10 Things Arkham Knight Got Dead Right

Arkham Knight’s tagline offered us one thing.  The chance to “Be The Batman”, and that’s basically all we ever really wanted.  Of course being The Batman, if you think about it for longer than a minute or so, would kind of suck.  Sure, the gadgets would be cool, smacking people with serious mental illnesses in the face would never get old, and wearing a cape to work would be the most awesome thing in the world.  However, we’d also have to spend far more time that we’d like as billionaire socialites, having to drink expensive cocktails rather than pints and having long and tedious conversations with people about urban regeneration.It’s no wonder he’s got so much pent-up aggression.  Thankfully, Rocksteady have spared us the Bruce Wayne tedium in Arkham Knight, which is just one of the things they got dead right.  Here are 10 more!

Spoilers from here on out, people.  Big spoilers.  Spoilers the size of mountains.  If you read on and get spoiled, it’s your own fault.  Because you were warned about those mountain-sized spoilers.  

GOTHAM CITY

There was always something lacking in Gotham in City and Origins; something holding it back.  City gave you the ability to patrol a large portion of it, but it was the part that had been walled-off, and given over to the criminal element.  Smacking up against one of those walls was a depressing act.  It made us all ache for the day when Rocksteady would let us take off the training pants and tackle Gotham in its entirety.  Origins offered just that, but offered only the flimsiest of pretexts for lack of population:  Sure, here’s Gotham, but it’s pretty snowy out there, so don’t be surprised to find it mostly empty!

Arkham Knight does a great job of offering a living, breathing city, but without the hassle of having to stop us every twelve seconds to protect a family of hapless innocents who’ve wandered down the wrong alley.  The city has been evacuated, offering all the decent types a chance to get out, while leaving all the opportunistic looters around to get a bat-punch to the chops.  What it boils down to is a Gotham that we can all recognise as having gone to hell, with trash piling up on the streets and thugs joyriding recklessly around the sidewalks, rioting their way through a city that’s a few hours away from total destruction.

There’s a beautiful transition between peacefully gliding around the city, taking in the rush of the brooding Gothic atmosphere and diving down to street level and watching bits of grimy newspaper blow past a neon pawn-shop sign knowing that at any time, a van full of oh-so-talkative goons can scream around the corner and decide they want to use Batman as an impromptu hood ornament.

THE DEATH OF THE JOKER

Comics writers aren’t (by and large, anyway) well-known for their imagination.  Characters come back from the dead so often that they might as well be on a respawn timer, and The Joker is one of those characters who can never really be put to rest.  Usually, this means popping in a contrived escape, or having one of those super-annoying off-panel deaths. 

Rocksteady make it pretty clear that he’s dead at the end of Arkham City, what with those intimately-long close-ups of his corpse, and getting carried out of the urban centre/prison complex by Batman, but the inevitable denial grabbed hold of fans and wouldn’t let go.  Maybe he was just acting?  Maybe he was dead for a while, and then got better?  Maybe he fell into the ol’ abandoned Lazarus pit without anyone noticing?  Thankfully, Rocksteady put paid to all these claims at the beginning of Arkham Knight, where you incinerate him yourself.  No coming back from that...hopefully.

Instead, The Joker’s presence is reduced (though not really) to being the physical form of Batman’s psychosis, allowing him to show up anywhere and everywhere, from sewer to rooftop, offering darkly-pithy commentary on Batman’s quest and state of mind.  The power behind The Joker’s character lies in his incessant ability to get under the skin of both Batman and the player.  Making him Batman’s wise-cracking ghost ‘sidekick’ let him skirt centre stage without hogging the limelight.  It allows the narrative to include their twisted relationship without having to feature it.

THE BATMOBILE

Rocksteady have come under considerable fire (pun totally intended) for their treatment of Batman’s signature vehicle, a sleek and flashy armoured car that turns into a somewhat less sleek but just as flashy tank at the push of a button.  Agreed, it kind of pushes the boundary of Batman’s no-kill rule to afterburn through a group of thugs, even if you can see them being repelled by the batmobile’s strange tesla-crowd-control capabilities.  Arming the Batmobile was always going to be a risky move, but it was nevertheless a necessary one. 

Why?  Because Gotham is a shit-hole, that’s why.  Even on its best day, there are more frothing lunatics wandering the streets than a black Friday sale, and Batman has never shied away from using the most methodical tools for the job, even if that includes tank-mounted concussion guns and drone-smashing cannons.  The emphasis is always on non-lethal solutions, and Rocksteady took pains to visually explain the difference between property damage and death-toll in a way that modern superhero movies don’t bother with.  The batmobile can bash the corners off buildings and break down fences, but it can’t reduce buildings to rubble and splinters because they’re standing between it and the next villain encounter.

Fans clamoured for a chance to spin some bat-wheels since the announcement of Arkham City, and what Arkham Knight offered was not just the opportunity to use it in token ways to move between encounters, but as another tool to help patrol Gotham, aiding the GCPD as they chase down opportunistic looters and take the fight back to the streets. 

     

THE END OF AN ERA

In so many cases do we see this occur.  A writer or group of writers on a series that is about to reach its conclusion decide that if they have to pack up their toys and go home, then they can at least make sure that nobody else plays with them when they’re gone.  The last instalment of any series is defined by an air of finality, and it's often a time when a writing team can go hell-for-leather and punch out all those storylines that would twist the world too much to comfortably continue. There is a definite difference, however, between an ending, and killing off or packing away all their characters.  Thankfully, Rocksteady have avoided this outcome almost entirely.

Only a few characters actually die during the course of the game, and when they do it’s with dignity, not played up for shock value or contrived for the sake of giving them a lazy ending.  It all makes perfect sense.  The mainstay of the villains do as they’ve always done., get transported to the GCPD to spend the night in an isolation cell, vowing to get their own back on the Dark Knight.  The end of the series is handled with impressive diligence, and players are led to get the feeling that a new adventure in a new Gotham with new heroes is about to begin, rather than bringing the continuity to a drastic close just because they can. 

In fact, far from packing up their entire continuity and sealing it off, Rocksteady have set the scene for a further game to occur, with the appearance of a new Batman, one who doesn’t seem quite so hampered by that pesky moral code, and is happy to use the tools of his nemeses to achieve his ends.  We could spend days discussing who this new character is, and what the Gotham he works in looks like, and it’s a refreshing surprise to see an ending raise so many interesting questions.  

THE RIDDLER

Even the four people on the planet who actually like The Riddler have to admit that he’s not exactly A-list material, and to try and force him to become such is usually a bad move.  The last time that happened, Jim Carrey ended up donning over-bulged green spandex and jumping around Gotham doing his best impression of every other character he’s ever done.

We should all face facts.  The Riddler is shit at riddles.  But then, the riddle gimmick is only nominally his thing.  He’s at his best when he’s portrayed as the arrogant, gloating man-child.  His inflated IQ also comes with a heftily-inflated self-worth, but without the practical ability to back it up.  In reality, this means that while he’s cutting letters out of newspapers for his obsessive-compulsive ransom notes, his goons and drumming their fingers on the table and wondering if they should just go it alone.

Arkham Knight managed to capture the essence of The Riddler’s character.  He’s comically portrayed as an entitled, elitist jerk who seems to spend most of his time online.  He conducts online debates with himself under different usernames (a trait he seems to share with many users of Tumblr) because nobody else could possibly compete, who tries to play at Social Justice Warrior and incite online hatred for Batman before having Gotham’s #GamerGate analogy shout him down for being a dick.  His look is haggard and stained, making it look as though he’s spent way too much time on whatever Gotham’s version of 4chan is.  Additionally,  he manages to annoy even the most hardcore psychopaths of the Gotham underworld with his arrogant douchebaggery alone.  Honestly, it’s worth then hours you spent hunting down all his trophies and times trials just to shut him the hell up.  

 

THE REFERENCES

The Batman-shaped portion of the DCverse is pretty diverse, and there aren’t that many people willing to read through 70 years of back issues in order to gain an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things Batman.  Many players will be au fait with the existence and ‘death’ of Jason Todd and the circumstances behind Barbara Gordon’s role as Oracle, but with the possibility of toxin-induced hallucination comes the increased probability of some pretty awesome flashbacks.  And those of us who are familiar with these events get to experience the pivotal moments of Death in the Family and The Killing Joke with new eyes, around 25 years after their first publication.

One of the reasons that the Arkham series has been such a hit while other licensed games fail is the knowledge that the writers and world-builders of Rocksteady show of the subject matter.  There are a ton of references to find in Arkham Knight, from the more obvious Lex Luthor answering machine messages to Zatanna’s clothing store, Kord Industries and Music Meister's, not to mention the sad little shrine to Solomon Grundy.  It’s this level of knowledge and research that push them to use villains from the DC Universe that are not so well-known.  It’s a surprise to see Deacon Blackfire and Professor Pyg show up, not to mention finding Constantine’s rundown Gotham office.

As well as being neat little references for fans to look out for, every wink and nod to existing DC characters and events helps to place Arkham Knight within a rich setting, rather than creating a boring bubble universe to muck about in.  It gives a sense of Gotham city being a larger part of the whole universe.       

THE ENDING

Giving a definitive ending to any incarnation of Batman is tough.  It seems like there will always be a Dark Knight patrolling Gotham, keeping that superstitious and cowardly lot in check.  Any other outcome would grate, and fans can’t be expected to believe that Gotham city becomes a crime-free paradise without its foremost protector.  Dark Knight Rises attempted to lay claim to an eight-year gap between appearances of The Batman, and it went down about as well as expected.  There must always be a Batman, it seems.

With The Joker’s appropriate-yet-chilling end and the unmasking of Bruce Wayne and the initiation of Knightfall, players get a firm sense of the end of Batman.  When he parts with Nightwing, he tells him that they will never meet again, and with the winding down of the final hours of his last night as Batman, the sense of his ‘death’ is all-too-apparent, but it’s not sudden or jarring as it was in DKR.  It's not riding off into the sunset and sipping fancy cocktails with a trigger-happy Catwoman.  It’s not a choice that Batman is making at all, but a reaction to Scarecrow’s triumph.

For those that got the secret ending after 100% completion, it should come as no surprise that there is still a Batman of some kind operating from the shadows, but from what little we see, it could be anyone swooping down from the rooftops to avert the deaths of the Wayne family analogues.  All we can tell is that, with the use of fear-toxinesque hallucinations, it’s a different Batman that takes up the cowl.  Who?  It doesn’t really matter.

THE GCPD

If there’s a group of characters that don’t get enough love in the Batman universe, it’s the poor schmucks who don’t have a couple of billion dollars to throw at weapons research, and have to make do with raincoats and flashlights in place of top-of-the-line armour plating.  GCPD have appeared in various forms throughout the Arkhamverse, but they’ve always been the lamest of supporting characters, with even Jim Gordon often playing the role of clueless Watson to Batman’s superior knowledge and tactics.  This time around though, they play a much greater role.  The GCPD headquarters is positively bustling with beleaguered Gotham cops, going about their business in a city that, by and large, hates their guts. 

One could spend hours (I know I did) just wandering around, chatting to the cops on duty about the horrible night they’re having, the concern they have for the officers that have succumbed to Scarecrow’s poison, and the villains in their care.  Whereas the other games used the Batcave as a hub area, the GCPD station in Arkham Knight feels more like home, with Batman dropping off villains and taking a turn around the evidence room to listen to recordings on Gotham’s most wanted.  Jim Gordon is a lot more hands-on in the game, which is something we’ve been wanting to see from the beginning.  He’s not Batman’s lackey or foil, but an old friend, and it shows.  Watching him take a swing at Batman is a sheer delight in our eyes. 

The GCPD also have street presence, too.  They take back the skies when the drones have been wiped out, giving a running commentary whenever they see Batman in action, and there’s no better feeling that aiding Gotham’s finest with a car chase or two when time permits.

THE ENDGAME

No matter how good a game is, when it ends, it ends.  If it’s really good, it might be worth 100% completion, but it’s a very rare exception that keeps players coming back for more after the main story is done.  When the main story of Arkham Knight is over, and Batman has a chance to muse on the fact that his secret’s out, he asks Alfred to prepare the Knightfall protocol while he deals with the criminal element in Gotham.  Those with knowledge of the Batman universe can safely assume that it isn’t going to be pleasant. 

Much to their credit, it’s plain to see that Rocksteady have put a lot of consideration into the events of the game once the main story is done and dusted.  Even the lowest-level goons now gloat over the unmasking of Bruce Wayne, planning to loot and raze Wayne manor, or file lawsuits against him for breaking various bits of them while on the job.  The Arkham Knight is replaced with Deathstroke, who takes over the militia in his absence, becoming a major adversary once the main threat of scarecrow’s reign of terror and The Arkham Knight are dealt with. 

There’s simply no question of whether or not to continue the game for most of us, especially with new villains, dialogue and objectives in the mix.  It shows that Rocksteady didn’t just make Arkham Knight to appeal as long as the main questline is active, but for a good stretch of time after that.  Taking the time to apprehend all the villains in Gotham before activating Knightfall will probably take twice as long as the main quests themselves.  Now that’s value for money.

BATMAN HIMSELF

The Batman we see in Arkham Knight is an older and wiser character compared to the (relatively) fresh-faced Batman of Origins.  He’s got years of constant vigilance under his utility belt, and it’s very clear that though he’s more confident and self-aware, time has taken its toll.  The Joker infestation does more than just lever in everyone’s favourite psycho, it shows us the deteriorating mental health of the Dark Knight.  It’s all very reminiscent of Knightfall, showing a Batman whose years of protecting Gotham have left him with a callous disregard for anything else.  He doesn’t tell Robin a thing when he watches Oracle kill herself; why would he?  The mission is what matters, and everything else is irrelevant.  The morality of keeping an old man in isolation and running tests on him while his family believe he’s missing?  Not even a consideration.  Whatever it takes to keep Gotham safe.

His methods have become starkly methodical, and when he clinically examines murder victims it’s Alfred that has to force comment on how sad the whole thing is.  He’s a man torn between the long conflict between the love of his family and comrades and the knowledge that going soft would mean death for all of them.  A kind word to Robin would surely weaken his resolve and make him complacent, so he is constantly berating him for being slow or showing too much heart.  The young and militaristic Arkham Knight is able to play on his weakness, his age and his well-worn patterns.  Even Deathstroke keeps commenting on how he’s lost his fire and his passion, and how it’s only a matter of time before his age creeps up with him.

It’s a fantastic inversion of expectation.  The new suit may be shiny and impressive, but it’s conspicuously well-armoured.  Much to the confusion of GCPD, he’s turned in his electrical gauntlets, and more of his gadgets rely on long distance tactical advantage.  He’s not a Batman that can afford to make many mistakes, and there are younger, more nimble competitors for the cowl.

 

 

  polycarpIn a misguided-at-best effort to become the Batman, WASDuk writer Arkworthy once ploughed billions of dollars into non-lethal weapons research, developed a plausible alter-ego, fostered a series of stalwart sidekicks, became a martial artist without peer and the world’s greatest detective.  Unfortuinately, while trying to pull on the top-of-the-range armoured suit, he remembered that he’s shit-scared of bats and flew into a panic,falling down a flight of stairs which broke both legs and bruised his spine.  Found three days later by the old woman that lives next door, he maintains to this day that his arch-nemesis did it.   

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