We’ve discussed 20 things the Batman: Arkham games series did right (part 1 here & 2 here), but now it’s time to talk about the stuff that was…not so good. Welcome to part three of our retrospective series: 20 Things the Arkham Games got WRONG!
***WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!***
1. Arkham Games 1-4: End Bosses
Please know that my criticisms of the Arkham games are made with the deepest affection, but even true fans can get annoyed with, or cringe at, their favorite iconic series from time to time. While on the whole, I consider the four Arkham installments near perfect gaming experiences, one of the ways they consistently fell flat was at the final boss fights. The bosses were either way too overwrought or just too simplistic; I know it sounds nitpicky but it was a consistent weakness in all four games. Asylum’s Titan-Joker was too over the top and felt out of place compared to the rest of the game. Clayface in Arkham City was also anti-climactic, it was interesting that he was a doppelganger of Joker throughout the game but the fight felt forced and tacked on for shock value. Arkham Origins was a little better with Giant Venom Bane, but the fight felt more like a chore than an event where the game shined. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better, and it seemed like the team really couldn’t get away from throwing the supposedly coolest, craziest idea possible at the player, but unfortunately, it usually wasn’t as great as I’m sure it sounded to the devs. In Arkham Knight, you square off against Red Hood, but it’s in a stealth room with guns; you never get to face him one on one with fists, very disappointing (you don’t get to fight Deathstroke one on one with fists either!). The Scarecrow confrontation at the end isn’t even a fight, instead Arkham Knight ends with a very long-winded interactive movie with the Joker. I will say that these choices by no means ruin the games, I just think they are mediocre choices compared to what could have been.
2. Arkham Games 1-3: Bane
Your first encounter with Bane in Arkham Asylum was actually a fun fight; I almost rage-quit multiple times because he crushed and maimed my Bat-ego, but the presentation of the character of Bane in Asylum and City missed the mark, he’s just another big-bad to defeat and was easily forgotten in the mix. You don’t even really fight Bane in Arkham City, what a waste. Hugo Strange, Mr. Freeze, Harley and even Croc were done far better in my opinion than Bane; hell, Croc had a much more intimidating presence to me. Bane definitely had his best adaptation in Arkham Origins, but he is still reduced to the strong silent type and doesn’t really say anything memorable. The fight at the top of the Royal Hotel was Bane’s best moment in the series, it was punishing and enjoyable. However, Bane’s final form in Origins was an interesting concept but was sadly reduced to a monster fight. Save for a little Easter-egg homage, Bane is fully absent in Arkham Knight. He was underutilized in most of the series and the other villains that were done better picked up the slack. On the whole, his Arkham appearances were most unworthy of Bane.
3. Arkham Knight: Batmobile Missions
Arkham Knight is absolutely the game I would pick if I had to choose only one game out of the series. It has everything one could ever want in a Batman game, so it does pain me a little to talk about some of the things in the game that make me go “meh”. The Batmobile is bittersweet, I got good at driving it and battling drones, but I was never explicitly looking forward to it. It’s impressive, most likely a great achievement in the gaming world, but the Riddler races and mid/late game drone fights SUCKED the air out of the game’s momentum. The boss fights with Firefly and Deathstroke while in the Batmobile were much more fun to watch than to play. On a positive note, Batman’s interaction with the criminals he stuffs in the boot of the car was a great touch to a great game. Usually when I was stuck having to use the car for awhile, I found myself asking, “When can I get back to playing the damn game again?” That should ALWAYS be a bad sign for devs.
4. Arkham games 1-4: Hallucination Action Sequences
Like the Arkham series’ final boss fights, the hallucination action sequences (mostly platforming) probably sounded better on paper than what players actually got into experience. Scarecrow, Ra’s al Ghul and Mad Hatter all get to take a stab at Bruce’s brain and send him down acid trip lane. These are by no means horrible parts of the games, but it seemed like whenever Rocksteady tried to get really cinematic with their environments and bosses it became more filler content than a defining moment in the story. Perhaps this is because these events pull the player out from the more interesting, gritty reality that Batman thrives in, but hell, I don’t know. Entering the tortured mind of Batman is always fascinating and seeing his reactions to horrible “what if” scenarios are worth it, hell, that’s what we came for, top notch entertainment. But at times, these action sequences made the game feel more like a glorified (bad) episode of the old animated series and departed too much from the main game for my liking.
5. Arkham Games 1-4: Too Many Arch-Villains
The Arkham games draw inspiration from some great Batman comics, two that are relevent here are “Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth” and “Batman: Knightfall”. What both of these stories have in common is that Batman is put in an exceptionally dangerous and seemingly overwhelming position when multiple villains are set loose to wreak havoc. Batman is tested and weathered, beat down and pushed to his greatest limits. Each one of the Arkham games emulate and recreate this scenario, Batman never has the luxury to track down a serial killer or supervillain over a month or two, instead he must take down almost all of his most deadly foes in one night. This is an awesome idea on paper, however this style of Batman story can also produce some glaring plot holes, and resolving these potential issues probably challenged the writers the most during development.
Perhaps a valid criticism of the Arkham sequels is that they can feel like rehashes of Arkham Asylum, each game being the same thing over and over again with an oversaturation of baddies. Also the probability of four separate events where Batman must face more than one or two supervillains at a time is quite low. The elephant in the room is that I think the devs thought fans wanted to confront all of Batman’s villains in a video game setting, which isn’t wrong, but we didn’t need to encounter them ALL in EVERY single game. This was done at the expense of realism, and one must suspend all sorts of belief to make some of the story elements work. However, if one can accept that the Arkham games are what they are, then I think it’s easy to appreciate them. What is absolutely amazing is that Rocksteady still did their best to explain even the smallest details of how all of these masterplans came to be (an example would be The Riddler and Mr. Fine’s conspiracy in Arkham City), which made the games engrossing.
6. Arkham Games 1-4: Too Many Canon References
Not every tidbit of Batman lore is a work of art or even a good idea….ok, I say that with humble reverence to the sheer amount of time and energy spent making the Arkham games great. But it may have benefitted the series to cut back on the references and expend more energy on tightening up the massive undertaking of story cohesion, which sometimes dips in quality from amazing to great to good, to meh, to great again. In the same breath, I am in love with the depth and size of which Batman and Gotham has taken over our minds and hearts, and am fascinated by even the little details. However, in the Arkham games, we almost got drowned by the odes and shout outs and pandering. Hush deserved his own chapter and not just an afterthought side quest, though it was still creepy as hell. Seeing the Scarface doll in the Iceberg Lounge museum was fine, but would it really be there? Should it be there?
7. Arkham City: The City Itself Doesn’t Make Any Damn Sense!
Batman cannot exclusively rely upon brute force for every mission, that’s why he is truly dangerous, he can use almost any method to stomp out a threat. Whether it’s through reconnaissance, persuasion, deception or the hands on approach, Batman is one of the most proactive superheroes in comics when it comes to having a finger on the pulse of criminality. So it is very important for me to say that, this is my opinion only, something like Arkham City would have been strangled and snuffed into non-existence by Bruce and the U.S. Government looooong before it could become a playground for supervillains. I love the game with all my black-heart, but there are way too many moving parts for Bruce goddamn Wayne to not catch wind that something rancid and HUGE is going on. Every politician saying yes to such a proposal, every employee of Tyger, every little buzzing fly in Old Gotham would have been at the top of Batman’s shitlist long before even a wall of the prison could have been drawn on a blueprint, not to mention before one single inmate was transferred. As I said this is just my opinion, and I look forward to my seventh annual playthrough of Arkham City, and I will enjoy every second of it.
8. Arkham City & Knight: Ra’s al Ghul and the Lazarus Pits
Initially, Ra’s, Talia and the appearance of the League of Shadows in Arkham City was a pleasant surprise. However once the game was over I was left somewhat confused. I understood that Ra’s was the true mastermind behind Arkham City and that Hugo Strange was used by him, but I still didn’t fully buy it. It felt more like the game needed Ra’s in it versus the story needing Ra’s in it. I loved Talia’s presentation, her voice and looks were nailed perfectly, but her dialogue with Bruce at the end of the mission in Wonder City, was, well I hate it. Talia gives Bruce a stern talking to for not joining her in a…crusade to kill people? Isn’t that like, what Batman doesn’t do? And then Batman acts all conflicted that Talia is angry with him? Huh? Will the real Batman, please stand up? Why couldn’t Batman just say “Talia, what do you expect? You’re planning mass homicide, are you that dumb to think I would join you? I don’t even kill murderers or rapists, let alone innocent people, and I just saved your ungrateful ass!” Ugh.
The Shadow War DLC in Arkham Knight is short and sweet, where else in video games can you play as Batman fighting two ninja groups in a civil war? And in hospital hallways covered in gore? Nowhere but here. However the DLC feels somewhat incomplete and Ra’s feels like an unnecessarily tacked-on twist again. You are given an interesting choice to save him or not, but that’s it. Al Ghul was well done visually and vocally, but he really needed to be in Joker, Hugo or Scarecrow’s position as head bad guy in order to really shine, and that’s fine, I understand that others were of higher priority.
9. Arkham Knight & Origins: Evacuation & Curfew
When I heard that Arkham Knight was in production a part of me hoped that it would not resort to the “one night of hell” formula yet again. But it did, and the evacuation of the city due to fear gas felt like a giant manufactured plot device as to the reason why the city had no civilians, no traffic and no police presence, all so Batman could fight unabashedly in the open streets. Origins really tested my patience with the snowstorm curfew, I wasn’t fond of that either. Arkham Knight doing the same thing for the third time was just downright disappointing, though the sting was shortlived.
10. Arkham Knight: Bruce Lying to Tim Makes No Sense
So, I’m to believe that Tim Drake will quit being a competent ally to Batman if he finds out Babs is dead? Huh? Is he a bat-baby or something? For a long time now, Batman and all of the Robins would have had an understanding that casualties will happen, and there should be some goddamn confidence that the Batfam would suffer and grieve together, not break apart. Batman and the Robins fall victim far too often to manufactured dramatic tension in many of their stories. They can have their differences and conflicts with each other but these people are elite vigilantes, soldiers and warriors, they don’t have time for, or interest in, this petty shit in my opinion. Drama is good when it is organic and natural; force it and I tune out.
Click HERE for Part Four of our retrospective journey to part two of our Top 20 WORST things the Arkham Games did!
20 THINGS THE BATMAN ARKHAM GAMES GOT WRONG – PART 1
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