SPOILER ALERT – This article contains spoilers for Arkham Knight and other games in the Arkham series, as well as some stories throughout Batman’s lore.
Arkham Knight is video game developer Rocksteady Studios’ third installment in the action-adventure series based on the ‘Caped Crusader’ (fourth overall, as Warner Brothers Games Montréal took over the prequel Arkham Origins), and it’s FANTASTIC.
The Arkham games have a great reputation for innovative combat, which has influenced other smash hits such as the excellent Shadow of Mordor (based on the “Lord of the Rings” mega-franchise), incredible story, and extreme faithfulness to Batman’s canon. These aspects of the series have been perfected in Arkham Knight, harnessing the superior power of next-generation systems like the Xbox One and Playstation 4 (not so much on PC).
If the original Arkham Asylum game set the bar for what these games were to become, Arkham Knight grabbed that bar and threw it out of orbit.
The gameplay in Arkham Knight continues to boast its innovative combat system, as well as adding a new type of combat with the introduction of the Batmobile. This game is Rocksteady’s first attempt at allowing the player to take control of Batman’s legendary vehicle and uses it in innovative, albeit tedious, ways.
However, the gameplay is not where this game truly excels. The latest game based on the ‘Dark Knight’ thrives on its exceptional storytelling, and the Arkham Knight story may someday be viewed as one of the greatest Batman stories ever told.
One key element to a great Batman story is that Bruce Wayne’s past always comes back to haunt him. Whether it’s childhood friend Thomas Elliot trying to exact misguided vengeance against the Wayne Family as the supervillain ‘Hush’, or it’s Bane and the ‘League of Shadows’ fulfilling Ra’s Al Ghul’s destiny to burn Gotham to ashes in Christopher Nolan’s iconic Dark Knight trilogy, Batman’s past has proven problematic across all forms of media… And the Arkham games are no different.
At the end of Arkham City, the second game in the Rocksteady trilogy, a VERY sick Joker, who injected himself with the ‘Venom’-inspired ‘Titan’ formula to become a Bane-like monster at the end of Arkham Asylum, succumbs to his disease and dies. At the time, this seemed like the perfect ending to the Arkham games because the Joker is such a pivotal character in Batman’s life and there’s a strange co-dependence between the ‘Clown Price of Crime’ and the ‘World’s Greatest Detective.’ In fact, the Arkham Origins prequel was made with the pretense that the series couldn’t truly continue after Joker’s death.
In classic comic book fashion, however, Arkham Knight found a way to bring Joker back into the fold (with Mark Hamill delivering another brilliant performance) by making him a figment of Batman’s imagination and guilty conscience.
The game opens on an extreme close-up of the Joker’s corpse lying inside a furnace and actually allows the player to ignite the flames and cremate him; a disturbing opening for what turns out to be a disturbing story. Joker’s blood infected Batman and the side effects allow Batman to see Joker basically anywhere in the game, and from that point on Joker verbalizes Bruce’s deepest, darkest thoughts.
The Joker also forces Batman to re-live two of the darkest story points in Batman’s entire 75-year history. First, the player watches a recreation of the classic Killing Joke comic book scene in which Joker shoots Barbara Gordon (aka Batgirl) through the spine, confining her to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Then, the player bears witness to another defining Batman story, A Death in the Family, in which Joker tortures and kills Jason Todd, the successor to Dick Grayson’s “Robin.” These scenes are brilliantly done and haunt the player as much as they haunt the ‘Dark Knight’ himself (okay, probably not that much).
The reveal of the game’s titular villain, the ‘Arkham Knight’, is the major, and yet painfully obvious, plot twist of the game. After many encounters with the Knight, who has hinted that he and Batman have a history and that he knows how to combat Batman better than any villain before, he finally reveals himself to be Jason Todd – the very same ex-Robin that the Joker tortured and killed. This plot twist is majorly telegraphed throughout the game, but its execution is done quite well.
This plot point borrows heavily from the Under the Red Hood story and Todd’s digital ‘Arkham Knight’ helmet is actually shown to have a solid red layer underneath, signifying the birth of his anti-hero alter ego, the ‘Red Hood’. Jason holds a grudge against Bruce for not coming to his aid when Joker tortured him (Batman was too late to make the save) and, once again, brings Batman’s dark past to the forefront.
Overall, Arkham Knight is an amazing game and a defining tale in the series, if not in Batman’s entire canon. The best Batman stories harken back to his past and the darkest thoughts and memories he created (and is responsible for) in his never-ending crusade for justice. By introducing Jason Todd as the Arkham Knight/Red Hood and bringing the Joker back from the dead, Arkham Knight is the ultimate Batman story that pays all due respect to the canon while telling it’s own story in the form of a wildly entertaining game.
When all is said and done, this story should go down as one of the best in Batman history. Don’t worry about where it ranks too much though, because Batman is nowhere near done yet.
And neither is the Joker.
‘Nothing like a trip down ol’ memory lane, eh Bats?’ – The Joker
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