Every article I’ve read that condemns the blatant misogyny that pervades Arkham City (or Arkham Neighborhood as it should be called) ends by saying that, as a game, it’s still great. Well, I’m here to say that I RESPECTFULLY DISAGREE.
I’ll begin by talking about Catwoman. No, not the whole sexism thing (other people have talked about that with far better eloquence than I ever could), but rather the totalitarian DLC future it predicts. The Catwoman missions are pre-packaged DLC. If players lack it due to purchasing a second hand copy of the game, they will be constantly reminded by an annoying nag screen every time they start playing, and there are little collectables that can only be amassed by the feline femme fatale, even if her DLC isn’t available. Remember when Cliffy “Don’t Call Me Cliffy B” B said that game endings will eventually be pre-packaged DLC to battle second-hand sales? Well, this is basically the same thing.
Of course, like most “bonus” DLC, it actually makes the game worse. Her missions are pretty irrelevant to Batman’s story, their presence becoming only an interruption that shatters the pacing of the main plot. And it’s a pain in the ass seeing a collectable only to realise you have to be a different character to pick it up. That’s some Donkey Kong 64 bullshit right there. Oh, and if you don’t play her missions, the whole game suddenly becomes much less sexist.
But even without Catwoman, this game is a bloomin’ mess. One of the bigger problems is that Rocksteady tried to shoehorn the Metroidvania design of the first game into the open-world of the second. In the original, Batman’s equipment was slowly gathered through the game, allowing access to new areas, giving a nice feeling of progression. He starts with most of his tools in the new game, so now they’re just used as complicated ways to open doors. First you have to hack a computer to open a door, then you have to electrify something to make a door open halfway, then you have to slide under that door, then you have to pull a wall down, then you have to zipline across a pit, then you have to blow up a wall, and this all just to get to the end of a single hallway. They’re just doors thinly veiled as interesting actions to fool the player into thinking moving through the world is more exciting than it really is. Well, they failed, because it gets tedious damn fast.
Then there’s the mess of a story, which in reality is about two paragraphs long, but is stretched out to fifty pages thanks to so much filler. This is much more noticeable after coming back from playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution which has a nice brisk pace if one follows the main storyline, featuring relevant missions and a lovely narrative flow. It’s not perfect, but it’s a butt tonne better than Arkham City.
So what do I mean by filler? At one point you need to find Mr. Freeze so that he can make some magic potion, so you head over to the police station where he’s apparently located. But nope! He’s been kidnapped by the Penguin, so you have to head over to the other side of the God damn map to the museum. But before you can get inside, you have to hunt around and destroy a bunch of jammers. Think you found them all? Nope, you have to spend about an hour finding the last one down in the subway! Oh, and there are about twenty thousand of those disguised doors along the way.
Eventually, you finally enter the museum. First you find Dr. Freeze, but before he can help you, you have to find his suit! Then you have to take out the Penguin for some stupid reason I can’t remember! Finally, after all that, you can chat to Freeze and get what you needed from him EXCEPT NO, he needs you to fetch some other item for him first, which you spend several hours trying to attain! It’s just one giant fetch quest, the player going back and forth, with arbitrary obstacle after arbitrary obstacle thrown in their way, just so the creators could create flimsy reasons to include every damn Batman villain.
So many of the game’s missions are about as imaginative as a Gamenauts game, too. There’s the jammers mission I mentioned previously which is pretty much a collect ‘em up. There’s one where you hunt down and scan five things in the immediate area for a combination code. There’s even one later on where the player must scan about two dozen helicopters until they find the SINGLE ONE carrying the data they need. Seriously? Don’t waste my damn time. I’m THE FUCKING BATMAN, not Tony Hawk or Mario. This crap wouldn’t even make the grade as side-missions!
These are only SOME of the problems I have with the game, but I think you get the idea.
It’s a damn shame because the game looks fantastic, and the core mechanics (brawling, stealthing and navigating) are so brilliant. They even improve on some of the problems from the first game. Boss fights are actually fun, for example, and character progression makes much more sense this time around. But when those mechanics are encapsulated by such pointless and unimaginative content to the point where it’s basically an insult to me and my time, it’s hard for me to appreciate them.
I will say that I appreciated being able to punch a shark, though.
Q: How many caped crusaders does it take to change a light-bulb? A: None. They like the dark.
Q: Why did Bruce’s date go badly? A: Because he has BAT breath!
Q: How does Batman’s mother call him to dinner? A: (tune of 1960’s theme) Dinner Dinner Dinner Dinner DINNEEERRR!