You’re Gonna Die, Freak: Arkham Punch Goes to the City

WTF is Batman: Arkham City?

Batman: Arkham City is the king of Batman videogames, released in 2011. It’s the sequel to Batman: Arkham Asylum, and the premise is that part of Gotham has been walled off and turned into a free run prison for its extremely dense criminal population. If that sounds like a horrible idea, that’s okay – it’s actually a plot point that whoever came up with this is crazy.

As the game begins, Bruce Wayne is arrested under false pretences and sent to Arkham City, where he dons his Batman suit and starts trying to bring down various criminals, while also solving the mystery of why the fuck this prison exists in the first place. This involves a very dramatic showdown with Joker and several other A-list villains like Ra’s and Talia al Ghul, Penguin, and Mr. Freeze. Catwoman is also there for some reason.

Compared to Arhkam Asylum, there are a lot more side missions, a few more gadgets, and a lot fewer game elements that don’t involve punching. Batman can also essentially fly.

The most important part

The most important part is that the GOTY edition allows you to play as Catwoman for part of the game. It’s not a lot of the game – I saw one estimate online that put it at 10%, and that’s not far off – but it’s a nice fucking change from being Batman, and you can extend the experience by using Catwoman to complete combat challenges and to run around the city punching random dudes.

I was very conscious that the target audience for the Catwoman missions was more “guys who want to fuck Catwoman” than “women who want to see themselves in the game” but that didn’t entirely stop it from being fun, and I would have liked the game even more if there had been a 50/50 split between the two characters. As it is, the Catwoman parts were added to the game after its initial release, which just emphasises how different my priorities are from Rocksteady’s.

The other women in the game

Besides Catwoman, the other women in the game are Harley, Ivy (in a cameo appearance), Talia al Ghul, Oracle’s voice on the radio, and some other randoms. There comes a point where you notice that basically all of the female characters in Batman, good, bad, and neutral, are insanely beautiful and sexually available to either Batman or Joker. The men, on the other hand, can be ugly, lumpy, asexual, and hideous in all kinds of different ways, and nobody cares because their stories aren’t about whether or not you want to fuck them.

The costumes in Arkham City are a lot more practical and a little more modest than the ones in Arkham Asylum, but they’re still really sexual. Talia, in particular, has these really tight, really shiny, really low rise pants that I can’t even.

The women also aren’t very powerful in this one. Harley’s defining characteristic is that she’s stupid, which seems weird to me, given that she was a doctor before she joined up with Joker. Although she and Joker are still at the heart of the story in Arkham City, they aren’t the main focus, and Harley has fewer opportunities to show that she’s good at doing stuff like kidnapping and killing people. There’s an epilogue called “Harley Quinn’s Revenge” included in GOTY that I was initially excited about, because I thought maybe I’d get to play as Harley, but it turned out to be a story about how she completely fails at being a super villain while Batman and Robin bring her down.

Talia al Ghul is there first and foremost to be Batman’s love interest. It doesn’t jive with the later-added content about Catwoman at all, and it’s a pretty fucking lame use of the character. She keeps getting tricked by Batman and her father, and then she gets taken hostage in the final act so that Batman has someone to rescue.

In a lot of ways, even despite the Catwoman parts, this is a huge step down from where we were in Arkham Asylum.

Other things that don’t make sense

Speaking of stuff that doesn’t jive – the game seems confused sometimes about whether it’s set in Gotham or Arkham, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that, in earlier stages of development, they had intended for this to be Gotham and had to scale it back (Arkham Knight, after all, is set in the big city). You spend part of the game trying to stop violent criminals from killing other violent criminals, and it’s not always clear what the urgency is.

This is especially true in the final act, when the big bad reveals that his master plan is not to destroy Gotham but to destroy Arkham city. Where all the other criminals live. And, in real life, you know, I don’t think it’s right to kill people because they committed a crime, but, within the context of Batman:Arkham City, were literally 98% of these people just attacked me with a garbage can while screaming “You’re gonna die, freak!”? I’m gonna take my time stopping those missiles, pulse-pounding music be damned.

The funniest part

Batman spends part of the game investigating Dr. Strange while calling him only by his last name. Sample dialogue:

Tell me everything you know about Strange.

Didn’t you say you liked this game, though?!

I did.

Arkham City improves on everything that was good about Arkham Asylum and makes the experience of playing more immersive and intuitive. It also has a much better story, full of genuine emotion and surprising twists. Like Arkham Asylum, Arkham City has an organic flow, where each phase of your primary quest naturally spills into the next, redirecting the action in a way that feels more natural than games that are based around levels. This time, though, there’s more depth to the story and a more exciting list of villains to derail you in your quest.

Gameplay is basically the same – minor puzzle-solving plus lots of combat and stealth challenges. However, Arkham City has a lot of added features to make both of those things work more smoothly. For starters, there’s a page with clear instructions detailing how to do all of your special moves and takedowns and what the effects will be. The menu you use to access your gadgets is easier to navigate, and the combat-ready gadgets all come with quickfire keys that are relatively easy to remember.

The stealth challenges in Arkham City are also a lot easier to navigate, and there are a lot of optional upgrades you can get to bypass the more difficult parts of the challenge. If you love stealth challenges, you can still make them super hard on yourself, but it you hate them as much as I do, you can stop them from bogging you down and ruining your game. For instance, there are now several ways to disarm enemies carrying guns and, in the later stages of the game, there’s a device you can use to silently disarm up to two of the guns in the room. The takedown instructions also specify which moves are silent and which will attract attention.

On top of even that, the predator challenges seem to be laid out in a more intuitive way. You can get a better look at the room from your vantage points, it’s easier to find places to hide, and the enemies seem to follow more consistent rules about what they can and can’t see. I usually felt confident that I knew when I was hidden and that I had two or three routes of escape if I was spotted.

The only thing I didn’t like is that, as the game goes on, more and more of the random thugs in the city get guns, turning regular navigation into a long stealth challenge where you constantly have to scan for enemies and either re-route or commit to spending the next few minutes on a stalk-and-choke side-trip.

And the part where Batman can fly

The funnest part of Arkham City is that Batman essentially flies. Not only can he glide farther than he could in Arkham Asylum, he can also dive and pull up to gain speed and altitude. On top of even that, he can use a special function on his grapnel gun to launch himself into the air.

My favourite side quest in the game is one where you have to repeatedly fling yourself across the city as fast as you can to stop a murder. Running, jumping, gliding, diving, grappling – so much fun.

Conclusion

While Punching Quest is not my favourite genre, this is a really well-executed example. It’s still a boy game for boys, but it’s one of the less offensive ones, and I’m glad I got to be Catwoman for five minutes here and there. The story is much more interesting than Arkham Asylum and has a Holy Shit WTF ending that feels earned. Plus, it’s easier to opt-out of the parts you don’t like.

Image: Batman: Arkham city; Rocksteady Studios | November 20, 2015