**WARNING: Detailed spoilers about Batman: Arkham City‘s story are ahead! You have been warned!**
For days now there have been video game reviews of Batman: Arkham City, telling us how awesome the game is, and they’re all right on the money. Arkham City is a brilliant video game. But what I’m doing is looking at the details and stories in Arkham City not from a video game reviewer’s perspective, but the perspective of a hardcore Batman comic book reader. The story is best experienced by playing the game yourself, but if you’re not a gamer, or just don’t have the opportunity to play the game and just want to know how developer Rocksteady did recreating your favorite superhero, then keep reading; and for those who don’t want the game spoiled for them, stop reading right here and come back after you’ve finished the campaign, because I’m spoiling the very end of the game right after this picture.
The Joker dies (no, Batman doesn’t kill him). But wait, don’t get your nerd panties in a bunch. Frank Miller killed the Joker, too, and we all still love The Dark Knight Returns. Rocksteady has created their own Batman continuity here, and that’s a good thing. They’ve picked out all the great characteristics we all know and love about Batman and his part of the DC universe, and created a wonderfully new, yet familiar, Batman reality. And with legendary Batman writer Paul Dini in charge of the script, you know this game is in the right hands.
How does Joker die, you ask? We’ll get to that soon. But for those unfamiliar, let’s clear up what exactly Arkham City is.
After the events of the last game, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Mayor Quincey Sharp, with the influence of his psychiatrist, Dr. Hugo Strange, commissions Arkham City, a section of Gotham’s slums walled off to create a super prison for all of Gotham’s criminals. Arkham City’s map is no where near a large as GTA4‘s Liberty City, or Red Dead Redemption‘s desert territory, but it’s ten times more rich with activity. Gotham landmarks like the Iceberg Lounge, the Monarch Theater, Ace Chemical Plant, and even the crime scene of Thomas and Martha Wayne’s murder are all here. There is honestly something to do around every corner, be it thugs to fight, a Riddler puzzle to solve, or someone to rescue. Yes, a city dedicating such a large portion of its real estate to its most vile villains is kind of a silly idea, but it’s a perfect setting for Batman and his rogues.
The story begins with Bruce Wayne speaking out about the ridiculousness of Arkham City and lobbying for its closure, when Dr. Strange’s private security force, TYGER, arrests Wayne and throws him in Arkham City as a political prisoner. For the beginning of the game you actually play as Bruce Wayne as he fights Arkham inmates and has a brief altercation with the Penguin. Soon, you call for Alfred to drop a fully equipped Bat-suit near your location, and one of Batman’s craziest crime fighting adventures begins.
Goodnight Sweet Clown Prince of Crime
In Arkham Asylum, Joker injected Titan, a strain similar to Bane’s Venom, into his blood, making him into a Bane-like monster. After Batman defeated him, Joker shrank back to his normal size, but the Titan left ghastly effects on his body. With his blood poisoned, Joker is in desperate need of a cure, and who better than Batman to help you find one, and what better way to convince him to help than to give him the very same disease?
Much later in the story, we see Joker back to his healthy happy-go-lucky self, but something’s not quite right. We learn that Joker has hired Clayface to pose as his cured self to tease Batman just that much more, to procure more of the Titan-poison antidote for himself, but who needs an antidote when Talia Al Ghul offers you immortality? It all culminates in a showdown at the Monarch Theater with Batman defeating Clayface and putting a stop to Joker’s induction as an immortal. And with his hacking, coughing laugh, Joker enjoys his final Joke as he passes.
My words can’t do justice to how beautifully this all comes through on screen, and even though we’re seeing such an iconic character being killed off (not that death has much relevance with comic book characters), it was the perfect end to this story. And it wouldn’t have been so perfect if it weren’t for Mark Hamill’s award winning caliber performance as Joker.
The Strange Connection With Ra’s Al Ghul
Talia was announced for the game early, and as any Batman fan will know, Ra’s likely won’t be far. Batman needs a sample of Ra’s’s blood to complete the cure for his and Joker’s disease, and as it turns out, our favorite ec0-terrorist just happens to be in Arkham City. Batman lies to Talia, saying he’s ready to take Ra’s’s place and rule the planet with Talia at his side. Batman undergoes trials in the form of gliding missions and taking down assassins, eventually explains his deception, and goes face-to-face with Ra’s.
At the beginning of the game, we hear Dr. Strange update us on the mysterious “Protocol 10” scheduled to commence in a matter of hours. We learn very little about Protocol 10 until near the end of the story, when we see Strange has thrown Mayor Quincey Sharp into Arkham City as a prisoner, and discover Strange is working for a higher power. The idea for Arkham City turns out to be the brain child of Ra’s Al Ghul, a plan to gather all of Gotham’s criminals in one place, and Protocol 10 is the order to eliminate them all.
In typical Demon’s Head fashion, he turns on Strange, putting his sword through his chest, but it’s very soon that Ra’s finds himself impaled after falling from Arkham City’s great observation tower.
Two-Faces Too Little
Penguin, Mister Freeze, and Riddler play huge parts in the game and its story, but sadly Two-Face gets the scratched side of the coin on this one. We only see him in the opening mission where Batman saves Catwoman from Harvey’s execution. After the credits roll, we start a mission as Catwoman as she sets out to re-steal loot Two-Face stole from her previously, but that’s all there is in AC with Mr. Dent.
Penguin comes through as a ruthless gang leader, and punching him in the face never gets old. I really love Penguin, and Rocksteady does a superb job with his character, but I was slightly confused by his English Cockney accent. Mr. Freeze continues to be as interesting and dangerous as we’ve ever seen him, and there’s even a side-mission where Batman is tasked to find Nora.
Riddled With Arrogance
Probably my favorite part of the entire experience is the Riddler sub-plot. As always, Nigma is out to prove he’s smarter than Batman, and he’s placed 400 puzzles all throughout the city and inside several buildings. While some are simple trophies to pick up, others require you to solve a very specific brain-twister, but the most exciting challenges are the several riddle rooms Nigma has set up, each with a different SAW-like death trap with a hostage’s life on the line. And the puzzles are genuinely challenging, which makes them all the more fun and satisfying to solve.
The numerous side-missions are where all the rest of Batman’s rogues appear to cause their own kind of crazy, but the one character I was never expecting to see in this game was Azrael. He’s only there to observe Batman to see if Batman is the one the “prophecy” speaks of, but it’s still really cool that he’s in the game at all.
Deadshot is gunning down Strange’s political prisoners, Hush is murdering randomly as Bruce Wayne, Bane asks you to team with him to destroy what’s left of Titan, Mad Hatter has a really awesome goofy hat for you to wear, and Batman does something really gross to Solomon Grundy.
All over the city are ringing phone booths, and on the other line is always Zsasz who has you racing across the city to answer another phone before he slaughters his hostages.
Arkham City Sirens
Catwoman missions are placed perfectly throughout Batman’s quest for the cure, and they are few and far between, but extremely fun to play. Your first Catwoman mission (after Batman saves your butt from Two-Face) is to find Poison Ivy who can help you infiltrate Dr. Strange’s private safe full of goodies. During a later mission, you’re given a very interesting option after you’ve obtained your prizes. Help Batman during the Protocol 10 attack, or get out with the loot while you can. Originally, I chose the “save Batman” option, and I can’t wait to go back and see what happens when I leave him to his doom.
We see Harley Quinn often in the Joker portions of the story, and she’s probably my biggest complaint about this game. I, like so many others, am a huge Harley Quinn fan, and there’s just something about the character being voiced by an actress who isn’t Arleen Sorkin that I can’t accept. Character wise, Quinn is spot on, but I could never get over her voice. It sounds like someone doing a Harley Quinn impression rather than actually being Harley. I know it’s a nerd nitpick on my end, but Arleen Sorkin will always be the real Harley.
I’m currently replaying the game with the Batman: The Animated Series skin, and it’s like a dream come true to me. Not only are there plenty of great Batman, Catwoman, and Robin skins to play with, there are some really cool references to all things Batman, be it film, TV, or comics, sprinkled between the cracks of Arkham City. This entire game is a Batman explosion that every hardcore Dark Knight fan owes it to themselves to experience.
The story in Batman: Arkham City is, I dare say, among the top 10 best Batman stories ever, and that’s no surprise when Paul Dini is allowed so much creativity with so many characters. The amazing story on top of a game with such a ridiculous amount of things to do and see, makes Batman: Arkham City without a doubt the greatest superhero video game ever. If Rocksteady ever makes a third Batman game, it’ll be very interesting to see how they can top themselves.
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