill this role. He seems to represent a different level of threat than the crazy inhabitants of Arkham.

        Finally, unlike most villains he represents a genuine temptation for Batman on several levels. There’s Talia of course, who has her own complicated history with Batman, but there’s also the fact that if Batman probably could get a lot more done if he actually did take over an army of ninjas.

        My only problem with him is that too many of his storylines ends with one or both of his daughters betraying him and taking over the League of Shadows/Assassins, which has pretty much been done to death at this point.

        • Christopher says:

          I think I deleted my paragraph on Ra’s by accident. He’s not a bad choice for a big bad(and he’s practically the brains behind everything in Arkham City, so they did use him for that). I just personally think he’s a little dull, but he’s certainly a step above every businessman-style villain. I wouldn’t have minded if they gave him more screentime in City. It’s odd that you defeat him before you figure out his part in the plot and then he just dies when it’s convenient.

          • Vermander says:

            Another thing I like about Ra’s is that he’s a villain who pre-dates Batman (by centuries in some cases). Batman didn’t “create” him, directly or indirectly. If anything, he helped create Batman. So many of the other villains seem to have come to prominence in post-Batman Gotham.

            I’m sick of the trope of heroes creating their own villains or creating a superpowered “arms race”. I prefer heroes who rise to meet a challenge rather than spend most of their time cleaning up their own messes.

      • Wide And Nerdy ♤ says:

        I disagree about Hugo Strange. He was pretty dull in the game but he can be more interesting and it wouldn’t be hard to work his persona a bit to make him more colorful. Taking that severe cold clinical thing to the extreme, viewing everything with exaggerated scientific detachment and/or they can do more to play up the angle of Strange wanting to be Batman.

        As for Falcone, he could be a fun one if they wanted to take Batman in a new direction with a Year One reboot where Batman is rooting out organized crime and police corruption.

        I also disagree about the Riddler. He’s smart enough to orchestrate an elaborate plan using a bunch of villains but he’s not exactly leadership material even by supervillain standards. If he were to do it, he’d have to do it by rigging things to manipulate villains into doing what he wants. Scarecrow is the same deal. They’re both betas. Though Scarecrow could pull a big scheme by manipulating other villains by exploiting their fears (which would actually make for interesting examination of the characters)

        I half agree about Bane being the big bad. The problem is, across his various media depictions writers go back and forth between making him Batman’s mental and physical match vs being a big drooling Hulk-wannabe vs being an elite merc on steroids.

        Vermander is right that Ra’s Al Ghul makes a good mastermind. The only problem with him is that he doesn’t usually have much interest in playing ball with the Gotham native villains. And he wouldn’t devote himself to an elaborate attack on Gotham unless he’s already run across Batman and has reason to want to get revenge.

        That just leaves Deathstroke. Who’s not terribly compelling.

        • John says:

          Deathstroke is not a Batman villain but more of a general-purpose DCU super-badguy-fighty-mercenary man. I suppose that you could in a very loose sense call him a Nightwing villain since he got his start in comics fighting Nightwing’s super-team, the Teen Titans. Regardless, he doesn’t actually fight Batman or any other Bat-characters very often.

          • Wide And Nerdy ♤ says:

            Right. But he has already had that larger exposure to gamers and he’s smart enough to be a mastermind though its rare for him to take that role.

            • FelBlood says:

              But he did it really well in Teen Titans, to the point that DC animated television fans see Deathstroke AKA Slade as a Robin villain.

              • galacticplumber says:

                Yeah, too bad about that god-awful reboot that show had which will go unnamed for fear that it would be too traumatic otherwise.

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Which will go unnamed?Is that a stealth pun?

                  • galacticplumber says:

                    No. It’s just one of those things that we refuse to acknowledge the existence of due to sheer wall to wall bad. In fact I’m sorry for bringing it up. In other news Indiana Jones was a great trilogy. Shame they never made a fourth.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      I was talking about the go part.I thought you did it on purpose.

                    • galacticplumber says:

                      Oh…. Oh god….. I’m sorry everyone. Also why did you have to point it out? Now all the people who wouldn’t have noticed are doomed too!

                    • Vermander says:

                      My kids absolutely love the rebooted version. They think it’s absolutely hilarious, and I generally agree. I don’t really consider it a reboot though, it’s more of an insane parody with the same voice cast, and most of the episodes don’t actually have anything to do with super heroics.

                      Interestingly, there are a few episodes where they do acknowledge the original show, including one where they dub silly new dialog over the original pilot, and one where they finally fought and defeated “Slade” in an incredibly epic battle that happened entirely offscreen.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Is that the episode where they constantly keep saying how cartoons are just for kids and call the fans of the original stupid for not outgrowing them and wanting a more mature cartoon?

                    • galacticplumber says:

                      Yeah they’ve pretty much done everything short of directly giving the original audience the finger.

        • Vermander says:

          “Normal” villains like Hugo Strange, Carmine Falcone, and Rupert Thorne don’t normally work for me because they just aren’t visually interesting. When the protagonist is a guy dressed in bat-themed armor I can’t accept him facing off with someone who could be a villain on a regular detective show. No matter how dangerous, resourceful, or clever they are I think of them as a “regular” person, and thus not a credible threat to Batman. They usually seem like placeholder villains who will eventually be pushed aside or killed off by the real members of the Rogue’s gallery.

          I like Lex Luthor as a villain though, and he’s usually just a bald guy in a business suit. So maybe I’m a huge hypocrite?

          On the other hand, I’m not found of many of the newer, more grotesque Batman villains like Dollmaker and Professor Pyg either.

          • Christopher says:

            Black Mask’s one saving grace for me is that he’s stylish. He looks the part of a supervillain, if nothing else.

          • Wide And Nerdy ♤ says:

            You could give Hugo Strange a look. He’s already halfway there with the beard and the really thick circular glasses that completely mask his eyes. You could give him some kind of clinical asylum outfit, like a severe sadistic doctor and/or scientist look.

          • Ninety-Three says:

            I like Lex Luthor as a villain though, and he’s usually just a bald guy in a business suit. So maybe I’m a huge hypocrite?

            No, Luthor has some hard-to-quantify Bond Villain vibe that makes his normal-dude-in-a-suit different than Batman’s normal-dudes-in-suits. Part of it’s the mad science angle, and part of it’s that he’s based in legitimate business and doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would order your kneecaps broken.

            • Daimbert says:

              He works well as a Superman villain, as he’s someone who at least appears to play by the rules and Superman isn’t going to break the rules to get at him. If he’s to go up against Batman, you have that potential interesting factor of the two crazy-prepared geniuses trying to outplay each other, but since Batman doesn’t really bother following the rules that stringently it’s easier for him to intimidate Luthor’s henchpersons, at least, into revealing the plan.

              One of the best lines that exemplifies this and Luthor, though, is from Justice League, where Luthor goes up against Darkseid, and apologizes for being late because he had to change into his “power suit” … a regular business suit instead of his Kryptonite powered power suit. This is him proving that he’s using his intellect against Darkseid, and not trying to overpower him. And he wins.

      • Syal says:

        Meanwhile, the villains that are known for being smart or leaders of organized crime(Black Mask, Rupert Thorne, Falcone, Hugo Strange) are literally too dull to live

        If boring’s the only problem, how about the Ventriloquist? Seems to provide a solid mixture of gang leader and lunatic.

        • Christopher says:

          Man, the Ventriloquist would be awesome. I watched Batman TAS for the first time last year and that guy was my biggest positive surprise. Wouldn’t say he was threatening, and his shtick might wear out, I don’t know, but I really wanna see it. He’s great.

      • Taellosse says:

        There’s another, albeit pretty brief, sidequest featuring Hush in Arkham Knight. It takes place at the WayneTech Tower.

        He’s a pretty minor figure in the Arkham games, really. And I’m not sure how effective he’d be as a big bad in an action brawler video game, either – his beef is with Bruce Wayne not Batman, he’s not much of a fighter himself, and his motives are such that he’s not going to concoct the kind of plot that would make for a good Arkham game (I haven’t read either of the big Batman comic stories featuring Hush, but I suspect they’re much more cerebral than the average). On the other hand, he’d probably do really well in a Telltale game as a major antagonist. Perhaps he even does feature prominently in the one they did recently – I haven’t played it.

  7. Bloodsquirrel says:

    For me (and maybe you were suffering from this too), the problem with Arkham Knight was that the control scheme had become too bloated. It had to become too contextual in the process, meaning that getting Batman to do what you wanted relied heavily on being at just the right spot facing just the right angle, or instead of doing a ledge takedown he’d summon the batmobile.

    They ran with the idea that more stuff you can do = better, but they hit the limitations of their control scheme, and it made a mess out of things.

    The story in Arkahm Knight also went to hell. “Oh, you didn’t bother to collect every Riddler trophy in the game? Screw you, Batman dies in the end!”

    • Durican says:

      And for some bizarre reason Knight removed the convenience features from City. If you press attack in the direction of a group of enemies in City, then Batman will reliably target the enemy that’s vulnerable to a direct punch, as opposed to the shield and stun baton thugs standing next to him. In Knight, it seemed like Batman would go out of his way to ignore vulnerable foes in favour of breaking his knuckles against an armoured foe.

  8. Daemian Lucifer says:

    If this is a more cartoony or campy Batman then Joker’s goal can be to pull off a basic for-profit caper.

    Also to make a boner.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHcuSud437M

  9. Christopher says:

    I think the open world size of City is just fine, but it sure made me drop any attempt at collecting all the Riddler trophies. That was a task that fit Asylum more.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      I preferred the trophies in city because more of them were in the open world than in cramped spaces in a building.Also because the hunt-question-mark-at-random-place-and-take-picture wasnt as fiddly.

      • Durican says:

        I also preferred the trophies in City because enemies would respawn in the indoor rooms, so I’d get to play in the predator rooms again upon return visits instead of having boring treks through completely empty buildings. Also the Riddler rooms were a pretty great payoff.

        For some reason BOTH Origins and Knight went back to completely empty buildings when you return to past areas for trophies.

        • Darren says:

          It’s not just that enemies would respawn, it’s that they would actually be arranged in ways to reflect what was going on, and they’d often have dialogue about it, too. It contributed to a sense of City being alive in a way that Origins and Knight aren’t.

          Although I think that Origins and to a lesser degree Knight have a similar problem in regards to level design: they are constructed, first and foremost, with the first visit in mind. So in Origins, the police station sequence is a blast, with lots of stealth and action and scripted events. Return to collect Riddler trophies, though, and you realize that the level was in no way designed with general navigability being a priority, and it’s a complete mess to get around and find things. Origins would’ve been much better ditching the Riddler element almost entirely.

          • Durican says:

            Not to mention, it’s a police station. Having it be completely emptied out without explanation breaks immersion horribly.

            Great point about the mook dialogue on return visits in City, though. Even having the thugs change uniforms depending on which villain is gaining the upper hand at various points in the story was a fantastic detail.

    • Darren says:

      The Riddler trophies might actually be the worst thing about the Arkham series. They work fine in Asylum, but from City onwards they are far and away the leading cause of bloat. I did a 100% run of Arkham Knight around Christmas, and I wonder if I would’ve found it such a chore if I didn’t have to do all the Riddler BS. I had whole play sessions that were just wandering around trying to find trophies and riddle solutions.

      • Christopher says:

        The exploding number of them was mostly the problem I ran into. There were way too many for me to bother with, and if I’m not gonna do them all and get to see Riddler taken away, then why should I do any at all? So I ended up doing thirty or something at the beginning and then no more other than what I stumpled upon for the rest of the game.

      • Nick says:

        See this is just a difference in playstyle – I actually really liked doing the riddler trophies

      • Chuk says:

        The worst thing about the Riddler trophies is that there was a glitch (at least on PS4) that makes one of the Riddler riot missions impossible to finish. Even though they ‘fixed’ the glitch, if you saved when it was glitched, then you are out of luck and can’t finish the Riddler missions.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      In City I often found myself wondering “So is this a puzzle that I need to figure out how to solve, or is it a Metroidvania ‘Come back when you get the ice-gun’ deal?” Half the time I’d bash my head against a problem that was unsolvable because I needed equipment I didn’t have, and the other half the time I would give up on a perfectly solvable puzzle because the existence of unsolvable ones made me assumes the current one was unsolvable too.

      Maybe this problem was present in Asylum too and I just didn’t notice it, but I 100%ed Asylum and gave up on City’s trophies in disgust.

      • Shoeboxjeddy says:

        It was there in Asylum. You need the stronger Bat Claw to get many trophies, and you only get it towards the end of the game. I think 100% gamers should just set a mental limit on how long to try at a thing before coming back with more gear or looking up a hint, it would save some of this agony.

  10. Darren says:

    I largely agree with you about Arkham Knight, which could have eliminated a good third of its content (mostly related to the Batmobile) and been a much better game. But I disagree with this one: “The art style shook off the last vestiges of comic stylization and aimed for photorealism.”

    The neon-suffused, ultra-Gothic architecture? The corporate airships? The Mad Hatter fight? (OK, admittedly DLC) The movie studio? The army of Riddler bots deployed into the city?

    You can certainly argue that it’s veering into Sin City-esque excessive grittiness, but in that regard I frankly don’t see it as any worse than the preceding entries.

    • Shamus says:

      I was talking about how the characters were far less stylized. Batman, Gordon, Ivy, Harley, etc. They didn’t look like their old selves. They had more realistic proportions, texturing, and lighting properties. On top of this was the military hardware like the drones, the super-tanks, and the Batmobile. They looked like they came from a totally different world compared to (say) the airship. (Which yes, the airship was pretty good.)

      For example, look at Ivy:

      https://www.google.com/search?q=arkham+knight+ivy&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiyn8HetKbSAhUH_IMKHeP2DgwQ_AUICCgB&biw=1097&bih=544

      Radically different.

      EDIT: Rather than clarify in the comments, it makes more sense to clarify in the original post. So I’ve edited the post to make it clear which part of the art style I was talking about.

    • Geebs says:

      For me, Knight hits pretty much exactly the wrong note as far as the character design is concerned – they’ve gone for a blend of cartoon and realism, and would up with terribly ugly characters that also land square in the uncanny valley. Contrast with e.g. Uncharted 4, Overwatch, or even Assassin’s Creed Unity, which do “cartoonish realism” so much better.

      Having all of the goons all be so ‘roided up that they can barely raise their arms and then have them clutch their heads in slow motion at the end of each fight was another modelling/animation screw-up.

    • Nessus says:

      Is it just me, or does Batman’s face look a little weird in AK? To me he looks a bit oddly “off model”, like the distance between his nose and upper lip is too long.

  11. MrGuy says:

    After my second or third trip across the stupid bridge I was really starting to resent all that empty space on the map.

    This. So much this. Just thinking about that bridge makes me angry in retrospect.

    Somehow, they took what should have been the most fun and enjoyable experiences of a Batman game (soaring over the open-world map) and made it a chore by making you go back and forth over the same static place over and over again as the largest part of most trips.

    I realize there’s only so much map, but having to use the same very long set piece over somehow makes the game world feel smaller than it is.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      The bridge is easier to navigate than that weird corner prison thing however.I dont mind covering a big distance when its straight,but when I have to go around a thing,it just irks me.

      • Shoeboxjeddy says:

        Yes, this exactly. The City map stuck a big unavoidable thing in the dead center, which is the worst, most annoying thing you can do in an Open World game. Both Origins and Knight are better for not featuring that.

        • Step says:

          To be fair to City, i’ve heard that the only reason they added that was because if it wasn’t there you could see tons of the map at once, so they would have had to reduce the draw distance and cause tons of pop-in or have huge frame rate drops when you’re gliding over the city in some areas. Also the time you have to spend getting around it gives the game some time to load the level (IIRC the entire map isnt loaded all at once).

          TL;DR technical issues forced them to add something sorta annoying

          • Shoeboxjeddy says:

            I would have MUCH preferred some kind of moody fog in the distance or something like that to a permanent, physical obstruction to the gameplay. Saying the gameplay is real time, seamless, no loading screens, etc is fine, but less good if you want to travel 20m in a straight line and need to go 75m in a triangle to do it.

    • Nessus says:

      The worst part was how they arbitrarily limited how high you could reach with the batclaw. By all consistency and appearances you SHOULD have been able to grapple ledge-by-ledge to the top of one of the suspension towers, then glide all or most of the way across. Or at least chain dive glide and grapple accelerate directly from one set of towers to the next. Instead for some reason when you’re on the bridge, and ONLY when you’re on the bridge, your batclaw magically can’t grab anything taller than a highway sign, so crossing the bridge becomes this long, awkward, stilted series of micro-glides from lamppost to light cable, with the effing 2-story catwalks on the towers brick walling you at regular intervals.

      The bridge would have been perfectly fine if you could actually grapple and/or dive glide across it at the same kind of altitude as in the city.

      Even in the city proper, it seemed like half the ledges and protrusions that should have been grapple-able were arbitrarily not, making grapple gliding through the city feel weirdly restricted and clumsy compared to in “City”.

      That was a major “WTF” for me.

    • Jay Allman says:

      I don’t know where the bridge comment came from, so I don’t know if this is a reference to “Knight” (which I haven’t played) or “Origins.” But in Origins I think you’re only required twice to cross it. After the first time, you are forced to unlock a tower on the north island, and that means you can use the Batplane to get from one side to the other. The only other time you have to go onto the bridge is while tracking a signal to the hotel.

      Even at the end, when you’re going off to fight Firefly, the game uses a cut scene to segue you directly to the central pillar.

      All that said, I hate the bridge too, but that was because of the side missions that forced me on and off of it.

  12. Nessus says:

    As a kid I never liked the Joker, as I felt that the “can be whatever the story needs him to be” thing made him a boring non-character. Other villains were far more engaging because they had actual personal stories and motivations and the like: they had (at least some) depth and identity as people. The Joker was just an empty clown suit who functioned as a “Swiss army villain” the writers could plug into any story when they were feeling lazy. As a result, he made any story he was in seem less character driven: the fact that the villain was the Joker meant the villain could’ve just as easily been a generic goon and it wouldn’t matter.

    As an adult, I’ve come to see that he can be a lot of fun, but I still feel he’s often just an empty shell of affectations used as a stunt villain. The appeal is in his performance rather than his character. I suspect a minor one of the many reasons Harley Quinn was such a welcome addition to the DCU was because their relationship gave the Joker a bit of “permanent” character depth… as well as her being a more developed Joker character than the Joker himself almost right from the get go.

    His best stories are the ones that either turn his lack of identity into an identity by framing him as a platonic ideal (sort of like Michael Myers in the original “Halloween”), and/or the ones that give him the character motive of wanting to be a foil for other people’s ideals (gives him a reason to be changeable, and is on-theme for a Jester’s traditional role). These are the stories that people remember; the ones some folks were itching to counter-example the above two paragraphs with before they read this far, but they’re very much in the minority.

    The Arkham games sort of dip their toes in the “platonic ideal” characterization a wee bit, but mostly his character role is just “Batman’s most name-brand nemesis”. Up until “Knight” you could shuffle his part in the story with Bane or the Penguin and the only non-cosmetic differences would be the lack of a pre-existing sidekick (Harley), and less emotional impact from the death at the end of “City”.

    • Christopher says:

      I’m not a massive fan of the guy, but I sure see how his malleability is useful. American superhero comics have a sort of continuity, but not really. Retcons are constant and the staff changes all the time. Everyone gets to try their hand at the characters, and as a result, there’s no one true personality or incarnation of anyone. Nobody is more convenient in this regard than Joker, because no matter who he’s got to be, it fits. As long as it’s fun, or interesting, it’s alright.

      Joker is probably my least favorite Joker type character I know of though. I can think of some that are much better. But it’s essentially an issue with the format and not the writing, and I’m quite into both DCAU Joker and Arkham Joker(which are practically the same guy, only one of them looks like he got run over). My biggest beef with him is that he’s got no sort of specialization or superpower. It essentially means that depending on the setting, all he can do when Batman actually confronts him is sic his dogs or robots at him, or get beefed up with titan. It’s terribly boring. I recognize that for some people, this is like complaining about boss fights in a Bioware game, but we’re still reading/playing/watching a story here that’s all about people in costumes beating each other up. The fighting part should be interesting, not just a formality to get to the next dialogue sequence or subtext. Arkham City probably has the best Joker fights I know of just by having him use another villain to fight in his place. There was a similar Justice League episode in which the Royal Flush Gang did all the actual fighting while Joker acted as a TV presenter and did the commentary.

      • Nessus says:

        That is one consistent impression I have about the Joker: he can’t fight Batman fist-to-fist, so he has to use trickery and/or proxies. He mostly seems to come off as a wirey little scrapper who’s often able to eff-up guys bigger than him because he’s fast, unpredictable, and doesn’t respond to pain. But against Batman he’s well outclassed and if Batman gets a hand on him, he would (and on many occasions has) just end up with broken bones and missing teeth in short order.

        He’d giggle and taunt the whole time Bats was smashing him up, but barring a henchmen rescue or surprise knife, he’d be guaranteed two months in the Arkham infirmary the moment Bats got a grab on him.

        In fact, back when I saw the first pics of the Suicide Squad Joker, I actually really liked the metal teeth for exactly this reason: because while most people saw trashy grill bling, I saw old-fashioned metal caps to repair teeth that had been shattered and/or knocked out. In fact, googling screenshots now, I still really believe that’s that they are.

        Don’t like the tattoos though. I like the teeth, the makeup, even the hair. And whatever reasons one may have to dislike Jared Leto as a person or an actor (disclaimer: I haven’t seen the film, and don’t know jack about the actor, so have no opinion of my own on either, but I gather he rubs a lot of people the wrong way?), he certainly does have the right facial structure & grin for the role. The tattoos were just waaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyy narmy though, and it’s just really, really hard for me to imagine the Joker sitting still through a tattoo session without getting bored and/or changing his mind.

        • Peter H Coffin says:

          I almost entirely agree. Which leads us directly to the problem of The Craft Of Writing as executed. That we, as an audience not even for the whole work, but just pre-release trailers can come up with a reasonable explanation for almost every detail in the design and find ones that don’t fit but the authorial team didn’t is disappointing to the point of angry-making. One line tossed in about “The Goddamned Batman is my personal tooth fairy, and he owes me 23 dollars so far” or similar breeziness would have covered it.

        • Kylroy says:

          I’ve always felt Batman’s overall low power level has to be kind of off-putting to people being introduced to the concept of superheroes in general (like, say, I imagine a whole lot of moviegoers abroad have with the MCU). Imagine this conversation:

          “So I’m starting to get more familiar with superheroes, and Batman’s one of the most famous. What’s his superpower?”

          “…he’s incredibly well-trained and well-equipped.”

          “No flying or superstrength or lasers or anything?”

          “Nope. Just a guy with a whole lot of capability.”

          “Oookay. So his nemesis, the Joker, is he the same deal? Super-trained regular human?”

          “Not really.”

          “Well, what *does* he do?”

          “Wear scary makeup. Laugh maniacally. Set up horrible ‘Sophie’s Choice’-style mind games sometimes.”

          “…are we sure he’s a supervillain?”

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Batmans super power is money.

          • Sleeping Dragon says:

            I do not entirely agree, I think for many people, especially those who were not generally into superheroes, the lack of powers made Batman more… understandable. You saw a gun, you knew the gun was a threat, you saw a bomb, you knew the bomb had to be defused (or escaped from). Sure he had ridiculous gadgets but so did James Bond.

            • Kylroy says:

              I do think that’s a fair counterpoint. I remember during the scene in Spiderman 2 where police were shooting at Spidey and Doc Ock, I took a moment to remember “Oh yeah, *neither* of these guys are bulletproof.”

          • Shoeboxjeddy says:

            Joker’s power is having the writer’s favor. Want to set up an event where he captures every hero in Gotham, powers or no powers? Okay, he did it. In one day. Why not.

      • Daimbert says:

        There was a similar Justice League episode in which the Royal Flush Gang did all the actual fighting while Joker acted as a TV presenter and did the commentary.

        And what was great about that was that that whole plan really seemed like a Joker thing to do … and wasn’t actually what he was after at all.

      • Jonathan says:

        Jack Slash from Worm was the best implementation I’ve seen of a Joker-style character.

    • Droid says:

      Extra Credits called these types of characters force-of-nature villains, and they really are distinct enough that I wouldn’t even look at them as a real character, but rather as a counter-character, a direct opposite to the ideals of the protagonist.

      Of course, this makes them malleable and not have the usual consistency that other characters can have, because their role is not to be a character of their own.

      Now, of course, you can find them as boring or cheap/lazy as you like. The point is, measuring them by the standards of other “normal” characters doesn’t really do them justice.

      • FelBlood says:

        I don’t see the Joker as a Force of Nature, so much as a Foil to Batman.

        –But then the definition you use here is more like a foil than what EC or traditional literary circles would call a force of nature.

        Sauron, Cthulhu and Godzilla are forces of nature. Their function is to be an omnipresent threat for the heroes to overcome, not to be fleshed out people you can imagine having a drink with.

        In A New Hope, Tarkin and the first Death Star are foils to Luke and his X-Wing. Their limited screen time is used economically to underscore the ways the foils are different from the leads. If we got to spend more time with them, they could be fleshed out into real characters, but Young George Lucas understood how to pace a film and use setting details in service to setting a story resolution, so they mainly exist to be the black background behind our hero.

  13. Hal says:

    How will they keep from making every game feel like recycled content from the previous installment? Are they going to start adding massive new buildings for the Arkham campus and tearing down the old stuff? That might give players new content, but wouldn’t modern buildings ruin the delicious gothic vibe? Are they going to construct old buildings?

    I only played Arkham Asylum, but this aesthetic bothered me about the game. Arkham is this state-of-the-art, highly advanced detention and treatment center, and yet somehow it’s this mishmash of 19th century buildings and, more importantly, equipment. Everywhere you go, there’s electronics from the 60s, metal wheel chairs, and other design elements that probably would have gotten spruced up when they installed those electromagnetic doorways.

    I used to work at a hospital that had a reasonably similar origin story. The original building was established in 1914. Over the course of the next century, it would slowly expand, gobbling up the buildings around it. Those buildings were all integrated together, connected by walkways or new construction, until the entire thing turned into one megacomplex of buildings from a variety of decades.

    And you know what? You wouldn’t know it from the inside. Everything inside is modern! Modern equipment, modern windows, modern carpet, modern tiles. Heck, the place is in a constant state of renovation, either because everything gets replaced piecemeal or because things inevitably wear out or get damaged and need to be replaced. The whole “practically untouched since it was founded” stuff isn’t just unrealistic, it’s maddeningly absurd. (I guess we can blame the Joker for that.)

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Thats because batman isnt about realism,its about style.

      • Peter H Coffin says:

        So make the style NEW. That’ll give you a whole bunch of options for setting mood-setting and disorientation of expectation. Here’s a thing: I’m totally convinced that in the Burton Batman movie, for the theatrical release and the first set of VHS tapes, early in Wayne’s charity casino party, there’s a roulette wheel, and I *remember* that someone put down a bet consisting of two $40 bills that were bigger than normal size, in a shot that lasted about 3/4 of a second. I asked my friend if I saw that when we were in the theater, and he said, “yeah, those were. Cool, ain’t it?” I rewound the video cassette like twenty times right after it came into the house to make sure I’d seen it right two years earlier, and it was there. The DVD release? Nope. Not in there. But that shot went a long way to establishing alienness in a small way that made the architecture seem right for the world and unremarkable. This can do that too. Make the Deco and Moderne works a reaction against the tedious functionalism of prior 40 years, replacing all that spalling concrete and cold glass with warm colors of stone, polished wood, and stainless brass. Floors can be beautiful as well as flat, so they too are patterned and decorated, with designs that are interesting both near and from a distance. Etc.

        • Nessus says:

          That’s basically what Metropolis is in the animated shows, IIRC (so possibly in the Arkham verse as well, since it’s basically the DCAU only “edgier”). Gotham is all old Chicago/Boston style stone buildings to evoke an old-timey gangster-era feel, while Metropolis is all modernist skyscrapers with postmodern and art deco accents to make it feel modern and forward-looking.

          The cities are sort of supposed to be symbolic of how Batman and Superman perceive the world emotionally. Gotham is a place tinted by pessimism. Very little is new, most of it is old stuff visibly maintained well past its prime, because it’s supposed to have the depressing, (god, it feels trite to say this now) Dark Souls-ish feel of a world which is inexorably running down. Metropolis, on the other hand, is a place tinted by optimism. It has real problems, but it’s filled with sunlight, and the architecture communicates the feeling hope and faith in the future; that problems like crime and corruption have solutions and are only minor speed bumps on the road moving forward.

          Admittedly, this isn’t present/apparent in the games, as we never get to see the game version of Metropolis. As much as I’d love to see it, I kinda get the feeling that the developers are a bit too in love with the grimdark mood, and would consider the very existence of someplace brighter & newer to be out-of-character for the games’ world in general, rather than just for Gotham.

    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

      This is explained in the lore that they keep buffing the security with donations from Wayne and the like, but the sense of style is run by the Arkham descendants… who are actually insane and believe they have a mission from Old Testament God or something like that.

  14. Riley Miller says:

    I think I’ve finally figured out why Arkham’s combat never worked for me: it’s too abstract.
    I realize this would have been more relevant to last post but c’est la vie.

    In most action games (dmc, dark souls, Marlow Briggs, what have you) you are directly controlling your character. They face where you face them, attack who you target, and parrying is usually more involved than a single button press. Meanwhile in Arkham the attack button hits whoever is in range. Maybe you can pick a direction with the analog stick but maybe you’ll fly across the room and roundhouse kick somebody 20 feet away. It never seems like the counter button is quite sensitive enough either. I have a much easier time countering in Sleeping Dogs or Shadow of Mordor. It is a little unfair to say the whole game is mashing the x and y buttons but after you kick the crap out of 50 dudes my thumb starts to protest.

    This isn’t a value jugement mind, just my personal taste. I don’t care for Diablo like games for similar reasons.

    If I could just defend Arkham Origins to get rid of the rest of my credibility the Joker sections were pretty great. Durican mentioned this above but the whole segment when you control the joker is worth slogging through the crappy boss fights, tedious combat, and uncomfortably fascist batman.

    Origins also emphasised stealth more than City did and I enjoy the stealth in these games a lot more than the brawling. Despite being worse in almost every other way I probably enjoyed Origins more than City for just that reason.

    Sorry for the ramble, signing off.

  15. Bropocalypse says:

    It’s a fantastic game and was a smash-hit at the time, but I find it really hard to return to after playing Arkham City.

    Surely you meant Arkham ASYLUM here, judging by the structure of the article.

  16. Jokerman says:

    Shamus, just wondering if you ever played the TellTale Batman, and if so, what you thought about his character in that, since like Origins it was also an early take on his career (he hasn’t even met the Joker yet) and sounds like a much better take on his character.

  17. Vermander says:

    The Joker is one of my all-time favorite villains in any medium, but I’m normally not a fan of villains and heroes who are “destined to do this dance forever”.

    I tend to think that the best super villains are the versatile ones, who can be paired with many different heroes or take on an entire team. Dr. Doom is a personal favorite, but I can think of plenty of good stories where characters like Magneto, Loki, or Lex Luthor faced off against someone other than their usual arch nemesis. In fact, I’d love to see a Lex Luthor vs. Batman movie.

    Vandal Savage is a good example of character who is so versatile that his original arch nemesis has been completely forgotten.

    • Boobah says:

      Come on, the Reynolds movie didn’t do that much damage to GL’s name.

      Yeah, yeah, Alan Scott not Hal Jordan.

      Seriously, I’ve more often seen him as part of a villain ensemble (like Young Justice‘s Light) or plaguing Superman than tangling with any Lantern.

      Weirdly, he’s not the only genius immortal caveman empowered by a meteorite in DC; another one showed up in The Brave and the Bold‘s first season.

      The only reason anybody associates Doom with the FF is that the FF won’t let go of him; Magneto never lets anyone forget about the whole ‘mutant’ thing and Loki is damn near unexplainable without bringing up Thor, but Victor? All Reed Richards did is catch the blame for Victor’s experiment blowing up in his face, but even without Richards Doom would still be a genius despot sorcerer mad scientist scheming for more power.

  18. John says:

    You know what? I don’t want another Batman game. I want a Nightwing game instead. (I would also settle for a Nightwing-as-Batman game, Nightwing-as-Batman being a thing that happens in the comics sometimes.) First, Nightwing can do everything Batman can do; he can sneak around, solve mysteries, punch thugs, you name it. Second–and more importantly–he can also do things that Batman is rarely allowed to do; he can have fun, express the full range of human emotions, and even make friends. I am so very tired of grim-and-gritty Batman. In retrospect, I think I prefer the earlier episodes of the Animated Series not because of the more detailed character designs but because Batman spent a fair amount of time as Bruce Wayne, had a personality outside the costume, and generally resembled a relatable person. In the later episodes he was just Grumpy Batman all the frickin’ time. Sigh.

    I’m aware of the Lego Batman games, of course. I should probably give one of them a try at some point. I have not done so heretofore partly for hardware and OS reasons and partly because they seem more like Lego-games-with-Bat-characters than proper Bat-games.

  19. Darren says:

    Also, I actually think that, while Joker is an important part of it, Arkham Knight is far more about Batman himself than the other games in the series. Batman is constantly faced with villains who reflect the conflicts he deals with, both generally and specifically within the game.

    Two-Face, as ever, represents a crushing failure to actually protect Gotham. On top of that, the Harvey/Two-Face dichotomy reflects the Batman/Joker dichotomy of Knight.

    Scarecrow unlocks Batman’s greatest fear, which is to be not just a failure but a danger for Gotham.

    Poison Ivy has twisted motivations but is willing to sacrifice herself for the plants of the city.

    (DLC) Ra’s al Ghul presents Batman a choice to allow or prevent a death, reflecting the choice he makes at the end of the game to isolate the Joker in his mind.

    (DLC) Croc has transformed far beyond a mere diseased human and into an almost feral beast. See also: Man-Bat.

    (DLC) Mr. Freeze has to confront the idea that he has utterly failed in achieving his goal, as well as the idea that perhaps fighting against it in the way he has is counterproductive.

    The fire chief compromised his morals to do what he viewed was right, and while noble in a way it was still the wrong thing to do and caused a lot of harm.

    Azrael is brainwashed into a life of vigilantism, and Batman can either push him away from it or punish him without mercy.

    Set aside the bloat and Arkham Knight is the most Batman-centric of the Batman games, and the only one that actually deploys the Joker in a way that reflects the ostensible protagonist. Again, if the game itself wasn’t a total mess, I think Arkham Knight would’ve been really interesting.

  20. Benjamin Hilton says:

    I’m not a huge reader of Batman Comics, but even I was beleaguered by how much Joker there was in these games. Especially considering that City looked to be different, then in the space of 10 minutes we face the big bad meet and dispatch the “real” big bad and then are told to go fight Joker for the finale. I had no problem With Joker being in the game, but up until then he seemed like a secondary player like Freeze or Bane, and I really wish they left him that way.

  21. Leipävelho says:

    http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/%3Ca%20href= This is still the link to “the Batmobile is a chore.” I would like to read that post, would a fix be possible?

  22. Cubic says:

    Joker has been in need of a break since the end of the first game, but the writers can’t seem to help themselves.

    And it is driving me crazy. Insane. Absolutely nuts, hahahahahaha hahahahaha.

    • Daimbert says:

      I mean, even _I_ need a break sometimes. You know, to take in a show or a ball game without having to, you know, fill the theatre with Joker gas or switch the baseballs with exploding balls or something like that. I mean, sure, that would be HILARIOUS, but sometimes you just have to get away. Sometimes you have to go where everybody knows your name, and while they aren’t glad you came, at least they can keep the screaming down so that you can hear “Take me out to the ball game!”. Or even, you know, to be able to SING it at the game before Batman shows up to take you away. To the funny farm, where everything’s wonderful all the time … as long as Pammy isn’t talking to her plants.

      But NOOOOOO. No minor capers, no minor shenanigans, no enjoying the opera with the Ultra Humanite. It’s always some big involved plan to confuse Batsy and turn the entire city into Joker clones or something. I mean, I have a life outside of Batboy, you know! I want to branch out, meet new heroes and confuse THEM, too.

      It’s enough to make a clown cry.

  23. Blackbird71 says:

    “As with the movies, they felt they needed to lead off with their “best” villain.”

    Except that the Nolan movies didn’t do this; aside from the hint of a playing card at the very end of the first one, the Joker didn’t make an appearance until the second installment.

    Now, if you’re referring to the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher movies, beginning with Batman (1989), yes, that one started with the Joker, so that’s one of two sets of movies that followed this pattern.

    Inevitably that of course brings us to the 1966 Batman: The Movie. This did include Joker as well, but as one of four in a rogue’s gallery of villains (others were Penguin, Riddler, and Catwoman). Hey, if you’re only going to do one movie, you might as well throw in everyone at once, right?

    Which of course leads me to:

    “Looking back on early Batman could make for a cool story. Maybe show us a Batman back when he was still wearing grey spandex.”

    So the last bit here actually put the idea in my head for the next big Batman game: “Arkham: The Adam West Years”

    Just imagine, running around in grey spandex with a bulging gut, climbing the sides of buildings to the quips of residents poking their heads out of windows, and all of the fight combos are achieved by chaining the correct sequence of onomatopoeia!

  24. Gaius Maximus says:

    I’ve always enjoyed the Batman-Joker interplay, so it never bothered me that he kept coming back all the time. But it might make it more palatable for some if you look at the Arkham series not as a Batman story, but as a Batman and Joker story. Joker seems to be as much a deuteragonist as well as an antagonist in this series, and he gets as much, if not more, psychological examination in the story as Batman. I agree with Shamus that they almost certainly didn’t plan this from the beginning, but I think they had committed to it by City. So it’s not that the creators just couldn’t bear to give up Joker, it’s that the story they were telling was as much about Joker as Batman.

  25. Son of Valhalla says:

    The joker is the primary villain through most of Batman’s shenanigans, partly because no other villain he faces fits the bill of being an overly insane villain. Most villains top foes are the ones who are most insane or mentally deranged in some way.

    • Blackbird71 says:

      I’m trying to parse that last sentence, and all I can come up with is that the greatest heroes are all mentally deranged (which may not be that far from the truth).

      • Son of Valhalla says:

        The Joker, Lex Luthor, Loki (insane, wants to be an overlord of sorts),the Green Goblin, Dr. Doom. It’s all there. They’re all insane in some way.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Luthor and doom may be insane in the real world concept of insanity,but compared to other two,they are as normal as you or me.Well,normal as you at least.

        • Blackbird71 says:

          I’m not sure who would call those characters “heroes”.

          Allow me to clarify. You said “Most villains top foes…” Well, the “top foes” of “villains” would be “heroes”, correct? Therefore, I read “Most villains top foes are the ones who are most insane or mentally deranged in some way” as “Most heroes are the ones who are most insane or mentally deranged in some way.”

          I realize that for this interpretation to work, there is a possessive apostrophe missing from “villains”, but really it’s the only sense I could make of the sentence.

  26. Jay Allman says:

    Hmm. The first version of this post got eaten as spam when I tried to edit it for format mistakes. Well, maybe it’s a blessing. Gives me a chance to try saying the same thing in less than 4000 words. [Edit: Fail!]

    Dear Commenter #90, Are you serious? What did you have to say that took 4000 words?

    I was arguing about Arkham Origins, which I am prone to do. It’s a massively underrated game. Unfortunately, people get ahold of it the wrong way so easily that it takes a long time to explain just how wrong they’ve got it.

    In particular, I was arguing against this:

    He [Batman] started out as a vicious thug who learned to stop shouting all the time. He didn’t gain confidence through overcoming adversity. He began as an arrogant jackass who thought he knew everything, but then had to learn not to be such a jerk to Alfred.

    There’s just no way this arrogant, undisciplined rage-monkey became the world’s greatest detective, much less the forward-thinking and pragmatic Batman of Arkham Asylum. That’s not “maturity”, that’s a completely different personality.

    Dear Commenter #90, Really? It seems pretty self-evident that Shamus is right.

    Well, I’ll admit that AO Batman conveys a strong impression of a man with anger issues. The first time I played the game he got on my nerves pretty bad. He was unnecessary shirty with Alfred, and was in serious need of a time out.

    But I’ve played the game a lot more since then, and after seeing how it ends and how it gets there, I understand it a lot better.

    One thing’s for certain. It’s a glaring exception to Shamus’s otherwise sound observation that the Arkham games elevate gameplay over story. The gameplay of this one has some issues. But the story is vastly superior to Asylum and City, at least. (I haven’t the hardware to play Knight.) It has more ambition and craft in any one scene then the others do in their entire running time.

    Dear Commenter #90, Well if that’s what you’re going to argue, I can see you’ve got your work cut out for you. How are you going to start making this absurdly counterintuitive case?

    I’ll start with a small but telling detail. Shamus complains that AO Batman starts in armor when he should start in spandex, while apparently forgetting that AA and AC Batman also wear spandex. Now, either the AO developers forgot this fact too, or they consciously chose to portray Batman as someone who started his career in armor and worked down to spandex.

    Dear Commenter #90, Obviously they must have forgotten it, because obviously no one would trade armor for spandex.

    He would if he realized he didn’t need the armor. He would if he grew in confidence.

    And he would start in armor if he was seriously worried about getting shot or badly hurt.

    I’d call that a psychological “tell.” It’s a character note arguing that AO Batman is walking around with some serious fears in his head, and possibly a serious lack of self-confidence. Arkham Origins is about how he shed it — the fear, to start with, and the armor later on.

    Dear #90, That seems like an unpromising nugget to generate an argument from.

    I’m not generating anything from it. I offer it only as a germ containing everything I want to say:

    The game has a particular story it wants to tell. It is a character study of Batman and about how he overcomes one last emotional obstacle — a particular fear — to become the familiar hero we know in the other games.

    And when I’m done, I hope it explains how his “rage monkey” act is not the posturing of an arrogant jackass, but the behavioral expression of that fear.

    Dear Crazypants, Don’t take this wrong way, but you’re definitely wearing crazypants as you write this.

    Possibly. But allow me to elaborate. Maybe you’ll be entertained, at least.

    Let me start with some theoretical points about stories and storytelling.

    First of all, I’m not using the word “story” the way most people use it, as a synonym for “plot.” If you want to use “story” to mean “plot,” go ahead. Just understand that I’m using it in the sense that professionals from Aristotle to David Mamet have used the term.

    Basically, a story needs three things:

    1. A starting situation that contains a highly salient characteristic.
    2. An ending situation that alters or discards that highly salient characteristic.
    3. A protagonist whose ardent, purposeful intrusion has brought about the change from one to the other.

    An all-purpose example may serve here. Star Wars (the 1977 film; I’m old enough to resist calling it “A New Hope”): (1) A galaxy under threat by a Death Star. (2) A galaxy no longer under threat by a Death Star. (3) Luke Skywalker, whose ardent interference has changed the former into the latter.

    That’s the basic stuff. But a good story — not merely a passable one — has more. In particular, it will link the change in situation to a change in the protagonist, so that the protagonist’s evolution is a necessary prelude to the environmental evolution. More: The character change will occur when the protagonist is at his lowest point; many times, it will occur when he has been broken and can doing nothing except evolve. Finally, the change will reveal the essence of the protagonist’s character because it will reveal what he most prizes, and it will reveal it because he will choose to evolve in a way that preserves what is most important to him while discarding what isn’t.

    Again, let’s go to Star Wars. The decisive moment there takes place in the trenches of the Death Star as Luke makes the second run at the exhaust port. This is his lowest moment. Everything that came before will be for nought if he misses — the base, the princess, the Rebellion, galactic freedom, all will be extinguished.

    And in that moment he suffers a psychotic break. He hears voices.

    Okay, he hears Obi-Wan’s voice, but that’s not something he expects. So maybe it’s a hallucination. Maybe it’s not. He’s got only seconds to decide whether to trust the voice or to trust his instruments.

    In those seconds he goes with the voice. He evolves. He discards the last of what he carried away from Tatooine and embraces what’s really important to him: Obi-Wan, the Force, and the legacy of his [identity still unrevealed] father. The farmboy decisively turns into a Jedi — or, at least, into someone who will evolve into a Jedi unless something untoward intervenes.

    Dear Twice-45, Hmm. We’ll pretend I buy this. How do you apply it to Arkham Origins?

    Before I go there, let me mention one last point. This close connection between the environment’s evolution and the protagonist’s evolution means that a story can lean one way or the other. In Star Wars they are pretty balanced. In most entertainments it’s the change in scenario that gets the bang. In Raiders of the Lost Ark the big thing is the elimination of the Nazi threat to the Ark. There’s a bit of a change in Indy to give the climax some emotional resonance — the very active, very hard-headed Jones relinquishes the fight to a higher power and saves himself by even going so far as to avert his eyes from the final catastrophe. In the more elite artistic precincts, on the other hand, the balance tends to emphasize the change in character. Hardly anything “happens” in the novels of Henry James, for instance, except for the blossoming or withering of someone’s innermost soul.

    So naturally it will be a shock to find that Origins leans on the internals. For not only are we used to thinking of Batman as a Biff-Bam-Pow kind of affair, totally lacking in introspection, we’re also used to thinking of Batman himself as a obdurately known quantity. His character never changes. Even Shamus, fantasizing about what kind of game Origins could have been, can come up with nothing better than that maybe it could be a story about Batman fashioning some gadgets and learning not to be so polite to his enemies.

    I mean, it’s just a given that Batman was always who he was and never ever changed except maybe to add muscle mass.

    Dear Thrice-30, One forebodes that heresy is about to be committed.

    You can stand over there if you want, so none of the incoming missiles hit you.

    The usual story about Batman never had to evolve because he was “born the night his parents died.” This is, of course, the most ludicrous thing anyone has ever suggested in the history of everything. I mean, come on. Really, you’re saying that later that same night he put on a batsuit, swore never to kill anyone, and snuck out the window to boot bozos in the head? That was one hardcore seven-year-old.

    Dear Mr. Pedantic, That’s not what people mean.

    Then people should be more careful about what they say.

    Never mind that not everyone who loses their parents to violence turns into a costumed (but not lethal!) vigilante. Never mind that lots of seven year olds fashion serious intentions about what they’re going to be when they grow up. A policeman! An astronaut! A choo-choo train! And then they change their minds a few years later. “Batman” is obviously a persona and an ethic that was fashioned over time, not a thing which sprang fully formed from the brain of a distraught child.

    Corollary: If Batman emerged over time, you can tell a story about each iteration of his evolution, and Arkham Origins could be — and I would say is — about one such iteration, and it seems to have been the final one. At least, I take the title seriously. If an “origin” story tells about how a thing came about — how it reached its final form — I’m willing to hazard that this story is about how Batman reached his final form.

    Dear Are-You-Getting-Enough-Oxygen?, Now you’ve lost my patience totally. Didn’t you even read that block quote from Shamus denouncing AO Batman as an “rage monkey” who could never in a jillion-xillion years evolve into AA and AC Batman?

    Well, that’s what we’re arguing about, nu? Who this character is and how he could have come to be.

    So, in order to understand a character (and not just when you’re doing literature; jury trials also depend on it) you have to understand his actions. A person reveals himself by what he does, because to understand those actions you have to understand why he does it. So if we want to understand Batman we have to ask what he does and why he does it.

    The “does” is easy. He goes out every night and kicks criminal ass. So onto the second question. Why?

    Dear —

    Alright. I know what you’re going to say — “Because he swore an oath to his dead parents” — and it’s a dumb answer. It’s as dumb as answering the question “Why does the Amazon flow into the Atlantic?” with “Because billions of years ago the Earth coalesced out of interstellar dust.” Well, yes, and without that there’d be no Amazon or Atlantic for it to flow into. But that was a long time ago. So was Batman’s oath. The question is, Why does he do it tonight, and every night? Why does he go looking for trouble? Why does he run toward it?

    The simplest answer is the best, and it’s this: He wants to stop bad people from doing bad things. He’s got a bit more of a “thing” about it than most of us do, but it’s not a hard explanation to get behind.

    Still, he’s a lot more intense about it than most. Like I said, he has a bit of a “thing.” What is it?

    Dear —

    I am the seventh son of a seventh son of a seventh son, and so am clairvoyant, and so I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to say, “It’s because he’s as crazy as the people he’s always fighting!”

    An aside: Not many fanboys attend the opera, which is passing strange, since so many fanboys have a taste for melodramatic lunacy not often found outside the blowsier precincts of La Scala.

    Again, I say that the simple explanation is the best, and “Batman is a functional psychopath!” is too rococo to be acceptable.

    But yes, Batman has a strong, emotional investment in stopping bad guys. He doesn’t just “want” it; he feels it with all his vibrating viscera. But at what pitch does that viscera vibrate? With love, anger, jealousy, hatred? Melancholic ennui?

    How about fear?

    What’s that? You look like you want to say something.

    Dear Kreskin, Has your clairvoyance momentarily failed? I was going to suggest it highly unlikely that Batman is afraid of anything. Don’t the Scarecrow’s experiments show that?

    Fear is not panic, and it is not the shakes and it is not an itch to flee, though it is the cause of them. Fear is nothing more than the close cousin to dread, which is bad enough — the trembling, sick-making conviction that something awful may be about to overwhelm. No, Batman is not afraid of thugs, thuggees, or any other thingamabob, and he will cheerfully charge them in the teeth. When I say Batman is motivated by fear, I mean he is motivated by a particular dread — by a fear of failure.

    Dear #90, Oh, have you started to circle back to where you started?

    Yes, finally. Batman, say I, is afraid of failure. That is what powers his actions. He fights criminals because he wants to save good people from bad things, and his fear of seeing good people victimized is the volatile fuel that drives him to perch on gargoyles when sensible people are face-planted in their pillows.

    If this sounds radical, it’s probably because it sounds comparatively sane next to the more lurid explanations typically offered.

    Dear Long Talker, So where does Arkham Origins fit into this?

    Because there are two forms this “fear of failure” can take. The first is a personal, egotistical fear — the fear that he won’t be able to stop the bad guys. The other is only the fear that the bad guys will succeed in causing harm.

    My clairvoyance just kicked back in, and I know you’re going to say this sounds like “to-may-to-” vs. “to-mah-to.” But it’s important. Think of the Joker in the graphic novel Mad Love. He doesn’t merely want Batman to die. He wants Batman to die at his hands.

    So, does Batman merely want to see the bad guys fail? Or does he want to see the bad guys fail at his hands specifically?

    Dear He-Whose-Mind-Wanders-in-Obscure-Lanes-and-Forgotten-Byways, I’m pretty sure it’s the latter. He’s not the kind to turn down help from the police. Which, by the way, is one reason he seems like such an aggravating jerk in Origins, because he keeps yelling at Gordon for no good reason.

    May I suggest at this point that that’s a very significant fact? He goes from fighting Gordon to cooperating with him after Alfred convinces him that he needs allies.

    Dear Maximally Obvious, But that’s more or less what Shamus said, isn’t it? The only moral in the story is the dumb one that he shouldn’t be such a jerk to Alfred and by extension to everyone else.

    But look at where the change occurs. This is not the first time Alfred has made that speech, and all the previous times Batman has snapped at him. Why does he change his mind now?

    Dear Maximally Oblivious, Because the game is wrapping up at that point?

    In a sense, yes. Because it is reaching its climax. That’s why I talked about characters and their low points earlier. It’s time now to fit Arkham Origins into that pattern, the way I fit Star Wars into it.

    The story begins with the city convulsed in crisis. It ends with peace — of a kind — being restored. Batman is the protagonist whose ardent, purposeful intrusion effects the change. That side of the equation, I implied earlier, isn’t very important. It’s not the burning core of the story, which is concentrated upon Batman, and on the evolution that he undergoes at the climactic moment. Just as Luke is broken in the Death Star trench, and reconstitutes himself as a Jedi, Batman also breaks and has to reconstitute himself.

    Yes, I said that Batman breaks. The inability to recognize — to even conceive of that fact — is probably the single greatest misapprehension that prevents people from understanding the story. They simply will not accept that Batman ever failed at anything. He was always perfect but somehow also contrives to get ever better.

    Anyway, Batman breaks. That moment does not occur when Alfred dies, though. It comes immediately afterward. It’s the moment when Batman gives up, when he announces that he can’t do it. He can’t defend the city, he can’t defend the people. He can’t even defend his own home.

    He’s been beaten. And once Batman has tasted failure, he gives up, closes up shop.

    This is why Alfred’s speech — which he’s been giving constantly all night long — finally has an effect. Alfred’s argument has been simple: “You can’t do it alone. You need help.” Batman’s reply: “I have to do it alone. The cops are corrupt and are in my way. If they could do their job, I wouldn’t be out there.” (The last two sentences are near-quotes from two other spots in the story. I’m not making this stuff up out of thin air.)

    But now Batman stands refuted on his central point — that he can do it alone. He has admitted that to himself.

    At this point he has to decide what is more important. That he be the one who fights the criminals, or that the criminals be stopped even if it takes the help of others.

    His response — almost as fast in coming as Luke’s — tells us what his real character is. He gives up on being a loner, and embraces cooperation. He will learn to trust and rely on others, because stopping the bad guys is that important.

    Note that this is not a simple, pat little “moral” casually thrown in because the story is trying to wrap itself up. It fits too neatly into the classic pattern — the protagonist broken on the wheel of a final, catastrophic failure and thereby forced to evolve — that the story has worked hard to create.

    The fact that it happens here, at this point and in this way, shows that everything has been leading to this point, and to what comes afterward. This is the point where what comes before turns into what comes after and clarifies what the story is about.

    There are two levels. The first, at the simple level of the Batman mythos, is about how Batman goes from being Jim Gordon’s competitor to being his ally. That is one of his defining characteristics, after all. Batman isn’t Batman until he’s Jim Gordon’s friend and confidante.

    The second is about him learning to control his fear — the fear that the bad guys will sometimes win.

    Part of his learning simply comes from the experience of an actual loss. Having tasted that failure once, in the worst possible way, by kneeling over Alfred’s corpse, he doesn’t have to wonder with dread what it will taste like if it comes to him again.

    Part of it is realizing that there is less need to fear when you have others you can trust and rely upon. As Pooh once said, It’s always friendlier with two.

    Mostly, though, he is able to control it because he has acknowledged finally that the job is too big for him, and that it will crush him if he lets his fear put him directly beneath it. He has learned that the job is so important he can’t let the fear that drives get in the way.

    It’s almost a paradox, but one that makes sense: He is now so fearful of losing that he won’t let that fear get in the way ever again.

    Dear Cleverpants, This all sounds clever, but it’s too clever by about ten thousand percent. It can’t change the fact that the game portrays him as an out-of-control rage monkey.

    Yes, for most of it he does act that way. But all the way through?

    Watch the game after he returns to Blackgate. Afterward, tell me, with a straight face, that he acts like a “rage monkey” in any of those scenes.

    Yes, he gives Joker a violent thrashing, but I’d say that’s more about giving the player catharsis. It’s also much more about the Joker — it’s told mostly from his point of view — who’s got his own story going on, but I’m not going to get into that.

    But otherwise in that part of the game he is unfailing courteous to Gordon and to the police, solicitous of Alfred, gentle with Dr. Quinzel, and calm but determined with Bane. Certainly he’s no more growly than he is with Cobblepot in Arkham City.

    So if AO Batman is an irredeemable jackass who could never turn into AA Batman, why is he just as calm inside Blackgate, when the crisis is at its worst, as he is inside Arkham Asylum or Arkham City?

    Dear Internet Denizen #348573823405553/b, Whatever. So how are you going to magic away the earlier rage monkey?

    I don’t have to. He was never there.

    You saw a man who was not in control of his temper. You interpreted him as an arrogant, immature thug with rage issues. But in light of the story’s theme and development, you should see him as a man who is letting the fear do the talking.

    Think back to some of your own gaming experiences — the boss battle or the trap where you’ve failed over and over again, and are dreading returning to it to fail again. Think of the anger, the frustration, the final loss of control. Think of all the times you rage quit a game after one loss too many.

    Think of all the times you stalked away from a game — acting like a rage monkey — because your fear of failure led to frustration and a loss of control.

    But Batman, under immensely greater stress and for immensely greater stakes, isn’t allowed to crack and snap and snarl when he lets that fear of failure get the better of him?

    The answer, of course, is “No, he isn’t,” and AA Batman and AC Batman keep their cool no matter how stressful things get.

    At the deepest level, that is what Arkham Origins is about. It’s about Batman learning that if he is to be in control of a situation, he also has to be in control of himself and of all of his volatile impulses, including his fear of failure.

    Let’s return to that blockquote:

    He started out as a vicious thug who learned to stop shouting all the time. He didn’t gain confidence through overcoming adversity. He began as an arrogant jackass who thought he knew everything, but then had to learn not to be such a jerk to Alfred.

    There’s just no way this arrogant, undisciplined rage-monkey became the world’s greatest detective, much less the forward-thinking and pragmatic Batman of Arkham Asylum. That’s not “maturity”, that’s a completely different personality.

    As I said, this is a misapprehension of the character. This “rage” is not the bad character of a overmuscled street thug with an attitude problem. It’s the demeanor of someone who is badly frightened but won’t admit it to himself. That fear has always made him impatient, so he will take the ugliest shortcuts to get what he wants. And this story puts him under intolerable stress. He realizes as he goes along that he’s up against an adversary greater than he’s ever had to deal with, and in his voice you hear the haggard strain of the fight.

    He is not a “rage monkey.” He’s a man laboring under a chronic but unacknowledged phobia of failure, stressed almost out of his mind by an adversary more monstrous than he ever thought possible, and with all those assassins running around is already having the worst night of his career. The wonder isn’t that he snaps at Alfred. The wonder is that he doesn’t snap harder at him.

    All of this is set out in with the contrast turned up high so that we will see and feel the change when it finally breaks him and puts him back together again.

    Dear Whatever, So you say, but you seem to be the only person who gets this. Shouldn’t the game do a better job of making this clear?

    What do you want it to do? Deliver one of those gaseous, neon-lit, interminably gloating expository bloviations like Arkham City indulges in? Do you want the story to treat you like you’re an idiot who has to be spoon-fed?

    Actually it has lots and lots of such speeches. It’s just that they are chopped up and scattered through the story. It is constantly nudging and prodding you with hints about what it’s doing. This, by the way, is another aspect of superior craftsmanship: an inclination to trust the audience is smart enough to catch on.

    And if the audience doesn’t catch on?

    I leave it to you decide what inference to draw.

    Dear Mr. So-Much-Time-on-His-Hands, I’m still not convinced.

    Naturally. I’ve only offered arguments, which are a poor persuasive technique. The only fair test is to return to Origins with an open mind, and play it again with what I have said in the background. The only fair test is to see if your interpretation changes.

    I’ll close with this caution, though: The bulk of the game remains fraught with tension, ugly conflict, rancorous argument, and raw feelings. If you don’t enjoy that kind of personal conflict — if you prefer your Batman as stiff and perfect as a marble statue — you will never enjoy Arkham Origins, which is much more interested in turning him at an angle that exposes some of the flaws and fallibilities.

    You know. The stuff that makes people seem human.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      The first version of this post got eaten as spam when I tried to edit it for format mistakes.

      The comment still exists.You shouldve just told Shamus to unspamify it.That wouldve saved you the effort of writing another wall of text.

    • Christopher says:

      Seems reasonable to me, though I can’t blame the people who are annoyed by that batpersona.

  27. General Karthos says:

    I’ve always seen Batman as Lawful Stupid. I mean, if he’d just run over the Joker in the 2nd movie, it would have been over in 40 minutes, and hundreds (or thousands) of people would have survived. Batman will go out of his way to save the life of a villain that he KNOWS will kill lots of people in the future. Superman has the same problem, only moreso. So many of the planet’s problems could be solved by killing Lex Luthor, instead of throwing him in a prison from which you know he will easily escape.

    See, superheroes like Green Arrow (for one example) will actually kill people when it makes sense, and you CAN convey RELUCTANCE to kill and yet still align it with the occasional necessity.

    Batman and Superman are guilty of thousands of deaths that wouldn’t have happened if they’d just killed the super villains involved. As I recall, Batman risked his OWN Death in “Stupid Batman Movie 2: The Restupiding” to save the Joker’s life.

    And don’t even get me started on Clark’s hypocrisy in Smallville. Because I wouldn’t stop typing until I died of old age to list all his massive offenses against that particular thing.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Ok,why doesnt the state execute those villains then?Why are they just keeping them in prison,instead of putting them on death row?Why do the heroes have to do the deed of the state?

    • Daimbert says:

      This gets into MASSIVE issues around ethics and morality, all of which form the basis of many, many books and papers in Moral Philosophy. So obviously, I can’t summarize it all here (there are more detailed discussions on these sorts of things on my blog, specifically in the “Philosophy and Popular Culture” section, where the question of Batman killing the Joker is discussed … but those books THEMSELVES have decent takes on it and can be interesting. Anyway, unabashed plug off [grin]).

      So I can’t summarize all of it here, but in general there are three main approaches to morality that are relevant here:

      1) Utilitarian/consequentialist: what’s right is determined by the outcome. Batman and Superman can kill that person and save the lives that they will probably end up killing later, so they are morally justified in and maybe even morally OBLIGATED — as your comment here states — to do so. Wolverine would be a hero that follows this line, and Iron Man is noted as this in an analysis of his actions in Civil War.

      2) Deontological: things are right or wrong. Killing someone not in DIRECT self-defense — ie killing them because they MIGHT do something in the future — is morally wrong. That, in fact, is what those villains ARE doing wrong: they are murdering people. You can’t be moral doing what is morally wrong. Captain America is generally seen as being a deontologist.

      3) Virtue Ethics: To be moral, you have to be a good and moral person. Virtuous people don’t kill people for what they might do in the future (executions might be allowed, depending on the theory). Thor and Batman are often seen as Virtue Theorists.

      Consequentialist views have a lot of intuitive weight, as we see in many media (and many criticisms of stories that dodge it). But there’s also a lot of intuitive weight behind the idea that some things are just wrong regardless of their consequences, as reflected in other stories where we reject the perfect world bought by sacrificing some people against their will. And there is also a lot of intuitive weight behind the idea that a hero who always acts on principle even when it costs them is also the superior hero (think Optimus Prime, for example, although whether he’s a deontologist or a virtuous exemplar is an open question). The famous trolley case shows the split in our thinking, as we find the idea of killing one to save five intuitive, but do draw the line at some point and so don’t just follow that moral calculus.

      This gets even more complicated when we ask the related but independent question of if someone is to be held morally responsible for the actions of others. If the morally right thing for me to do is save someone else’s life, and they then go on to murder someone else, am I responsible for their actions? On the one hand, it seems that I’m responsible for my own actions and not the actions of others; committing an immoral action because otherwise someone ELSE will commit a moral action doesn’t seem to let me off the hook for committing an immoral action. But on the other hand, if I can PREVENT someone from committing an immoral action, it seems I’m morally obligated to do so, so perhaps it isn’t an immoral act after all.

      And this question will interact with whichever view above you hold. Consequentialists will claim it moral when preventing that immorality will have better consequences, deontologists when it isn’t morally wrong itself, and virtue theorists when it is what a good person would do.

      So there are a lot of good questions around this that have been talked about for THOUSANDS of years. But suffice it to say that it’s not as simple as “Kill them because they’ll likely kill others.”

      • Christopher says:

        There are two blog posts on it on this very site, too, specifically about the Arkham version.

        • Daimbert says:

          Sure, but those are more from a dramatic perspective, not a specifically character/moral one. I think the “Lawful Stupid” comments leans us more towards a moral question than just “The work won’t work if Batman’s — or Superman’s — villains don’t get killed”. And, specifically, I think that Superman is a prime example where Superman doesn’t just kill his villains is a CLEAR example where the morality of the character is driving the action. Batman isn’t as clear, but interpreting Batman as a — depressed — Virtue Theorist (as a number of essays in the “Batman and Philosophy” work did) makes sense: Batman doesn’t deliberately kill his enemies not because he doesn’t see the utility gain or because he thinks that killing is always necessarily wrong and that there are moral rules that cannot be broken (again, he’s clearly not Captain America) but instead because he believes that the morally virtuous person doesn’t kill people when he can stop them without killing, and doesn’t believe that the morally virtuous person will kill people because they might do something in the future.

          There’s also possibly an element of hope in the character, a hope that people can be redeemed or cured, and even that Gotham can be redeemed or restored. Many of his Rogue’s Gallery can be redeemed or cured. It’s pretty much only the Joker who can’t … but then how responsible HE can be held for his crimes is debatable.

          In general, there’s lots to explore with the character that isn’t just how the stories would have to work out or how it would work out if he did things differently. That’s the fun, at least for me, of the “Philosophy and … ” works in general.

      • Syal says:

        On the pragmatist side, there’s also the problem of imitation; if Batman kills people, people who look up to him will kill people, and they’ll miss the subtleties like “just the Joker just this once”.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Isnt that already happening?With imitator vigilantes,some of which do kill criminals.

          • Christopher says:

            Like Garrus.

          • Syal says:

            Are they imitating Batman, or are they deliberately going further? (I mean, it’s comics, I’m sure there’s examples of both.)

            Either way, if Batman starts killing people it legitimizes the practice and you’ll get more killer vigilantes. Some people will always just do whatever they want to, but I’m sure Batman’s fought at least one murderous imitator because Batman Disapproves.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              How come the punisher doesnt have a bunch of imitators then?

              • Syal says:

                Well, the real answer is “because the writers don’t want that to happen”. Same reason Nolan-verse Joker can get a cop to shoot a civilian but can’t get a boatload of mobsters to blow them up.

                Other than that, from the very little I’ve osmosed about the Punisher, The Punisher doesn’t care about the culture at large, he’s not trying to save anything and wouldn’t particularly care if he did more harm than good in the long run. If imitators existed the audience wouldn’t hear about them.

            • Daimbert says:

              That has less to do with discouraging imitators and more to do with Batman thinking that being that indiscriminate is, in fact, morally wrong. I don’t think Batman’s reasoning is pragmatic on that count. At best, it’s him refusing to do it because he’s afraid that once he crosses the line he won’t be able to come back from the other side. But I still tend to think that he just doesn’t think it’s morally right to do it.

              • Syal says:

                It’s more a theoretical argument than actually saying Batman is being pragmatic. It could get the same result.

                Why is it morally wrong? It could be because it rejects the judgment of the city at large in favor of the judgment of one man in the heat of the moment. There’s not really a natural stopping point for that philosophy, and society pretty much hinges on that judgment power, so you should fight it as high up the slippery slope as you can.

            • Christopher says:

              I do think there have been several cases of imitators taking up his mantle and doing a much worse job of it. I forget his name, but after Bane breaks Batman’s back, there’s some dude that tried his hand at it and isn’t very good at it because he’s too violent. But this is one of the stories I haven’t read, so I’m not sure about the details.

              • Boobah says:

                You’re thinking of AzBat, so called because he took up the Batman name while Bruce was dealing with a broken spine and because his unique super-persona was Azrael. Jean-Claude something-or-other, IIRC.

                The Punisher doesn’t get violent imitators because the crooks he fights aren’t of the public grand-standy type like some of the Batman’s, and also they tend to mostly die and so find it hard to tell people about him.

                Plus, how could anyone tell? You see a group of mostly mundane crooks get gunned down by one person in the Marvel universe and everybody just assumes it’s the Punisher.

  28. MichaelGC says:

    It’s really a shame that they managed to put so many people off with the Batmobile, because for me Arkham Knight really is a crowning achievement, particularly Jokerwise. Every time he’s on the screen it’s pure gold lurid green. Not only comedically, either – e.g. there’s an interesting story strand concerning Batman’s actions, and how they might be affected by having Joker stuck in his noggin. Slightly more cheaply, they also use famous stories from the comics in order to make a couple of the hallucinations really quite affecting.

    A key point is that I really enjoy the Batmobile, which certainly is used so often that if you’re not enjoying it, I can see how that’d overshadow everything else. I do think they integrated it into the puzzles very much better than Shamus’ description suggests – it essentially becomes another giant multi-faceted Batgadget, and some of the later Riddler stuff is really quite impressive – but the fact remains that if you’re not finding it fun to use, then you’re not going to be in a positive, receptive mood when e.g. Joker starts singing an awesome song about the events of Asylum & City! It does take away from the other aspects, too – combat is both more perfunctory per encounter and also heavily de-emphasised overall, and the predator sections tend to be either way too easy, or really hectic. Whilst the latter can be challenging and fun, I doubt “really hectic” is what most people sign up for when it comes to predator sections.

    However, if you do happen to enjoy Knight’s mechanics, then Knight is not any more bloated than City. 250-odd Riddler trophies in Knight versus 400 in City, for example. Both have this issue of multiple main villains. They’re both big sprawling games with a lot going on, basically, and so I think what it boils down to is whether or not you’re enjoying them! For anyone on the fence, I’d highly recommend giving Knight a try next time it’s on sale. It is a risk, because hating the Batmobile does seem to be a fairly common experience (hence sale), but as I say, it works for me. And the Joker stuff really is amazingly well done – a fitting send-off, and a clowning achievement.

  29. Duoae says:

    God, thus thread is long! I may not have read through all of the posts shop forgive me if someone else said this but:

    I really think Batman, using the mechanics of the Arkham series, would work really well in a serial format a la Hitman. A new short story and villain each “episode” a chance to bring in and explore character relationships, etc.

    I think that’d be really interesting and also sidestep the issue of expense that Shamus brought up last article…

  30. I don’t want to be that guy who posts someone else’s review, but your comment on stealth in Arkham Knight makes this just too salient. It’s important here for two reasons: first, Jack was a newbie to the franchise and detected immediately that the stealth was trivial; second, they actually have some good explanations such as the panoply of grates, the overpowered nature of fear takedowns, etc.

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