Reviewed by John Hussey
Batman: Arkham City is certainly a mess of a sequel due to its convoluted design. There’s far too much going on and the focus is all over the place, making the main narrative unable to balance itself between the point of the story and the stuff in-between. As I explained within Part 1 of this review, Hugo Strange’s segment got completely overshadowed by The Joker’s presence and his scheme to poison Batman and Gotham with his blood, followed by his shocking death in the game’s conclusion.
But now I turn to the side-missions in which (for me at least) represents the core of Arkham City. In many ways these side-stories create some interesting scenarios in which kept me invested, forcing me to want more as I explored the dangerous streets of this city-sized prison. What’s fascinating is the amount of content that is given to you, and each side-mission gives you something different to do.
The most interesting side-missions are the ones that fully utilise Batman’s title as “World’s Greatest Detective”. These side-missions literally have you solving cases and uncovering some sort of crime going on within Arkham City and it’s your duty to unravel it and bring the criminal to justice. We have a side-story featuring one of DC Comic’s finest, i.e. Deadshot, in which he has been sent into Arkham City by Strange in order to clean up loose ends. It’s up to Batman to scan each crime-scene and discover the assassination links, whilst also discovering Deadshot’s location and next move.
Another side-mission has you chasing after a serial killer who has been going around removing the faces of inmates. The intriguing factor is the fact the criminal in question resembles Bruce Wayne. Though it is very clear that Batman is not behind the murders you still have to give Rocksteady credit for at least attempting to place doubt in the player’s mind. Even Oracle stops to question Batman due to the ongoing events of the game and how he has succumb to some nasty twists and turns that tested his sanity. Batman, of course, feels insulted by this accusation and pursues the truth in order to clear his name.
The killer is finally revealed as Dr. Thomas Elliot, an old friend of Bruce’s when they where children. Elliot would go on to become a psychopath after he killed his parents for their fortune but was caught by Bruce’s father, Thomas Wayne, due to his skilled surgical skills. Elliot blamed the Wayne’s for his misfortunate and exacted his revenge by slowly transforming himself into Bruce, becoming Hush. It’s a massive shame that Hush was pushed aside for such a small side-story, especially since he never received a proper conclusion until his small return in another side-mission within Batman: Arkham Knight. Nonetheless, it was terrifying listening to Batman veteran Kevin Convoy voicing an evil duplicate.
One of the more sinister side-missions came with the expanded appearance of Victor Zsasz (with Danny Jacobs reprising him from Arkham Asylum). Zsasz is a proper pyscho and I enjoyed his small appearance in Arkham Asylum, whilst his patient interview tapes gave me the chills as we delved deep into his crazed obsession with his markings. This was explored further within this side-mission as Zsasz phoned you up from pay-phones around Arkham City, having you reach a certain pay-phone within a time limit, before talking about his tortured past which explains why he became a murderer of woman.
Another obscure mission comes with the appearance of The Mad Hatter (voiced by Peter MacNicol). It’s strange when you consider Batman’s mythology actually includes deranged reinterpretations of iconic character’s from Lewis Carroll‘s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The Mad Hatter is a prime example of how obsession can turn you into a dangerous member of society. Jervis Tetch believes himself to be The Mad Hatter, having a fascination with hats and finding his beloved Alice. Batman becomes caught in the cross-fire as The Mad Hatter is determined to control the Dark Knight’s mind and steal his mask, trapping him within a drug trip scenario similar to the freakish tales of Carroll’s novel.
Most of the other side-missions have you trailing around Arkham City looking for certain items of interest, such as the remaining containers of Titan for Bane, and Nora for Mr. Freeze. Despite my praise (so far) the side-missions share a similar problem and that is failing to conclude them on a satisfying note. Most of the time they end rather abruptly or feel cheated of a tight conclusion, often resulting in a half-arsed confrontation with the criminal or a boring stealth section, meaning your hard work (and the build-up) falls completely flat.
The only side-mission to result in a promising conclusion is that of discovering who the mysterious watcher is. This is revealed to be Azrael (voiced by Khary Payton), a member of the Sacred Order of Saint Dumas. Though the entire side-mission is a scavenger hunt for Azrael’s symbols, thereby allowing you to uncover his meaning, it ends with an interesting prophecy. Having now played Arkham Knight it’s fascinating how Rocksteady once again managed to squeeze yet another Easter-Egg in that foretold the events of Batman’s next journey.
One of the more intricate side-missions is that of Catwoman (voiced by Grey DeLisle), which is cleverly merged into the main story. But beyond that it lacks any real value as Selina Kyle’s story has no real connection to Batman’s story, except when Rocksteady deems it necessary, and feels like a completely separate package which adds very little to Arkham City and its meaning. I will admit it’s very nice to be playing as one of the sexiest ladies in DC Comics and perform Catwoman’s flexible moves on her enemies as she attempts to do what she does best, i.e. steal, but having a heist story in the middle of everything that is going on does feel completely out of place, becoming rather distracting when the main story is once again abandoned for the sake of expanding its other content
Another thing that adds to the problem is its usage of Two-Face, one of my favourite Batman villains. Harvey Dent has perhaps the most tragic story within the DC universe in terms of his split-personality disorder, and the horrible unfortunate events that lead to him being scarred, forcing his other-self to take advantage and turn him deranged, controlled by the power of chance. Troy Baker does a fantastic job of bringing him alive but sadly there’s not enough of him and he’s pretty much lowered to a small cameo role, with each of his shallow appearances resulting in him being defeated in the most humiliating way possible.
Of course the most prominent side-mission goes to The Riddler. Now, I really enjoyed The Riddler’s challenges from Arkham Asylum as they were a nice blend of challenging and fun. But Rocksteady decided to up the ante too much for this sequel by doubling the amount of riddles and trophies you had to find. Not only that but the majority of the Riddler Trophies were hidden by puzzles that you had to solve, usually having to use gadgets that you didn’t possess, resulting in a lot of grinding in order to achieve your goal.
On top of this was the fact that the Riddler Maps were discarded for the sake of having Riddler informants scattered around Arkham City (to further showcase the diversity within the criminal underworld). But this made hunting down the collectibles even more tedious as you had to hunt the informants down (usually having to battle through hordes of inmates in order to reach them successfully) to find out their whereabouts. And then there were the challenges revolving around combat and tricks which pushed me to the limit. Collectibles are one thing but to slip-in pointless, and stupidly annoying tasks on top just sucks all the fun out of the mission, making it more of a chore.
The fun part comes with the hostages and overcoming Riddler’s constructed death traps in order to reach them, and like in Arkham Asylum, each victory results in The Riddler becoming more frustrated as his narcissism and egomania grows further out of control. Wally Wingert returns in style and proves once again he was born to portray the intensity and intellectual madness of The Riddler as he proclaims his brilliance and determination to outsmart Batman through both cunning, and insanity. Sadly you have to go through a lot of bullshit in order to witness the great chemistry between Wingert and Convoy, resulting in me enjoying The Riddler’s challenges less and less as the sequel’s go on just because they’re way too demanding, time-consuming, and above all, annoying.
One thing I want to talk about before moving on is the combat. I know I seem to be a whiner when it comes to combat mechanics within video games but honestly I really hate what Rocksteady did in this game. I know the previous game wasn’t perfect but it was close. Here the studio felt the need to make things way over complicated. I really hated the fact that Rocksteady just kept adding enemy types, resulting in a massive cluster-fuck whenever they were all brought together to tackle you.
Most of the time I’m left frustrated when this happens because it’s near impossible to move, let alone fight back. You’ll have normal mooks, armed mooks, mook with guns, mooks with knives, mooks with shields, mooks with tasers, body armoured mooks, and Titan mooks. That’s a lot to combat, and sometimes they throw in a boss to fight whilst you constantly dodge and keep the mooks at bay.
My biggest problem comes with how long it takes to put the mooks down. Unless your good at racking up the combos (which I’m not) then it can take ages to take down a single enemy, resulting in them getting back and you getting nowhere with depleting the horde surrounding you. Usually for me by the time I’ve narrowed down the numbers my health bar is nearly at zero, resulting in me making one fatal mistake near the end and having to fight the entire horde all over again. It’s really frustrating and unfair.
Honestly, this very aspect of the game makes me want to rage quit, snap the disc in half and then bang on the doors of Rocksteady studio and demand a justifiable explanation for their shit programming. Not to mention certain enemies take off more health than other’s and you can only fight back with a certain move-setting, but it’s easier said than done when your fighting another dozen other mooks who all have different combat settings.
And finally, onto Harley Quinn’s Revenge. This add-on grants us a further look into the aftermath of Arkham City, mostly with the ramifications of The Joker’s death. The two characters that are hurt the most are Batman and Harley Quinn. Batman has broken down and begins to distant himself from his friends as he feels both guilty and empty, an expansion of the fascinating connection between him and the Clown Prince of Crime. They both needed one another, despite disagreeing with each other’s ideals and attempting to sabotage the other, but there was still a clear understanding and respect for one another.
Harley of course was the delusional love-interest of The Joker. Once she was his psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum but eventually fell for him and began a life of crime, becoming a dangerous foe that matched even The Joker’s level of chaos and madness. Now that her beloved was gone she became hysterical and is now determined more than ever to kill Batman, blaming him for Joker’s demise.
Sadly I have to nit-pick at a few things. One, it’s far too short. I know Downloadable Content can’t be another fully fledged game but when you look at Left Behind for The Last of Us you’ve got yourself hours of new content. Here it can be done in one, or less. Sure it adds new depth to the narrative but more could’ve been explored. Honestly, this would’ve been better as a tie-in direct-to-video animated film, similar to what was done later on with Batman: Assault on Arkham.
It would’ve been really interesting to see Harley’s despair really explored, showcasing her frightening decent into uncontrollable madness. Perhaps even explore her love with The Joker further. Did he actually love her? Would Harley admit that The Joker was abusive? Maybe even explore her becoming suicidal because she can’t live without Joker, or perhaps her rage spreading across Gotham just so she can make other’s share in her despair? I few of these things were touched upon but they are quickly glossed over because of the short time frame.
In fact I’d go as far as to say that Harley was underused in both her own DLC content and Arkham City. She lacks any real depth and becomes a blubbering mess. What happened to the layered character we had seen within Batman: The Animated Series and Arkham Asylum? She has none of her usual charm, or witty sense of humour, or moments of unpredictability. It’s all lost in translation, blended in with all the rest of the mess spreading across the convoluted sequel.
Also I hate to say this but Tara Strong isn’t a successful successor to Arleen Sorkin. Sorkin clearly cemented herself within the role and despite Strong’s brilliant voice acting history she fails to deliver a definitive Harley and just comes across as a shouty, whinny wannabe that lacks any real depth. Maybe it was for the best that Harley got shafted because Strong’s performance just gets under my skin and sometimes nearly makes my ears bleed.
Batman of course didn’t get much time to develop due to Harley Quinn’s Revenge being mostly centred around Robin (voiced by Troy Baker) who enters Arkham City to rescue Batman after he is captured by Harley. As much as its interesting to play as Robin and understand his different fighting style, it detracts from the core aspect of the DLC content and eventually results in a repackaging of what we’d already seen before, only through the eyes of Batman’s sidekick.
It’s a good extra addition to Arkham City but it certainly wasn’t going to save it as it too suffered with its unfocused narrative. Harley was again underused and felt very generic as a villain (despite her fantastic character and new emotional depth that could’ve been explored now Joker was dead) and Batman’s new attitude was constantly avoided despite being a crucial plot element. And on top of everything else there was no real danger, apart from the very end but even then it was undermined by Strong’s weak performance (I’m really sorry Strong, I love your work but I just can’t take your variation of Harley seriously) and the fact that the narrative was rushed due to its short playtime.
So I think you can gather by now that I have a lot of major problems with this game, which is a massive shame because it has some good elements, some of them in which are fantastic, but they simply got lost in a jumbled up mess that Rocksteady needed to seriously think over. The bottom-line is this game is not a perfect sequel to Arkham Asylum, and remains inferior to the original, which I believe remains as the best instalment within the Arkham franchise.
And if you want to add more salt to the wound, let’s have another look at The Joker’s infamous death. Though I regard it as a monumental moment within video game history it still has its flaws, mostly revolving around the lead-up. If you really think about it The Joker didn’t have to die. The reason he did was because Rocksteady made it so, but failed to give us a full list of plausible reasons why he didn’t take the cure.
Harley steals the cure from Mr. Freeze but miraculously gets caught by Talia al Ghul on her way back, which explains why she’s tied up in the Steel Mill in the most pathetic way possible. And then Talia some how manages to keep possession of the said cure whilst she is The Joker’s captive. You’re telling me that neither Joker or Clayface realised this and simply allowed her to keep hold of it just for the sake of a big reveal? Come on Joker! Cut the theatrics and save yourself from death, it’s not like you had time to spare or anything.
And then after Clayface gets his hands on the cure neither he, nor Joker, thinks of properly obtaining it and instead piss around with fighting Batman despite Joker being on the verge of death. Finally, (and this is the biggest punch in the teeth), Batman proclaims that he was going to give Joker the rest of the cure and instead of doing so he babbles on with cryptic messages, allowing Joker to attempt to snatch it away from him (ultimately causing him to lose it) and Joker is forced to die just because Batman decided not to act when he should’ve.
I’m not saying The Joker’s death is ruined by this but it certainly makes it flawed, and more irritating, resulting in you realising it was forced to happen for the sake of dramatic pay-off (which I suppose was needed because Strange’s segment certainly did nothing to grant the game any real meaning after so much pitiful build-up).