Countdown to ‘The Dark Knight Rises’: Part 8 of 11 – ‘Batman: Arkham City’
If you missed it here is Part 1 of 11: Introduction to Batman “The Gift”
And here is Part 2 of 11: A look Back at Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’
And Part 3: ‘Batman Returns’
And Part 4: ‘Batman Forever’
And Part 5 ‘Batman and Robin’
Part 6: ‘Batman: The Animated Series’
Last week’s part 7: ‘Batman: Arkham Asylum’
I was recently discussing with some friends that although I love Batman as a character, I think it’s actually the villains that populate his world that truly define Gotham City, enabling the landscape to become a character unto itself. I’ve already established that I’m not 100% familiar with the comic-book lore surrounding Batman and his band of disrupting enemies and it’s the 1960s TV show that really allowed me to witness this array of colorful archetypes for the first time. Though I couldn’t possibly say with certainty, I wouldn’t imagine the TV show ever presented us with origin stories for these characters. They were just borne on screen fully-formed, waiting for you to accept them. Joker, Riddler, Catwoman, Mr. Freeze and the Penguin – all of them doing their damnedest to spoil the delectable life being lived blissfully by Gothamites.
It was through the TV show that I became familiar with these characters. Recognized them by their bright costumes and was given hints at the individual traits that made them “bad guys.” Joker was a clown with make-up. The Riddler thought he was smarter than everybody else, leaving clues to his whereabouts figuring no one could possibly possess his equivalent intellect. Catwoman was a thief. Mr. Freeze needed everything around him to be physically cold. And Penguin? Penguin had a monocle, a top hat and tuxedo tails. It wasn’t until I experienced the films and “Batman: The Animated Series” that these characters were fleshed-out for me and I began to truly understand the makings behind each of them. To play “Batman: Arkham City,” the game almost assumes some familiarity with the Dark Knight’s plethora of enemies and it allows you to experience crashing their parties, cracking their bones and crushing their spirits. Any step further and you’d be brandishing Edward-Norton-in-American History X-style street justice. Don’t watch that clip. You know what it contains.
Outside of Scarecrow, every villain from “Arkham Asylum” returns (remember, Batman doesn’t kill people. He stuns them). However, a deep roster of almost everyone you could even hope to be here – Catwoman, Two-Face, Mr. Freeze, Penguin and a surprise appearance – join in the fun. Nevertheless, this is still the Joker’s show.
After wrecking the entire asylum and its surrounding grounds, Joker and the rest of Gotham’s abhorrent creatures are placed into a walled-off section of the city, left to their own devices to police themselves like grown-up, deranged Lords of the Flies. This experiment goes about as well as a trio of two-year-olds locked in a room with only one toy to play with. War breaks out. Or rather, it breaks in, and Gotham being a member of the socialized world sends in some of its finest men and women to help break up the mayhem. Naturally, they’re no match for the criminals within and Bruce Wayne takes it upon himself to gain entry into the city and transform himself from billionaire playboy to Playboy Bunny. No, that’s not it. Punishing Badass. There, that’s better.
With the tremendous execution of “Batman: Arkham Asylum” preceding it, the gamemakers decided not to change much gameplay-wise. There’s still a ton of rapid button pressing that reminds you of the cheating controllers back in the day that would automatically trigger a button-push with each millisecond of holding its “cheat-button” down. Alas, it’s vastly more enjoyable to feel that soreness in your forearm after a multi-minute repeated beat down of your controller as you traverse from enemy to enemy, slowly dusting them off one violent strike at a time. The moment the madness ends and you flex you’re your fingers in an effort to release some of that tension is always well deserved.
Again, like it’s chronologically first entry, there are a couple of sequences in the game that brought a higher level of joy to the experience than the rest. You can rest assured that the name “Penguin” is not going to appear in the subsequent paragraphs describing those sequences as I still don’t quite understand his purpose. I used to think I liked him. He was flamboyant with his monocle and cigarette stem and although I never expected it to happen, I was open to the thought of Phillip Seymour Hoffman playing the character in the sequel to The Dark Knight Rises, as the rumor mill insisted. However, the definitive edition of this character was probably captured in Batman Returns and should have remained there, as much I liked the extra villain to pursue. It seems his big skill is gathering up foot soldiers to hide behind. He’s like a fat Army recruiter brainwashing youths with promises of riches, prestige and family, but rather condemning them to a life of getting their ass whupped. Oh, so he’s exactly like an Army recruiter with just a different physical appearance.
Moving on to the great things of the game making it a very worthy follow-up to “Arkham Asylum.” They both happen to involve the added villains. First up is Mr. Freeze. His name was never bandied about in rumors for the The Dark Knight Rises at any point, but I always believed him to be a more captivating thought than The Riddler. Unfortunately, I think his name was forever sullied by Batman & Robin, blacklisting him from the list of possible inclusions into Christopher Nolan’s franchise. Though perhaps possessing the slightly cartoonish trait of having to surround himself in freezing temperatures, he has a backstory I find interesting. His wife Nora is terminally ill and he has her cryogenically frozen (was Walt Disney the original Mr. Freeze?) until he can find a cure. That’s ultimately his motivation for doing anything and thus makes him an ally and foe to Batman at different moments.
There are some fantastic moments around the Mr. Freeze story, starting with invading his icy lair. You get to ride blocks of ice, towing yourself along via grappling hook and large brass rings embedded in the environment. The frozen landscape creates an added obstacle to maneuver and makes for a satisfying maze of “strategery,” made all the more so once encountering the boss himself. Instead of savagely beating a bigger or more plentiful opponent, you have to outsmart Victor Fries using different techniques at your disposal, as he learns counters to your moves each time you strike. Exposure to extreme temperatures may cripple the human mind, but Batman is almost certainly an evolutionary step above.
Not all of the greatest elements of the game are relegated to unique arenas and the best accompany the inclusion of Catwoman into the game. Much like Mr. Freeze blurring the line between bad and misunderstood, Selina Kyle and her alter ego are placed firmly in Gotham’s gray area. At times an ally to Batman and at others at odds due to her chosen trade of thievery, the character continues her two-faced streak in the game by becoming a playable character.
Though playing-as-Catwoman mode isn’t native to the game, it’s a downloadable add-on included with the game’s purchase. It’s possible to complete the game and Batman’s storyline without every donning cat ears, but you’d be missing a large chunk of the experience.
Whereas the Batsuit is built with brute force and endurance in mind, the cat costume is purely sleek, sexy and designed for movement. There’s a grace in which you move beneath the cat cowl that makes you feel like a ton of weight has been literally lifted off of your shoulders. Sprinting is quicker. Dashing from thug to thug is made at BreaknecK speed. You maintain the ability to grapple up buildings with use of a leather whip and similar to Batman’s ability to see enemies through walls with “Detective Mode,” Catwoman can do the same with “Thief Vision.” But she gains one attribute, which is the flexibility to crawl along wire ceilings. This makes is vastly easier to pickpocket unsuspecting marks.
None of these attributes would be worth mentioning without a compelling reason for them to exist. After all, you had the ability to throw on some make-up and play some mini-games as Joker in “Arkham Asylum.” Catwoman has a heartstring tug-of-war at certain times. With Batman in danger, she needs to make a choice for either the good of her wealth or her moral health (now’s the time of the half-sentence when we rhyme). It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure chapter stop in a fairly narratively straightforward game. It’s nice to be in charge sometimes.
This visual depiction of Catwoman attire is the first I’ve seen with goggles outside of the set pics of Anne Hathaway in the upcoming film (reminder: I’ve never really read Batman comics), therefore intrinsically linking the two portrayals in my mind. It’ll be nice to finally abandon the laughable image of Halle Berry in Pitof’s 2006 abomination (I’ve never seen it and won’t be covering it, but feel more than confident in speaking poorly about it).
Speaking of reimagined character portrayals, Nolan and Christian Bale have gone on record about how there will never be even a hint at Robin in their trilogy. I can’t argue against that decision, but with so much confidence in the filmmakers, I’m positive they’d be able to make the character work in that world. Since these steadfast denials of a few years ago, I wondered what the character would look like and due to the similarities of the Catwoman costume between the game and The Dark Knight Rises, you only need to look to the game again, as there is a brief appearance of “The Boy Wonder.” Perhaps it was in an effort to jumpstart the yoked-Robin t-shirts available in stores.
Though I favor some sequences over others, I mentioned there is a twist toward the end of the game. I’ll obviously leave it spoiler-free, but know there’s still much to look forward to after finishing the Mr. Freeze and Catwoman elements of the game. It may not necessarily work to serve up any more hype to the forthcoming film, but everything else in the game certainly will. Buy it, beat it and put it on your shelf. It deserves a spot amongst the DVDs or Blu-rays of Nolan’s films that helped get it made in the first place and in turn informed the film franchise.
Next week: The homestretch is here. Nolan starts it off with “Batman Begins.”