Jay Button: I figured out what’s wrong with Arkham City

October 27, 2011

If you listened to this week’s podcast, you’ll know that I wasn’t the biggest fan of Batman: Arkham City. Don’t get me wrong, the game is entirely competent and I had a good time with it. It’s a great action game, but to me it wasn’t a great Batman game.Then I realized it’s actually a great adaptation of a Batman. Just not my Batman. Whose Batman is it? Keep reading.

Constantly throughout Arkham City, I found myself thinking “This is really fun, but would any of these characters do these things?” The Mr. Freeze fight in particular stood out to me. It’s a very slow cat-and-mouse chase in the Tom and Jerry sense, where Freeze slowly lumbers around a room while the player lays traps for him like a timed explosion or a gliding kick to the back of the head. Here’s the thing: Mr. Freeze is one of Batman’s smarter villains. In the Emmy-award-winning episode of Batman: The Animated Series that reinvented the character, Heart of Ice, Bats and Freeze spent very little time actually fighting and the episode was more of a meditation on what can drive a man to commit crime or even murder. Victor Fries went from being a corny “Curse you, Batmaaaaan!” character as he was portrayed in the ’60s to a tragic antihero. This game forces him to take a step backward. Would this character really just blindly wander around a room murmuring “I’m coming to get you, Batman. Peeekaaaabooo. Fee fi fo FUM!” It’s like Rocksteady saw a picture of the character and thought, “Okay, dude in a big metal suit with ice. Gotcha.”

“My wife got iced. It wasn’t cool.”

The same thing goes for Bane. For two games now, the character of Bane has been reduced to a blithering idiot whose only strategy is to run forward and hope he hits someone. This is a character who singlehandedly orchestrated the escape of every major Bat-villain from Arkham Asylum, drove Bruce Wayne to near-insanity through incredible planning and foresight and broke the man’s back over his knee in his own house. Bane grew up in a South American gulag, paying for the crimes of his father. He trained every single day to survive and become the peak of human perfection. His hubris and lust for power drove him to the experimental drug Venom, which Bruce Wayne himself had once been addicted to but was able to kick. Bane may be more powerful, but lacks the self-control to give up the drug. In many ways he is the bizarro Batman, and Wayne sees a lot of himself in Bane. Through some chain of events and a few different decisions, Batman could have ended up very much like Bane. But all that is thrown out the window in favor of a tired boss battle based around tricking the enemy to smack into the wall. Because Bane is strong and therefore dumb.


As I got deeper into Arkham City, it all started to make sense to me. This wasn’t the methodical Batman that I love. The story and setting lacked the noirish grit that all the best Batman stories like The Killing Joke and Batman: Year One had. Skin-deep it looks like Batman, but this is just a pretty coat over a shallow story where the most ‘detective work’ Batman ever does is, “my computer says to go this way, so that must be what I do next.” It really felt like a brainless Hollywood adaptation of Batman. Then a neon light went off in my head. Mr. Freeze and Bane are two deep, calculating characters turned into cackling villain cliches, but his isn’t the first time those two characters were reduced to caricatures and forced to say overwrought, idiotic dialogue in a neon-lit shallow adaptation of the dark knight.

Arkham City‘s overworld contains many references to Tim Burton’s Batman films. And they almost got me with those, but I figured out what Rocksteady was really going for. Yes this is not my Batman. But it’s this man’s Batman:

Batman: Arkham Asylum is a perfect adaptation of Joel Schumacher’s vision of the caped crusader. It’s Batman Forever and Batman & Robin in video game form. And you all love it. Normally I ask for your input in the comment section of my columns, but I think this week I’ll just hold off on that.

Sure we do, Val. Sure we do.