Arkham City could be one of the greatest video games ever made. It could also be one of the most dangerous – in my opinion, at least.
Consider the set up. The sinister Hugo Strange, through his machinations, is given a significant chunk of Gotham City within which to imprison vast numbers of thugs, murderers, rapists and the occasional super-villain. The criminals are left to their own devices and quickly create their own fiefdoms from which they plunder and intimidate.
Introduced into this closed environment is the titular Batman, the billionaire detective and costumed vigilante equipped with a vast arsenal of gadgets and non-lethal weaponry, supported by what is essentially a well-staffed panopticon.
That’s kinda like sticking a xenomorph into a spacecraft piloted by a race of docile, lamblike creatures.
While there is a rather well-crafted, rewarding and complex plot that runs through the game, examining notions of freedom, authority and forgiveness, it really does play second fiddle to the true purpose of the game.
Leaping from the shadows to beat three kinds of effluvia from unsuspecting goons.
Once a few cursory introductory levels are completed, Batman is free to while away hours – nay, days – using the batclaw and his batcape to scale various towering edifices and leap from them onto unsuspecting thugs. From there, an intuitive combat system allows Bats to rearrange the musculoskeletal systems of face-painted thugs in a number of violent, amusing and cinematic ways.
If a simple beating isn’t enough, Batman is equipped with night-vision, smoke pellets, batarangs and explosive gel, all of which can be used to knock out criminals in a spectacular manner.
It is horribly, disgustingly addictive stuff.
I say ‘horribly’ and ‘disgustingly’ because for the most part, Batman’s violence is unprovoked. The player is left to assume that containment within Arkham City is grounds for a gauntlet to the nose. For the most part, we have no idea what landed the endless series of goons, thugs and enforcers in the prison. We’re left to assume that because we’re Batman, that we know that these guys need to be punished.
It is, quite literally, like stunning fish in a barrel.
It’s not as if the prisoners within Arkham City have necessarily profited from their crimes, either. The goons are unformly clad in jumpsuits, parkas or tatty old clothes and constantly complain about how cold and hungry they are – food drops come once a day and it’s a case of first come, first served.
Taking a cue from current events, one could apply the ideology of the Occupy movement and describe Arkham City as the ‘1%’ hunting the ‘99%’.
All of this is liberal pantywaist handwringing however. Arkham City is riotously fun, a decadently balls out addition to the Batman mythology that stands up next to any of the films and graphic novels portraying the character. It’s a Grand Guignol outing, revelling in the grim and gritty setting and drawing the player into the decaying heart of Gotham.
It features a compelling, complex storyline that’ll have you meeting some of Batman’s most formidable villains, all voiced to perfection by the majority of the cast of Batman: The Animated Series.
There’s hours of incidental criminal chatter, as you glide from rooftop to rooftop. Don’t ask me what I did to one poor unfortunate who asked what happened to my parents.
It has enough challenges, trophies and easter eggs to have you coming back for months – the kind you’ll be sitting on your morning commute wondering how to beat.
It’s a brilliant, brilliant game. A quality product. Just don’t get any ideas. It’s just a game.
Thanks to Warner Brothers Australia for supplying me with a copy of the game for review.