I just finished my first play through of Batman: Arkham Knight. To fully explain how I feel about the game, I have to start by describing how I felt about the other installments of the series. There will be no spoilers for Arkham Knight, but previous games in the series, as they are all old at this point, are fair game.
I enjoyed Arkham Asylum quite a bit. Arkham City was fun, though at times it was difficult to figure out where I needed to go or what I needed to do next. And honestly I was really annoyed that Talia died before the story was over. But after two games with the Joker (voiced by Mark Hamill in what I can only describe as an iconic performance) inserting himself as the main villain of the story, I was really quite ready to move on. Batman has other villains you know. How about allowing one of them to be the spotlight central villain for once?
Which brings us to Batman: Arkham Origins, the one game in the series that I never purchased or played. Why not? Well, first off, because these days, I have a general dislike of prequels. I prefer to get to see what happens next, not how it all began, since I’ve already seen pieces of that, or enough to feel that there isn’t much of real interest there. Then I learned that the primary villain for Origins was Black Mask…except that it was really just Joker PRETENDING to be Black Mask. So that makes three games with Joker as the primary villain. Color me not interested.
Now we have Batman: Arkham Knight. The graphics are beautiful, the controls nice and clean. Driving the Batmobile around Gotham and generally causing mayhem with it is incredibly fun. But my first concern was that, despite the fact that the Joker died at the end of Arkham City, he would somehow come back and once again insert himself as the primary villain to the story. And while Joker does show up in the story, the way in which he participates is extremely different than previous installments of the series, and gave both Joker and Batman a new twist for us to enjoy the characters through. And Mark Hamill once again delivers an amazing performance as Joker. It’s going to be very difficult for me to accept someone else ever voicing that role again.
A conversation with some friends on Facebook brought up a post over at The Mary Sue (warning, the article contains spoilers for the game) bringing the game to task for its treatment of the female characters in the cast. But what it ultimately boils down to is that all three female characters in this game (Poison Ivy, Catwoman, and Oracle/Barbara Gordon) seem to exist primarily so that Batman can save them. Poison Ivy and Oracle at least have a slight boost in that they also serve a very specific plot function, but Catwoman is literally restricted to a single building the entire game.
While I dislike how those characters are treated, the male supporting characters only seem to come across marginally better. The general sentiment I came away from the game with is, everyone is incompetent except for Batman. There was a moment during the game where I thought I would switch to playing Robin for a bit, while Batman recovered for a bit…but that didn’t happen. Instead, Batman runs off on his own again to prove how awesome he is… because he’s Batman! With this being the last game in the series, and considering how the game ends (more on that in a minute), I was really hoping that some of the other characters, specifically Robin and Nightwing, would get more screen time or have more of an opportunity to shine.
Then there’s the Arkham Knight character himself, which I have a problem with. I’m going to try and not spoil who the character is, since the reveal itself was fairly well done… but by the point the reveal comes, it isn’t exactly a surprise anymore. It’s telegraphed fairly strongly about halfway through the game when Batman is seeing/hallucinating certain events that Joker was involved with regarding another character. As I’m watching that scene, I couldn’t help but think, “Oh that’s who the Arkham Knight is.” The fact that it is telegraphed fairly early isn’t the problem. Who the Arkham Knight ended up being isn’t the problem. The problem is that, after finally being able to confront the Arkham Knight, the character essentially disappears. This is the character that this installment of the series is named after, and it was really disappointing that we didn’t get some kind of real resolution to the character.
Of course, given the way the game ends, that’s how I kind of feel about the conclusion to the game in general: disappointed with the lack of resolution. And since this is the last installment to the series (at least as far as developer Rocksteady is concerned), I have no hope of getting the resolution I’m looking for. We get nothing in the way of real parting words or last wishes from Batman to the people that he has trained to be the next generation of heroes. If you solve 100% of the puzzles and quests in the game prior to triggering the ending cinematic, you’re treated to an ever-so-slightly altered ending cinematic (that contains a few sentences of additional dialogue and one additional scene at the end) that leaves you with more questions than answers. For my money, that’s a rather distasteful way to close out a series.
All in all, the game is fun to play, but on days where I’m looking for a good story to experience, I’ll have to play something else. I guess this is what the Batman: Arkham series wants to be: a way for you to experience the thrill of being Batman and punching out the bad guys, without regard to how any kind of narrative connecting events together. Perhaps Joker best sums up my feelings on the game, in one of the first lines he delivers in this game:
“Oh, Bats, how I’ve missed you. All the subtlety and nuance of a napalm enema…”