*Spoilers for ALL BATMAN ARKHAM GAMES*
You might be looking at that title wondering what exactly does he mean by that? Does he want a fatter Batman? Is he too much of a beefcake? Is he intimidated by the mounds of muscles Batman? The ones that seem to increase in mass and number with each entry? Unfortunately the answer is no. That’s not what I mean. Instead what I’m looking for is a Batman that’s more of the scalpel instead the hammer.
In the latest Batman game (Arkham Knight to be specific) Batman is probably the most violent we’ve ever seen him. Like, almost to the level of brutal savagery The plot of the game tries to explain this away by saying that he’s infected with the Joker’s titan serum alongside the fact that he’s been infected Scarecrow’s fear toxin. At first it’s a compelling argument, but the game never picks back up on that thread throughout the entire story. Instead the game just uses Joker has a source of comic relief.
At times it gets a little extreme. One moment that constantly gets brought up is the scene where Batman interrogates one of the Arkham Knight’s soldiers in search of Barbara Gordon’s location. In order to get the answers he wants, Batman uses the Batmobile’s front tire to nearly crush the guy’s head. In fact the game even prompts you to rev the engine so the tire gets closer and closer. You can’t actually kill him, but it’s the kind of extreme that felt out of the place for the character.
There’s another moment that’s been the talk of many people who’ve played the game, where Batman is walking around the GCPD and one of the soldiers is taunting him. There’s no prompt, but if you walk up to the soldier and press the attack button, Batman will just slam his head against the bars, knocking him unconscious. Now, I don’t know about you, but Batman’s never been one to be provoked by the criminals he’s fighting against. It’s just another moment of out of place violence.
I understand that the Rocksteady games are more or less supposed to be one large play set, where players are allowed to live out their power fantasies as Batman. But this is more violent than he’s been in previous games. The games themselves are certainly violent. Each of the villains has their particular way of dishing out the pain, but Batman is supposed to be better than them. In the earlier two Arkham games, he was. He was cold and calculated, but he never seemed as vicious as he appears in Arkham Knight. One might think that this is a theme that’s supposed to be a part of the story. But like I mentioned above, it’s talked about once and that’s it. It’s unfortunate because it could have been an interesting aspect of the story. But instead it feels like a one-off excuse the developers use to justify making Batman just as violent as his villainous counterparts.
Instead, I think it’s time we change people’s perception of Batman by going in the opposite direction. Besides being an amazing fighter, he’s also a really good detective. Many of the best Batman stories have Batman using his mind instead of his fists. It’s why I think a game like Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a better Batman game than the Arkham games are. It manages to strike the perfect balance between combat and investigation. Granted, most of the investigation is through the side quests, but it’s still a great deal of nonviolent activity.
The Arkham games on the other hand, are a constant cycle of violence. You’re always punching, strangling, breaking bones, or lying in wait to do any of those. Even with the Batmobile you’re sending people flying with the rubber bullets or whatever kind of force field protects them from getting run over. There are very few times in the game where you’re performing some sort of detective work and it’s usually fairly simple. I’ve yet to understand why the more mindful elements of Batman are reduced to scanning dead bodies and the like. At least that’s how it is in the main story.
You could argue that they do this sort of thing with the Riddler puzzles, but those are side missions, designed in such a way that has very little to do with the story, or detective work. Instead they’re more designed to be physics puzzles or in the older games, actual riddles. They feel more like Portal puzzles than anything else. Though in Arkham Knight many of them did devolve into weird race tracks whose inclusion felt forced due to the Batmobile’s presence.
Looking at a list like this one, you’ll see plenty stories with the type of tone that the next bunch of Batman games should strike. Batman Gothic, Earth One, and Black Mirror are just some of the examples on that list. The more murder mystery focused games are ripe for exploration after four games of beat ’em up Batman. They take a slower, more deliberate approach to their story telling. There’s still a great deal of action, especially in Earth One, but there are quieter moments as well. Those are something these Arkham games sorely lacked.
I think it’s time that the pendulum swings back from the ultra-violent fantasy that the Batman games are now, and more towards the smarter, more cerebral Batman that fans also love. A change of pace would do well for Batman not to get stale in people’s minds. There’s already a bit of fatigue with Arkham Knight after all. There’s no doubt going to be a new Batman game in the next couple of years, let’s make it something new and exciting.