Having just finished playing Arkham Asylum on Steam (my desktop is the XPS 8700 from this list of best gaming desktops under $1000) today, I’m once again living through the deflationary plummet into dispair that inevitably flows up at this fundemental truth of 21st century gaming: no matter how exquisite the gameplay, AAA game studios simply don’t know shit about endings.
Who can seriously tell me that the best boss fight the studio could come up with was an endless thumb-twitch brawl against a super-enhanced mega-Joker?
Fists are for thugs. To make a fight bigger, you don’t just make it more of the same. Beating Joker down punch after punch was a cheap, empty move.
Batman’s main weapons are not his fists or his gadgets. They are fear and omnipotence. Throughout the game, Batman has proven himself an unholy force of terror to his enemies. This is what Batman needs to bring against the Joker.
Batman needs to take back Arkham Asylum on its own terms: on psychological grounds.
Venerable writer Paul Dini: I call you out. And to prove I mean business, here’s what one hour of distracted, amateur reflection bought me. I can only imagine what you and your studio could have come up with in this direction, because until the final boss fight, Arkham Asylum was practically flawless.
I present you : the alternate ending to Arkham Asylum.
CUT-SCENE — INT. ARENA IN THE ARKHAM PENATENTIARY
Having just beaten down two venom guards and a host of thugs, Batman screws up his remaining strength for the final showdown. Bodies litter the place. Joker stands across the arena, ranting.
JOKER: I don’t believe it! After all that, you’re still…? Fine. Fine! Well, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.
Joker pulls out an injector and holds it to his chin.
JOKER: I regret that I have only one life to give to my asylum!
Laughing, he injects himself in the head.
Batman reaches out.
Joker stumbles, falls, and begins a horrific transformation into MEGA-JOKER. His laughter transforms into a hideous parody of his own twisted psyche. Pay the sound engineers overtime to make this one grate like fingernails on a chalkboard.
MEGA-JOKER: Now I have all the power in the world! I’ll squeeze your skull until your bat-brain pops like a melon! Ha! Ha ha ha!!!!
The fight begins.
GAMEPLAY: It’s Batman and Mega-joker, one on one. Mega-Joker is overpowering: he crushes walls to dust with every blow, taking out huge swaths of architecture with deliberate calculation that we didn’t see in the other venom-thugs. Insanity focuses his mind in a dangerous new way.
Batman lands his best punches, but it’s clear they’re not doing any good. Mega-Joker’s health bar just recovers right back.
BATMAN: He’s too powerful for me. I’ve got to inject him with the antidote before he destroys everything on the island.
Batman has a few gargoyles and ledges he can leap to for temporary safety. Batman can use his predatory skills to drop down over Mega-Joker and inject the antidote into the neck. he has to do this three times. Once Mega-Joker catches on, he’ll destroy the wall that supports Batman’s escape. Batman can only use each escape point once before it gets destroyed.
Eventually, Batman gets the injections in.
CUT-SCENE: INT. THE RUINED ARENA
MEGA-JOKER begins to falter. His mind, such as it is, begins to snap. His swaggering confidence is cracking at last, and now fear plays on him.
MEGA-JOKER: No! No!
The room is now a ruin, open to the outside, barely supporting the roof.
BATMAN: The only big joke is on you. You thought you had me trapped in here with you.
Mega-joker is deflating, slowly but surely. Now he’s just a Big-Joke.
Batman smiles grimly.
BATMAN: But you’re trapped in here…
Big-Joke’s eyes open wide in fear.
BATMAN: … with me.
Batman slowly and unstoppably makes his move, fists ready. It’s all we see just before…
…the entire building collapses in a mighty CRASH, sending debris and rubble everywhere. Batman and Big-Joke disappear into a huge plume of dust.
CUT-SCENE – EXT: ARKHAM WEST
Super-Joker shoves his way out from under some rubble. There’s no smile on his face now.
BIG JOKE: Outside! Made it! Safe! Made … aaah! What’s… what…?
Big-Joke twists and writhes as the antidote slithers inside him, sapping his power.
EXTREME ANGLE: Behind Big-Joke, we see the shadow of Batman perching above…
Joker is now shell of his former self, weary, in tatters, shaking in disbelief. He had it all, right there at his fingertips, he had it ALL, until…
BATMAN (unseen): You’ll never escape me, Joker.
His voice comes from everywhere. Batman’s shadow flashes behind him, floats above him, never in the same place twice. Joker looks this way, that way, eyes always a fraction too slow.
BATMAN (unseen): Wherever you go, I’ll find you. Whatever you try, I’ll stop you. I’m always one step ahead of you.
Joker is panicked now, trying to look everywhere at once. He’s broken in a way his do-or-die thugs never did.
BATMAN (unseen): Always right behind you.
CLOSEUP ON JOKER. He’s sweating, trembling, afraid to turn around at the monster he know is right behind him.
The whisper comes right at his ear–OUR ear. Give the sound hardware guys some 3D positioning to brag about.
BATMAN (whispers): Always.
Joker is terrified now. He screams and makes a dash for it. Anywhere, everywhere, he’s just got to run. He collides smack into a thug, hanging senseless from a rooftop: an earlier bat-casualty.
THUG: Buh… Boss? Uuuungh. Buh…. bat. Bat….man.
JOKER: No! He’s here! He’s everywhere! No! Got to get away! Somewhere safe!
From his vantage point, Batman watches the Joker bolting this way and that, recoiling from Batman’s handiwork.
BATMAN: He’s almost trapped. His fear will do the rest… with a little help.
GAMEPLAY: In predator mode, Batman moves unseen from perch to perch. Joker is trying to get off Arkham Island any way possible: by boat, by ambulance, even by swimming if he has to. To stop him, Batman needs to ambush a few remaining thugs quickly and efficiently, luring them to the right positions so as to block Joker’s escape. When Joker sees a dispatched thug hanging, he bolts to the next potential escape point. Maybe throw in cool blocks like a batsignal appearing suddenly at Joker’s feet. With every block, Joker’s terror escalates.
Now is a visceral moment of victory for the player. He’s won. The tables are turned: Batman is fully in control, Joker is dancing to his tune, and Arkham has become Batman’s playground.
Plus, Batman gets to pay Joker back for all that inane blather he’s had to put up with the entire game. Give Batman lots of cool terror lines to say unseen to the Joker at intervals.
Eventually, the Joker ends up in front of an empty cell. He looks in, a glimmer of deperate hope in his eyes…
CUT-SCENE: INT. ARKHAM CELL BLOCK
Batman glides down to land in front of closed cell door. Through the window, he sees Joker huddled pathetically in the corner.
JOKER (muttering to himself): Safe! Ha ha! Safe, safe, safe in here! Can’t see him, can’t see me! Safe! Ha, ha! Never find me! All alone! Never get in! Never go out! Ha ha! Safe! Safe now…
BATMAN (more to himself than Joker): That’s right, Joker.
Batman turns away and walks to the outside door. Joker’s muttering fades to inane giggles.
BATMAN: Now you’re safe.
THE END. Roll whatever closing wrapup you need.
Now, don’t that beat button-smooshing fisticuffs? Gimme the psychological edge, baby. It’s what Arkham is all about.