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[Gamer Diary] Batman: Arkham Asylum & Arkham City, or; The Bat and his Bitches

2012 January 30

As is my tendency, this is another party I was late to.  I only got Arkham Asylum in late October last year as a gift in a Steam sale – it was only a fiver – and I had previously been rather sceptical about it.  Nevertheless, I played through it and found it very refreshing as a game – very noir, good combat, puzzles to solve and places to explore – and the storyline was interesting, as was the inclusion of so many Batman baddies.  Basically, in short, I loved it.

Mostly.

Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy were the issues.  I don’t want to sound like a broken record but boobs on display in a high risk profession such as being a Gotham City criminal is not exactly clever – is it?  Harley was very nice to see as a significant part of the story that is out to scupper your plans, but her being called some less-than-charming things by the Joker’s own thugs was tedious to say the least, and when you actually fight Harley herself she is defeated ridiculously easily – in a cutscene no less.  Disappointing.

Poison Ivy in a lounging position, in a glass walled cell in Arkham Asylum.  She wears a mid-length red top with one button done up over her bust, and ivy vines curling around her. Image from the game, used under Fair Use guidelines

“Please don’t punch me in the chest, Batman. It’d be terribly inconvenient and I might have to reconsider my outfit!”

Ivy, when you first meet her, is lounging about in her cell – apparently the only female inmate – not wearing prison issues but her own clothes displaying her sizeable bust.  Later, in her boss fight, for some reason she decides to float about attacking you in what – as our ed described to me in an email – “appears to be a giant laughing vulva-plant which flaps open periodically to reveal she still isn’t wearing a great deal…”.  Super.

I’m pretty sure she gets referred to as some less-than-charming things too by henchmen.

Fast forward to Arkham City, which I got in another sale (but it still cost me £20), and now you can play as Catwoman too!  However, she appears to have fallen foul of Rule 1 of Sensible Female Armour: her suit is only ever zipped up to just below her breasts, allowing for ample cleavage.  When you fight thugs as Catwoman, you get called a ‘bitch’ but for some reason, if you’re Batman, you don’t get called a prick, a wanker, a bastard or even a knobend.  Really, people?

The assassins of Rā’s al Ghūl’s order are all for some reason scantily clad sex icons – as is his daughter – and the concept art is mainly essentially the sort of softcore you might find in lads’ mags.  In fact the vast majority of the concept art involving any female character is pretty oversexualised and repugnant.  We get to meet Ivy again, too, but it seems she still hasn’t bothered to find any clothes since the laughing vulva-plant incident.  And Harley is wearing even more revealing kit than last time.

Harley Quinn, in a low-cut leather bustier with blonde pigtails, gestures at Batman

Great graphics, but do we really need to see that much breast?

Now, even if we leave aside all of this sexist nonsense, Arkham City is somewhat disappointing anyway.  I finished the storyline in less than a day; the ending snuck up on me and was rubbish.  I won’t say what happens, but… just… what?!  That’s even before I get to the complaint I have with the huge continuity hole left at the end.  I was so disheartened by it that I did a Ragequit of Disappoints and haven’t gone back on it since.  Even though I still have lots of side quests and puzzles to solve, I just haven’t found the heart to go back to it.

Arkham Asylum was worth the £5 but City was definitely not worth the £20 – let alone the standard retail price in the range of up to £39.99!  The first game offered something new and interesting with a gorgeous noir feel much akin to Nolan’s reimagining of Gotham on film, if not grittier.  The second game whizzed past all too quickly, with no real indication that one should slow down, do side quests, do the puzzles and so on, lest you face the atrocious storyline ending.

Benefits of the second game, however, do exist; the world is larger, you get more gadgets and there are no area transitions between outdoor locations.  Plus you do get to play as Catwoman, even if she is just eye candy to be abused by burly henchmen. (Are there really no female crims in Gotham?)

Both games do fall down woefully at the Treating Female Characters with Respect hurdle.  Would it truly be so hard to think logically about the design of these people?  Does Batman walk around without his Kevlar body armour, flexing his pectorals, with a big “SHOOT HERE” target on his chest?  No.  No, he does not.  So why should Catwoman, or Ivy, or Harley?  Basic boob-sense would say maybe a comfy sports bra would be better than leather basques and flimsy shirts with only one button done up.  At least then the breast tissue wouldn’t detach during all this acrobatic criminality.

Also, Catwoman has anti-gravity boobs.

3 Responses leave one →
  1. Russell permalink
    January 30, 2012

    I completely agree. “It’s bigger” doesn’t really make up for the shortcomings, which for me also included obtuse autosaving, an over-emphasis on excessively difficult combat, and an obscure levelling system I managed to be completely disinterested in. When I first played Arkham Asylum, it was fun, but since then I’ve played three Assassin’s Creed games, and it just doesn’t cut it next to them.

    Most uncomfortable was the ridiculous wiggle every female character seemed to sport. I don’t think I know any women who deliberately walk that way in real life, but then I don’t think I know any master criminals either. Harley’s new costume was obviously designed to fit in with the… thing she’s wearing in the comics now, but I really don’t see anything wrong with the original jester suit. Obviously too cartoony for what was meant to be a grim and gritty Batman game, and of course missed out everything that makes a good Batman story.

    It did occasionally manage to be reasonably atmospheric, I suppose.

  2. wererogue permalink
    January 30, 2012

    Mostly on the same page as you – I haven’t seen the ending to comment yet, but since the ending of Asylum was pretty poor, I wasn’t necessarily expecting much.

    The puzzles and sidequests have been more than worth it for me, however. The lack of any real interest in the story gives me license to go riddle hunting whenever I like, and I enjoy all the mechanical challenges too. The expanded fighting and quick gadgets in combat are really fun, too.

    The biggest disappointments for me are all gender-based – Ivy is barely present, and is basically set up as some kind of “crazy ex”. Catwoman is horrifically shallow, with no personality above the level of be sexy/steal stuff. Talia has been peripheral so far, Oracle reduced to giving Batman advice that he never takes. That ninja concept art made me roll my eyes so hard that I had to call in sick the next day. And Harley is the worst of all – they expanded her role, only to portray her as even more incompetent than in Asylum.

    In a late episode of the animated series where she first appears, Harley traps Batman and would have successfully killed him if Joker hadn’t gotten jealous. Nobody else comes as close. In Arkham City, a thug jokes about how if Joker dies, he’ll get to “Ride the Harley”. In TAS, Harley successfully runs the Joker gang when J is, to all appearances, gone for good. In AC, NPCs expound at length about why that will never happen. Each time one of these conversations play, I cringe viscerally.

    But the Riddler keeps me going back. I will get you, Mr. Nigma!

  3. Alice permalink
    January 31, 2012

    I tried playing City at a friend’s house. The stealth-based beat-guys-up game play doesn’t appeal to me, even if the atmosphere of the game is cool. But how the game treats female characters is the real deal-breaker. I mean, the gratuitous slow-mo crotch-shots when Catwoman attacks henchmen, just makes me uncomfortable. And I don’t want to play a game like that.

    It’s sad that DC is falling into a habit of just failing lately when it comes to their female characters, especially since I grew up on Batman: The Animated Series (where the female characters were amazing and strong, and had sensible character designs).

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