Batman: Arkham City - Too Many Bat-Narratives?

By Rich Shivener in Unraveling Yarns
Wednesday, December 14, 2011 at 4:00 pm

How much can The Dark Knight accomplish in one night?
At my latest checkpoint in Batman: Arkham City, the Dark Knight is searching for Mr. Freeze, situated in the thick of a museum chilled to the bone by Penguin. Gotham City Police Department agents are dying, and nothing else seems more important, save for the idea that (spoiler!) Batman has Joker Venom in his system.

Outside that museum, though, a city of threats is beckoning Batman. For this player, the trouble is deciding which threat to investigate, to follow-up on, and to neutralize. Should he track down Deadshot? Should he look for "Identity Thief?" (I know who it is!) How much time should he waste on Zzasz's phone calls? Why bother helping Bane? Who was the dude who can catch Batarangs? What can Riddler's goons reveal to me? Every threat/mystery seems to be timely and critical, as if Batman needs to delegate some investigations to the Justice League, Nightwing, Robin or some other buddy.

As the Batcomputer shows, Batman has a lot to cover in Arkham City - perhaps too much for one man, and too much for one night.
Those threats I mentioned are known as "side missions" of Batman: Arkham City, whose map is yay times longer than that of Batman: Arkham Asylum. I'm about 15 percent into the game, and the map was riddled with side missions which string together mininarratives. They're intriguing. For instance, if Batman follows Zzasz's phone calls, he might find him, and if he looks for more bullet trajectories, he might beatdown Deadshot. Those aren't easy tasks. Plus, they draw Batman away from his "main missions," adding layers to a rich storyline. 

However, as JD's Alex Bevier once asked, "What missions are in the main story? Do the side missions affect the game? Rocksteady worked so hard to populate their open world with interesting things that nothing seems to be a priority." 

As one player posting in Arkham City website forums: "The only problem I had with these side quests is that there are not enough of them. They are all fascinating and require a bit of exploration and in some cases pitted me against other classic Batman villains some I never even heard of until I played the game. The only thing I did not enjoy was Riddlers Revenge, to me competing against other randoms for a spot on an online leader board is boring and a waste of time."

What's interesting is that Batman (OK, the player) can complete the mininarratives in non-linear way. That is, the Dark Knight can stop investigating the Riddler's brain games and focus on whatever a bigger threat is scheming. In fact, he can ditch all investigations for street fights with Akrham City inmates until they're brain dead. You control his journey, deciding which narratives are most interesting.

In gaming terms, Arkham City is an open world, a concept we've discussed at length on this very blog. Take Alexandra Geraets' post on The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim's open-ended layout: "It might be the immersion in the world, or it might even be the simple act of playing out the story however I want, with no clear-cut directions on how. Open world games have never really appealed to me, but I am seeing their appeal now, in ways that I hadn't before."

Side missions can be considered distractions, or engaging threads to a non-linear storyline. For better or worse, they multiple hours of gameplay. But are they appropriate for a story centering on one hellacious night in Arkham City? For an answer, I turn to a player who posted in the game's website forums.

"Well, I just can't see such an epically large game occurring in simply one night. And truthfully, it wouldn't have to change that much of the gameplay, except positively.Think about it; Batman goes out on his primary case for the night; secondary missions are still accessible at any time, just like in AC; free roam is still kept in place, and any area can still be visited or revisited at any time, assuming you have the necessary gadgets, just like in AC; once said mission is over, Bats goes back to the Bat-cave, analyzes evidence, rests for tomorrow night, and hey, maybe we even get to see some day time cutscenes, or even gameplay, as Bruce Wayne."

The player is touching on the idea that the side missions could be organized differently, realizing over the course of a few days or weeks. If such an organization like that happened, the game might be more reflective of Batman comics. Look at recent ones - his pursuits of villains including Hush and Black Mask have lasted more than nine hours. 

In any case, Batman: Arkham City has a bevy of interesting exploits for the Dark Knight. Which are most interesting? My investigations aren't over, but so far I am most intrigued by the mysteries surrounding Deadshot and Azrael. You're welcome to give me some direction.

Unraveling Yarns is a weekly column that explores video games as narrative delivery devices. James Hawkins and Rich Shivener rotate week-to-week to discuss their opinions on some of gaming's most challenging and nuanced stories from all generations. Follow James on Twitter @JamesHawk1ns. Follow Rich on Twitter @RichShiv. 
Email Print

Join The Joystick Division!

Become part of the Joystick Division community by following us on Twitter and Liking us on Facebook.

More links from around the web!