Dr. Freeze has set up shop in the old Gotham City Police Department. He’s got his weapons back and he’s wearing his suit. Batman hands over the blood and Freeze sticks it into a machine that looks like a centrifuge but is actually a space magic science machine. The cure appears in less time than it takes to make toast. I’m sure you’ll be unsurprised to discover the cure comes in the form of blue science juice.
Before Batman went crawling around under Arkham City playing Tomb Raider for three hours, these two had agreed that Batman would get some blood from Ra’s, and Freeze would use it to synthesize a cure. But now that he’s holding the cure in his hand, Freeze wants to use it to negotiate with Batman.
That’s actually kind of reasonable. Freeze is a supervillain, he doesn’t like Batman, and he’s not really getting anything out of this deal.
Joker has kidnapped Nora, Freeze’s frozen wife. Freeze wants Batman to rescue her. Again, this is reasonable. If Freeze storms the place and starts killing Joker’s guys, one of them might hurt Nora. Or she might be hurt in the battle. Or they might threaten to hurt her and he’d have no choice but to retreat. But Batman? This is the perfect job for him. He can slip in, pacify the guards, and secure Nora’s cryogenic container.
FIGHT ME. FIGHT ME IRL.
The problem is that this scene requires Freeze to behave like an idiot. He destroys half the supply of cure, and throws the other half into a safe. He says Batman can’t have it until Nora is rescued. Batman refuses, and so Freeze… tries to kill him?
- Freeze ought to know that Batman doesn’t need motivation to rescue Nora. He’s done it before. Saving innocents is kind of his thing, even if they’re perpetually frozen innocents.
- Freeze ought to know that you can’t bully Batman like this.
- Freeze ought to realize that Batman has a better chance at saving Nora if he’s at full strength. Why make him do it while he’s dying? That doesn’t help herThen again, Freeze does ask Batman how he’s feeling before he makes his demand. It’s not until Batman throws out the swagger that Freeze decides he’s probably fit enough to rescue Nora..
- Barring that, Freeze ought to realize that if he kills Batman, there won’t be anyone left to save Nora. The best hope for her is to let Batman do his thing.
But I guess if Freeze had common sense he wouldn’t have dedicated so much energy into schemes that always end with a supersize order of of Bat-fist.
Batman doesn’t help his cause. Rather than trying to reason with Freeze, he lays on the “You don’t want to test me” bravado, which isn’t persuasive and which is likely to provoke an attack because, after all, this guy is a ruthless supervillain.
So they’re both stupid and they’re both having a fight that runs counter to their goals.
Oh, that’s cold, man.
Batman can’t stand up to a direct assault. Freeze does a lot of damage and his ice blasts can stagger Batman. If you charge directly at him, you’ll just get blasted in the face. Instead you need to skulk around and ambush him. It’s a stealth boss fight.
This encounter often makes people’s lists of Best Boss Battles Ever and such. I’ll agree that it’s a brilliant bit of game design. I always look forward to this fight in my play-throughsAlthough it’s a bit annoying in New Game+ on Hard Difficulty. In that case, you have to use basically every single ambush trick in the game, and I always find myself near the end feeling like I’m out of tricks. Some of the ambush techniques are a bit obscure.. Although, it’s got a pretty serious flaw that can ruin the whole thing for some first-time players.
Let’s talk about what works:
- Batman has tons of ambushing techniques at his disposal. He can pounce from above. He can pounce from under a floor vent. He can sneak up behind someone. He can hang from the ceiling. He can crash through a wooden wall and grab them. He can glide-kick them. He can plant explosives on the ground and knock them down. He can put explosives on a weak wall and shatter the wall to knock them down. The thing is, Batman must ambush Freeze several timesVaries by difficulty level. By default it’s five. and he can never use the same trick twice. This makes it interesting, and not just “use the one trick over and over again until you win”.
- No QTEs. No “Press B to dodge, Press X to backflip, now Press Y to oops you messed up. Now start over.” You do have to push the punch button over and over. But you do it to punch him in the face. The game doesn’t have Batman doing stunts and moves that aren’t part of the normal game.
- No mook closets. Freeze is a loner, and the fight reflects that. The game designer didn’t feel the need to dump a squad of “Freeze Goons” on us after each ambush.
- No cutscenes. Sometimes games let you do the repetitive gameplay stuff and then they finish off the fight with a big cutscene where they make it look “cool” by taking control away from you. Not here. You fight him in gameplay, and you defeat him in gameplay. There’s no cutscene until after you’ve beaten him.
It looks good. It feels good. It’s interesting. It’s different. It’s thematically appropriate. There are many ways to do the fight. The fight is resolved in gameplay and not a movie.
Yes, this is a really great fight and more game designers should be trying to do this sort of thing.
The major problem with this section is that the game hasn’t made sure you’re prepared for it.
The two most expedient ways of dealing with foes in this game is to sneak up behind them, and to ambush them while hanging from the ceiling. It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s fun.
A lot of the other ambush techniques are kind of situational. You can crash through a wooden wall to take someone down, but that depends on them being on the other side of the wall when you’re in the right position. What’s likely is that you’ll stand there for five minutes waiting for a sucker to come along, then get bored and go back to hanging from the ceiling. You can sneak out into the open to place some explosive gel where guys will walk, but if you can do that then you can just as easily skip the gel and choke them out from behind, which is both faster and quieter. You can noisily pounce on someone from above, or you can wait for them to pass by and then silently drop down behind them.
And all of these are riskier and more difficult than attacking from the ceiling. When you’re up on a perch, you can see the entire room. They can’t see you. You’ve got mobility. You’ve got awareness. You can take them out with no risk of being randomly spotted and shot. If you do get spotted, it’s easy to zip around until they lose track of you.
Ceiling attacks are simply the most expedient way of handling stealth sections, and they have always been available to the player until this very moment.
In the Freeze fight, there isn’t anywhere on the ceiling where Batman can perch. If you’ve been relying on ceiling attacks because they’re easy and fun, then you suddenly find yourself in a fight where your main ambush tool is gone.
Also, your most common escape technique is not available. Up until now the player has probably relied on reflexively jabbing the “grapnel” button when they get into trouble and zipping up into the darkness. If that’s how you’ve been playing then you’ll likely have to keep pausing the fight to look up the alternate methods and figure out how they work.
“Well, Shamus, it serves them right! if the player had learned all of the techniques then they wouldn’t be stuck!”
True, but that means the game is punishing them for doing what was most convenient and fun. They had no way of knowing they would need all of those other techniques.
This could have been easily fixed by simply removing the ceiling vantage points from a couple of the stealth encounter areas. That would have forced the player to explore some of the other techniques. Then by the time they got to Freeze, they would be more well-rounded and able to adapt.
The other problem with this fight is that some of the rules change and it’s not clear which things are allowed and which things arbitrarily won’t work. In a normal encounter, you can ambush someone from around a corner. That technique doesn’t work on Freeze. Batarangs bounce off. The gun-disabling gadget doesn’t work. Batman’s shock weapon doesn’t work, but you can electrify the floor in one spot. There aren’t any wooden walls to crash through, so that technique is useless here. It’s totally unclear if a glide-kick is possible until you try it. Explosives on the floor don’t seem to work, but explosives on the wall do.
So some things don’t work the way the player expects and the only way to find out is to try to use them and get shot for your trouble. This can result in a really frustrating fight where you’re not sure what the game expects of you.
Ha! I’ll ambush Freeze around this corner.
(The prompt never appears, so Freeze just walk around the corner and shoots you in the face.)
Shit! I’ll stun him with my cape and escape!
I’ll shock him and escape!
Ah, my health is really low. I’d better escape to the ceiling!
(Zap. Nope! Also, Game Over. Thanks for playing.)
That’s not a very satisfying way for things to play out. Losing because you messed up is good. Losing because all the rules changed and you don’t know what the new rules are is bad.
Whether you found this fight fun or frustrating depends largely on your playstyle and how much time you spent experimenting with the alternate takedown techniques. But this isn’t really a problem with the fight itself. It’s actually a problem with the previous stealth encounters. Personally, I wouldn’t change the Freeze fight at all. I’d just change the encounter spaces to oblige the player to adapt and mix things up in the earlier sections of the game.
Batman wins the fight, but really they both kind of lose. While they were chasing each other around like idiots, Harley Quinn snuck in, blew open the safe (from the other side of the wall, where they didn’t see her) and swiped the cure. So when Batman hauls open the safe, he’s greeted by my favorite image in the entire game:
I love this. A joker playing card, and a photocopy of a joker playing card used as a sarcastic “Get Well Soon!” greeting. It’s such a fun foreshadowing of the Joker / Clayface reveal.
 Then again, Freeze does ask Batman how he’s feeling before he makes his demand. It’s not until Batman throws out the swagger that Freeze decides he’s probably fit enough to rescue Nora.
 Although it’s a bit annoying in New Game+ on Hard Difficulty. In that case, you have to use basically every single ambush trick in the game, and I always find myself near the end feeling like I’m out of tricks. Some of the ambush techniques are a bit obscure.
 Varies by difficulty level. By default it’s five.
The Strange Evolution of OpenGL
Sometimes software is engineered. Sometimes it grows organically. And sometimes it's thrown together seemingly at random over two decades.
A video Let's Play series I collaborated on from 2009 to 2017.
Video Compression Gone Wrong
How does image compression work, and why does it create those ugly spots all over some videos and not others?
A programming project where I set out to make a Minecraft-style world so I can experiment with Octree data.
Skyrim Thieves Guild
The Thieves Guild quest in Skyrim is a vortex of disjointed plot-holes, contrivances, and nonsense.