The Dark Disappointment.
Batman: one of the best superheroes ever, has some of the best villains ever, lead of a currently stellar comic book run, and star of two of the best movies of the past decade. The Dark Knight has been killing across all forms of media, with the exception of video games, where his success wasn’t so successful until 2009, when Rocksteady released Batman: Arkham Asylum and blew away everyone’s expectations. Since then, the surprise hit has grown into a massive franchise all on its own, complete with an animated film, soundtrack, art book, and comic. Arkham City was a massive hit, Arkham Origins was a bit of a step backwards, and this year, Rocksteady concluded the trilogy with Arkham Knight. The game came out to a lot of positive reception, praise for its combat and storytelling, and in some places, is a contender for Game of the Year. Except it really…. shouldn’t be, at least not to me.
Now look, I’m not gonna say that the people who loved Arkham Knight are wrong, because taste is something that there’s no way to gauge for everyone in the world. And to be completely honest, I was on the same train of “OMG this game is amazing” as everyone else was when I first finished the game. But after a while, as I thought about the game more and more, there were issues that I just wasn’t able to wave off.
Incidentally, if you haven’t played it yet, I’m about to spoil it, so fair warning.
The majority of issues with Arkham Knight lie in the story it tries to tell. The previous two Arkham games, Asylum and City, were written by Paul Dini, who a lot of people remember as the man behind the excellent Batman animated series from the 90s. Knight is the first game in the Rocksteady trilogy to not be written by him, and nowhere is this more apparent in this story of jumbled up plot threads than the titular villain himself.
When the game was first announced, Rocksteady said “he’s an original character we created,” but in actuality, it turns out at the end that he’s Jason Todd, the second Robin who died and was later brought back to life as the vigilante Red Hood. The deception would be less of an issue in and of itself, but the real sticking point is that the Knight is a walking reference to something that only exists as a bone to the hardcore Batman fans.
Jason’s never been mentioned in anything related to the Arkham series up to this point. If you haven’t read the comics (or didn’t see the Under the Red Hood movie) and didn’t already figure it out through the sloppily added in flashbacks at the game’s halfway point, you’re just going to be like “who the hell’s this guy?” Once he’s revealed, he just takes off his armor and shifts the color of his helmet to red to show that he’s the Red Hood, disappears, and then just shows up to do Batman a solid as if saving Bruce this one time makes up for kidnapping his friend and putting a gun to his head multiple times.
Knight’s not the only problem with the story. With the Joker dead with a capital ‘D’, the big villains (or rather, the ones who’ve made at least two appearances in earlier material in the series up to now) have all come together courtesy of Scarecrow so they can all kill Batman. The master of fear had a big appearance back in Arkham Asylum as a bit of a trickster, gassing up Batman basically for a laugh at random appearances.
He was arguably one of the best parts of that stellar game before Killer Croc up and ate him, so him back in action as the bad guy sounds like prime time for something more mischievous and sinister, right? Yeah, no. Instead, his grand plan is to get revenge on Batman for his ruined face (not Batman’s fault, but whatever), and his grand plan is to cover all of Gotham in his fear gas, but only hours after he’s told the citizens of Gotham to get the hell out of town or he’ll gas them.