This Place Is A Prison

Batman: Arkham Asylum is a brilliant game. It’s the rare title that’s overflowing not just with action and puzzles but an overwhelming sense of place. Not only did it completely nail the tone of a Batman comic (or the much-loved 90s animated series), but it truly made the setting a character in the narrative. The Arkham estate was just as threatening and foreboding as The Joker or Killer Croc – because we were stuck there, it might have been even more threatening.

I finished the game, riddles and all, in a long weekend. I haven’t done that in years, and I was hungry for more.

I mention this so you know how much I wanted to love the sequel, Batman: Arkham City. But I don’t, and it’s completely because of the setting.

In our Arkham City discussion on the Conference Call, Shawn Andrich called the game the perfect sequel “on paper.” It’s got more of everything: More bat-gadgets, more villains, more of the Riddler’s OCD on display. His theory – and I know I’ll regret trying to quote him – is that more of the same gameplay mechanics isn’t always a good thing. He found the FreeFlow combat system more stale this go-around, something I personally attribute to his machine-like mastery over the brawling in the first game.

I want to agree with him (don’t tell him that), but having three different variations of Batarangs or four different combo options at my disposal while beating down thugs never got on my nerves. More missions? Distracting, but I imagine that’s what it’s like to be the Detective. Don’t worry, political prisoner, I’ll save you from a mugging as soon as I tag this Riddler trophy.

Instead, it all comes back to the city itself. Arkham Asylum in the comics is an ever-present force, but never well defined. Grant Morrison’s landmark graphic novel, Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, comes closest to pinning down the feel of Gotham’s nuthouse, but what it really shows is a clear picture of the insanity contained within. Because Arkham Asylum the game is loosely based on the graphic novel, it gets the best of both worlds. Asylum put the feeling of the comic into tangible dimensions, then dropped you head-first into the space.

What was always a plot point in Detective Comics is now well and truly fleshed out. I wanted to explore its nooks and crannies, finding references to Amadeus Arkham or the horrors those walls have contained over its imaginary history. There’s a lot of mood in that game, and mood is hard to pull off.

Arkham City, in contrast, has you exploring Gotham’s repurposed slums. Again, on paper, that should be amazing – There’s the theater Bruce Wayne left with his parents when Joe Chill shot them down! – but the urban sprawl often feels generic as you’re soaring over it. Apart from the Monarch Theater, there are few recognizable spots in Arkham City, and the game does little to build them up as more than a setting for another 20-on-1 combat encounter.

The problem is that Arkham City, as a setting, has no character of its own. It’s a setting that’s designed to give you a jungle gym to play in, but it’s not integral to the plot. The construction and setup of the open-sky prison in Gotham’s slums is barely set up in the game itself, and aside from making allusions that it’s a “bad thing,” none of the game’s named characters seem all that eager to leave. You’ll often hear petty thugs complaining that they miss their high-def televisions or Facebook statuses on your handy-dandy Bat-Radio as you launch yourself across rooftops, but the game never shows you that it’d be hard to actually leave.

In fact, midway through the game you find that Robin, the boy wonder and ever-present sidekick, can somehow leave and enter as he pleases. That continuity gaff alone makes the “impenetrable prison” seem more like a myth, and certainly doesn’t give it an ever-present character. I’m only in Arkham City because the game needs to put me somewhere.

Unlike exploring the halls of Arkham Asylum, I feel like I’m grappling and soaring over Liberty City. Even with all the new villains included, it feels like Arkham City left out its most important antagonist: the setting in which you’re trapped.

Also, and it’s a small point, but come on. Someone convinced the people of Gotham to turn half their city into an open-air prison? Even for comics, that’s a hard pill to swallow. But I digress.

Having now finished the game, I don’t feel the same draw to find all of Riddler’s secrets, a game mechanic that I loved in the first game. I don’t care enough to track down Deadshot’s clues or wait around for the mysterious stranger – who totally isn’t mysterious if you’ve read Knightfall – to show up while I’m failing AR challenges. I’ve come to the conclusion of the story, watched how Rocksteady tied the threads of plot together, and I feel done. It was fun while it lasted, but I can’t see myself cleaning up the streets all over again.

Unlike Batman at the end, I’m ready to leave Arkham City to its own devices, letting the thugs and criminals and freaks tear themselves apart instead of scouring the streets for a way to save it from itself.

Which makes me a really crummy Caped Crusader.

Comments

Are the female characters sexist against males? It would be totally characteristic for Poison Ivy or Catwoman.

I don't think the ESRB are helping things in the sexism catagory, what curse words can you get into a T rated game? Damn, hell and bitch, really is about you can get away with. The writers are trying to convey hardened criminals using a pallet of words that is severely limited by the T rating. Like it or not our culture is way more comfortable with "bitch" than "f*ck".

Citing purely the vocabulary as sexist is frustrating to me anyways. One, I view profanity as a mystical belief anyways, a belief that someone can utter a series of sounds that makes you uncomfortable. Two, sexism and racism are for more insidious things than the words people use, getting hung up on the aesthetics of it all ignores the deeper and more important aspects.

The character of Catwoman is far more sexist than anything anyone says. Catwoman mentioning in VO how she feels naked without her gear bothers me way more than every utterance of bitch combined. Her behavior towards other characters makes sense for her to be overtly sexual, that's her way of dominating a situation. But in her own head?

SallyNasty wrote:

Murdering really isn't very nice, either. They should stop doing that as it offends my sensibilities.

Exactly. How dare those murderers, rapists and psychopaths deride women like that. Kill them, sure, but don't be misogynistic about it!

MojoBox wrote:

The character of Catwoman is far more sexist than anything anyone says. Catwoman mentioning in VO how she feels naked without her gear bothers me way more than every utterance of bitch combined. Her behavior towards other characters makes sense for her to be overtly sexual, that's her way of dominating a situation. But in her own head?

Now this complaint I can agree with.

Dr.Ghastly wrote:
SallyNasty wrote:

Murdering really isn't very nice, either. They should stop doing that as it offends my sensibilities.

Exactly. How dare those murderers, rapists and psychopaths deride women like that. Kill them, sure, but don't be misogynistic about it!

If y'all are interested, there's a fascinating discussion going on about 4 steps to the left of your little strawman stand.

Chumpy_McChump wrote:

If y'all are interested, there's a fascinating discussion going on about 4 steps to the left of your little strawman stand. :)

What straw man? I'm merely stating its a bit absurd that people get upset over the idea that murderers rapists and psychopaths are sexist.

4xis.black wrote:

I honestly can't respond to this without derailing much further into P&C.

IMAGE(http://i1094.photobucket.com/albums/i453/czpv/PandCSpider.jpg)

Dr.Ghastly wrote:
SallyNasty wrote:

Murdering really isn't very nice, either. They should stop doing that as it offends my sensibilities.

Exactly. How dare those murderers, rapists and psychopaths deride women like that. Kill them, sure, but don't be misogynistic about it!

I wonder if it's the Gordon Gekko effect: sometimes the sleazy character nevertheless winds up being liked by the audience. When they kill women, everyone looks and says "that's bad." Whey they deride them...is there a feeling that the audience is identifying with them in some way?

I don't know--haven't played the game so this is all just talk about the general issue of sexism in media, so. Just a different angle.

CheezePavilion wrote:

I don't know--haven't played the game so this is all just talk about the general issue of sexism in media, so. Just a different angle.

To be clear, I think that sexism in the media is a very valid and interesting conversation - I just think that criticizing a group of criminals, who are so bad that they walled off a part of the city to keep them away from the general populace, for their frequent use of the word b*tch is reading what isn't written.

Yeah, I'd love to talk about the environment of Arkham Asylum being so vital. Mostly because I disagree. But suddenly this is a thread on sexism.

The game had me hook line and sinker from the beginning. I bought into it all, including the Arkham City setting. It was just so much fun to play, I completely ignored places where it was rough around the edges, like not being able to leave Arkham City proper. A technical limitation tenuously supported by the narrative conceit that Batman is not leaving the prison city until he stops the bad guys. They gave me these wings...why won't they let me fly?

Despite things like that, for me, the meat of the game was figuring out how to handle each encounter. There was a real sense of satisfaction when I was able to take down a room without a guard getting a shot off or able to string a long combo together for massive devastation.

SallyNasty wrote:

To be clear, I think that sexism in the media is a very valid and interesting conversation - I just think that criticizing a group of criminals, who are so bad that they walled off a part of the city to keep them away from the general populace, for their frequent use of the word b*tch is reading what isn't written.

Exactly. There's an interesting conversation to be had about the treatment of women in the game. We could talk about how Batman dismisses Harley as "not too bright" when he of all people should know better: she's an educated woman, a clinical psychologist, whose sick codependent relationship has tragically lead her to ACT far dumber than she actually is.

We could talk about Talia Al'Ghul, whose entire existence is defined by loyalty to a father who's indifferent to her (up to and including instantly and permanently falling in love with a man her father chose for her for seemingly no reason other than that he's the man her father chose), and whose only purpose in the game is to be kidnapped by Joker.

We could talk about Oracle, how she is such an awesome, strong, self-realized character in the comics, and how in this story she apparently has nothing to do but coo lovingly to Bruce to let him help her help him and listen to him lecture her about how not all prisoners are bad guys, like she hasn't been functioning in this world long enough to recognize a little moral ambiguity when she sees it.

We could talk about how Catwoman's move set is nothing more or less than a weaker and more limited version of Batman's and try to suss out whether that's because she's a girl or because Rocksteady didn't have the time to make her play differently and certainly weren't going to make ANY secondary character more powerful than The Goddamn Batman.

We could talk about any of that, and that would be interesting. This weird fixation with counting how many times the game uses the B-word and how low the zipper is on Catwoman's costume? That's not interesting. That's boring and reductive and simplistic in the extreme.

hbi2k wrote:

We could talk about how Catwoman's move set is nothing more or less than a weaker and more limited version of Batman's and try to suss out whether that's because she's a girl or because Rocksteady didn't have the time to make her play differently and certainly weren't going to make ANY secondary character more powerful than The Goddamn Batman.

Her caltrop and whip trip abilities give her two different ways to knock down a group of enemies, something Batman cannot do. Her world-traversal mechanic is significantly different. Oh, and she can climb on the ceiling. Hardly less powerful, just different. Sure she has fewer gadgets overall, but Batman is a character who is defined by his ridiculous collection of bat-themed toys.
If I'm going to look for a reason why the character in a piece of free DLC with only 4 missions isn't as well-developed as the main character in a $60 game, I don't think "sexism" would be my first answer.

muttonchop wrote:

Her caltrop and whip trip abilities give her two different ways to knock down a group of enemies, something Batman cannot do. Her world-traversal mechanic is significantly different. Oh, and she can climb on the ceiling. Hardly less powerful, just different. Sure she has fewer gadgets overall, but Batman is a character who is defined by his ridiculous collection of bat-themed toys.
If I'm going to look for a reason why the character in a piece of free DLC with only 4 missions isn't as well-developed as the main character in a $60 game, I don't think "sexism" would be my first answer.

See? We're already having a more interesting conversation than, "A character in the game used the word bitch! SEXIST!"

For the record, I agree with you that there's nothing sexist about Catwoman's limited moveset, but I disagree about her playing fundamentally different from Batman. Her caltrops can knock down groups of enemies from a distance. So can her bolos. And her whip trip... hey... same thing. Okay. That's ONE thing she can do that Batman can't... three different ways... mmmkay. As for her world-traversal, instead of effortlessly zipping to the top of a building and then gliding over three city blocks, in the same amount of time, I have to play a little timing minigame just to get to the top of the first building. It might fit the character, but it doesn't exactly change my judgment of "like Batman, but weaker." Climbing on the ceiling in a few predetermined places that allow it? It's floor grates, but upside-down.

hbi2k wrote:

See? We're already having a more interesting conversation than, "A character in the game used the word bitch! SEXIST!"

We are? ; D

edit: it finally came to me how to express it. If words that are associated with sexism like "bitch" don't add any realism, should they just be left out?

This is very different from saying "it's realistic that evil criminals are sexist in their language." Of course it is. What I'm asking is how much realism does it add?

And what if these criminals started making homophobic comments about a crime-fighting duo where the one is a much smaller, younger dude called "Robin"? Would we be as comfortable with that? If not, why?

I don't know: I don't think it's a simplistic or boring question to ask whether sexist/racist/etc. language should be included if it doesn't add much in the way of realism, and how that's a much different question than asking if it should be excluded at the cost of realism.

I don't have much to add to what's already been said, but I do empathize with your sentiments Cory. For the first 1/3 or so of AC, I wasn't terribly enthralled either. It has, however, grown on me, and I find myself willing to be 20 minutes late to work if it means I can squeeze in a challenge room or 2 before I leave the house.

I'd sum up my feelings to AC similar to Portal 2: great game and a contender for GOTY, but because it's a sequel it lacks the magic of that first experience. Where AA and Portal would rank a 9-9.5 on a point scale, AC & Portal 2 would be in the 8.5-9 range.

CheezePavilion wrote:
hbi2k wrote:

See? We're already having a more interesting conversation than, "A character in the game used the word bitch! SEXIST!"

We are? ; D

edit: it finally came to me how to express it. If words that are associated with sexism like "bitch" don't add any realism, should they just be left out?

This is very different from saying "it's realistic that evil criminals are sexist in their language." Of course it is. What I'm asking is how much realism does it add?

Well, that starts to get pretty slippery-slopey, doesn't it? How much realism does it add that the inmates refer to the guards as "pigs"? Some, but how much? Should that be excised because cops are sensitive to being called pigs and it might alienate them? How much realism does it add that the inmates are portrayed as murderers rather than, say, bank robbers or other, less-violent criminals? These things may not add much taken individually, but when you add them all up they make the difference between the relatively dark Batman aesthetic popular in the modern comics and the light, fluffy, Adam West version of the character.

Not that there would be anything wrong with making a light and fluffy Batman game if that were the direction Rocksteady had chosen to go, but it's clearly not. The decision to make the criminals sexist in addition to violent and stupid etc. etc. etc. is in service of the aesthetic they were pursuing and should be judged as such. Does it help establish that aesthetic? Yes. Therefore, the burden is on those who object to it to show why it should be excised, not on Rocksteady to justify why it should be included.

Again: if Rocksteady were glamorizing the criminals' sexist behavior, the argument could be made that by extension that makes the game sexist. They don't, so it can't.

hbi2k wrote:

Well, that starts to get pretty slippery-slopey, doesn't it? How much realism does it add that the inmates refer to the guards as "pigs"? Some, but how much? Should that be excised because cops are sensitive to being called pigs and it might alienate them?

I don't think so, because they actually *do* something with that "inmates vs. pigs" issue, don't they? They don't just raise it to show they are bad dudes: the game series is all about incarceration, isn't it?

How much realism does it add that the inmates are portrayed as murderers rather than, say, bank robbers or other, less-violent criminals?

I don't feel an increase in the level of violence comes with the same sort of baggage that introducing sexism does.

The decision to make the criminals sexist in addition to violent and stupid etc. etc. etc. is in service of the aesthetic they were pursuing and should be judged as such. Does it help establish that aesthetic? Yes.

Well, like you say, that's a question of judgement.

Again: if Rocksteady were glamorizing the criminals' sexist behavior, the argument could be made that by extension that makes the game sexist.

Not asking so simple a question as "is the game sexist?" like "will it blend?" I think there's a more subtle question to be asked: even if it's not sexist, was it just...lazy to throw the sexist language in? Is it like when a bad guy turns out to be a crypto-Nazi, which yeah, it makes him more evil, but at this point should also make us groan and ask "couldn't you come up with anything better"?

Not that you can't put that in your creative work: just that it should be there to really *do* something other than just point out to your audience who the good guys are and who the bad guys are.

It's like...it's like how everyone throws in a rape scene now just to be 'real' and 'gritty'. At a certain point, isn't it just 'cheap'?

They don't, so it can't.

I'm sure Oliver Stone didn't want Gordon Gekko to wind up being the role model people took away from Wall Street either! Sometimes a funny thing happens on the way to the audience.

I'm not sure I'm following your reasoning in calling the thugs' sexist behavior "lazy." They were throwaway mooks: I wasn't expecting some kind of deep characterization.

CheezePavilion wrote:

I'm sure Oliver Stone didn't want Gordon Gekko to wind up being the role model people took away from Wall Street either! Sometimes a funny thing happens on the way to the audience.

Do you see many people idolizing the thugs in Arkham City and emulating their behavior?

hbi2k wrote:

I'm not sure I'm following your reasoning in calling the thugs' sexist behavior "lazy." They were throwaway mooks: I wasn't expecting some kind of deep characterization.

If they're throwaway mooks, why bother characterizing them even to the extent of making them sexist?

I'm sure Oliver Stone didn't want Gordon Gekko to wind up being the role model people took away from Wall Street either! Sometimes a funny thing happens on the way to the audience.

Do you see many people idolizing the thugs in Arkham City and emulating their behavior?

I was making a point about your statement about intent and how intent is only part of the conversation.

Like I said, it's not about calling the game 'sexist' it's about a more complex issue than that. It's like...product placement. There's a reason companies pay for their items to be in the background. It's only background, but it has an impact.

CheezePavilion wrote:

If they're throwaway mooks, why bother characterizing them even to the extent of making them sexist?

Because they want to make the player feel justified in beating the crap out of them, so they make them generally despicable people, of which the sexism is only a part.

I was making a point about your statement about intent and how intent is only part of the conversation.

This is all getting rather theoretical. Let me see if I'm getting this right. You don't think that the creators were intentionally glamorizing their sexist behavior, and you also don't think that the audience admires their sexism despite the creators' intent. So... what's the problem, again?

This isn't rocket science, here. Batman needs a lot of bad guys to beat up, so that the player has something to do as Batman. The bad guys are supposed to be unsympathetic, because that makes it easier to justify beating them up. An easy way to establish them as unsympathetic is through dialogue in which they talk, among other things, about doing bad things to innocent people, among them women. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes a sexist mook is just that.

hbi2k wrote:
CheezePavilion wrote:

If they're throwaway mooks, why bother characterizing them even to the extent of making them sexist?

Because they want to make the player feel justified in beating the crap out of them, so they make them generally despicable people, of which the sexism is only a part.

Can't they be made despicable enough for a throwaway beating without the sexism? Honestly, in a video game, I don't need a whole lot to feel justified beating the crap out of people. I'm Batman, they're criminals...that's about all I need.

This is all getting rather theoretical.

I know, cool right? : D

Let me see if I'm getting this right. You don't think that the creators were intentionally glamorizing their sexist behavior, and you also don't think that the audience admires their sexism despite the creators' intent. So... what's the problem, again?

Is there a difference between glamorizing something and normalizing something? I'm not sure myself, but it's something worth pondering.

There's also the issue that I'm not sure I really want realism in my games. What I want is something you said: "in service of the aesthetic they were pursuing." It could come down to something subjective, but I don't want to fight sexism in video games. I spend way too much time thinking about sexism already for someone without tenure as it is. It makes things more realistic in a bad way.

I guess it's sort of a 'go big or go home' argument: either go all the way and let me kill hookers to get my money back, or keep the sexism out altogether. Don't be a tease I guess is what I'm saying.

I keep imaging a conversation like this taking place about movies or books.

"Did that artist / director really need to use that language? He could have found a different way to make that character unsympathetic."

DSGamer wrote:

I keep imaging a conversation like this taking place about movies or books.

"Did that artist / director really need to use that language? He could have found a different way to make that character unsympathetic."

You know, I always think that deep down, zombies are really good people, and those idiot designers keep on showing them in the worst possible light. It's not their fault that they want to feast on the flesh of the living.

CheezePavilion wrote:

Is there a difference between glamorizing something and normalizing something? I'm not sure myself, but it's something worth pondering.

There's also the issue that I'm not sure I really want realism in my games. What I want is something you said: "in service of the aesthetic they were pursuing." It could come down to something subjective, but I don't want to fight sexism in video games. I spend way too much time thinking about sexism already for someone without tenure as it is. It makes things more realistic in a bad way.

See, this I get. I don't agree, but it's subjective, so I don't have to. It's just that there's a difference between saying "I don't enjoy this because sexism isn't something I want to be confronted with in my leisure time" and, "this is wrong because it glamorizes / normalizes / is complacent with / is itself an example of sexism." So I apologize if you've been saying the former and I've been lumping you in with those saying the latter.

Not sure where I should be posting a comparative subjective view of combat between AA and AC, so I'll just do it here, since that appears to be in the spirit of the thread.

Certis' primary impression about the combat of the game was that it was better in AA on account of it being new. That is - the primary attration of the Batman AA combat was novelty factor. I can't agree with him more. Batman AA combat to me appeared to be boring, even before I finished the Bane mission. It's primarily a two-button brawler, essentially. Beyond the novelty and the value of enjoying Batman's animation, it's not terribly engaging for me. I prefer more complex combat games.

I disagree with him in that he thinks that AC's combat is worse, and especially because of the additions. The additions to combat makes it more interesting, even while being non-essential, in that they give you additional moves to use which varies the combat between situations and enemies. They're nonessential, but they do make it easier, and the variety of moveset is welcome given that the base combat consists of two buttons.

The fact that the additional moves are nonessential is, perhaps, part of the Normalization Of Easy trend in modern games, where the developers create this rich experience, and then water it down to baby mode and call that Normal. It makes the game more approchable, but it also cheapens the system on Normal for people who are looking for opportunities to study and master new game systems.

This, and the way the Batman isn't moving down long corridors with particular Combat and Predator sequences., is part of why I'm enjoying AC quite a bit more than AA, though I am still going to go back and see if I can grit my teeth long enough in AA for the combat to evolve beyond two buttons.

LarryC wrote:

This, and the way the Batman isn't moving down long corridors with particular Combat and Predator sequences., is part of why I'm enjoying AC quite a bit more than AA, though I am still going to go back and see if I can grit my teeth long enough in AA for the combat to evolve beyond two buttons.

I hope you do, Larry. I played through it once on normal and twice on hard. You are right that in the game itself you could play the entire game with just punch and evade on normal - but on hard, and in the challenge rooms, you really had to master all of his moves in order to get the gold. You seem like the type of gamer that enjoys a challenge/depth of design. AA on hard/in the challenge rooms has that depth.

I'm not sure you really even need evade except for charges by Bane-creatures. Strike/Counter seems sufficient for even the challenge rooms in demo vids, for most of the combat, interspersed with evade and the occasional late-game gadget. I'll give my notes once I've run through both.

The thing about AA/AC's combat is that, beyond a certain point, it's not a game of survival but a game of "beat the high score." When you started hitting up the challenge rooms and have to start thinking less in terms of hitting the right button to counter the enemy move and more in terms of keeping your combo chain going and mixing up moves to get the max variation bonus, the real beauty and elegance of the combat system reveals itself.

Larry, I really think you ought to try some of the challenge rooms for yourself before you pass judgment. Trust me, Strike Strike Counter will NOT fly if you want to try and gold-medal the combat challenge rooms.

DSGamer wrote:

I keep imaging a conversation like this taking place about movies or books.

"Did that artist / director really need to use that language? He could have found a different way to make that character unsympathetic."

We call that "getting a BA in English."

I'd get a Bad Ass in English, but it'd take too many credits, being the Bio major that I am. As it is, I only have a Bachelor of Science.