One year ago Batman: Arkham Knight was released worldwide, and instead of being a fitting swansong for a series composed of the greatest superhero games ever made, it fell into the worryingly large crowd of disappointing games that were released in 2015. I won’t say that 2015 was a bad year for games (2014 holds that honor), but it felt like titles had to extra careful to not suck. Arkham Knight, Star Wars Battlefront, Halo 5, even Fallout 4 to an extent; too many AAA games looked and played brilliantly, but fell flat on storytelling and offline content.
But while the other games here have swaths of content or multiplayer to make up for shortcomings, Arkham Knight was a game that relies heavily on good storytelling, and when the legendary Paul Dini wasn’t rehired to write the game (even though he did a fantastic job on two of the previous Arkham games) and instead someone who’s nowhere near as experienced was brought in, things didn’t work out well. A main villain who was basically little more than an omniscient voice telling you to give up while you could, a storyline that made the majority of Batman’s greatest villains nothing more than optional sidequests, multiple female characters being treated questionably at best (and at worst actually fridged), and a Batman who was even more bland and stern even by usual Batman standards. Arkham Knight had a massively flawed storyline, but to me its greatest sin is the disservice it did to one of the best Batman stories to come out in the 2000s: Under the Hood.
Under the Hood was a comic that had no right to be as good as it was, controversially resurrecting one of the most tragic characters in the Batman mythos: the second Robin, Jason Todd. Yet it not only brought back Jason in a tragic yet respectable manner, but it made him one of Batman’s most complex and compelling foes, leading to one of the greatest face offs in the character’s history with Batman stating his own reason as to why he won’t kill his worst villains, right to his adoptive son who himself lost his life to the Joker. It’s a storyline that’s so good that when DC adapted it to an animated feature film, it was basically a word for word retelling, and it’s what most people call the best DC animated film. Even though many correctly guessed the eponymous Arkham Knight’s identity as Jason months before the game came out, I was actually kind of looking forward to a major piece of Batman media bringing Under the Hood to a wide audience. Unfortunately, the game sabotaged its big reveal way before it happened, and left Jason’s role in Arkham Knight feeling hollow and wasted.
This game’s flawed story has been on my mind for a year now, and while parts of it still madden and excite me in equal measure (Joker’s role in the game remains an inspired creative choice), it’s the role of the titular character that’s stuck with me the most. This is partly because of how much I love Under the Hood, but it’s also because when I thought about it, I think I found a way of how this plot twist could’ve worked out rather well. And before you say it, yes, this is going to be something similar to the article I did on how to fix the DC Cinematic Universe, and to fully get what I’m on about I recommend you play Batman: Arkham Knight before you proceed any further (also, even though it’s a year old game, SPOILER ALERT). Arkham Knight has many, many other issues than just one plot twist, and it’s a game that’s already released so it can’t be outright changed and fixed. But as a mildly obsessive Batman fan who has an equally obsessive attitude towards storytelling in game design, this is a case that I feel deserves to be addressed.
Let’s start at any point of the game after Batman’s first encounter with the Arkham Knight, but before the final fight between the two. At this point you’ve encountered him a few times, he’s thoroughly antagonized you, and your allies have all given their own take on the grim situation Gotham faces. This last bit is where I want to start my changes: given that Dick Grayson (Nightwing) and Tim Drake (the third and current Robin) have both mentioned Jason by name, the story has already started to give things away. Instead of them commenting on Jason and his demise however, I’d actually have them both indirectly snipe at each other. Have real tension between them, but never show that it’s because of the guy “in the middle” who died. Two adoptive brothers bickering with each other, and the audience doesn’t know what it’s about. Is it over Barbara, is the invasion of Gotham really getting to them, or is it something else altogether…?
All the while, Batman still faces off against the league of villains plaguing the city, and the Arkham Knight continuously gloats and berates him on his failures as a vigilante. Batman keeps trying to dig up dirt on this adversary, but can’t find anything which makes sense in the long run. Jason’s identity was scrubbed clean due to his career as Robin (which was touched upon in the original Under the Hood comic), and it’d be interesting to see the world’s greatest detective do everything he can to get something on the Knight, and come up with nothing. This is where I’d plant the idea of the AK being someone who knows Batman very well. Too well...
When we get to the eventual fight between Batman and the AK, I’d keep it nearly exactly the same with the Red Hood reveal with Batman trying to convince him that he did try to save him, and Jason eventually running off. But at this point (about right after you save Barbara), I’d have Batman in a state where he has a renewed guilt about his biggest failure: Jason’s death. The death of Bruce’s parents is the tragedy that created Batman, but his sidekick dying is almost even worse: even after he built himself into a guardian that was supposed to eradicate crime, Batman still failed someone close to him.
After talking to Babs and Alfred about Jason’s return, Batman gets a ping from an out of the way alley that he regretfully recognizes: the alley where he met Jason for the first time, as an orphan stealing the wheels off an older Batmobile. From this point on Batman would go on a new quest line where he remembers key moments in his partnership with Jason, from their early missions together to Nightwing’s first appearance after Jason has taken on the role of the new Robin, to when Batman starts to learn Jason’s mean-streak as a reckless crime fighter, and eventually to the moment where he loses him to the Joker. But throughout all of this, the Joker hallucination that’s been plaguing you throughout the game gives his own sadistic take on each memory: Batman training a kid for a life that could end horribly at any moment, Batman not pulling Jason off the job even at moments where he knew he should have, and most importantly this is where I’d put the scenes of the Joker torturing and breaking Jason.
I know that these scenes have already been used earlier in the game during the fight with Harley Quinn, but their original usage is the exact moment where the game’s storytelling fails. Even though these scenes are brutal to watch and show just how badly the Joker broke Jason (more than justifying the game’s M rating), having them here completely gave away the Arkham Knight’s identity, and people who’d never heard of Jason Todd now knew where this was going. But imagine if they were instead juxtaposed against Batman’s memories of Jason at the beginning of his career. We’d now have a great contrast: Batman remembering Jason’s life and his beginning as Robin, while the Joker forces him to watch his horrific end and death. Throughout all of these memory missions, I’d again have Batman fight alongside Nightwing and Tim Drake (the current Robin) in dual fighter missions throughout Gotham, but as each fight begins Batman flashes back to Jason and himself in earlier uniforms, creating some bittersweet moments. Even though Batman knows it’s the hallucinations again, this time however he’s remembering some fond moments from his past.
At the end of this sidequest, I would have one last encounter between Batman and Jason, but not as true enemies. Jason’s been following Batman all this time watching him go from one memorable location to another, and he can see something is indeed eating away at him. Whether or not it’s the Joker hallucination or guilt isn’t made clear, but Jason lets go of his vendetta against the man who trained him. He can’t completely forgive Bruce, but he is up for crippling the last remnants of the Arkham Knight’s forces. In one of the game’s final fights, we see the two Knights go up against Deathstroke (NOT in a tedious tank fight), and at the end Jason gives up the Arkham Knight moniker, and instead formally takes on the role of the Red Hood. Batman tells him he won’t allow a vigilante who straight up kills, but Jason notes he has bigger problems to worry about: the Scarecrow is using the last of his resources for one final onslaught on GCPD HQ...
Now we get to the end of the game, after Batman has completed the Jason missions, and he has to give himself up to Scarecrow. In the original game Jason comes to your rescue which is nice, but feels like it comes out of nowhere. The two of you haven’t really had any interaction besides the fight the two of you had, so it doesn’t really make sense when he comes to save you after telling you that he hates you guts, and has tried multiple times to kill you.
With the Jason missions though he’s seen your guilt, and is more willing to come to your rescue… but he’ll only do it if you’ve done the missions. Otherwise, you can defeat Scarecrow, but it’ll be a hollow victory with Batman dying to save his allies. But with Jason on your side, the fight won’t end in a bittersweet manner, and in a way you had a second chance to save Jason, with the pay off of you actually getting a good ending.
I’ll note that I’d keep the final confrontation with the Joker about the same (“I am Vengeance, I am the Night...”, the whole thing), it’s just the final scene between Batman and Scarecrow where I’d changed it up. If you didn’t complete the Jason missions you will defeat the Scarecrow, but he injects Batman with another, final dose of fear toxin; you don’t fall to the psychological effects, but your body just can’t take fighting it anymore. However, if you do the Jason missions, the Red Hood breaks in and frees Batman before Scarecrow can inject him again, and Batman is able to take him down without dying. This can also be a great scene where Jason meets Commissioner Gordon one last time, and “properly” meets the current Robin, Tim Drake. Everyone acknowledges that Bruce Wayne’s identity has been blown, but this won’t be the end for Batman.
Like I said earlier, I know not much can be done to fix Arkham Knight’s story, but even a year later it still deserves constructive criticism all the same,and with Rocksteady Studios apparently working on a new Arkham game (for VR of all things), maybe we should take a look back at their previous effort. Arkham Knight’s biggest shortcomings were mainly its story and its PC port; the gameplay itself was great for the most part. Hell, I actually loved the Batmobile. But when a failure is on your mind for the better part of a year, and you think you found a way to “fix” it, maybe just getting it out on paper can exorcise the proverbial demon.
TGRIP is a film student studying in Portland, OR. TAY’s resident Xbox and racing game fan, he also (part time) reviews and does opinion pieces on games, movies, television, comics, and anime. He also runs his kinja sub blog Work(ing Title) In Progress. You can follow this third person narrating weirdo on Twitter @Dennis_wglasses, and his Gamertag on Xbox Live is “Aventador SV”.