Batman: Arkham Knight Is Afraid You're Going To Be A Terrible Batman

Let’s talk about a video game so good that it has one single problem. A game called Batman: Arkham Knight.

Polished is the rubbish video game word I would use to describe Arkham Knight.

Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think Batman: Arkham Knight might be the most polished game I’ve ever played.

Ok. Rewind. There’s hyperbole there, but a shred of truth: there are other video games that feel more polished than Batman: Arkham Knight, but none have the same level of ambition.

Let me rephrase: very few games are simultaneously as ambitious and as polished as Batman: Arkham Knight. It really – truly – is an incredible video game.

I want to make that clear before I start criticising it.

Now I’m going to start criticising it.

If I had to sum up my issue in a single sentence it would go something like this: Batman: Arkham Knight doesn’t trust me to make good decisions.

Here’s another: Batman: Arkham Knight is a Batman simulator that’s afraid you are going to be a terrible Batman.


Sans the gritty ‘adult’ themes and Bat-angst, Arkham Knight is the kind of game I’d expect Nintendo to make if they suddenly decided super-violent open-world video games was a thing they wanted to do. The Arkham series has more in common with A Link to the Past or Metroid Prime than it does Assassin’s Creed or Grand Theft Auto. It sits comfortably at the crossroads between those two classic games.

Arkham Asylum, with its tightly designed environments and loop-back design, most resembles Metroid Prime. Its successors – Arkham City and Arkham Knight – are closer to A Link to the Past, replete with open, explorable spaces, punctuated with ‘dungeons’: areas where you must use your items to progress in a series of puzzle-lite scenarios. Areas where you get to feel smart.

More specifically, areas where you get to feel like the world’s greatest detective.

Simply put: the Arkham series, in a sense, aspires to that Zelda thing. That tightly knit universe where every lock has a key — providing you, the player, with a series of specific gadgets or tool. Setting you inside a space where those tools are keys that necessitate progress.

But Batman: Arkham Knight never really trusts you with the tools it gives you. It hovers over your shoulder like an overprotective Dad. He’s given you the power drill, but he’s ultimately terrified you’ll drill a big ugly hole through the skirting board.


What I’m trying to say is this: all games of this ilk have a ‘tutorial’ section. You are being taught how mechanics work, how to approach different situations, etc. But in Batman: Arkham Knight it feels like you never leave that tutorial. Like you’re constantly being told what you should be doing in every single situation. Almost as if the game is afraid that YOU WON’T SOLVE THESE PROBLEMS LIKE BATMAN WOULD.

It takes way too long for Batman: Arkham Knight to get to that point: to the point where it says, ‘okay, you’re Batman, you have all these tools. Time to be Batman’. It takes too long to get to that moment.

And it’s a moment that is constantly being subverted (and delayed). Too often I found myself approaching a situation thinking, ‘this would the perfect time to be Batman and use this existing gadget in my repertoire’ only to be explicitly told that no, you won’t be using that item here, you’ll be using a completely new gadget that you have to relearn. There is no reason why that other gadget couldn’t be used. No reason why I couldn’t be resourceful and use this thing I already have. Nope. Here’s another thing. Here’s how you’ll be solving this problem.

Too often the internal consistency of Arkham Knight’s world is undermined by the search for ‘cool Batman moments’. Too often interesting scenarios are bypassed via Deus Ex Machina leaving the player feel a little powerless, and that’s not what it feels like to ‘be’ Batman. That’s the opposite of what it feel like to be Batman.

I maintain that the best Batman simulator ever made is Metroid Prime. Arkham Asylum runs a close second. Both feature worlds with that aforementioned ‘internal consistency. Both are games where the universe and the player are constantly in-sync. Where you can approach problems with a set of tools that solve specific problems and advance in a way that makes sense, in a way that rewards players for their resourcefulness.

Batman: Arkham Knight is a fantastic video game on almost every possible level, but it only flirts with granting you that kind of freedom. That freedom that comes in glorious bursts; later sacrificed at the altar of spectacle.

Which is fine, but ultimately feels jarring.

The Batman universe itself is partly to blame. Players have a list of boxes that must be ticked for a Batman experience that feels ‘authentic’ and it's Rocksteady’s job to make sure these moments are accounted for. The tone of Batman also presents problems: how do you create a world designed specifically for the tools you are given that still makes sense from the perspective of Batman’s fiction. How does that all hang together?

It’s a conundrum. It might be the conundrum when it comes to making games like Batman: Arkham Knight. I’m not sure what the solution is other than ‘be more like Metroid Prime’.

But I would say this: maybe Batman: Arkham Knight needs to trust its players more. It needs to believe in us as ‘Batmen’!

We know Batman. We love Batman as much as you do. We can totally be good Batmen.

We’ll be good. We promise.


Comments

    Yep running, fighting and flying around. Surviving the toughest super villains. Taking out hordes of street thugs effortlessly. Driving an armoured tank destroying countless vehicles. Only to be bested by mindless mental patients that feel no pain then end up having my face carved up by a pig faced serial killer while he sings badly...

    Being Batman is hard. So many tools at your disposal that I keep forgetting to use. The game is, dare I say, too complex. I don't mind that, but sometimes it gets a bit frustrating.

      I agree. I can't remember how to quick-plant explosive gel during encounters, and I'm not sure if I haven't unlocked it yet - or if I have, but I've just forgotten how to do it. I refuse to just look it up so I guess it's my problem, but I remember being introduced to new tactics and gadgets at a more organic pace in Asylum and City.
      I, too, wouldn't mind if half the abilities were culled if it meant I wasn't fumbling around in fights and breaking combos looking for button inputs I'm not even sure are there.

        Quickfire on gadgets is left trigger plus something (or double tap for batarangs). Gel is LT+X (or L2+Square on PS4). It doesn't work the way it used to. Instead you fire off a blob of the gel at one target, it pops a second later and gives a little bit of a smoke screen.
        I believe you unlock those quickfire combos with the weapon themselves, so you start out with gel. There are new quickfire takedowns which I haven't quite got the hang of yet. Something about charging them up when your combo meter is full.

        Last edited 30/06/15 11:44 am

          I figured out how to do it after I finished the main story. They had tutorials for everything, but there's so much stuff going on that I missed some of them.

          I feel like the game could do a better job of explaining all this to you. I've got a solid understanding of the mechanics but the proof is in the upgrade screen - I haven't used a single upgrade point on gadgets yet because I don't want it to become even more convoluted until I sort out how to use the ones I've already got effectively.
          I coasted through City and only had to really explore the use of gadgetry in combat during New Game+. I suspect it'll be the same for Knight.

            I skipped upgrades for most of the game because they didn't sound particularly important and with the unavaliable options greyed out I was paranoid that I'd waste my points on non-essential upgrades then have something expensive I actually need become available. Now I'm at NG+ I think most of the non-batmobile upgrades are just optional bonuses rather than unlocking core stuff the way you did in Asylum/City/Origins. Using multiple gadgets with dive kicks is cool, but the only reason I ever used them was to unlock an AR challenge.
            It's a bit weird because even with the steady stream of tutorials explaining everything it still assumes you're very familiar with the previous games. I don't think it ever explained countering, the combo meter or the take downs that existed in the previous games.

              Yeah, I think that if Knight is your first Arkham game, you'll struggle. Things get pretty complicated pretty quickly.

              Things like countering,you only get that tutorial pop-up if you keep getting hit. Take a lot of counter-able hits and it will flash on your screen 'press Y to counter an attack' or whatever. A lot of the tutorial messages are like that so if you start the game and are using these things then it doesn't need to tell you about them.

    But Batman wears a blue cowl over grey tights

    Not trying to sound like a smart-arse but I think almost all of that goes away if you turn hints off. I'm not sure what impact it has exactly, and the switch is sort of tucked away in the back of the menus which is bad, but I'll be starting my New Game+ run tonight and that should turn it off so I'll see what the difference is.

      I set it to hard with no hints from the start (found Arkham City was more fun when it was really tough so thought this would be the same) so I can't exactly speak to the differences of it either but..

      I didn't really experience (or notice) any of the issues Mark's talking about. I think the only annoying 'tutorial' thing I got from Batman was constantly being told 'I can use the Batmobile to create a controlled explosion' no shit Batman, this is bomb #54 now

      @markserrels Well I stand corrected. You were right. Not only is this way more noticeable on New Game+ where you have more options that it refuses to let you use, but it actually resulted in me being stuck in a game breaking dead end. I used my Disruptor to destroy that helicopter that's always flying around, and now the game is insisting that I disrupt that helicopter before it'll let me glide over to the other building and blow up the radar relay. I've got about a 3m x 3m square on the rooftop that I can walk around in, I've got all my gadgets, but it won't let me run, jump or even bring up the map until I've distracted a helicopter that doesn't exist. =(

      Last edited 02/07/15 5:28 pm

    I AM a bad Batman. I walked past an old lady on the street yesterday and offered to help her cross the road. She was very sweet and thankful, but seemed... lonely. I didn't offer to buy her a cup of coffee and a croissant.
    I was in a hurry and short on rent but Batman would have found a way.

    Should I get this if I thought Shadow of Mordor was a shallow, empty, lifeless and repetitive game?

      Yes. The only thing they have in common is the control scheme. I felt exactly the same way about Mordor - I just didn't understand the hype.
      But if the Nemesis system was introduced into Knight, chasing down thugs... I'm going to stop there. That would have been very cool indeed.

      I didn't enjoy Shadow Of Mordor in the slightest but very much enjoying Arkham Knight for what it's worth.

    As much as I'm loving Arkham Knight, and the open world Gotham, I do miss the Metroid Primey-ness of Arkham Asylum. If only we could persuade Nintendo to let Rocksteady make a Metroid game....

    I would be the worst Batman because I would be killing villains.

    Seriously, there is such a dissonance for me when playing the Batman games. In any other game of choice to abstain from violence, I typically do so. Deus Ex in particular was fantastic at this, with Dishonored a very honorable mention - you creep around stealthily and get to overhear the conversations between your supposed foes, reavealing a wide range of nuanced views or philosophies underpinning their actions and motivations in their roles... such that you actually WANT to spare many of them, even though you have the option to murder them in cold blood.

    But in Batman, the villains and most of the mooks are cartoonishly evil, literal caricatures of villainy who are irredeemable by definition, and here where the choice seems so blindingly clear, unlike those other - better - games, you HAVE to let them live. Because there's something fucking wrong with Bats, mentally.

    It's ass-about-backwards. The one game where the decision seems easiest to kill is the one where you don't get to make it.

    Last edited 30/06/15 12:21 pm

      For me the argument that Superman/Batman/etc should kill has always been negated by the fact the legal system still exists in their world. Batman doesn't kill the Joker because he's not judge, jury and executioner, but he does hand him over to a justice system that has a judge, jury and if need be executioner. Scarecrow is going to end up in new Akrham after all this, but that's not Batman's fault for bringing him in alive it's everyone in Gotham's fault for not being cool with the death penalty for psychos who try and kill everyone on the east coast to prove some vague point about how cool fear is.

        "Batman doesn't kill the Joker because he's not judge, jury and executioner"

        Except he did kill the Joker in the previous game

          He straight up murders Clayface right before that, but the Joker killed himself by attacking Batman and destroying the cure. While playing Arkham Knight I never really got why Batman felt like he murdered him. I mean I could understand if he felt like he let that happen, but he's not crushed about it at the end of Arkham City. He seems pretty fine with it.

      I sort of agree with you. It goes against the whole batman mythos to have him kill, but it would be nice to have the choice. It would make you feel even more like batman if you had the choice there but didn't take it. It's just impossible to reconcile that with the possibility that you will and therefore not be batman anymore.

      All of which is to say that if you added in the ability and choice to kill and substituted batman for a more blank slate (say, a trainee superhero) or morally grey character then it would make the Arkham games so much better.
      Here's hoping Rocksteady can do something like that with their next game.

      Not killing is 100% Batman, can't really blame it on the games. The no-kill policy is a constant conflict for DC heroes and while in our world it would hardly work that way in the DC universe Batman isn't a serial killer. He's attempting to get Gotham to a stage where it can enforce the law without him having to be there (however fruitless that goal may be).

      The Joker often says "you keep locking me up and I will just escape again!" and Batman simply says "yes you will, and I will be there to catch you, again. Every time."

    Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think Batman: Arkham Knight might be the most polished game I’ve ever played.
    Er...
    http://www.kotaku.com.au/2015/06/batman-arkham-knight-and-the-art-of-a-good-pc-port/

    Yes.

    Where logic and game/scenario/level design meet, it seems that logic comes off second best most of the time.

    But if you begin to look at the game more logically ("why cant I use this gadget here" / "what is the necessity of the batmobile in this particular puzzle when I can do this instead") the whole thing falls apart. Your closing paragraphs make the most pertinent points and that is that the game wants us to have our Batman moments but they feel those moments have to be designed, and we have to be the hand puppet in that shadow play, rather than the puppeteer. I have so many unforced cool Batman moments that when I have to have a predetermined one, it loses some of its shine.

    And yet, it's still a fantastic game because there are so many cool things to do that do take advantage of the right gadgets at the right time etc. etc.

    Playing through Arkham City I definitely had an Ocarina of Time vibe with the interior sections being the dungeons

    I'm too fat and unfit to be Batman. I'd use the Batmobile all the time just to save myself from walking.

    I agree, but lets not forget that Twilight Princes and Skyward Sword are handholdy as Fk as well.

    Sometimes I read a whole Kotaku article before realising Mark wrote it, then I have to go back and read the whole thing again in the proper accent.

    The best moments I have in any game are always the ones when I wonder if I just broke the game a little. Which is basically every moment in KSP :D

    I like the parts in Arkham Asylum and Arkham City where to complete certain parts you get told "no, you're not going to use that gadget, you're going to learn this new one" and wait what were we talking about again?

    I have the same problem. What did you have to do? I'm on new game+ and it's just stuck there doing nothing

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