Batman: Arkham City
I played Arkham Asylum back in summer of 2015, so it somehow seems fitting for this much busier stage of my life that it took me four years to play the sequel. That being said, the gap I’ve taken from the Batman: Arkham series may ultimately have been to my benefit, given just how similar Arkham City feels to Arkham Asylum. We’re still beating the crap out of every other living character in the game (who all seem inexplicably hostile towards us on sight), we’re still uncovering a diabolical plot that features an all-star cast of Batman villains, and we’re still tracking down every Riddler secret using every piece of WayneTech we can get our hands on.
The thing is, all of it is great. Very few superhero games, especially those being made back in the early 2010s, can hold a candle to the experience that Arkham City provides. From gliding and grappling through the city to using detective mode to solve crimes, every moment feels like an authentic, exhilarating experience of donning the cape and cowl of the Dark Knight. Catwoman, Robin, and Nightwing are also playable characters for smaller segments, each with their own exciting gadgets and play styles. A huge amount of the game’s success can be credited to the immersive open-world of Arkham City, greatly improving over the labyrinth Metroidvania-like level design of Arkham Asylum. Adding a mix of outdoor and indoor locations to the game adds further opportunities for the mechanics and side missions to enrich the overall experience.
But this brings me to a point of Arkham City I was surprised by, and one that I would have only picked up on now, in 2019. Thanks to the open-world design, we get a lot of radio chatter from various inmates and characters to make the solo experience feel more alive. Most of what they say is fine but forgettable, like “I wonder what’s on TV right now,” or self-dating to an era where Facebook was still a novelty: “How am I supposed to update my status? …Oh yeah, I’m still stuck here in this stinking prison.” But a lot of it hints at something much more sinister, not originating from the inmates themselves, but from their experience.
You see, the plot of the game is that Prof. Hugo Strange gets Gotham City to agree to a pretty bonkers plan wherein they wall off a huge part of the city, throw all the inmates and supervillains from Arkham Asylum inside, and seal it shut. Strange likes this because he gets to “study” the criminally insane (for the good of science, I’m sure), and because the prison is a perfect way of making sure anyone who knows the truth of his nefarious purposes (like Bruce Wayne) are never heard from again. But in an age where we’re talking a lot more about racial discrimination, police brutality, and other failures of our criminal justice system, you start to wonder why in the world Batman feels the need to be inside this prison, beating the pulp out of everyone he sees. A decent number of inmates will yell “What’s Batman doing here?” when you start a fight. Others get picked up by your police scanner: “Why’s Batman in here anyway, aren’t we already locked up?”
I get that a lot of these inmates are bad people, especially the more ruthless ones who work closely with the big bads (Penguin, Two-Face, Joker, etc.). But my guess is that a lot of the inmates joined up with some villain’s faction just so they had food to eat, or so they wouldn’t get killed in the streets. And while I know Batman will never be compassionate, I wonder if he couldn’t be just a bit more conscientious. Otherwise, I worry that Joker’s right when he says Batman belongs inside with the rest of them.
The game would occasionally crash with some pretty unreadable error messages, but was otherwise flawless.