"Batman: Arkham Knight" has a bit of a violence problem.
That's not to say it's a terribly violent game — it's pretty much on par with the other "Arkham" games, where the most grisly thing you'll see is bloodless-yet-bone-crunching mixed martial arts. Rather, it's violent in a way that violates what Batman is all about.
Most of it circles around the Batmobile, which is a huge part of the new game. The Batmobile looks like, and is referred to by many in-game characters, a tank.
It has automatic weaponry and missiles and a giant freaking cannon. These present a unique problem when making a Batman game, because Batman does not kill.
The developers at Rocksteady Games acknowledge this, and work very hard to make it absolutely clear that none of this weaponry is used to lethal ends. That cannon? Don't worry, all the vehicles you use it on are "unmanned drones." That anti-personnel machine gun? It fires "non-lethal rounds."
Not really. These are still guns being used by a character who took a solemn vow to rid his city of the kind of crime that robbed him of his parents — the kind of crime that uses guns. Batman cannot use a gun, much like Batman cannot kill.
You might point out that the Batmobile has been depicted as having guns before, and you'd be right. The Batmobiles of both the Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan films have loads of lethal weaponry, but those movies are also a tad bit flexible in their approach to Batman's "no killing" rule — Burton's "Batman" has the car blowing up a building, and in "Batman Begins" the hero's climactic decision to not save Ra's Al Ghul is literally the definition of killing him.
Even in these depictions, the weapons on the bat-vehicles are used more like tools, often to clear a path. In fact, one of the most famous stunts in "The Dark Knight" came about because Batman refused to use his weaponry to stop the Joker's freight truck, and instead decided to flip it with some tow cables.
But in "Arkham Knight," the Batmobile's cannon is just that: A cannon. For shooting things.
It's easy to understand why the guns are there. Shooting things is one of the most popular activities to have in a mainstream video game, something with clear, easy-to-grasp rules that rewards skill and adds tension. As I noted in my review, the shooting works quite well and is very fun.
And even though the narrative justification is there — we're constantly told the Batmobile is nonlethal, to the point where anyone who comes into contact with it gets shocked and flies backward — these weapons still don't belong in a Batman story, and the more you think about the character, the more jarring it all is.
Batman is a guy whose job would be made a million times easier with a small arsenal of tranquilizer rifles and tasers. But he doesn't use them, because they're guns. Instead, he goes to hilarious lengths to avoid using them, crafting bat-shaped boomerangs to throw at criminal's heads. It's absurd, but it's an ideal, and Batman is defined by his ideals. That's what makes him aspirational.
That's his superpower.
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AND: Our "Arkham Knight" review