We’ve been skipping the Catwoman sections in this write-up because things are easier to analyze when you cut out the extraneous parts. But now let’s circle back and talk about her subplot.
Catwoman’s story involves her efforts to steal from the Arkham City vault. Apparently Hugo Strange stores confiscated things there, and Catwoman wants them. It doesn’t ever say what the loot is. It’s just a couple of silver suitcases with some unspecified valuables inside.
She’s also got a couple of ongoing feuds with Two-Face and Poison Ivy that complicate things for her. When Batman gets knocked out or otherwise incapacitated, we sometimes cut back to Catwoman and play as her for a while.
I enjoy playing the Catwoman sections. From a mechanical standpoint, she works as a great counterpoint to Batman. She has strikes, counters, stuns, and takedowns just like Batman, and they’re all mapped to the same buttons so that your muscle memory can get you through the fights. At the same time, she’s different enough that her sections of the game feel really distinct. She’s very fragile compared to No-Parents Man but she’s also faster, which makes her a bit of a glass cannon.
Her controls for traversing the city are this timing-based deal where you have to tap the jump button with the right rhythm to move efficiently. In all my hours with the game, I’ve never been able to get the hang of it. There’s this metallic impact sound when she locks her claws into the wall, and my instincts make me want to press the jump button in time with this, but as far as I can tell you’re supposed to press in between these sounds. It feels like playing a version of guitar hero where you’re supposed to hit all the notes exactly half a beat late. You’re not so much fighting against the game as your own instincts.
Batman can launch himself off the top of a tall building and then glide halfway around the city. He can soar overhead and ignore all the freaks and hazards below. But Catwoman gets around by scaling buildings, which means she’s sometimes obliged to engage the inmates on the way to her destination.
This is probably for the best. If Catwoman was as mobile as Batman, I’d never want to stop playing her. After playing as Catwoman for a while, Batman’s fights feel sort of ponderous.
Batman uses his fists, but Catwoman uses her claws, and the game isn’t shy about showing her swiping at the faces of her enemies. There’s even a metallic sound when she’s about to strike, similar to the sound you get when Wolverine pops his claws. While it’s true that unsheathing metal shouldn’t sound like that, I’m certainly not going to complain about it in the context of a comic book. In fact, it would be really strange if it didn’t make that kind of sound.
However, this sound also makes the claws seem really substantial. I guess they have to be, since she uses them to climb up the side of structures made of brick and concrete. But then she uses them on someone’s face and I can’t help but imagine the mess she’s making. In addition to her claws she’s got a whip and caltrops. The game doesn’t show any blood or gore, but I can’t imagine these guys don’t end up needing major surgery to put their faces back together. If this game had blood, Catwoman would make Zsasz look like a lightweight. In cutscenes I always imagine she ought to look like your party after a fight in Dragon Age: Origins.
Catwoman vs. Robin
The odd thing in this story is that Catwoman makes for a better sidekick than Robin. Batman has a single isolated scene with Robin, and the scene is just a one-note exchange where Robin wants to help and Batman sends him away. For contrast, Catwoman flirts with Batman while he pretends to not notice. Batman shows concern for Catwoman but also a respect for her abilities, while he shows neither for Robin. She makes a joke early on and he does a callback to it much later in the story. He saves her at the start, and she comes back to save him at the end. She has a story that’s about her that you participate in as the player, while Robin’s story happens off-screen and is abandoned without resolution before the third act.
This choice is baffling. In Bat-lore, Robin is far more important to Batman than Catwoman. In the next gameChronologically next. Arkham Origins was next in terms of release date., the history of Robin is one of the central elements of the plot. And yet here in Arkham City so much time is lavished on Catwoman while Robin is shoved out of the story like the writers are ashamed of him.
The big turning point for Catwoman is when she finally gets into the vault and is ready to walk away with the loot. But Hugo Strange is evidently televising Protocol 10, and when she walks by the jumbo flat screen TV they keep in the vault room she sees Batman trapped under the rubble.
The game actually allows the player to choose whether to save Batman or run off with the loot. Sadly, ditching Batman just results in a game over. I guess Robin is too busy getting in the way at the hospital to come ’round and lift a rock off his mentor.
Sigh. Fine. Let Catwoman do it.
It actually feels kind of wrong. I really didn’t think she’d be the sort to drop the loot to save Batman. Sure, she’s been flirting with him all night. But she flirts with everyone. Batman. Two-Face. Poison Ivy. She even flirts with goons while she’s busy tearing their faces off.
It’s not that she’d let him die on purpose, but the way she’s portrayed here I kind of took her for the carefree irresponsible type that would walk away assuming Batman will be just fine. I was kind of surprised when the game offered me the choice.
But apparently she really does like the guy, because she drops all the loot to sprint off and save him. I guess we’ll just ignore that she ought to be able to quickly stash the money in the nearby tunnel and recover it later rather than abandoning it ten paces from the vault.
My problem with her story is that there’s no build-up to this final choice. Giving up the loot to save Batman isn’t part of her internal conflict. It doesn’t complete a character arc. It’s not a payoff to a question posed by the story itself.
If you wanted to add some heft to the decision, you’d need to integrate it with her storyline. At the start, maybe Batman (Or Hugo Strange. Or Two-Face. Or Poison Ivy. Whatever.) asks her a question or makes a remark that rubs her the wrong way. Maybe he sees her the way I saw her: Irresponsible and carefree. Or maybe the story could frame a question like, “Who is Catwoman and what does she value?” Is she a “supervillain” like all the other freaks in Arkham, or is she a thief with a heart of gold? The question would upset her because (she’d realize) others see her differently than she sees herself. She would make one-line callbacks to this question as the story unfolds. Then at the end she would answer the question for herself when she gives up the score to save Batman.
This lack of an arc doesn’t ruin the story or anything. This is the B-story and it’s okay if it’s a little thin. But if you got to the big moment of truth and wondered why the choice felt kind of pointless or hollow, this is probably why. This moment could have had some added punch with just a few more lines of dialog.
The Long Dark (K)Night
How long is this night? It was dark when Bruce Wayne was giving his speech at the start of the game. Let’s assume the sun had just gone down at this point. Then the Tyger squad knocked him out and arrested / kidnapped him, and took him to Arkham City where Hugo Strange gave his opening monologue. He was then processed, dumped into the city, knocked out again, recovered, escaped Penguin, got his Bat-suit, defeated Two-Face and all his goons, rescued Catwoman, and interviewed her. Let us be amazingly generous and say all of that took just one hourIt’s a good half hour of gameplay, and you need to add in the time he spent napping and being taken into the prison..
After Batman saves Catwoman, Hugo Strange begins a countdown to his guardsWhich Batman hears because he’s hacked into their communications system., announcing, “Ten hours until Protocol 10.” So it’s at least two hours after sundown before that countdown begins. Then at various story points Hugo chimes in with another hourly countdown announcement.
Which means that when Protocol 10 begins, it’s at least 11 hours since the sun went down. If we’re extremely generous, we can say he wraps up the next two chapters in another two hours, at which point the game ends without the sun ever having risen.
By the most conservative estimate, Arkham City experiences a minimum of 13 hours of darkness. Where is Gotham located? Alaska?
Of course, the reason for this is purely stylistic. Adding a day night cycle would be difficult, expensive, and thematically wrong. Still, it seems like you could fix this by simply changing the Hugo Strange announcements. He only makes six of them, so you could simply make them hourly rather than having some of them span multiple hours. Then again, why is Hugo Strange giving a countdown to all of his forces when the whole point of Protocol 10 is to pretend it was an accident?
Whatever. The point is: it’s dark for a long time and it’s kind of funny if you over-think it.
 Chronologically next. Arkham Origins was next in terms of release date.
 It’s a good half hour of gameplay, and you need to add in the time he spent napping and being taken into the prison.
 Which Batman hears because he’s hacked into their communications system.
C++ is a wonderful language for making horrible code.
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A video Let's Play series I collaborated on from 2009 to 2017.