The launch of Batman: Arkham Knight is just on the horizon, and the game is already sweeping up monstrously positive reviews by critics. Looking back, it’s hardly surprising that the game presently holds a 91 on Metacritic when previous entries in the Arkham series have been so stellar. To celebrate the villain leading the upcoming siege over Gotham in Arkham Knight, this Level Select is dedicated to the fear doctor himself, Jonathan Crane, and his horrifying moments from Batman: Arkham Asylum’s Scarecrow hallucination sequences.
During Batman: Arkham Asylum, players take control of the Dark Knight as he spends the worst night of his life on Arkham Island securing a prison riot that sees the likes of Joker, Bane, Poison Ivy, and tons more gathered with one goal: taking down the Bat who put them behind bars. The Scarecrow, a surprise villain who was never featured in the pre-release advertising of the game, puts Batman under three hallucinogenic trials throughout the night that made for some of Asylum’s most memorable sections.
The first two sequences are well regarded by fans and critics alike. In the first Scarecrow level, Batman unzips two body bags in the Arkham morgue and finds his deceased parents desperately uttering for his help and angrily blaming him for their passing. In the second sequence, Bruce recounts the night his parents were murdered in Crime Alley before suddenly finding himself reverted into a young boy. Players then hear the sounds of gunfire and Martha Wayne’s scream as Bruce falls to his knees and lies beside his lifeless mother and father.
While many fans of Asylum will recognize that Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprised their roles from the ’90s show Batman: The Animated Series as Batman and the Joker, respectively, not all will know that Conroy also returned to the role of Bruce’s father, Thomas Wayne. This is a part he occasionally voiced in episodes that featured Thomas through flashbacks or similar hallucinations to the ones in this game.
Batman’s origin story is hardly a mystery, as countless TV, movie, and comic adaptations have (sometimes redundantly) revisited the Wayne family’s fateful walk through Crime Alley. Though shown in a myriad of various other mediums, Arkham Asylum holds the title for being the first video game adaptation that walked players through Thomas and Martha’s deaths via the second Scarecrow sequence.
The final sequence of fear toxin-induced hallucinations in the game is without a doubt the most memorable, and sees Batman incarcerated by The Joker and strapped down as Scarecrow, Harley Quinn, and other members of his Rogue’s Gallery walk Batman through the insane asylum towards his execution. This premise is one that takes heavy influence from two episodes of Batman: The Animated Series. In the 1992 episode “Dreams in Darkness,” Batman finds himself imprisoned in Arkham Asylum by Scarecrow while the villain threatens to poison Gotham’s water supply, just as he and Joker both attempted at different points in Asylum. In 1994’s “Trial,” Batman and Gotham’s newest District Attorney are captured and put on trial by the likes of Joker, Two-Face, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, and Harley Quinn to judge if it’s Batman who’s truly guilty for creating and motivating all of his enemies.
Batman’s incarceration certainly left players on the edge of their seats, but the level is even more so cherished for they way it pushed Scarecrow’s tricks beyond the scope of Batman’s world by making players think their own worst nightmare had come true: occurring roughly three quarters into the story, the game appears to glitch out and, after cutting to black, begins to replay the game’s opening cutscene. Fans were left either scratching their heads or panicking – just as Scarecrow would want – before subtle differences like a reversed Bat symbol in the sky resembling the Scarecrow’s smile let on that it was all an illusion. This is also the only cutscene in Asylum that players cannot skip, only adding to the sense of captivity Rocksteady so cleverly designed.
In creating this scene, it’s likely that the developers at Rocksteady Studios were referencing, or at least inspired by a similar, fourth-wall-breaking boss battle with Psycho Mantis in Metal Gear Solid. In that encounter, Mantis demonstrates his psychic powers through “reading your mind,” by noting games present on the memory card inserted into the console. In the Twin Snakes version of MGS for instance, if the player has a save file for The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, Psycho Mantis shouts, “You seem to like The Legend of Zelda, don’t you?”
With Scarecrow playing a much larger role in Arkham Knight and much of that game’s plot still wrapped in mystery, it’s worth noting that during the third hallucination, Scarecrow actually identifies the incarcerated Batman as Wayne. He is the only villain in the game to address Batman by his true identity, and while it was likely only part of his hallucination, it could be possible that Scarecrow found out some vital information – and plans to use it during Arkham Knight.
Over the course of two, stellar Batman games, Rocksteady Studios proved that they know how to nail game design, and the Scarecrow nightmare sequences from Arkham Asylum are the perfect examples of that. They added emotion, confusion, shock, and satisfaction to not only a character, but an entire genre of video games that at the time of Asylum’s release had been written off as a type of game destined to fail.