Dropping the Pen – The Storytelling Flaws in Batman Arkham

Let’s face it, we all love the Arkham Batman Series. They’re fun and (for the most part) make us feel like the Dark Knight, prowling the streets of Gotham, beating justice into the faces of criminals. But that’s not to say they don’t have flaws, tremendous ones, when it comes to storytelling.

Batman fans can nitpick away at the game’s timeline and portrayal of some secondary characters, but I’ll leave those alone.

Batman, as a character is always ahead of his enemies. They make the first move and only a handful of them manage to make a second before the Great Detective is on them. That isn’t the case with the Arkham series. Perhaps because it’s a game it takes certain liberties or puts a constraint on what the character can do, but in these games Batman is too passive, too content with letting things just happen, actually waiting for new victims or new crimes for him to make his move, and that is something that goes against the character as a whole, even this version. What Batman says is sometimes vastly different to what he does in the Arkham games.

One particular issue I have with Batman’s character in the Arkham series is his fatalism in Arkham Knight. From the start, Batman knows the end is coming for him. This is a character who by this point has fought an entire city’s worth of enemies a couple of time (three if you count Origins), and now suddenly he’s saying goodbye to all his allies and preparing them for the worst. Why? Did someone leak the game’s script to him? One of the main things about The Dark Knight is that he never gives up, no matter what. If you kick him down, he’ll just get back up again and keep going, He has hundreds of countermeasures ready for any eventuality, even the one where someone might attack his home, hell, even if they find out his identity. On that point, there’s an inconsistency with regards to the prequel, Arkham City. In that game, Hugo Strange knows Batman’s identity and The Dark Knight really doesn’t give a damn, but when Crane finds out in Knight, he freaks out!

Oh Ra's, you're one of the few decent ones...but your part in the plot is shaky at best.
Oh Ra’s, you’re one of the few decent ones…but your part in the plot is shaky at best.

Finally, there how dim-witted he is. There are hundreds of clues out there to tell you what the plot is for each game, where the twist is coming from and you as the player will sometimes realise things so early that it becomes baffling that Batman hasn’t done so already. The identity of the Arkham Knight is one of them. It’s fairly obvious from the start, even for Batman newbies. By the time the first Joker hallucination comes around, anyone will know who he is and what he’s on about. But it still takes Batman ages to realise what is happening. It’s the same in the earlier titles, such as the Joker switcheroo in City.

Again, the nature of a game means that some things have to be this way to ensure the correct pacing of the story. The problem is that with a character like Batman, someone with such a keen intellect, you need to handle it carefully so that the character remains consistent throughout the experience.

If Strange knew who you were and you didn't care, why act weird when Crane does?
If Strange knew who you were and you didn’t care, why act weird when Crane does?

Secondary characters have their issues but none greater than the constant public announcements. What is it with these villains telling you of their plans? Again, it’s a game so you want to have a reminder of what you should be doing, but certainly, there have to be better ways than for the villains to tell you of their nefarious deeds and ploys. It’s almost as if they want you to come after them, because they also have a copy of that leaked script and desperately want their scenes to come, to have their moments in the spotlight. Batman villains, with a couple of exceptions, rarely do things to call attention to them, instead they opt for working in the shadows and only letting the Caped Crusader see their hands when they think they’ve won. But in this series of games, they brag about things so much that you don’t need a map to get to them, they’ll give you precise directions. That isn’t to say there aren’t characters that work really well with this. Joker for example works perfectly with this sort of mad boasting. For one, he doesn’t really care about it and second, as he draws attention to one thing he’s doing something else.

It’s important to have villain presence in your story, so that you feel the need to beat them, to know they’re around and are a threat, but these constant announcements make them nuisances instead of enemies, especially since keeping these up must be taking up some of their precious time, so the longer they want to chat with you, the more time you have to beat them. In keeping these characters around for a longer time with those unending reminders, the writers just make them feel needy and that makes them less threatening.

Game needed more moments like this, fewer with public safety announcements!
Game needed more moments like this, fewer with public safety announcements!

But it’s not all bad. Some characterisations are spot on and consistent across the entire saga. Mr. Freeze for example is perfect. He always does what must to protect his wife. He’s an enemy, an ally or a neutral party, but Nora comes first, always. She’s his main motivator. Deathstroke, despite his short time onscreen is also fantastic, a true professional, only there for the job and the chance to test his skills against the Batman. And of course, Joker, the best character in terms of characterisation. He remains consistent throughout the games in personality and development. Even after death the character remains consistent, something that is of tremendous importance as he is a figment of B-man’s imagination in Arkham Knight.

But I thoroughly dislike Catwoman’s characterisation and her part in the stories. For the most part it always feels as though they shoehorned her in, since she has no real stake in the stories. Her motivations are bland and shallow, and even her interactions with Batman, one of the people closest to her—when they’re not fighting—feel half-hearted, without any emotional impact. And this isn’t the voice actor’s fault. This is writing and direction turning and deep character into eye-candy. It’s the same issue that plagues Harley Quinn. Few characters in Batman have her complexity, yet in the Arkham series, she’s just there for a quick laugh at her expense, instead of exploring her state of mind and the person behind the makeup. It’s what makes Harley Quinn’s Revenge feel so forced. You need your audience to care for these characters in order for these ‘darker’ stories to have any impact, but when you write them to be just comic relief and with no true life or personality, then it’s impossible to connect with them, to feel as they do.

The games still manage to shine in few character-focused moments!
The games still manage to shine in a few character-focused moments!

The Batman games are a ton of fun but their character writing has many issues. I could go on for hours on the inconsistencies in plot and timelines, but I’ll leave those for another time. Characterisation is central to storytelling, and drives these stories forward, so my focus was exclusively on them this time.

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I love everything readable, writeable, playable and of course, edible! I search for happiness, or Pizza, because it's pretty much the same thing! I write and ramble on The Mental Attic and broadcast on my Twitch channel, TheLawfulGeek

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