Arkham City Part 7: Arkham City Limits

By Shamus Posted Thursday Mar 9, 2017

Filed under: Batman 70 comments

Having knocked out Penguin and his goons, Bruce Wayne calls Alfred to request the delivery of the Bat-suit. Bruce climbs to the top of a building (this is the tutorial for the climbing movement controls) and obtains the Bat-Suit. During the climb, he establishes his goals for Alfred / the audience. He’s not trying to escape Arkham City. He’s not here to pick fights with the super-villains or their henchmen incarcerated here. Instead his goal is to figure out what Protocol 10 is so he can stop it.

The Bat-wing flies over and drops a pod containing the Bat-suit. It opens up to reveal…


Not only does the bottom of the cowl look like a giant grin, but the eye holes seem to suggest smiling eyes rather than the usual angry shape.
Not only does the bottom of the cowl look like a giant grin, but the eye holes seem to suggest smiling eyes rather than the usual angry shape.

I’ve seen the Bruce-less Bat-suit in media before, but I’ve never seen it depicted in this way. The bottom of the cowl is yawning open like a massive grin. I think they had to cheat a bit to make this work. The inside of the costume ought to be dark, but instead it’s lit up with magical glowing blue fog to make the smile stand out.

It’s very reminiscent of the Joker and I’m sure it’s intentional. This game is supposedly Mark Hamill’s last appearance as the Joker (although he changed his mind later) and so the writer wanted to spend a lot of time talking about the Joker and his relationship with Batman. A lot of this is done in the style of “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks”.

The fact that the empty Batsuit looks like it’s grinning is one of those details that’s kind of funny but it doesn’t ultimately mean anything. However, it feels like it means something. Or that it should mean something. It’s the kind of visual cue that makes you want to project your own interpretation onto it. Woah man. Did you ever think how maybe Joker and Batman are like, the same? Sort of? Or… opposites? Like, if you think about it, maybe deep down Bruce Wayne is just as crazy as the Joker. Or maybe he’s more crazy, but he hides it under the suit. Or maybe the suit represents this crazy stuff in his head that he’s always trying to control. Or maybe…

It’s basically a game of “How do you keep a lit major busy?”

So now Batman is suited up and he has his goal. But before we go running off to punch Protocol 10 in the face, let’s talk about the layout of Arkham City.

Arkham City Limits

If you wanted to escape to the east, you'd need to cross nearly a half mile of water. Obviously that's impossible. There's even a line of buoys in the way. Just forget it.
If you wanted to escape to the east, you'd need to cross nearly a half mile of water. Obviously that's impossible. There's even a line of buoys in the way. Just forget it.

The playable game area is roughly horseshoe-shaped, which can make it seem larger than it really is by having you travel from one end of the horseshoe to the other. (The game loves doing this.) The west boundaries are all ten-story concrete walls. To the east – towards Gotham proper – the only boundary is the bay. I’m not sure how that’s supposed to work. What’s to stop the prisoners from sailing across the bay into downtown Gotham? Yeah, helicopters patrol the water, but…

Bah. Whatever. It’s basically a comic book.

In the center of the horseshoe is the security zone where all the guards and helicopters and security systems are based. In the center of that is Wonder Tower, a spectacular tourist-y building that now serves as the headquarters of Hugo Strange and his Tyger Guards. This makes for some pretty good imagery. Dr. Strange is up in the tower gloating over his domain, while Batman is on the dirty streets below, fighting to save people and get answers before time runs out.

Several of the prominent buildings of the city have been adopted as bases by the various supervillains. The Joker stripped the amusement park and used it to decorate the steel mill, which makes for one of the most Joker-ish bases I’ve ever seen. Two-Face controls the courthouse. Penguin rules the museum. Poison Ivy has an old hotel. Bane is living in a toy company that’s half-sunk into the ocean.

And Now to Stop Protocol TeOOH! Shiny!

Top: Two Face is inside a shielded enclosure for the judge, like you find in courtrooms. To the right you can see Catwoman hanging over the typical vat of green acid. Batman is standing near the municipal tightrope.
Top: Two Face is inside a shielded enclosure for the judge, like you find in courtrooms. To the right you can see Catwoman hanging over the typical vat of green acid. Batman is standing near the municipal tightrope.

So Batman has a goal: Stop Hugo Strange from enacting Protocol 10, whatever that is. He’s got his gear. He knows his mission. It’s time to Batman the shit out of this problem.

Obviously the thing to do is get into Wonder Tower and stop the whole show. But then again, Strange said that if Batman interfered, he’d tell the world his secret identity. It’s not clear what Batman’s plan is – or if he has one at all – but it doesn’t matter. He hears on the radio that Two Face has captured CatwomanYes, on top of all the other crazy things about this place, it’s also mixed gender. Poison Ivy and Catwoman are in here with everyone else. and taken her to the old Gotham courthouse where (it’s safe to assume) he plans to kill her after a show trial.

This is actually part of the Two Face recruitment drive. All the major supervillains are trying to build armies by attracting the rank-and-file prison population to their cause. Guys that join up with Two Face will wear Two Face masks where one side of the face is disfigured. Guys who join up with Joker will wear horrifying clown masks. Penguin’s guys don’t wear masks, but they all wear Penguin-branded black and white suits instead of prison orange. We learn later that Hugo Strange is supplying weapons to the supervillains, but it never explains who is behind Arkham City’s extensive costuming department.

Whoever is behind these costumes, I think they’re the REAL hero of this story. I love how you can tell which gang you’re dealing with just by their outfits. As the game goes on, you’ll find different gangs have control of places at different times. If you listen to the chatter and pay attention to the dead bodies you find you can follow the three-way power struggle going on between the supervillains while Batman is busy with the main plot.

At any rate, Batman dutifully flies off to save Catwoman.

The guards know Two Face is planning to publicly execute Catwoman in the courtroom, and Hugo Strange orders them to back off and 'Let Two Face have his fun'. Newsflash: Strange isn't here to run a reputable prison.
The guards know Two Face is planning to publicly execute Catwoman in the courtroom, and Hugo Strange orders them to back off and 'Let Two Face have his fun'. Newsflash: Strange isn't here to run a reputable prison.

Once we get to the courtroom we get our first real full-sized brawl of the game, and then a cutscene where Catwoman gets free and Two-Face is neutralized. Afterwards, Batman asks Catwoman about Protocol 10. I have no idea why he thought she would know anything, but she doesn’t. At this point Batman might resume whatever plan he was going to enact before rescuing her, but someone takes a shot at her through the window with a sniper rifle. Batman saves her (again) and then he goes running off to catch the shooter.

Again, note how the actions of the other people in the story are driving his actions and preventing him from working on the problem the writer just now established as our supposedly central threat. If Two Face hadn’t tried to kill Catwoman, what would Batman have done? Tracked her down anyway and asked her? Would he have assumed Joker was behind the whole thing and made a beeline for his base? Neither of those sound like a particularly satisfying logical leap, but when you strip away the distractions that’s actually what he does.

Tell me everything you know about Protocol 10! I'm having trouble being a detective tonight and I was hoping someone could just explain everything to me.
Tell me everything you know about Protocol 10! I'm having trouble being a detective tonight and I was hoping someone could just explain everything to me.

This was his last chance to keep his mind on the job, because in a minute he’s going to get the mother of all sidequests.

He investigates the tower of the nearby church and finds a sniper rifle belonging to Joker. Then he phones up Alfred saying, “Joker is behind this!”

Dude! Hugo Strange already told you he has an evil plan he’s working on. You already know who’s behind the plan. Your goal isn’t to find the perpetrator, it’s to figure out what the plan is, remember? But fine. Go stick your head in the Joker hornet’s nest. Dummy.



[1] Yes, on top of all the other crazy things about this place, it’s also mixed gender. Poison Ivy and Catwoman are in here with everyone else.

From The Archives:

70 thoughts on “Arkham City Part 7: Arkham City Limits

  1. Tizzy says:

    “How do you keep a lit major busy?” had me thrown for a second.

    I don’t know, they’d be busy putting it out anyway. Who lit them in the first place?

    1. Warclam says:

      I suppose the answer, then, is to keep spraying them with accelerant?

    2. Bropocalypse says:

      I assumed it was a high-ranking military officer who likes to party.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Not really an officer,but he is close:

    3. methermeneus says:

      Put a Cheech and Chong movie on?

      Ask them who eats shoots and leaves?

      1. Abnaxis says:

        Who does eat shoots before leaving?

  2. Durican says:

    To be fair, in the previous game it turned out Joker genuinely was responsible for everything that’d happened on Arkham Island in the months leading up to his capture, including the refinement of the Titan formula and getting Bane set up as Patient Zero. It’s not a huge stretch that Joker could have been secretly involved with Huge Strange’s plans, and as it turns out he genuinely is doing Strange’s dirty work by setting up a situation Strange can use to justify Protocol 10 to the government.

    Plus, there’s the non-canon bad ending that shows that if Protocol 10 had gone off without a scratch, then Joker would’ve broken out and taken over Gotham. So Batman deciding Joker is a bigger priority than Strange is completely reasonable. Especially since the writers have a MUCH bigger fan-boner for Joker than Strange.

    1. Durican says:

      Come to think of it, in the other 2 Arkham games:
      Joker orchestrated basically everything in Arkham Origins, and he created the eponymous Arkham Knight.

      In fact, the only installment of the Arkham franchise where Joker doesn’t turn out to be either the cause or the active mastermind of the current problem is Arkham Origins Blackate for the 3DS, and even in that game Batman has to stop him from gassing the entire prison facility with Joker venom.

      EDIT: Oh, and the Mr Freeze DLC for Arkham Origins. No Joker whatsoever in that one.

      1. CrushU says:

        Does that mean that Joker is Dr. Wily?

        1. Durican says:


          He is also Ganondorf.

  3. Christopher says:

    It's basically a game of “How do you keep a lit major busy?”

    Is Campster still working on an Arkham City Errant Signal episode somewhere?

    I have no idea what his major is, I’d just be surprised if it was animal husbandry.

    1. Ardis Meade says:

      As per the Scribblenauts episode, he’s some type of Comp-sci major.

    2. Wide And Nerdy ♤ says:

      He did an episode on games that are adaptations which was probably about one third devoted to Arkham Asylum which got the highest adaptation scores of any of the games he was comparing. The other games were the Ghostbusters game from a few years ago and one of the Aliens games (with a brief mention of one of the Harry Potter games.)

  4. Darren says:

    Interesting; I’ve never thought the steel mill was very Joker-y. It leans very heavily on the industrial side of its design and doesn’t do much with the whole “evil clown” aesthetic until the big Joker fight late in the game. I like the hotel in Arkham: Origins much more. I think the Penguin’s museum does a much better job of communicating its owner’s personality than the steel mill does.

    This game does have a problem with Batman getting distracted, but I don’t think the Catwoman bit is bad. Batman’s logic is that Catwoman–curious and opportunistic as she is–will have some valuable knowledge about Arkham City. I think the Riddler challenge stories may even suggest that she was snooping around Arkham City and that Batman had tried to warn her to stay away, but I can’t recall exactly. In short, it’s not a bad lead to start with, and that she might be about to get murdered adds an extra bit of justifiable urgency to the start of the game. That Catwoman then proves to not know anything at all about the issue that Batman is investigating kind of undermines the whole thought process, but as an excuse to keep Batman from going directly to the end of the game it’s not terrible.

    I think the bigger problem, like you say, is that the game doesn’t really provide an explicit justification for why Batman doesn’t go directly to Wonder Tower. There are several good, succinct excuses they could use–heavy guard presence, the possibility that there could be bombs or something scattered throughout the city, possible supervillain involvement–but they basically assume that the player won’t bother asking about it if they are kept engaged. Playing Breath of the Wild, I’m struck by how the game does almost nothing to prevent you from going directly to Hyrule Castle to kill Ganon but does heavily incentivize you to go do all the other main quests by making such a course of action unflinchingly brutal for a player who hasn’t improved their hearts and gotten more supplies and equipment. It would be interesting to see an alternate version of Arkham City where Batman had several clear goals and could pursue them as needed as part of his investigation.

    1. Zekiel says:

      …they basically assume that the player won't bother asking about it if they are kept engaged

      To be fair, that worked for me…

      1. Andy_Panthro says:

        Isn’t that the vast majority of gaming plots in a nutshell?

        1. Falterfire says:

          A combination of that and the sheer length of games (compared to movies) and amount of spacing in between plot beats (especially in any game with sidequests) making it harder for the player to track the central plot of the game than it is to just get lost and go with the flow.

          If you play in 1 or 2 hour chunks and only 10-20 minutes of each session is actual story progress, it’s pretty easy to forget what’s going on. Sure, a plot point may only be three story beats ago, but for the player that could easily be three days and five gameplay hours ago.

          TV Shows with arc-long plots can have the same problem (See: Netflix shows) where the episodic plots muddle the audience’s ability to track the actual beat-by-beat progress of whatever the season’s underlying plot is.

          (I assume that’s a normal people problem anyways, although I have ADD so maybe that’s just an ADD person problem)

          1. Nessus says:

            It’s not just an ADD thing. I don’t watch TV/Streaming shows as they’re released anymore, but rather wait until it all comes out as a chunk I can binge-watch. As a result, I’m noticing a lot of continuity detail that I wouldn’t have otherwise spotted. The meandering side/episode plots that shows use to pad their episode count are also WAY more noticeable for what they are.

            In the last two years I binged watched DS9 and Babylon 5 on Netflix, neither of which I’d seen since their original run way back when (yes, I’m old now, I know). I was really surprised at just how much character development and background world-building was going on within/beyond the main plots that I’d never been able to notice when watching them only one-ep-a-week (plus season breaks) over however many years.

            Especially DS9. B5 is (kinda) more like a modern show in how it wears it’s continuity driven-ness on it’s sleeve, so it wasn’t really surprising there was more going on there than I’d spotted back in the day. DS9, though, tries really hard to maintain a homogeneous, syndication-friendly feel despite being technically continuity heavy, so I never even suspected anything was there to be found.

            1. Zekiel says:

              DS9 (which I utterly love) is odd about this. It has crazily important stuff (especially regarding the Dominion and to a lesser extent the Maquis in earlier seasons) going on in the background of quite a few episodes, and then very occasionally (like once a season) gives you an episode which actually concentrates on it. The rest of the time you’re watching Jake and Nog getting into mischief or O’Brien getting dumped on by life again. It’s quite frustrating since I want the show to give more screentime to the big important stuff and less to the “problem-of-the-week” stuff. But to be fair that is a reflection of the time when it was made when continuity in shows was really not a big thing.

              1. Dev Null says:

                I never did catch DS9 when it came out. I’ve been trying to watch it recently, but the plodding pace of some of those problem-of-the-week episodes really does slow me down. I’m hanging out for a bit more big picture story.

    2. SharpeRifle says:

      Look its perfectly logical for Batman to go running around the city dealing with all these other issues instead of finding his kidnapped baby……ummm I mean what Hugo’s plan is.

  5. Darren says:

    And speaking as an English major–admittedly not a literature focus–you have absolutely no room to talk about analyzing the plot, structure, and form of fictional works. You have already crossed to the Dark Side! Look in your heart! You know it to be true!

    1. Bropocalypse says:

      He has crossed beyond that threshold and out the other side! He no longer merely analyzes the meanings behind what is presented, but the person who made the decisions leading to that presentation. He’ll never join you.

      1. Darren says:

        But he doesn’t cite evidence of what the author has claimed to intend, only what he believes the author intends based on what he perceives in the final work. It is as much an embrace of “The Author is Dead” as any other work of modern criticism, and even if you want to argue the point then he’s merely applying a more traditional form of literary criticism.

  6. Sebastian says:

    The fact that the empty Batsuit looks like it's grinning is one of those details that's kind of funny but it doesn't ultimately mean anything. However, it feels like it means something. Or that it should mean something. It's the kind of visual cue that makes you want to project your own interpretation onto it.

    This is used in movies so often. Everyone around me was talking about the butterflies in I am Legend, how there were so many hidden ones throughout the movie, “like, did you see the shattered glass?” Ok, but what were they there for?

    1. Nick says:

      The vampire that gets cured has a butterfly tattoo, so there’s a theme of a last desperate hope tied to them

      1. Syal says:

        I thought his daughter pointed one out the last time he saw her, so they would be him seeing his family in the world around him.

        (…is that movie really loaded with butterflies? I never noticed any of them.)

    2. Retsam says:

      In fairness, this is generally how symbolism works, even in well respected works.

      Rf there’s a clear, unambiguous meaning to it, it often comes across as trite and superficial, so it’s often left vague and open for interpretation, and it’s often basically impossible to tell when a bit of meaning was intended by the author, or when it’s just “lit majors keeping busy”. (Though the “Death of the Author” crowd will say that doesn’t matter, anyway)

    3. Benjamin Hilton says:

      On the other hand you have people like me who didn’t see a smile there until pointed out just now. Even seeing it, I personally feel there’s a solid chance it’s a coincidence. It’s the classic “am I not seeing it, or are you looking to much into it?” As evidence for my point of view, I’ll say that even Shamus say’s it doesn’t really mean anything. If there was a solid callback to it, or a more clear vision of it having meaning, I would accept authorial intent. But with out that, I still feel it is happenstance.

      1. Soldierhawk says:

        There doesn’t have to be authorial intent for something to be symbolic. Plenty of authors have denied allegorical or symbolic intent in their work, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exists. Just that it exists in a way that wasn’t planned or intended by the creator.

      2. Philadelphus says:

        Yeah, I never would have noticed it on my own. Even now with it pointed out to me, it’s like one of those optical illusions where I can only see it about 50% of the time.

      3. Syal says:

        If that screenshot is to be believed, they revealed the costume from an angle to maximize the empty mouth, and then backlit it. Not necessarily a smile but they definitely intended something there.

        …I can’t unsee those angry maskbrows. I wonder if Bruce put them there to remind himself that being Batman is supposed to be serious and not just something to do for fun.

    4. Symbolizing the beauty and fragility of life, maybe? (Never seen the movie, that’s just the 1st thing that comes to mind)

    5. The Rocketeer says:

      That was actually written in after the fact. The entire ending was changed after focus groups thought the original, much better ending was too sad.

      The butterfly is a perfect example of a seemingly-meaningful symbol jammed in where no actual meaning was intended to go, even more so since its replacement of the original ending meant that none of the actual thematic beats had any payoff.

  7. JDMM says:

    Another thing that I find makes the map smaller is that roughly a fifth of it is just some stuff over water, aside from a small island there’s not much to do in the NorthEast (it’s not that dense)

    In terms of goals, the thing is Protocol 10 strikes me as more of a mystery than something to stop as we don’t know what it does, that Strange thinks he will gloat to Batman about his solution does not suggest a particular seriousness

    I wonder if the Joker-centric nature of the Arkham games is symptomatic of a larger structural problem in non-serialized adapted from comics as a whole that we were generally spared via production realities of actor contracts as when comic book movies had the opportunity to use the same villain over and over (Magneto, Luthor, Loki) they generally did/have

    1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      The Arkham games use Joker because that’s where all their best ideas are, in terms of writing and mechanics. The only comparable brilliance they have on offer is the battle against Freeze in this game (and then copied in Origins). Fighting Ivy and Bane, it’s clear they didn’t have a ton of ideas that translated well to their mechanics for those two. And while Scarecrow and Mad Hatter have some of the best visual parts of the games, the actual gameplay at those moments is nothing special.

  8. Matt Downie says:

    In games/movies/comics a vat of green substance is either a vat of acid, or (if glowing) radioactive waste.

    I was wondering: if I come across a vat of green stuff in real life, what is it likely to be? Anyone ever seen one?

    1. Hal says:

      Most likely, you’ve stumbled upon some forgotten relic of Nickelodeon studios.

    2. Mountain Dew? Jello? Badly treated pool water?

      I know there’s some green lakes, but I can’t remember off the top of my head what chemicals make them green.

      1. Philadelphus says:

        Algae? I’ve seen a lake like that. Unless you meant some kind of chemical run-off.

        1. There’s a couple that are green due to dissolved minerals, and I know there’s a pink one in Australia. Yellowstone has the Grand Prismatic (which is really pretty) and those colors come from thermophilic bacteria. But yeah, most likely is pond scum…

    3. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Not really liquid,but chlorine gas is green,and in contact with water it quickly makes hydrochloric acid.

    4. Ninety-Three says:

      Green liquids you’re likely to actually encounter? It’s pond scum.

    5. The Rocketeer says:

      It means they poured about forty thousand glow sticks in that vat.

    6. Syal says:

      I think antifreeze is often green.

      Otherwise like everyone said, some kind of floating plant.

  9. Piflik says:

    I think they had to cheat a bit to make this work. The inside of the costume ought to be dark, but instead it's lit up with magical glowing blue fog to make the smile stand out.

    I’m not sure that is a cheat or on purpose. To me it looks like a limitation of the blue volumetric fog/light effect inside the tube. It would be difficult to not have this effect inside the cowl in a realtime engine (still today, back then even more).

  10. Ninety-Three says:

    I love how you can tell which gang you're dealing with just by their outfits. As the game goes on, you'll find different gangs have control of places at different times.

    I played the game twice and I never even noticed there were different types of generic mooks. I’m not sure if this means Shamus is perceptive or I’m blind.

    1. Durican says:

      It gets better! Later on in the game you find mooks who’ve switched allegiances. There’s thugs in Penguin gear who’ve burnt one side of their outfit after joining Two-Face, and there’s ones who’ve put on clown masks over their old uniforms after joining Joker.

      I adore that kind of detail.

  11. Baron Tanks says:

    We learn later that Hugo Strange is supplying weapons to the supervillains, but it never explains who is behind Arkham City's extensive costuming department.

    You’re right, we never do learn who is behind the extensive costuming department. I feel this is a Rutskarn story waiting to happen.

    1. Hal says:

      In the DC universe, Tim Gunn is also in Arkham. (He knows what he did.)

      1. Ooh, Project Runway: Villian Edition!

  12. Joe Informatico says:


    Go ahead and use henchmen – these days it’s unnecessary and frowned upon to fight your own battles, especially with so many skilled henchmen out of work. And make sure you give your henchmen matching sequined jackets with your face on the back. If it’s good enough for The Joker, it should be good enough for you.

    -John Hodgman, The Areas of My Expertise

  13. Inwoods says:


    maybe Joker and Batman a like, the same?

  14. Jay Allman says:

    YES! Shamus hits a home run! Everything that happens from the moment Batman puts on the Batsuit to the moment he heads to the Steel Mill is a series of badly motivated “SQUIRREL!!!” moments.

    The thing is, at root this isn’t a problem of logic, motivation or characterization. Or, rather, the problems of logic, motivation and characterization are caused by an easy-to-fix structural problem. The trouble is that the story opens with the B plot when it should open with the A plot.

    To see what I mean, imagine AC opened this way:

    Fade in on Batman busting his way into the heart of a Joker hideout. He clears rooms of goons [combat tutorials] while the Joker howls “I’m sick! I’m dying! Don’t let him get to me!” over the loudspeakers. Batman reaches the center of the hideout, where Joker’s poisoned corpse sprawls in a corner. He bends to examine it, gets whomped form behind. Black out.

    Fade in on Batman, trussed to a chair and hooked to an IV. Poisoned-like-crap Joker comes in and monologues. Titan poison, I’m dying, you’re dying, Gotham’s dying, yada yada yada, you need to get the cure. Batman: “Where is it?” Joker: “I had Mr. Freeze working on it, but that idiot Hugo Strange grabbed him and chucked him into that new prison, so you’ll need to break in there to get it.” He pushes Batman out a window.

    Dissolve to: Batman in the Batmobile, tail end of a conversation with the Batcave crew. Gist: He’s on his way to find Freeze; that’ll be faster than working on a cure from scratch in the Batcave. Besides, he’s been meaning to investigate Arkham City; he doesn’t like it. At the walls of the prison he climbs/grapples [climb tutorial] over and infiltrates [predator tutorial] a guard room, where he hacks into the computers and comms. He can’t find any info on where Freeze is being held, but he finds lots of chatter about “Protocol 10”, whatever that is.

    Then a radio transmission alerts him that Catwoman is a prisoner of Two Face. “I need to save her,” Batman says. “Besides, if anyone knows where Freeze is being held, she would.” He swings toward the courthouse, and the story now curves back to connect up with AC as actually written. Except no one takes a shot at Catwoman, and she points him to the old GCPD as the last location she knows of for Freeze. Later in the story, naturally, Joker will have to break into the prison or get himself arrested so he can be on hand to collect the cure once Batman has it.

    Such an alternate opening — which uses stuff already in the game, and eliminates other scenes that eventually prove to be irrelevant — I think mostly solves all the problems Shamus discusses in this post, plus others he’s identified earlier. The alternate story opens with the problem that will consume 90% of the gameplay, so there’s no need to “SQUIRREL!” over to the Joker plot. Batman has a logical reason to seek out Catwoman. He is proactive in going after Joker [instead of being distracted] and he’s proactive in infiltrating the prison [instead of getting kidnapped]. There’s no change to the premise or to the overall plotline, though some points have to be finessed, naturally, so this is basically a structural revision — moving chapters around — and not a plot revision.

    This is why “City” cheeses me off so much. It bungles an elementary storytelling technique — open with the main problem, so we know what to care about — and then has to make Batman act like an idiot multiple times in order to recover its footing. Nor is there a good reason to open with Hugo Strange and his gloating threats, since nothing is done with him or about him until very late in the game, and then it’s handled very quickly.

    There are lots of other problems with AC that can’t be fixed just by fixing the opening. But with so much incompetence here, I’m unsurprised the game is so incompetent everywhere else.

    1. Nessus says:

      That would have worked better.

      The way it is though, I was kind of left with the impression that the whole way through development the actual creative team wanted/intended the Strange plot to be *the* main plot, but someone higher up kept riding them to make the Joker increasingly prominent.

      The Strange plot is more complex in terms of progression, and is more tied into the structure of the city, with lots of purpose-built, single-use environments and assets dedicated to it. The Joker plot is simpler, and uses mostly (if not entirely) environments that could have easily been minimal-effort repurposes of earlier non-joker environments, or made of modular city assets. The bulk of the Joker plot is a chain of fetch quests centered on other villains, in which the joker’s role is basically a pure MacGuffin and could be changed out for something Strange-related without altering more than cutscene dialog.

      I’ll bet earlier in development the Joker was a side-stop/leg-up quest, like the Penguin, rather than a full parallel main plot.

      1. Jay Allman says:

        That’s interesting. But is there a “Strange plot”? The Strange stuff contributes a setting, and it comes with bucketloads of back story, but what does it contribute to the actual game? Strange interns Bruce Wayne and Mayor Quincy Sharpe, spends a couple of hours periodically announcing “Protocol Ten will commence in X hours,” then starts blowing things up. Batman gets the system codes, climbs Wonder Tower, and shuts things down. That’s not much of a plot.

        Now that I think about it, I’m not even convinced it contributes a setting. Remove Hugo Strange, the prison walls, and the concept of a “free-range prison”, and what is left? A large Gotham neighborhood with a rampant crime problem, and you don’t need more than that as the backdrop to a Batman game. You could set the “Joker plot” in such a neighborhood and I think it would work.

        So what does Hugo Strange contribute? He contributes a “prison concept” that isn’t necessary to generate the setting, and a sequence of combat-predator challenges that barely rises to the level of “side quest.” Any complexity is in the back story, alas, where it doesn’t do any good to the game.

        It would be fun to imagine an “Arkham City” where the “Strange plot” took center stage. But there is so little to work with that it would be sheerest invention — whatever the game equivalent of “fan fiction” is — to come up with anything.

        1. Nessus says:

          I think you missed my point. What I was saying was that I suspect a lot of the content you’re attributing to the Joker was probably originally conceived and built for the Strange plot, but was cannibalized for the Joker plot by rewriting cutscene dialog and sprinkling Joker assets (and mooks) around already built maps. I’m saying that earlier in development, I’m betting the devs originally had the player chasing after Freeze, the Penguin, possibly even Clayface, for Strange related MacGuffins, rather than Joker related ones.

          The fact that the Strange plot is baked into the environment, whereas the Joker plot could be easily plugged into a generic setting is my evidence. The Strange-specific setting elements constitute such a disproportionate amount of labor compared to the Joker-specific ones that it implies that at the time those things were being designed and built, Strange was the priority. The Joker plot feels like it could be in regular Gotham because it was designed later as something that could be dropped into the already conceived and built setting without having to do extensive design or asset work.

          I think the Joker story about him dying and poisoning Batman was created later in development as a response to Hamill announcing his retirement from the role. Before that, the Joker probably did figure in AC prominently, but maybe only to the extent that the Penguin does. When Hamill announced his retirement, the Joker had to be moved more center stage, but at that point a lot of stuff was been built and coded, so they had to do a rewrite that used what they’d already built. They stripped the Strange story to the hull and gave all the parts to team Joker with a post-it saying “here’s a cave and a box of scraps, make something cool”. Then they took the cool thing team Joker built, and bolted it back in the empty Strange hull, only it didn’t quite fit, so now we’re tooling around in this oddly hollow Strange boat with 1/4 of a cool Joker engine hanging out the back like a prolapsed colon.

          In a weird way, the Joker plot may have benefited from this. There is a long history of media works (film especially) being improved by restriction, as it forces the writers to be more creative, and to embrace limitations as sources of dramatic conflict and complexity rather than rely on brute-force contrivances.

          1. Nessus says:

            Aaah, I should point out that I’m not defending the Strange plot here, or speculating on it’s original form. I’m just hypothesizing why the game has this oddly staggered two-plot structure, based on the what I see in the game.

            I think the Joker plot is actually good, and the Strange plot was always at a handicap regardless of complexity simply because Strange doesn’t have nearly the connection to either the audience or the Batman that the Joker has.

            1. Jay Allman says:

              I should have made my reply clearer: I don’t disagree with anything you originally posted. I got what you meant (I think) and thought it was really interesting, and it set me to thinking more about what the Strange plot actually contributes.

              Let me try to do better at fitting my further reflections into yours: Assume you’re correct. They came up with a “Strange plot” with lots of action stuff for Batman to do, then hollowed it out and reassigned its content to the Joker plot. What is left of the “Strange plot” once they did that? Only the setting and the concept of an open-air prison and a glorified side quest … and that’s about all.

              But then, when you squint hard at the setting, you realize a game centered on the Joker plot doesn’t even need the concept of the open-air prison, and that a crime-ridden Gotham neighborhood would work just as well. Then, if you erase the prison you lose the excuse for the side-quest … and at that point the “Strange plot” has completely evaporated.

              So I think in a sense I’m supporting your suggestion, and am only pointing out that they hollowed the Strange plot out so thoroughly that they could have just removed it without losing anything vital.

              I’ll even add one more argument to further support your hypothesis: The presence of … do we need spoilers at this late date? Fine, that one guy who shows up to kill Strange. It makes (a little) sense to add him as an element to the Strange plot, as the secret puppetmaster, but it’s lunatic to add him to the Joker plot with a bunch of silly technobabble. That really is a place where it feels like they had a previously existing element (the secret puppetmaster), and herniated themselves trying to tie it into the Joker plot. Which suggests (as you suggest) there was an earlier version of the story where the Joker plot wasn’t of central importance.

              Does that sound like a reasonable extrapolation of what you were saying?

    2. Zekiel says:

      That’s all very well but how can we shoe-horn starting off as being just Bruce Wayne into this new far-more-logical plot? Hmm?

  15. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Slight spoilers following:

    To be fair to batman,hugo strange isnt really the main villain behind it all.So one could say that bats knew there had to be someone above strange.He just thought of the wrong someone.

    1. Jay Allman says:

      You know what’s fun? Imagining all the Big Bads it could have really been.

      * Ra’s al-Ghul: He’s secretly bankrolling Arkham City as an exercise in genocide.

      * Two Face: What better way to reconcile his prosecutorial/criminal sides than by bankrolling a prison he can secretly run?

      * The Mad Hatter: It’s explained in a comic miniseries that the Tyger guards are mind-controlled by some kind of post-hypnotic suggestion. Mad Hatter technique, Mad Hatter plot!

      * Clayface: He’s gathering all the criminal gang bosses in one place, so he can replace them all with clay clones, making himself master of the underworld.

      * The Penguin: He fancies himself a collector, and this secretly bankrolled prison is the ultimate collection — and he can get rich letting the inmates ransom themselves free!

      * The Joker: Uh … Chaos! With a smile!

      * Thomas Eliot: Where do you hide a murder victim? On a battlefield. So he arranges for Bruce Wayne to be thrown into a prison that’s basically a war zone, from which Eliot can emerge under a new face after the original has been pulped beyond recognition.

      * Deadshot: The Most Dangerous Game … In the Most Dangerous Setting of All!

      The moral: The “X Was the Real Big Bad All Along” trope is just an excuse to be utterly arbitrary. And a story/mystery with an arbitrary solution can’t help but be a cheat.

  16. Nessus says:

    Total nitpick, but IIRC Catwoman isn’t an inmate of AC. She snuck in of her own accord to loot the place.

    That doesn’t effect the point that AC is (apparently) co-ed, since Harley and Ivy are presumably there as inmates. It just means Catwoman’s presence isn’t an indication of that.

    …Tangentially: if it is a co-ed prison, then there’s some VERY unpleasant fridge logic swirling around the fact that Harley and Ivy are the only female inmates you ever encounter. I suppose having female inmates around in the gang mobs and such might open a few cans of worms that the game devs would prefer not to deal with, but this way is arguably darker, albeit “out of sight, out of mind”.

    I suppose you could assume it isn’t co-ed, and Harley and Ivy are either special cases, or there of their own accord like Catwoman (Harley would absolutely do this stay with Mistah Jay, but why would Ivy?). However that wouldn’t be consistent with either Strange’s way of running things, or his benefactor’s motives.

    1. Shamus says:

      If you read the backstories of the characters, it reveals that Joker escaped prison with Harley, was chased by police boats, and ended up washing ashore in Arkham City. So dumb. I’m really glad that detail was left out of the main game.

      So Catwoman and Harley both broke into prison. Which leaves Ivy, who is probably an inmate but also so dangerous that it’s kind of unfair to the goons that they’re in here with her.

      There’s 2 other women, but we’ll talk about them later in the series.

      1. Nessus says:

        I’ll admit didn’t read the character bios, as I assumed they were mostly descriptions of the characters for players unfamiliar with Batman lore (as they were in “Asylum”), rather than info on why they were there. Also I know I missed some of the story text collectables, as I never completely finished all the Riddler stuff.

        That is an odd way to place J&H in the city. From what’s in the game, I kinda assumed it was a situation of the Joker “allowing” himself to be thrown in there for the benefit of his scheme, with Harley either coming along or breaking in to join him.

        I can think of two other women characters who show up in the city later on, but neither is there as an inmate (though Strange would likely consider one of them a “happy accident” who was on his list anyway).

  17. Dev Null says:

    I’m pretty sure Batman’s motivation for running around chasing shiny things is that he really REALLY likes punching people. If he went ahead and foiled Hugo’s plan right from the start, he’d get the chance to beat up way fewer prisoners in their place of legal incarceration.

  18. Dreadjaws says:

    “Obviously the thing to do is get into Wonder Tower and stop the whole show. But then again, Strange said that if Batman interfered, he'd tell the world his secret identity. It's not clear what Batman's plan is ““ or if he has one at all ““ but it doesn't matter. He hears on the radio that Two Face has captured Catwoman[1] and taken her to the old Gotham courthouse where (it's safe to assume) he plans to kill her after a show trial.”

    To be fair, if you actually try to go to Wonder Tower earlier, you have no means of entry, due to the electronic lock, for which you don’t acquire the codes until much later into the game. Yes. the story technically makes you sidetrack, but if you want to play as (like you call him) a proactive Batman you realize you have no choice but to get sidetracked, if anything to at least do something useful until you’re able to crack your way open into Wonder Tower.

    Of course, once Batman gets poisoned he pretty much has no choice but to find the antidote, not for his sake, but for all the people who Joker poisoned. Then, of course, come Arkham City and it turns out it was all for naught.

    1. Dreadjaws says:

      Oh, it’s… three and a half years later as I re-read this series and realize I said “Arkham City” instead of “Arkham Knight”. Obviously is a bit late to edit my original comment, but I cannot let this just be or I’m gonna be driven insane.

  19. LCF says:

    “If Two Face hadn't tried to kill Catwoman, what would Batman have done? Tracked her down anyway and asked her?”
    Batman, World’s Greatest Detective

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