Catwoman lifts the magic boulder off of Batman and he gets back to work. As he exits the steel mill, we get our first look at Protocol 10 in action. It’s horrible and spectacular. A dozen or so helicopters are sweeping over the city, firing machine guns and missiles at clustered inmates. The carnage is terrible.
Batman should be compelled to put a stop to this, but he’s going crazy thinking about his superfriend with benefits in the hands of Joker. He wants to run off and save her. Alfred and Oracle have to actually cut him off from the Bat-computer until he agrees to start acting like a superhero and stop Protocol 10.
Taken in isolation, I’m okay with this character moment. I’m willing to believe that Batman has moments of weakness. The problem is that this character beat makes no sense in terms of how Batman behaves later. This moment is fundamentally incompatible with some other scenes we’re going to see in less than an hour. Those scenes are part of the Joker plot, which makes me think that two different people were writing the Joker and Strange plots. In fact, this would explain most of my problems with this story.
Once he gets his priorities straight, Batman jumps onto one of the helicopters and swipes the access codes for the security zone where Strange and his Tyger guards are based. These helicopters have been patrolling the city all nightDid you know that in the early stages of the game you could blast them with the REC to piss them off and make them chase you around? No? Well, you’re not missing anything. But it’s kinda fun to prank them and swoop away., which means – based on what the game shows us – he could have done this at literally any point tonight. All he has to do is nab the code, hack the front door, and climb the tower. It’s not even a big deal.
Hi, Remember Me?
Once he gets into the security zone, Hugo Strange confronts Batman via the prison television system and talks about his goals. This is important, since right now he’s the main villain and we basically haven’t heard from him since the opening cutscene. Encountering Strange doesn’t feel like a long-awaited confrontation. It feels like cramming for a test you totally forgot about until the last minute. “Oh right! I’m supposed to be stopping this guy.”
Strange puts forth the notion that Batman is the reason Gotham is overflowing with psycho mass-murderers. “Your presence creates these criminals,” he says. This is very similar to the claim made by Vision in Captain America: Civil War:
“I’m saying there may be a causality. Our very strength invites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict… breeds catastrophe.”
In a meta-sense, this is obviously true. We make supervillains so our superheroes have someone to punch in the face. If we accept the notion that superhero stories are empowerment fantasies where we rage against the cruelty and injustice of the world by personifying those evils as villains with punchable faces, then a superhero does indeed require a good supervillain to make for a good story.
But from an in-universe perspective, this is obviously nonsense. Batman doesn’t cause decent people to turn to crime. That’s like suggesting that criminals commit crimes specifically and exclusively because they want to fight the police.
But of course, this twisted perspective works fine coming from Hugo Strange. In fact, it makes a lot of sense, since he considers himself an unappreciated superhero. He also seems to imagine that other heroes are in it for the glory and power, because that’s what motivates him.
Batman’s answer is perfect. He says nothing. No one-liners. No counterpoint. He’s just quietly waiting until Strange shuts up. Compare this with “blabbermouth Batman” from earlier in the evening. (When we were still in the Joker plot.)
This scene is so good, and there’s so much you could do with this particular idea. The stuff Strange is saying is so fresh compared to doing a “Joker poisons Gotham” plot for the 1,000th time. It’s a shame we wasted so much time on the Joker story. Strange could have made for such an interesting foil. The writer could have used him to ask questions about why Bruce puts on the Bat-suit every night, how he thinks he’s doing, and if he’s ever wondered if he’s doing the right thingYes, comic book fans, I’m sure you’ve heard those questions a dozen times by now. But that was in the comics. When it comes to movies and games, Joker is a joke being told for the tenth time, and Hugo Strange is a breath of fresh air.. We could have learned more about Strange and his Bat-envy. There’s so much you could do with a properly-developed rivalry between these two.
But no. We spent all night chasing Joker. Sigh.
While Strange rambles on about his plans, Tyger guards file into the room in groups, gradually surrounding Batman. If you’ve ever seen the elevator scene in Captain America: Winter soldier, this is a bit like that. It’s a slow, tense build-up to a massive brawl.
This is actually one of the hardest fights in the game for new players, and also a great illustration of just how much mastery this game has to offer. On my first time through the game I was playing on easy difficulty, and this fight was brutal. After three or four deaths, I finally squeaked through with just a sliver of health. On a later playthrough I was on normal difficulty, but by this point I’d come so far that the fight wasn’t even a big deal. Just before doing this write-up I went through on hard and was disappointed that I took a tiny bit of damage during the fight.
One of the reasons the fight is such a meatgrinder for new players is that this is your first time encountering guys with stun batons. This is the first enemy type that can damage you when you attack it head-on. Other foes (like shield guys) might break your combo if you’re a little too punch-happy, but these guys damage you, stunlock you, blind the player with a half-second of electricity distortion, and break your combo. That’s a serious punishment for making a mistake, and the player has never faced this kind of thing before.
Depending on your playstyle, all of your existing muscle memory may need to change, because your previous techniques are now bad habits that can cause you to kill yourself by repeatedly attacking the wrong guysIf you use a lot of gadgets, this is probably less frustrating. You don’t take damage when you fling batarangs at these guys, just when you punch..
I think a few more practice fights earlier on (or fewer batons in this brawl) would have made this less painful on that first playthrough. The baton guys are barely used. By the time you encounter them, you’re nearly done with the game. Which makes this doubly frustrating. You suddenly have to master a new enemy type, in the middle of an already challenging fight, and just about the time you’re getting the hang of it they vanish forever. Even if you keep playing post-credits to wrap up all the sidequests, you’re not going to meet any more of them.
The Strange Plan
How rushed is the Hugo Strange storyline? He reveals his big plan to his troops while we’re already on our way to stop him. Here we’re doing a stealth section and Hugo exposits over half of it. And we’re just a few minutes from our showdown with him.
On the way up Wonder Tower, we get our first hint of what Hugo’s long-term plan is. Hugo gives a speech to his troops and congratulates them for the destruction going on just outside. Again, the structure in this game is so strangeNo pun intended.. This is so late in the story to begin building up our villain. We spent 90% of the game not knowing what Protocol 10 was, and now in the last couple of scenes the writer has to establish the stakes, the antagonist’s goals, and his personal motivations.
The problem isn’t, “Batman wasted his time for 90% of the game”. The problem is that the writer wasted 90% of the running time.
Once Batman deals with the guards at the base of the tower, Strange begins threatening him over the PA system. Strange promises that once Batman is dead, he’s going to go to Wayne manor and drag Alfred into the streets to humiliate him. And yet Hugo doesn’t mention Robin, who I’m pretty sure has stopped existing at this point.
Protocol 10 is a plan which involves bombing the entire area into rubble to kill every single inmate within Arkham City. Dr. Strange seems to think that this will make him a hero. People will be so glad to have these creeps dead that his efforts will be celebrated. He’s planning to open new facilities in other major citiesIncluding Metropolis. Yeah Hugo, good luck opening an enormous murder-prison in the city protected by SUPERMAN. Doofus. once the dust settles here in Gotham. For him, this is the first phase of a large plan to rid the world of crime.
Is he correct that he will be celebrated as a hero, or delusional? Because in this universe it’s sort of plausible. In Gotham we have a never-ending supply of completely remorseless, violent, unrepentant murderers who can never be dissuaded or deterred by any level of rehabilitation or punishment. They’re strong, they can’t be reformed, and they gravitate towards jobs serving mass-murdering supervillains, who they will obey without question. They frequently outmatch the police, heal from brutal injuries, and regularly escape from prison. (And that’s assuming you can get the corrupt and overworked police to do anything at all.) Their actions frequently lead to things like huge explosions, mass mind control, large hostage situations, and chemical attacks. Joker and his peers regularly kill people by the dozens, and on some nights (like tonight) they kill by the thousandsI’m thinking of Joker infecting Gotham’s blood supply in this case.. It’s a miracle anyone lives in Gotham at all, given that it’s probably about as dangerous as a literal warzone.
Gotham seems to experience more bombings and chemical attacks in a year than the rest of the western world combined. In a world like that, you can easily imagine that when people talk about being “tough on crime”, they’re willing to include things like aerial bombardment.
Then again, it’s clear we’re not supposed to take the setting too literally. Just as Batman can slam dudes face-first into the pavement and never kill anyone, Gotham can endure repeated supervillain attacks without ever seeing a drop in population, full-blown economic collapse, a refugee crisis, a complete collapse of local government, starvation, disease, a complete failure of infrastructure, or any of the other hallmarks of sustained devastation. No matter how many people are killed by Scarecrow, Penguin, Joker, Riddler, Poison Ivy, Two-Face, Bane, Zsasz, and the other freaks, everyone still gets up in the morning and goes to work. Everyone still goes out at night for socializing and entertainment. The lights stay on, police continue to do their jobs, and the government never goes broke.
The goons of Gotham are a renewable resource. Joker, Penguin, and Two-face regularly suffer serious attrition among their forces. Lots of goons die just trying to join. Of those that survive, many die fighting against the goons of rival supervillains. Of those that survive that, many die in the process of pulling jobs and escaping the police. Still more die as a result of accidents, pranks, super-science experiments, strategic sacrifices, infighting, and opposition from would-be heroes who don’t have Batman’s compunctions about killing. Since crime never goes down in Gotham, we can only assume there must be a metaphorical mook spigot somewhere spewing out a never-ending stream of goons to replace those lost. Which means Hugo Strange’s plan is doomed because next year there would be a fresh crop of goons to replace the ones he killed this year.
What I’m saying is that superhero worlds always get a little wobbly when you look at them too closely. When you start talking about trying to “fix” problems that are built into the setting it’s not at all clear what’s possible and what isn’t, because you’re examining things that aren’t designed to stand up to scrutiny. Asking about where mooks come from or how the city is still standing is kinda like asking why people don’t recognize Superman when he’s wearing glasses. It’s just one of those things we’re expected to roll with.
But even if we assume Hugo will indeed be celebrated as a hero for leveling Arkham City and killing its inhabitants, I think his plan is still ridiculousWhich is fine. He’s comic-book crazy. He’s allowed to have nutty plans because he’s got good character-based reasons for believing they will work... Is he going to pull the exact same trick next time? Is he planning to close off a section of (say) Coast City, empty the local prison into it, surreptitiously hand out guns, and then bomb the place into dust with attack helicopters? Is he going to pretend that the inmates “accidentally” got guns the second or third time he pulls this scheme?
Or maybe he thinks that Protocol 10 will loosen up the restrictions of law enforcement? Maybe he thinks that after he kills these hundreds of criminals, the public will unite behind him and he won’t need to pull a Protocol 10 next time he wants to kill some “criminal scum”.
It’s hard to say. This plot thread was given so little time to develop. Once the introduction was over, the entire Protocol 10 story was paused while Batman screwed around with the Joker for ten hours, and now we have to un-bury the main plot and shove it out on stage in time for the finale.
If this plot was less perfunctory, then maybe we could spend more time exploring it. We could talk to some of the political prisoners and see why they thought the prison was a good idea. We could eavesdrop of goons and Tyger guards and get their take on crime in Gotham. Oracle could weigh in.
I’m not suggesting we needed a Socratic debate. I’m just saying this plot would have more teeth if we understood the rules of the world and what people were thinking. I’m willing to accept the idea of a mook-spigotNot a LITERAL mook spigot, mind you. and the other contrivances and givens of the setting, but the writer never articulates a counterpoint to Strange’s position. This whole thing feels like an interesting idea that’s been hacked down to a stump.
 Did you know that in the early stages of the game you could blast them with the REC to piss them off and make them chase you around? No? Well, you’re not missing anything. But it’s kinda fun to prank them and swoop away.
 Yes, comic book fans, I’m sure you’ve heard those questions a dozen times by now. But that was in the comics. When it comes to movies and games, Joker is a joke being told for the tenth time, and Hugo Strange is a breath of fresh air.
 If you use a lot of gadgets, this is probably less frustrating. You don’t take damage when you fling batarangs at these guys, just when you punch.
 No pun intended.
 Including Metropolis. Yeah Hugo, good luck opening an enormous murder-prison in the city protected by SUPERMAN. Doofus.
 I’m thinking of Joker infecting Gotham’s blood supply in this case.
 Which is fine. He’s comic-book crazy. He’s allowed to have nutty plans because he’s got good character-based reasons for believing they will work..
 Not a LITERAL mook spigot, mind you.
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