This is going to be a critique of Arkham City, not a review. If you want my opinion it’s a fantastic game which you need to play, 10/10 whatever, the following is supposed to be a proper look at the game. Spoilers abound, foresight into the 3rd instalment in spades and genuine criticisms imminent. Arkham City is the first game I’ve played in a long time that I want to break down and critique.
First of all, the setup. Arkham City is a concept that makes absolutely no sense until the finale and if you beat a side quest and then listen to the tapes from said side quest. Why would anyone want Arkham City to exist, why would anybody agree to let it happened and most importantly how can anyone possibly gain from it? This question is unanswered for so long after a while you take it for red that, well, I guess it did happen, I guess there must be something clever going on and I’m going to have to wait to find out. When the purpose behind Arkham City is revealed it is actually clever, and more importantly makes sense in Batman’s world. It does take a long time for the City to justify itself, however, and when you do the research it goes from insane to plausible.
It doesn’t seem to make sense for Hugo Strange to want Arkham City as much as Ra’s does though. Hugo Strange’s role in Arkham City seems extremely minor, especially when compared to the likes of The Joker or Ra’s. He seems to have been put into the game so that the introduction of arresting Bruce Wayne makes sense to the player. Strange immediately falls into the background of Arkham City, and his relationship with Batman in the narrative is incredibly minor. Heck, for about 80% of the game he is not the main villain, and in the 20% he is, he’s quickly replaced by a much more powerful one. Lacking any major charisma and more importantly not remaining in contact with Batman makes him immediately a far worse villain than Joker was in Asylum, but that is understandable, he has bigger fish to fry. That said some form of Strange being more present in the game would have made it a lot more intense and enjoyable for the player. Strange is a psychoanalyst, why not play off that? Have him deconstruct Batman right from the get go, constantly prodding him and attacking his vulnerabilities. Instead we see him at the start, hear him once or twice declare Protocol 10 is approaching and then hit him in the head at the conclusion. As villains go, he’s pretty poor.
Which brings me onto my next villain failure: why the hell is Two Face in this game at all? Harvey Two Face is in Arkham City right at the beginning for 3 minutes and then right at the end provided you got the Catwoman DLC (which is another disaster all on its own, but more of that later). His role is to have Batman clumsily stride into his courthouse, get beaten up and then hang over an acid tank for the rest of the game. What a total waste. Two Face has his defining characteristic of his coin, a 50/50 choice generator, which I assume made the developers panic. How can Harvey be in any way interesting outside of being a gang leader? So they threw him into the promotional materials, made these clunky levels (the second of which was diabolically awful) and said they were done. But they missed a trick. Why wasn’t Two Face a side quest? Make it so he tells Batman he has hostages at either location a or b and that batman has to decide which is the true location, not too dissimilar from the Dark Knight’s thrilling hostage chase. Pure chance if you succeed? Sure, but that’s all part of the fun of Two Face. Instead he’s a man with a gun. Boo!
Catwoman should also not be in this title. She’s extraneous to the plot, she isn’t that fun to play as and I only identified her sections as annoyances that interrupted the goddamn batman game I was playing. I know the idea was to make the plot tenser, I know she’s supposed to be a palette cleanser and I know she’s cut out off the second hand game, but I don’t care. Her chapters pop up at the most interesting points in the game and kill the pacing stone dead. If I had the choice, I would remove her sections in a flash, and gladly not have the post credits sequence with Two Face cluttering up the finale. He character serves no purpose, her attitude and “style” is completely out of character with the rest of the game and she simply didn’t need to be here. Far play to Rocksteady, she was in no way “half arsed” in her implementation, the fact she has her own Riddler trophies and can navigate the world is a testament to the design of the game’s flexibility, but maybe she should have been taken out of the main quest and put to one side. If she’d had a good 3 hour set of chapters, all tangential but insignificant to the plot of Arkham City (which was most of it anyway) and been released as an actual DLC pack later down the line it would have all been much nicer. Perhaps this was the plan and Rocksteady had to rush Catwoman out as an “online pass” character. If this was the case, bad move guys.
The other villains, however, are extremely well done. Joker in this game was phenomenal, points to Paul Dini who gave him a worthy and fascinating finale. The main plot being subverted by Joker was a stroke of genius, as it highlights just how devious the clown prince can be. I had no idea that the main plot of Arkham City was going to be about Joker’s blood, and I fell for Joker’s death almost immediately. Joker manages to take over Arkham City’s narrative with a single stroke of genius, and his plan is so evil that he immediately removes the player’s interest from what Protocol 10 is and replaces it with a far more urgent, much more terrifying narrative structure. Infecting Batman and using him to get the cure could have worked in any format, but in Arkham City this means a whistle stop tour of some of Batman’s greatest enemies. Penguin gets a far appearance in a role that suits him as a mobster boss come arms dealer, but he seems like such a small fry in the overall scheme of the game. Freeze gets a role as an uneasy ally, although his motives seem bizarre at times as if he just agreed flat out to ally with Batman he’d have done far better. Oh, and he had the best boss fight by far. Ra’s does a devilishly clever bait and switch on the player by popping up early on and killing any ideas the player might have about why he is in Arkham City at all. His appearance at the end, while annoyingly vague about his relationship with Hugo Strange, was both a “no way” and an “of course” to the player, making him a worthy antagonist to the game as a whole. It’s also cool to see a final boss fight occur half way through the game.
Outside of this, I want to discuss Joker’s death. Firstly, it was clever; I love how he caused his own downfall with both the illness and the destruction of the cure. However it could’ve have been handled better directorially. Nothing is more effective than removing any form of comfort from the player, and music became a comfort. Having no music and a slow pan towards Joker’s eyes might have been a lot more effective, or at least tenser as the player waits for him to jump up. The idea of actually killing the Joker was both brave and admirable, even though it was a forced point on behalf of the developer; Mark Hamil has publically stated he won’t return to the role so removing him from the game’s continuity only makes sense. What happens now the ultimate villain is dead? Well several things.
Firstly, little old Harley appears to have been knocked up. If you examine her room in the steel foundry she is absent, has left her costume on a dummy and has a pregnancy test showing positive on the side, all clear signs that baby joker may be one the way. What does this mean? Well a lot of interesting things. Firstly, maybe we’ll see the son/daughter of the joker, which is in itself interesting if worrying. To make baby J in anyway a threat in the third instalment will require at least 20 years to pass, far too long for the player to leave Gotham alone. Even then, will he be a carbon copy of the Joker, will they even want to be a Joker? It all seems a bit strange. Harley as a pregnant villain or mother, however, is interesting. She may rise up to become far more dangerous a villain than before, with a true reason to now despise Batman and a son or daughter to train to hate him too. But what of the Titan poisoning? What if the baby has the illness, we all know Joker never got the cure and that’d be a fantastic hook for Harley trying to hunt you.
Otherwise we have yet more intrigue as to what the next game will bring, we get an apocalyptic vision from Azael, a set of secret messages from Scarecrow promising revenge and, perhaps most interesting of all, the final ending of Arkham Asylum, where a hand reaches out to take the titan floating in the water, being unresolved. Bane appears without it, as does Killer Croc, so we can only assume that Scarecrow has the last remaining batch. What will happen next? Who knows, but my god it sounds fun. My base prediction of setup is simply that the next title will be “Batman: Gotham City” and be a larger city with innocents and more at stake. Other than that, who the hell knows! I can’t wait though.
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