2011 was not a good year to be a bastard. The hacking scandal in the UK press made the likes of Andy Coulson, Piers Morgan, Tony Blair, Rupert and James Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks and others look like total twats (you know, if stuff like the the mass murder of Iraqis, running a worldwide multi-billion dollar disinformation network and judging on Britain’s Got Talent didn’t already mean you had few worlds left to conquer in your career as an abstract representation of a woman’s vagina). The Arab Spring meant Col. Gaddafi was lynched, but not before being anally probed with a stick. Osama bin Laden found himself on the receiving end of the culmination of some Delta Force squaddie’s endless hours of X-Box Live practice. Kim Jong-Il, of whom I’ve been an admirer ever since I learned he could control the weather by sheer force of will, sadly passed away. And, finally, it turned out that pneumonia was the one thing Jim couldn’t fix.
So, 2011: not a good year to be a bastard.
Unless you’re Batman.
Because the casualty list of cunts was not limited to reality, but extended into that favourite fictional world where dressing up like a furry gimp and savagely thrashing the economically disadvantaged on a nightly basis is a sane – nay, heroic – response to serious urban sociological issues.
(In fairness, Batman’s origin makes a lot more sense than, say, Spider-Man’s. Parents killed by a criminal? Fight crime. Bitten by a radioactive spider? Dress up like… something… and fight… things. Erm. Great responsibility.)
In Arkham City, the sequel to 2009′s Arkham Asylum, Hugo Strange, Ra’s al Ghul, Talia al Ghul and, finally, even the Joker himself, all met their violent ends. In the Joker’s case, this was particularly final (and, sadly, predictable), as Mark Hammil, who has voiced the character on screen since my childhood, announced his retirement from the role some months before.
And Batman, make no mistake about it, is a bastard in this game. Aside from his usual M.O. of administering brutal beatings to his (mainly, let’s face it, disabled) adversaries, he also ties up women and psychologically tortures them (what else would you call his humiliating treatment of Harley Quinn here?) and makes constant quips about his vigilante war. He seems to hold out particular disdain for Mr Freeze, a character who I remember being a tragic figure in the outstanding early 90s Animated Series (many of the voice actors from that are retained for Arkham City, as well as head writer Paul Dini, from which I infer at least some degree of continuity).
Freeze, who has already been kidnapped by the Joker and put in an oven by the villainous Penguin (far and away the best part of this game, a cross between an Alan Ford character and Burgess Meredith), finds himself on the receiving end of Batman’s casual sociopathy, watching helplessly as the Dark Knight drains the fluid Freeze needs to live and begins to pour it down a drain. This was punishment for Freeze daring to negotiate, agreeing to help Batman only if Batman would save Freeze’s wife from the Joker. I mean, I’d have thought Batman saving a hostage would go without saying. Isn’t that what he does?
(Apparently not. Even after promising Freeze he would. And punching Freeze repeatedly in the face long after Freeze has been rendered helpless.)
Which is all a good laugh, and it goes in tandem with some very fun gameplay, which feels like a cross between the Spider-Man games and Metal Gear Solid. It should be noted that I’m not much of a video gamer – if it’s not Resident Evil 4, I’d usually regard it as an insulting waste of my time. So I made a pretty bad defender of Gotham City – about ten minutes into my tenure, I was given AIDS by the Joker, which means I’m vying with Matter-Eater Lad and those dreadful nerds in muscle suits you see on the news round-up, who end up getting their heads kicked in in some West Coast suburb in broad daylight, for the title of worst superhero of all time.
I do, however, consider reading nonlinear, avant garde or altogether fucked up literature to be a bit of a hobby. Borges, Beckett, Burroughs, Ballard, you name it, I’ve got an uninformed opinion on it. In addition, I am a bit of a comics nerd, despite my healthy disdain for superheroics. Despite these obvious advantages, I have not a fucking clue what was happening in this story. I don’t know why there was an Arkham City instead of a Gotham City, I don’t know why the Joker was infected with an STD, I don’t have the slightest grasp on the motivations of any of the villains (except for Clayface, whose character arc follows the natural ambition of a giant sentient turd in that he longs to play the greatest acting role in the world, which is apparently the Joker), I don’t know which Robin shows up, what Protocol 10 was, why the Penguin was suddenly a Cockney or why he had it in for Bruce Wayne. Dini, whom I’d always thought was a fairly straight-forward scripter (straight-forward in that most of his stories seem to involve his wife shagging Batman), should be sectioned under some kind of mental health act for imposing this psychedelic mess on the kind of young, simple, impressionable minds that play computer games.
If you’re a drugged-out out spacecase or an unemployed drop-out with too much time on his (I’m working under the assumption girls still don’t play video games) hands, I can’t really recommend this game. The target audience here is people with a grasp on reality that is slightly less tenuous. Likewise, if you suffer from depression, you might find what I assume is the trusty Unreal engine, combined with an essentially dystopic world where it’s considered politically viable to set up an open community for the mentally ill before using military helicopters to gun them down, contributing to some kind of episode. Which is not to say I give enough of a shit to weigh into the debate as to whether video games make you psychotic or violent – they’re far more likely just to make you stupid or functionally illiterate.
But if you don’t have an addictive personality or any kind of brain injury, you might enjoy the thrill of getting to be Batman: the only bastard left in town.