Batman vs. Punisher: Arkham Asylum vs. No Mercy Impressions
I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up by giving the impression this is a review of Batman: Arkham Asylum. It’s not. But I’ve been doing some research into the game, and wanted to rant a bit about the character of Batman as compared to other heroes, specifically the Punisher. A friend of mine recently compared Batman to the Punisher as being very similar, and I couldn’t disagree more. Why? Let’s take a look.
Batman, as we know, began life as Bruce Wayne. The privileged child of Thomas and Martha Wayne, billionaire from birth. He never really got the chance to enjoy his good fortune, however. His parents were killed in a random mugging right in front of his eyes. I remember Batman at some point saying “I haven’t been a kid since I was 8 years old”. He never gets over the loss of parents, but not in a whiny-personal “I-miss-Uncle-Ben” kind of way. More of a fix-the-corruption-and-criminal-environment-that-allowed-this-to-happen way.
So Bruce disappears off the face of the earth when he’s old enough to actually do it, gains focus on his goal of crime-fighting, and trains his mind and body to do what must be done. Years later, he reappears in Gotham City as the Dark Knight. In Arkham Asylum, you will be able take advantage of Batman’s training as a detective and martial arts master with the abilities of a kind of Assassin’s Creed “Eagle-Vision” (but far more in-depth), great combos and other techniques to fight groups of enemies en masse or divide and conquer.
Frank Castle, on the other hand, had a family until they were killed during a picnic in Central Park after witnessing a gangland execution. After that traumatic event, he dedicated his life to destroying criminals and murderers. Not fighting crime, but destroying criminals. He put to use his experience as a war veteran – special operations, infiltration, obviously his mastery of firearms and close combat in his relentless personal crusade.
The Punisher’s skills set (guns, knives and fists) is well expressed in his video games. In fact, the latest title is a download from the PlayStation Network called Punisher: No Mercy. A nominally better title could have been Nothing New. A generic, first-person-shooter that brings nothing to the table except maybe a half hour or so of story play (that’s not a joke), and however many hours of online play you can stomach. Fire your weapon at thugs until the clip is empty. Reload and repeat. So like the Punisher himself, who is kind of a one-dimensional character, we have a game that reflects this. Although to be fair, I wasn’t expecting a racing game – you don’t get Speed Racer. You get the Punisher.
I think that’s a very important note that a lot of games are overlooked for. The subject content to begin with can more often than not determine how complex, how deep and interesting the rabbit hole can go, or how dry, banal and downright boring a game can be, regardless of how good the mechanics are, if the subject matter is paper-thin.
As for why Batman and the Punisher are dissimilar, the point is very simple. The Punisher doesn’t fight crime. Yeah, I said it. Punisher kills criminals, takes their money and uses it to finance killing more criminals. Oh yeah, and that “funding” goes towards black market weapons. So not only does he do what many criminals already do (rob and kill other criminals) but he’s the black market’s best customer. How can he possibly ever finish his crusade if he perpetuates the system himself? Of course, that doesn’t matter to the Punisher. It’s not like he’s worried about crime. He just wants to kill bad guys.
If Batman and the Punisher existed in the same universe, Batman would track down and capture the Punisher without a second thought. Why? Batman fights crime. Not criminals, but crime – organized and systematic. He takes down mob bosses, putting them through the legal system so that the entire organization can go down with them. The Punisher uses a chainsaw to weed his garden, but all he does his create mulch for new weeds to grow. Batman pulls them out by the roots.
Don’t worry, this all has a bearing on the games. When you slide a Batman game into your console, you’re not just expecting a punch ‘em up, one-dimensional game. Hell, even Batman for the Sega Genesis had more depth than Punisher: No Mercy. But would you ever expect to see a Punisher game as innovative and intense as Batman: Arkham Asylum? Maybe. But I doubt it. The subject matter of the game almost always determines the quality of the game, providing the execution doesn’t suck anyway. If you make a game about ducks, expect it to quack.
So that was my excuse to rant a bit on the Batman/Punisher comparison. If anyone thinks I’m completely out of my mind or if you think I missed something that you’d like to mention, then let me know below! Also, I’d like to know who likes Batman more than Punisher and vice versa.
Also, some of you might think I’m bat-biased. Well, of course that’s true. Batman rules – who could argue to the contrary?