There’s not many well-written videogames out there. In fact, stories for games usually suck. Even great games. Take Batman: Arkham City, for example. It is a great game, with several perfect elements. But, the writing, oh boy, the writing. It is not close to perfect. Cliches abound, both in dialogue and in the voice actig, distracting from a story that is overall rather good. Maybe this is explained by the presence of Paul Dini, who is not just not the main writer of this game, but the main writer of Batman: the Animated Series, itself a relic that is cherished only by the people who grew up with it.
Dialogue is a frequent source of annoyance. Many characters utter cliched (I’m going to say that word a lot) one-liners and puns that belittle their characters. For instance, in the story, here is a sample of the dialogue between Batman and a woman he just saved.
“Why would Riddler do this?”
Batman: “Because he’s insane.”
Really? You’re the world’s greatest detective and that’s the best you got. He came to this conclusion a few minutes earlier, as Riddler was talking to him over an intercom system. Batman simply responds “you’re insane,” like a character in a generic action movie who just discovered the villain’s main plot. This is just shallow writig and characterization, which is odd, because there are parts in the game that impress me, writing-wise. Batman is a genius; he should be saying something a lot more nuanced and insightful than the blatantly obvious.
Then, there is the dialogue pertaining to Catwoman and Two-Face. She is a ton of fun to play as, but she is annoying as fuck, and so is Two-Face, her main adversary. His first line in the game: “get your filthy paws off that.”
This isn’t befitting of a character like Two-Face; more like Adam West. See “The Dark Knight” for a real insight into Harvey Dent, the character who perhaps has the most potential for an emotionally engaging storyline and one of the most tragic figures in Batman’s Rogues Gallery. He is reduced to a thug with a gravelly voice, a gun, and a penant for catpuns (“heads or tails, kitty cat”) and the word “bitch”.
Catwoman refers to herself as a “kitty,” in an overly sensualized voice over that seems like pandering to an adolescent male audience.
The thugs pile it on, as well, not just with Catwoman. The few lines they share are about how they’re not afraid of Batman/Catwoman or how “we own Arkham City.” Wow, that’s enlightening: you’re confident. Ok.
Most of the characters aren’t developed in game past their simple motivations; kill Batman and own Arkham City with the most brute force. One-dimensional simplicity like it’s written by a 12-year-old. The main villain Hugo Strange is the most egregious example of cartoon simplicity. On one of his game over screen speeches, he’ll say something like “you failed. How utterly predictable.” So will Riddler. This is camp, cartoony, cliche crap. Both of these characters have more to them than just wanting Batman dead; they have psychological disorders, backstories, and complex motivations that could shine through, but don’t.
Arkham City is just another example of bad writing in the videogame industry.