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ace of knaves avatar 5:16 PM on 08.30.2009  (server time)
Why the Ending of Arkham Asylum is Really Freaking Awful

I don't have to put a spoiler warning here do I? Surely you read the title of this post? Ugh, fine: SPOILERS FOR ARKHAM ASYLUM. Lots of 'em. Also, fair warning, this is going to be a whiny fanboy rant about an otherwise great game.
Still here? Okay.

Arkham Asylum, how perfect you were. You really had me going there. For the entire game I felt like the Goddamn Batman, and I was loving it. Gameplay and story wise you got so very much right. And then what did you do? Ruined it in the last fifteen minutes. Way to go.

Okay so the story in this game is not exactly inspired, it's merely a great setup for the best Batman game of all time, which this unquestionably is. Joker's taken over Arkham, select members of Batman's rogues gallery are on the loose, go fix it. Wonderful. The deeper thread running throughout the game is the Titan formula, basically a modified version of the Venom drug what makes Bane go all big-like, which we eventually discover the Joker plans to use to make himself an army of mutant freaks/pollute the Gotham water supply, and since the latter part of that plan wasn't original in Batman Begins, it sure as hell isn't here, but whatever. I have no problem with a relatively simple story as the backdrop for a fantastic game liberally peppered with moments of inspired greatness, of which there are plenty.

Now there are actually a surprisingly slim number of traditional boss battles to be found in Arkham Asylum, which is fine, because they're not that good. They mostly rely on waiting for a weak point to be exposed and fighting off a bunch of minor goons at the same time, which is about as uncreative as you could get. The nontraditional enemy encounters, on the other hand, fare much better. While your time in Killer Croc's layer perhaps lasts a bit too long, it's extremely suspenseful, and Scarecrow absolutely steals this game in his sparingly dispersed amazingly brilliant fear toxin trips.

So after playing through almost the entire game I reached a point where it was clear I was heading off to the final showdown, and I couldn't help but wonder which direction the fight with the Joker would take. On the one hand, he's far more than a mere physical threat, but on the other, he can hold his own in a fight. Now there was a possibility that dawned on me, a solution to this dilemma so stupid and obvious that I all but rejected it's chances of occurring. I mean, this game was written by Paul Dini for fuck's sake. That man knows his Batman, and there's no way he would end the game in that manner.

Well he did. He abso-fucking-lutely did. Maybe it wasn't him, maybe he was forced to, I don't care but it's someone's fault. *Sigh*, okay, so that Titan stuff I mentioned? The stuff that can turn people into giant hulking Bane-like monsters? Well, Joker tries to use it on Commissioner Gordon, but Batman takes the bullet for him. Batman resists the transformation with the power of his Bat-will, which upsets Joker, who shoots himself in the head with the Titan formula, transforming him into a big freaking Joker monster. Please understand that typing that sentence crushed part of my soul.

You can watch the ensuing battle, and subsequent anticlimactic ending here, complete with another helpful spoiler warning:

Now let's look at this first only from a gameplay perspective. That fight sucked. 85% of it consisted of beating up random thugs, which surely you haven't had enough of by this point, while Joker threw some bombs and turned his back not once, not twice, but thrice, allowing you to damage him. I could not imagine a more boring, cookie cutter boss fight.

But what about from a Batman fanboy's point of view? Would the Joker realistically turn himself into a giant monster? How the hell should I know?! He's the Joker, he can do whatever he damn well pleases. But did it benefit the story? Of course not! It's stupid. It's really really stupid. Batman without a doubt has the greatest rogues gallery in comics. They work very well together, and while they can be interpreted in many different ways, what you never mess with is the kind of threat they represent. A brilliant paraplegic could stop the Riddler. The world's bravest chemist could save Gotham from the Scarecrow. An asexual lumberjack with a flamethrower could take down Poison Ivy. Batman is a remarkably well-rounded hero, and each of his enemies require him to tap in to a different part of his skill set to stop them. Messing with that just seems fundamentally wrong.

Now I have absolutely no problem with doing something new. I think Lex Luthor's original motivation was that Superman made him bald, and if it was decided in the 60s that the Batman franchise was perfect just the way it was, today we'd all think of the Joker as Cesar Romero with white makeup painted over the mustache he refused to shave. But if you're going to change a character, do it for the better. Is there anyone, anywhere, who thinks the Joker would be a better adversary if he was more physically capable of going toe-to-toe with Batman? He's not the greatest villain of all time because Batman has to punch him extra hard (with explosive gel, apparently)! It's because he's the definitive physical embodiment of chaos, and no matter how hard you punch him, he doesn't give a shit, he's just going to keep doing whatever the hell he does. But somewhere along the line they decided that doing the character justice wasn't as important as providing an immensely disappointing final boss battle, and the Joker was turned into merely another thing that Batman had to fight.

And that green mohawk they give him is ridiculous.

And the rest of the ending! Could it have been maybe a little less immediate? And if Two-Face also happened to be on the loose, why would Batman spend extra time walking the Joker into Arkham in the first place? Okay, that is nitpicking.

Now don't get me wrong, this is a great game, it does more right than I would have expected, and it probably deserves that Guinness World Record that Eidos bought. I could have easily made this an equally passionate post entitled "Why the Scarecrow Sequences in Arkham Asylum are Really Freaking Brilliant." In fact, they're at least as good, if not better than the ending is terrible.

But I am so damn sick of this. I get that a satisfying ending is hard, but it's worth the effort. I mean Bioshock is pretty much universally beloved, and yet everyone hates the ending. Yet the conclusion here is so much worse, and instead of triumphantly striding across the finish line to claim the title of "Best Superhero Game of All Time," it fell over the line and broke it's teeth.

Which is a damn shame, because Arkham Asylum could have been a perfect Batman game, and at the last second, settled for merely being the best.

And compared to Morrison's Arkham Asylum it is shit. Now there's an ending that knows how to fuck with an established character the right way.

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