Arkham City Part 6: Welcome to Arkham City

By Shamus
on Mar 2, 2017
Filed under:
Batman

Now that we’re more than a month into this series, let’s finally get around to talking about Arkham City. Which means it’s time to start spoiling stuff in detail. I know the story isn’t terribly important in these games but – as I’ve done in the past – I’m mostly going to be using it as a jumping-off point for a lot of different topics regarding gameplay, characters, and Bat-lore.

It’s good that the story isn’t very important in these games, because the story structure of Arkham City is goofy pants. The B-story is a plot about Catwoman pulling a heist. It’s shallow, but serviceable. We’ll talk more about it much later in the series. The main story is actually two very different and almost totally unrelated stories that have been crudely stapled together. The two main plots don’t support each other in terms of themes, tone, or lore. In fact, the two stories barely interact. When Batman is working on one story, the other story is paused.

The Catwoman plot doesn`t really start until we`re an hour or so into the game, but Arkham City opens with a Catwoman scene so it won`t feel strange when we switch to her later. Also this scene lets us do a combat tutorial even though Batman is busy being Bruce Wayne at the moment.

The Catwoman plot doesn`t really start until we`re an hour or so into the game, but Arkham City opens with a Catwoman scene so it won`t feel strange when we switch to her later. Also this scene lets us do a combat tutorial even though Batman is busy being Bruce Wayne at the moment.

Hugo Strange is established as our supposedly main adversary during the introduction. Then as soon as Bruce Wayne gets his Bat-suit on, he gets sidetracked into a Joker plot that takes up 90% of the game. Near the end, Batman stops working on the Joker thing to finish off Hugo Strange. Then he returns to the Joker. So the game opens with the Hugo plot but ends with the Joker one, so you can’t even think of one plot acting as bookends for the other.

What I’m going to try and show is that these two plots are not created equal. The Hugo Strange plot is underdeveloped but functional. Meanwhile the Joker plot is exhaustively developed and yet falls apart in almost every sceneAside from the dialog, which is fantastic. Then again, it’s Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy reading the lines, and they can make almost anything sound fantastic.. Just about everything wrong with the story of Arkham City radiates from the Joker stuff. This isn’t one of those cases where the writer didn’t know what they were doing. Several parts of the story are smart, interesting, and well-paced. Some character relationships are developed and yet other relationships are perplexingly neglected. It’s not that the the writer didn’t know how to do their job properly, it’s that some other obligation seems to have prevented them from doing so.

Batman repeatedly gets distracted by things that aren’t central to his goals, and by getting distracted he ends up tripping into new problems from which he can be further distracted by stumbling into even more villainous tomfoolery. The whole thing makes for a bizarre story structure. In Arkham Asylum, the story established Batman as proactive and forward-thinking. But here in Arkham City – and particularly in the Joker plot – he’s reactionary. The bad guys drive his behavior. Maybe it’s supposed to feel like Batman is up against a more serious challenge this time, but it ends up feeling like he’s less competent. The bad guys haven’t gotten smarter, he’s become more gullible and easily sidetracked.

In the long run, this doesn’t really hurt Arkham City. This is not a game that depends on its story. But it does create a couple of frustrating or unsatisfying moments that compel me to analyze the whole.

Welcome to Arkham City

I realize it`s just the intro and they`re only on-screen for about ten seconds, but could we get more than ONE reporter model to populate the audience? Heck, there are Jack Ryder and Vicki Vale models already in the game. Just throw them in the crowd to break up the clone trooper effect.

I realize it`s just the intro and they`re only on-screen for about ten seconds, but could we get more than ONE reporter model to populate the audience? Heck, there are Jack Ryder and Vicki Vale models already in the game. Just throw them in the crowd to break up the clone trooper effect.

The Game Opens with Bruce Wayne being arrested. Actually, the game opens with a Catwoman tutorial and then cuts to some action in medias res and then flashes between the current action and some “here is how we got here” flashbacks while the opening credits haunt the corners of the screen, but for the purposes of this analysis we’re going to smooth all of that out and tell the story chronologically.

Starting again:

Bruce Wayne is giving a speech decrying the fact that the mayor has just walled off a partly-destroyed section of the city and thrown hundreds of violent criminals into it, creating a sprawling open-air prison where inmates must fend for themselves. This is the titular Arkham City.

Tyger Guards – the a private military force in charge of the prison – roll in during Bruce Wayne’s speech. They jump in front of the LIVE news cameras, tear gas the crowd, knock Bruce unconscious with a rifle butt to the head, and toss him into Arkham without even bothering to charge him with a crime.

Times Batman has been knocked unconscious so far this evening: 1

The guards also arrest and imprison a news reporter covering the speech. Or maybe we should say they kidnap him? It’s hard to tell. In any case, it’s clear these guys aren’t really concerned with things like due process and collateral damage.

Is this opening preposterous? Obviously yes. But it works because this game is still loosely connected to Batman: The Animated series in terms of tone, presentation, and subject matter. This is the kind of wild setup that works fine in a cartoon or comic book, but would cause something like the Christian Bale Batman movies to fly apart instantly.

You`re not going to read me my rights because I don`t have any? Well shit. I guess that`s checkmate. Well played guys.

You`re not going to read me my rights because I don`t have any? Well shit. I guess that`s checkmate. Well played guys.

This is another area where the latter two Arkham games shot themselves in the foot. Visuals are part of the storytelling, because they let us know what kind of things can and can’t happen in this world. The World of Willy Wonka is different from the world of Se7en, which is different from Sin City, which is different from Final Fantasy. The more unreal the visuals, the less the audience is going to demand an explanation for fantastical elements.

The latter Arkham games moved to a more realistic style of character design and darker subject matter, and those things clash with the established tone of the series. The first two games weren’t stylized and cartoonish because nobody on the team had the skill to make the visuals “good”. They were stylized and cartoonish because that’s what works best for this particular version of the Batman universe.

The idea that someone could kidnap a famous billionaire and a reporter on live television and brazenly toss them into an anarchic free-range prison without any due process is absurd, but it falls within the levels of absurdity that cartoons and comic books can handle. I’m sure it’s far from the most ridiculous thing that’s ever happened to Animated Batman. Moreover, it solves some major problems the developers faced when designing this game:

  • We want Batman to fight several members of his rogues gallery, but we don’t want to have to contrive yet another mass prison escape.
  • We don’t want to set this game in the same asylum as the first.
  • We want to have an open world, but not TOO open. The player should have room to move around, explore, do side content, and look for secrets, but we don’t want the content to be so spread out that most of the map becomes empty flyover scenery. (Arkham Knight and Arkham Origins both suffered from this.)
  • We want Batman to be able to glide around and punch people out, which means we need an excuse for there to be goons sprinkled all over the place.

Sure, Arkham City is a pretty silly idea from in-world logic, but from a game design standpoint it solves a ton of problems.

Doctor Strange

You`ll never get away with this, Evil Abe Lincoln!

You`ll never get away with this, Evil Abe Lincoln!

Once he’s arrested, Bruce finds himself confronted by Hugo Strange.

I’ve watched every Batman movie. I’ve watched a bit of the Animated Series. I collected Batman comics for a couple of years back in the 90s. And yet, I’d somehow never heard of this guy before this game. I have no idea how that happened. Strange has been a recurring Batman villain since 1940. Sure, he’s not as famous as Riddler or Joker, but he’s more famous than friggin’ Calendar Man, and I’d heard of that guy.

EDIT: Hang on, I haven’t seen EVERY Batman movie. I still haven’t gotten around to watching Dark Knight Rises. I actually forgot about that movie until someone brought it up in the comments.

Dr. Strange reveals that he’s figured out that Bruce Wayne is Batman. He also teases that he’s got some big plan called Protocol 10, and that it will humiliate Batman and make Strange a hero.

Strange is an interesting villain. He’s a nice change from most of the rest of Batman’s Rogue’s gallery. In this story he’s not a costumed freak robbing banks. He’s a scientist with an agonizing case of Bat-envy. He thinks that Batman is undeserving of the trust and respect that people give him and he wants to supplant Batman as the hero of Gotham. It’s also really important to him that he beats Batman and that Batman knows it, which is why he’s telegraphing his plans before they’re ripe and then allowing Batman to run free in Arkham City. He wants to watch Batman struggle and fail.

Here we bump into Deadshot on the way into the prison. Deadshot is actually here on hire from Strange, so I`m not sure why he`s standing in line with the plebs.

Here we bump into Deadshot on the way into the prison. Deadshot is actually here on hire from Strange, so I`m not sure why he`s standing in line with the plebs.

After their chat, Bruce is thrown into Arkham City proper. I have to say, Bruce is terrible at concealing his secret identity. When he and other civilian prisoners are released into the city, there’s a gang of violent psychos just waiting to beat them up for giggles. Bruce tries to reassure the other civvies, and he’s not shy about using his ninja moves (this is basically the counter-punch tutorial) in front of everyone. Once the game is sure you know to press the counter button at the right time, Bruce gets knocked out while trying to help one of the other prisoners to safety.

Times Batman has been knocked unconscious so far this evening: 2

Cobblepot!

Cobblepot! Release me now or I`ll make sure they throw you in... uh. Hm. I guess that`s me checkmated again.

Cobblepot! Release me now or I`ll make sure they throw you in... uh. Hm. I guess that`s me checkmated again.

Batman is dragged to an alley where Penguin is waiting for him. The Wayne family wronged the Cobblepot family in generations past, and so Penguin has this grudge against Bruce Wayne. He’s looking to amuse himself with some revenge beating now that the two of them are stuck in this lawless madhouse together.

Once again, Bruce seems to know that other people are incapable of realizing he’s Batman, regardless of his behavior. He doesn’t pretend to be afraid, or attempt to disguise his voice (which ought to be pretty familiar to Penguin by now) or do anything else to pretend to be a soft, spoiled playboy. Instead he breaks out of the shackles he’s wearing, beats up half a dozen dudes with Bat-fu, and then (optionally) knocks Penguin out.

How does Penguin watch Bruce spin-kick all of his goons unconscious and not instantly make the connection? I realize this is a universe where Superman can hide behind a pair of eyeglasses, but at least Clark Kent doesn’t go around bending steel beams in front of people.

“It’s a comic book!”

Yeah, yeah. I know.

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Footnotes:

[1] Aside from the dialog, which is fantastic. Then again, it’s Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy reading the lines, and they can make almost anything sound fantastic.


A Hundred!18118 comments. Quick! Add another to see if this message changes!

From the Archives:

  1. AR+ says:

    So the Huge Strange and Joker plots are like,

    [(])

    ?

  2. Durican says:

    Being a huge Animated Series fan, one thing that struck me all the way to Asylum was that Kevin Conroy’s kept switching between his Batman and Bruce Wayne voices, when in the series he’d kept the two distinctly seperate for all of the half dozen series and animated movies he’d voiced. That he doesn’t even try to give Angry Bruce Wayne a different tone of voice than Angry Batman is a bit jarring, since Penguin ends up on the receiving end of both.

    But don’t get me wrong, I adore Kevin Conroy. He’ll always be my OTB.

  3. Zekiel says:

    It is odd that Bruce makes no effort whatsoever to disguise his awesome fighting abilities. But presumably its because the designers want to introduce the fighting mechanics early AND start you off as BW rather than Batman. And personally I liked that touch – I thought the ground-level introduction to Arkham City was handled very nicely. It makes you appreciate all the gliding around mechanics more when you’ve been hamstrung early on, and its fun to come back to the entry area later in the game and see it from the skies.

    • MichaelGC says:

      Bruce should wear specs. That’d spike any lingering questions.

    • Christopher says:

      Doing the martial arts as Bruce Wayne in a nice suit feels really great, somehow. It’s like we’re playing as James Bond.

    • Wide And Nerdy ♤ says:

      I think this is a somewhat unique situation where a new convention needs to be introduced.

      When Joseph Anderson was discussing Tomb Raider he mentioned that its understood that your action hero in these cinematic games is only suffering grazing damage during gameplay and only damage suffered during cinematics counts for story (because in theory you could get through the gameplay without taking any damage). Its just a convention of gameplay abstraction. He mentions this in criticism of Lara Croft who suffers more damage than a human being could possibly survive in cutscenes.

      I think likewise, we should excuse gameplay sequences this way for something like the Bruce Wayne scene. In comic books or other linear drama, we can deal with a hero being imprisoned for prolonged sequences before emerging and triumphing. But its much harder to tolerate for a length of time in a game unless the gameplay is somehow designed around tolerating captivity, which this game isn’t. So we either needed a shorter sequence or we needed this break to do some ass-kicking.

      Of course, I don’t see why they felt they needed to throw Bruce in jail. It was completely unnecessary. Its not like Batman can’t get in.

      • Zekiel says:

        The advantage of throwing Bruce Wayne in jail is (at least) twofold:

        1) You get an initial confrontation with the (apparent) big bad Hugo Strange with at least a semi-plausible reason why Batman can’t just punch his lights out then and there, which establishes him as a bad guy AND reveals he knows Bruce’s secret identity

        2) You get to introduce Arkham City from a ground-level prisoner’s perspective which engenders a bit of sympathy for the prisoners (particularly ones who have been wrongly imprisoned). I feel like this is nice as a trick to introduce the player gradually … to be fair engendering sympathy for prisoners is largely irrelevant until about 80% through the game by which time you’ll have forgottne this bit!

        • Droid says:

          There are the “political captives” that are just helpless people standing or cowering somewhere and being roughed up by the more violent inmates. You get clues for when such a scene takes place and iirc they’re dynamic and infinite.

  4. MichaelGC says:

    plot is exhaustively developed and yet falls apart in almost every scene (aside from the dialog, which is fantastic)

    Richevans of Red Letter Media put it well when reviewing Arkham Knight – he said Rocksteady are good at storytelling, even if the story that they’re telling is basically garbage.

    • Jay Allman says:

      That’s a good line. In the case of “Arkham City,” though, I’d say the reverse is true. There’s nothing wrong with the story — Batman gets trapped and poisoned inside a free-range prison, and he has to find a cure and save the city before the villains kill him and everyone inside the prison. That’s fine, that’s awesome, that gets my attention. The problem is that the telling of the story — the structure — is an infuriating mare’s nest.

      Take for instance the “scissored” relationship of the two plots (to use Daemian Lucifer’s terrific metaphor). That’s a horrible structure. It dangles and yanks away the objectives you’re invested in.

      So it opens by telling you “Hugo Strange is a very, very bad problem,” bashes you around to get you invested in it, then instantly whipsaws you with, “No, no, forget all that, now the Joker plot is the most important thing.” Then when that plot reaches a climactic moment it knocks you back again: “Forget the Joker and the cure. NOW you have to go fight someone you haven’t even thought about in forever.” Then it gives you two unrelated climaxes, one after the other, which is an exhausting, not a resolving, way of wrapping things up.

      Storytelling technique is (mostly) about creating, sustaining, and amplifying emotional investment in the narrative. When a story baffles and frustrates, it’s a failure of the telling.

      • MichaelGC says:

        By ‘storytelling’ I took him to mean a third, more immediate level. You have the overall plot as the most-general outline, then the story or narrative (which is where the structural problems you identify reside), and then a third, even-less-general level of the moment-to-moment dialogue, facial expressions, and other such little details like Batman looking into the safe after the fight with Mr. Freeze, or Catwoman putting down the briefcases and turning back into the City. Just random examples – there are many such nice little moments in both Knight & City.

        So, how I read it was there’s this second, structural level which is where all the problems are – hence agreeing with you – and then it’s at this third, very specific level where they do their best work.

        • Jay Allman says:

          Yeah, that makes sense to me. I wasn’t trying to arguing with what Rich Evans said, just using his nice launching-off point to articulate where I thought the problem was.

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    The main story is actually two very different and almost totally unrelated stories that have been crudely stapled together. The two main plots don’t support each other in terms of themes, tone, or lore. In fact, the two stories barely interact. When Batman is working on one story, the other story is paused.

    Thats because batman is not going to be tied into a full on commitment by just a single villain.He is a free agent,fighting multiple people as he pleases,and the less they know about each other the better.

  6. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I realize it`s just the intro and they`re only on-screen for about ten seconds, but could we get more than ONE reporter model to populate the audience? Heck, there are Jack Ryder and Vicki Vale models already in the game. Just throw them in the crowd to break up the clone trooper effect.

    It was actually done on purpose as a commentary on how the press is just a bunch of lifeless clones.

    • Nah, it was a product of the Great Clone Conspiracy. After the discovery that people were being replaced by their clones, all the existing ones went to camps and the undeveloped ones (at the insistence of pro-life/anti-choicers) were all forced into the same template. Unfortunately that template was of the best reporter in Gotham, and no normal human was able to compete with them for reporting jobs. So that’s why. And yes, they have no rights, they’re CLONES, not real humans.

      Or that’s my new fanon explanation anyway.

  7. Joshua says:

    “Maybe it’s supposed to feel like Batman is up against a more serious challenge this time, but it ends up feeling like he’s less competent. The bad guys haven’t gotten smarter, he’s become more gullible and easily sidetracked.”

    One of my biggest peeves is the fabled Idiot Ball. We want our villains to outsmart our hero, but we don’t know how. So, let’s just have our hero act dumb.

    “This is the kind of wild setup that works fine in a cartoon or comic book, but would cause something like the Christian Bale Batman movies to fly apart instantly. ”

    Hehehee. Like the time where I guy makes a call from a cell phone the police are looking for, and they triangulate and the SWAT team arrives there about TEN SECONDS later. Or the time where the Stock Exchange is hijacked by masked thugs and yet all transactions during the period are still considered valid, even suspicious ones that bankrupt the prominent businessman of the city. Or the time where……I’ll just stop right there, or I’ll be here all day.

    • Syal says:

      In The Dark Knight, Batman literally kidnaps a billionaire and throws him in Gotham Jail.

    • Coming_Second says:

      I thought that, reading that line. The Bale movies are every bit as ridiculous as any other piece of Bat ephemera. Assumptions were made about them because they came after the Burton/Schumacher campfest era and made deliberately different stylistic choices as a result. But surely any lingering notion they were serious and grounded was dispelled during that Dark Knight Rises scene.

    • Jon Wood says:

      Alternative explanation: Selina actually made the call long before she walked into the joint, the police had been tracking it since, and they pounced when it stopped moving. She also bought the Senator along just to increase the odds of someone noticing them.

      The stock exchange thing….yeah, that’s just a realistic-sounding movie conceit that isn’t really realistic. Just like how the bomb conveniently looked exactly like a Comic-Book Science Thing.

  8. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I’ll be honest, I’d somehow never heard of this guy before this game.

    Wasnt he mentioned in the asylum?Im pretty sure thats where I first heard of the guy.

    • Kylroy says:

      Hugo Strange has the problem that, tactically, he boils down to Plotter Supported By Muscle. And since Batman’s enemies list is already way over quota for *Weird-Looking* Plotter Supported By Muscle (Joker, Penguin, Two-Face, even Riddler much of the time), he tends to get forgotten. The “Evil Abe Lincoln” look just can’t compete with “Psycho Clown” or “Duality Made Flesh”.

      • Bropocalypse says:

        This is true, but Lex Luthor seems to do alright, even without his big purple robot suit. Then again, all of Superman’s other nemeses are garbage.

        • Kylroy says:

          There’s nothing wrong with the PSBM archetype, it’s just that Batman’s nemeses have a *lot* of people like that. Luthor is noteworthy amongst Superman’s foes because I think he’s about the only one – most of Supes’ enemies are world-beating badasses on his level.

    • Jay Allman says:

      Yeah, he’s kind of an Easter egg in “Asylum.” One of the rooms in the mansion library (I think) has some material related to his research. IRC, there’s a riddle that references that material.

      He’s the villain in a BTAS episode, “The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne.” That’s the first time I ever heard of him.

  9. Christopher says:

    Hugo Strange hasn’t been in a lot of new, good stuff, I reckon. Calendar Man was in Year One, and most people love Year One. I’ve only ever read a single comic where Huge Strange appeared, one from the 80s or 90s where he’s pretending to be a ghost and haunt a mob boss. In the entire DCAU, he only appeared twice, and one of those was as a cameo in Justice League. In his Batman TAS episode, he was an evil shrink who used a mind-reading machine to blackmail people. He discovered Bruce Wayne’s identity that way, and tried to sell it to some supervillains at an auction. At the end of the episode, he’s tricked by Robin dressing up as Bruce Wayne to believe he was wrong. Strange is decidedly smalltime. So when it was revealed in marketing that he was gonna be the main villain in Arkham City, that’s the kinda stuff I don’t buy.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      This was remedied by gotham however.Im pretty sure plenty of people know who he is now.

    • Hal says:

      Dr. Strange (no, not that one) did appear in The Batman, the animated series than ran from 2004-2008. He was sort of a mastermind throughout the series. He ended up being a huge part of the series finale, in which “The Joining” arrived and drained the Justice League of their powers. He aided them in exchange for cosmic knowledge, which overloaded his mind.

      I thought it was an interesting iteration of the character, although the long-hair makes the character seem like kind of a mess.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      Batman’s rogues gallery includes people who dress up as clowns, Alice in Wonderland characters, scarecrows, Egyptian pharaohs, weird clock-fetishists, and sexy ladies who wear catsuits or strategically-placed foliage. Plus the guy who’s literally a crocodile-man. It’s a wonder anyone remembers “guy with beard and glasses”.

    • Boobah says:

      For what it’s worth, the first time I really noticed Doc Hugo was in Young Justice. In that series he starts out as the prison psychologist at the federal super-villain prison, Belle Reve, then conspires with the Big Bad Ensemble to stage a jailbreak. Ultimately, the big result there was to leave Strange in charge of the prison when the old warden is forced out, with the Riddler the only prisoner to actually escape.

      With Young Justice a Greg Weisman show, it’s not exactly a surprise to have the recurring villains explain why the heroes’ victory probably helped the villain’s real plan come to fruition.

  10. MichaelGC says:

    empty flyover scenery

    Origins, certainly, but the size of the Knight map is fine. There’s plenty to do if you’re enjoying it (OK, big ‘if’), and just in terms of actually getting around – not only is the Batmobile pretty speedy, but they start you off with grapple boost, and then there are several grapple boost upgrades. The later ones get a bit ridiculous!

    Plus, you can get from any part of the map to any other part in one go – there’s no stupid bottlenecks like in Origins where you have to go through a daft dinky corridor in some vast looming blocky edifice which is only there so that the other half of the level can load. (And even City had that annoying bulge to navigate each time if you wanted to go from one side to t’other.)

  11. JDMM says:

    I’m inclined to be more magnanimous on the Batman identifier personally, should one accept the villains can’t identify Batman by voice (admittedly this is quite a serious leap) then the logic that would lead them to identify Bruce Wayne as Batman also leads them to identify Bruce Wayne as Robin, Nightwing, Deathstroke, Green Arrow, a good portion of the villains of the week of Batman etc
    Batman-like combatants just aren’t that rare in comic books

    • MichaelGC says:

      Heck, you’ve even got Azrael running around specifically to learn and copy your fighting style. Oops, spoilers. For a minor sidegame subplot which goes nowhere. (Until Arkham Knight, when it becomes a major sidegame subplot which goes nowhere.)

    • Syal says:

      should one accept the villains can’t identify Batman by voice (admittedly this is quite a serious leap)

      Actually, when you factor in all the gunshots and Batman repeatedly boxing their ears, it’s a wonder they can hear anything at all.

  12. Matt Downie says:

    I wonder if you could animate a Bruce Wayne fight sequence where he feigns incompetence and luck? So a counter-attack where you pick up an enemy and throws it into another could be replaced by him screaming like a child and ducking at exactly the right time to have one enemy bash another, and a flying kick could be replaced by tripping over and ‘accidentally’ headbutting an enemy in the stomach…

    I guess it would be way too much effort to do well, especially for something you’re only going to use for one or two fights…

  13. Darren says:

    I hope you talk more about the story’s structure and what it’s trying to do in a later installment. I agree that it’s kind of a mess, but I also am somewhat forgiving because it seems to me that in Arkham City that Rocksteady was really trying to put its own spin on a standalone Batman continuity. The intro here sets up a number of side quests and lore pieces, including Deadshot (you have a screenshot of him) and Black Mask, who only exists in the game to establish background goings-on in Arkham City and never actually appears again. Arkham City’s writing is a mess, but it’s remarkably dense and rewards players who are observant enough to spot and connect the many threads. It’s one of the reasons I like replaying it; despite being a small gameworld, it feels absolutely packed with history and narrative.

  14. Viktor says:

    The “Hero gets into a fight in plainclothes” thing was one of the parts that Batman Beyond got right. Terry was a punk who always got into fights before he became Batman, afterwards outside observers wouldn’t really notice a change except for who he was fighting and how good at it he was.

    • Vermander says:

      I’m sure it’s been done before, but I’d like to see a story where more than one person shares a superhero identity. Like maybe one of them is better at investigative work, one is more tech-savy, one of them is a better pilot/driver, one of them is muscle of the group, etc. Then they take turns wearing the suit and convince everyone that it’s actually one hyper-competent badass protecting the city. Solves the problem of “how can he be in so many places at once?”

      • Christopher says:

        The only thing I can think of is Go Nagai’s Kekko Kamen, a comedy ecchi thing that’s certainly not safe for work, as it’s about a superheroine who wears a mask, gloves and boots and then nothing else. The only fun fact I know about it, which is so good it stuck with me, is that her identity turns out to be six sisters taking turns under the mask in the final chapter. At least according to TV Tropes. That’s pretty good as far as punchlines to secret identities go.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Wasnt there a comic where batman made an army of batmen who would go around the city and do shit?I think I heard something about it when the dark knight rises came out and people thought that was referenced.

  15. Joe Informatico says:

    In Arkham Asylum, the story established Batman as proactive and forward-thinking.

    The moment in Asylum where I was sold on this being a good Batman game was an early conversation with Oracle, which went something like:

    BATMAN: I need to get to the backup Batcave I built on Arkham Island, so I can analyze this evidence.

    ORACLE: Bruce, how did you even build such a thing?

    BATMAN: It’s me, remember.

  16. Jay Allman says:

    The idea that someone could kidnap a famous billionaire and a reporter on live television and brazenly toss them into an anarchic free-range prison without any due process is absurd, but it falls within the levels of absurdity that cartoons and comic books can handle. I’m sure it’s far from the most ridiculous thing that’s ever happened to Animated Batman. Moreover, it solves some major problems the developers faced when designing this game

    Why is this an excuse for crap storytelling? If this reasoning excuses “Arkham City,” it excuses every game, book or movie that ever featured an “Idiot Plot.” Because this is an Idiot Plot device.

    And it doesn’t do cartoons and comic books any favors to argue that they don’t deserve good storytelling. Even absurd and extravagant stories require good storytelling within the parameters of the material’s tone and genre.

    • Shamus says:

      It’s not about “crap storytelling”. It’s more about levels of plausibility. Nobody complains that Wile E. Coyote can survive a fall off a 100 meter cliff onto solid rock, but if John McClaine did that people wouldn’t accept it. The more cartoonish the world, the more we’re willing to allow fantastical elements. I wouldn’t want Animated Series Batman to stop the show for five minutes and explain city politics, but in Nolan Batman we do, because it’s going for a more realistic world and deviations from reality need to be more scrupulously accounted for.

      • Christopher says:

        Is Arkham City right in your sweetspot of artstyle and storytelling? I vaguely recall camp stuff like Resident Evil 4 and Contradiction: Spot The Liar! not doing it for you, and I wondered if that was because of the realistic artstyle of the first and the FMV of the second. Rather than something more goofy through and through, they use lifelike characters to act silly.

        • Bloodsquirrel says:

          The problem with Resident Evil is that it’s just plain stupid. I can’t even figure out what level of plausibility it’s supposed to be on; it refuses to make sense on any level, and there are no good parts to help cover the bad.

          • Christopher says:

            That’s hardly true. The plot of RE4 is that an American special agent, Leon, is looking for the President’s daughter after she has gone missing and finds her in the hands of a cult in rural Spain. He also discovers that the cult uses parasitic beings to control their subjects, and that the cult leader has infected Ashley and planned to returned her so he had an insider in the US government and could keep infecting his way to command. Soon Leon is infected as well, and the rest of the game sees them a)trying to find a way to remove the parasites and b)escape from the cultists.

            There’s nothing illogical about anyone’s motivations here, and the moment-to-moment action has a good relative lightness of tone through comic relief characters, a ton of corny oneliners, a wacky pirate merchant and some out there character designs. It’s tense because the gameplay is tense, yes, and there are some occasional scary moments and gruesome body horror. But essentially everyone is being either a superhero, a supervillain or a damsel in distress. It’s no more out there than Batman, at the very least.

            But it does have a more realistic artstyle, which was what my question was about. Would Shamus have been into merchants that ask what you’re buyin’ if they had more stylized faces? Or if miniature Napoleon was even more unreal-looking? Or are they essentially unrelated and I just drew the wrong conclusion?

            • Shamus says:

              RE4 doesn’t work for me at all. It’s horror that isn’t scary and a comedy with no jokes. I’m never frightened or laughing and I spend every cutscene just rolling my eyes. Most RE games are like this for me. I get that fans really dig it, but for me it’s ketchup and ice cream.

              • Christopher says:

                I see, there’s probably no salvaging that with a change in art style. Thanks for answering!

              • Shoeboxjeddy says:

                I think the fans would say that the jokes aren’t like… stand up material. It’s more about tones. The way Leon’s flippant tone really contrasts the incredibly horrible circumstances he’s currently in. The way the enemies facade of being cool and in control breaks when Leon won’t play along and they get honestly pissed at him for being such a dink.

            • Lachlan the Mad says:

              To be fair, that is pretty much the only decent plot in any Resident Evil game ever, and even the good parts take a nosedive whenever Umbrella Corp shows up.

              • Christopher says:

                I think 7 might be decent on account of hiring the Spec Ops the Line dude to do the writing for them, as far as I’m aware. But RE7 is still recent and I’m not very aware of the details in that plot.

                But yeah, 4 is the only one I’ve played because the popularity of it was so widespread and the story unusually standalone for the series. I ended up liking it, but the rumor is that its the only one that’s got both a comprehensive story, fun gameplay and a lightness of tone, such as it is. I never felt any need to go back to the older tank control games or the more action-oriented newer ones. 7 is keeping me away both because I’m not a fan of the first person perspective and because it’s honestly seems too scary for me. I’m a huge coward when it comes to horror games.

            • Bloodsquirrel says:

              That’s hardly true. The plot of RE4 is that an American special agent, Leon, is looking for the President’s daughter after she has gone missing and finds her in the hands of a cult in rural Spain. He also discovers that the cult uses parasitic beings to control their subjects, and that the cult leader has infected Ashley and planned to returned her so he had an insider in the US government and could keep infecting his way to command. Soon Leon is infected as well, and the rest of the game sees them a)trying to find a way to remove the parasites and b)escape from the cultists.

              That’s a primer for a decent plot, but then you have to wonder why the cult leader is trying so hard to keep Leon from actually bringing her back. Also, all of the usual questions regarding Umbrella Corp’s legendary commitment to pointless evil. The story is filled with stupid, regardless of the possibility of extracting a high enough level view of it to make it seem logical.

              and the moment-to-moment action has a good relative lightness of tone through comic relief characters,

              I see people say this a lot, but I’ve never been able to find any evidence of it in the game that I played. There’s no punchline to the joke. The dialog is never clever enough to make the corniness feel intentional and endearing. The absurdity is never quite sharp or well-placed enough.

              This is a good example:
              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qhdN_jf3iQY

              The dialog here is stupid, but never pointedly stupid enough to rise to the level of being amusing. It’s not clever, it’s not snappy, it does’t even flow very well- it’s just bland, dumb, obvious, and stilted. It certainly doesn’t have the energy to be fun.

              • Christopher says:

                I wrote a long-ass comment, but it was marked as spam somehow when I edited it. Maybe just as well. It’s basically a case of different sensibilities, though I tried to explain where the appeal lies for me.

      • Jay Allman says:

        Well, okay. But you did call this opening “absurd” and “preposterous,” which sounded to me like a criticism. Are you saying you didn’t mean it that way? You only meant those words descriptively? You only meant to say “In the real world this would be absurd, like falling off a cliff and not dying”?

        I can go along with that. I can go along with whatever you mean, as long as I understand you.

        But then I have to ask: You also describe the story structure of the game as a whole as “goofy pants” and “two very different and almost totally unrelated stories that have been crudely stapled together.” Are you going to wind up saying that these aren’t problems either, because comic books and cartoons are usually “goofy pants” and “crudely” put together and no one should demand better of them?

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Absurd is not the same as crap however.Take who framed roger rabbit.Its an absurd setting with an absurd story,but its definitely a good story and a good movie.

          • Jay Allman says:

            “Absurd” can mean lots of things. It can mean anything from the merely “nonsensical,” like “Roger Rabbit” or “Alice in Wonderland,” to “existentially illogical,” like “Waiting for Godot.”

            It can also mean “stupid and frustrating.”

            I took Shamus to mean it in its latter sense, because he discusses the “absurd” and “preposterous” (his words) opening immediately after saying that the game contains “frustrating or unsatisfying moments.” So I took him as implying that this is one such moment. But it does sound like you’re closer to what he meant.

            I’m 100% with you about “Roger Rabbit,” of course.

            • Decius says:

              Interesting that WFRR got brought up in a discussion about how visual styles set tone and expectations. The blending of multiple visual styles on screen at the same time to cleanly convey contradicting tone still stands out.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        Moreover, I think there’s an in-universe justification for Strange doing this. At the climax of the Strange plot, he’s going to do something that violates due process an order of magnitude harder. Even the craziest Batman villain could foresee that his plan is going to bring the law down on him like a ton of bricks, so I think the answer is that he simply doesn’t care that jailing Batman is illegal, as long as no one holds him to account in the next ten hours or so.

    • Xeorm says:

      Comic books have always been good at dealing with the absurd “What if?” plots. It’s part of what makes them so endearing. “What if a billionaire dresses up as a bat and punches criminals?” is patently absurd, but we roll with it because it makes for an interesting story.

      Thing is, the beginning doesn’t make it an idiot plot. Idiot plots generally require that you have to act like an idiot the entire time. This is more absurdity rather than idiocy. As long as the payoff is decent, it’s easy to ignore some glaring problems in the sake of fun, which is what happens here.

      • Jay Allman says:

        Oh, sure, and I’d go further. Every story starts with a “what if” and works out the consequences. The only difference between a comic book, a fantasy, or a science-fiction story on the one hand, and a more mundane work of literature on the other, is the relative implausibility of the initial condition.

        But starting with a ridiculous “what if” does not give a story license to be ridiculous everyplace else. In fact, usually, the more outrageous the “what if” and its consequents, the more conservative everything else gets played. Otherwise, everything becomes arbitrary.

        Also, I didn’t say its opening gave “City” an Idiot Plot. I called the opening an Idiot Plot device. “City” does have an Idiot Plot, though, at least in the sense that Batman consistently acts like an idiot. But that is probably a discussion for later entries.

  17. Jeff says:

    In Arkham Asylum, the story established Batman as proactive and forward-thinking. But here in Arkham City – and particularly in the Joker plot – he’s reactionary.

    Once again, Shamus has put into words the vague feelings I couldn’t nail down, nevermind articulate. I remember being very impressed and “badass” while playing Asylum, but losing that feeling in City.

    This is what got me to follow your blog, Shamus. I came halfway through the LotR comic, and stayed for the insightful and well-worded articles.

    • Jay Allman says:

      Yeah, that’s a good quote and a shrewd insight.

      I think it’s because “Asylum” has wrapped all the short-term quests inside a larger mystery. Batman has a general goal — stop the Joker — but to do that he has to figure out what the Joker is doing so that he can figure out where to intercept him. The game is also good about parceling out clues to this mystery even as it is shunting him onto side quests, like rescuing Gordon and the doctors inside the Medical Center. So Batman seems proactive because he is working creatively to solve his problem.

      In “City,” though, it’s structured like a list of chores. Go here, get this, do that, find the other, etc., etc. I half expect him to ask the Riddler, “I’m running an errand down in the sewers, do you need me to pick anything up while I’m down there?”

  18. Sunshine says:

    Look, it’s Kim the henchwoman from Marlow Briggs.

  19. Nimrandir says:

    Point of linguistics: it’s “in medias res,” rather than “in media res.”

  20. Blackbird71 says:

    EDIT: Hang on, I haven’t seen EVERY Batman movie. I still haven’t gotten around to watching Dark Knight Rises. I actually forgot about that movie until someone brought it up in the comments.

    Eh, you’re not missing much. As I recall it was a bit of a lackluster finish to a trilogy that started with a lot of promise.

    • Lachlan the Mad says:

      It worked fine as a sequel to Batman Begins, but it had absolutely nothing to do with The Dark Knight. It constantly tested your memory of BB, but outright contradicted the moral lessons of DK.

      • Syal says:

        It worked fine as a sequel to Batman Begins

        Eh, don’t know about that, it’s still a mash of a personal revenge story and a much broader classist revolution story, featuring too much exposition and Batman in a war. (And that dungeon rope is still, like, four separate plot holes.)

        • Vermander says:

          I didn’t hate the third movie, but it is definitely my least favorite of the trilogy. There were plenty of absurd or even ridiculous events in the first two movies that I was willing to accept or overlook because they fit the tone of the story, but there were so many illogical, inconsistent, or unrealistic elements to Bane’s takeover of the city and Batman’s eventual return that I kind of stopped caring about the plot.

          I’m talking about things like “all the police are trapped in a hole for several weeks (months?), and when they get out they’re still all apparently as physically and mentally healthy as when they went in,” or “we all have guns, and this dense, urban environment provides plenty of cover, but we’re going to charge the enemy in a giant mob, Braveheart-style.

          I also felt like Batman’s return took way too long and didn’t feel as triumphant or redemptive as I’d hoped. It was part of that ongoing trend in superhero movies where “saving the day” only happens after hundreds of people have been injured or killed and the city is in ruins.

    • Volvagia says:

      What it was trying to do (a slightly compressed A Tale of Two Cities: Batman Edition) was admirable. But, well…There’s a reason that, say, A.J. Raffles isn’t used to rant about the downsides of economic inequality. (Not that talking about that stuff with thieves is impossible, just that it needs to be less Catwoman, more Hell or High Water in terms of approach.) Honestly, one of the best things Nolan could have done in the writing process was drop Catwoman and John “Franken-Robin” Blake entirely, giving the thematically and narratively crucial stuff to Barbara Gordon instead.

      • Shoeboxjeddy says:

        Why would introducing the character of Barbara Gordon be better than the characters they did go with? And please don’t let the reason be “I prefer the Barbara Gordon character from other media”, that doesn’t fix any narrative problems with the story, it’s just your personal preference.

        • Volvagia says:

          Okay. The biggest thing Barbara Gordon replacing John Blake and Catwoman fixes is a thematic issue (that party speech is ludicrously un-selfaware coming from that kind of thief) more than a narrative one, but weren’t people watching Nolan movies more for the conviction and intelligence of their morals/themes than the iron-clad plotting?

  21. tzeneth says:

    I had this weird moment while reading this where I had stopped in the middle to go get ice cream. While I was dishing out the ice cream, I thought, “After this I can eat this ice cream and continue watching the video I was watching.” I then had a short circuit as I realized I was reading a post written by Shamus. I then figured out that I thought it was a video because it had pictures with it and I was reading the article in Shamus’s voice.

    On a different note: any bets on the number of times Batman gets knocked out throughout the whole plot? I have no idea but I’m going with 2 dozen (24). If I’m anywhere close, I’ll be surprised because I played most of the game and don’t remember it at all.

    • Durican says:

      I believe it’s 3 times he’ll be knocked out, but I may be remembering wrong.

      Meanwhile I’m hoping he counts how many hours Catwoman is left hanging upside-down with Poison Ivy glaring at her. With the countdown to Protocol Ten being stated at each plot point it should be easy to count.

      • Techurious says:

        IIRC it’s 4 times (not counting the first cutscene).
        1) Knocked out by Penguin
        2) Knocked out by Harley with a bat.
        3) Knocked out by Mad Hatter’s drug
        4) Got buried under debris after the fight with the Joker(C).

  22. Phantos says:

    The part where Shamus said he hasn’t seen The Dark Knight Rises, but I’m too lazy to C+P

    You’re really not missing anything.

    In fact, you should just ignore every other DC movie after that and skip straight to Lego Batman.

    I wish I had thought to do that.

  23. Phantos says:

    Hugo Strange exists in this weird gray area, where he’s not as overtly goofy or terrible as, say, Condiment King, but he doesn’t rise to the level of a Joker or Two-Face. You can’t really point to a catchphrase or an iconic costume or a particular method of doing bad guy things the way you can with Riddler or Poison Ivy or Mr. Freeze.

    This is why he’s not really cut out to be the headlining villain of a Batman story. But it does make him useful as a decoy villain.

  24. LCF says:

    “Clark Kent doesn’t go around bending steel beams”
    Everyone in Metropolis knows journos can’t bend steel beams.

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