Batman: Arkham City

The Dark Knight's darkest and deepest video game yet
boyward - Staff Reviewer

Content at a glance:

Batman: Arkham City is rated Teen for "Alcohol Reference, Blood, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Tobacco, Violence." Frequent brawling violence. Streets are littered with corpses. Frequent violent and hateful conversations including discussions of murder, torture, and rape. Frequent mild profanity. Women's costumes are skin-tight. Signs advertising "Live Nudes".

“Prisoners of Arkham City, you have given up your basic human rights because of your crimes against humanity. Gotham is a safer place without you. You are responsible for your own survival within this facility.” With messages like that blaring over the loudspeaker it’s no wonder the inmates are so nasty. Arkham City is a controversial super-prison built squarely in the heart of Gotham City. Imprisoned behind its walls, gang leaders are fighting a bloody war. Their armies are composed of inmates from Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Prison. And now innocent civilians are being brought into Arkham City too. Who thought this was a good idea? As Batman, you’d better hope you can survive long enough to find out, and shut down Arkham City for good.

Batman has been my favorite superhero since I began watching The Animated Series back in 1992 but, sadly, most Batman video games have failed to capture the complexity of the hero. EA’s Batman Begins managed to harness the fear that Batman uses to spook his enemies, but even that game failed to capture the mix of detective work, gadget utilization, and combat skills that Batman uses while out on patrol every night. Then Rocksteady Studios came along with Batman: Arkham Asylum, and suddenly we had a Batman game that got everything right. It was dark and scary, there were mysteries to solve, classic Batman villains, and you got to string up thugs by their bootstraps with gadgets from the toolbelt. In short, you got to be Batman. The sequel, Arkham City, improves on the original by bringing Batman into a completely open environment composed of unique neighborhoods, all of which are loaded with depraved thugs from every gang in Gotham. Arkham City is bigger, better, and meaner, and as a result there is a greater quantity of offensive content here than what was in Arkham Asylum.

Note: Batman: Arkham City’s story mode is built around one central mission which can be completed in less than 20 hours, but there are reports that it could take as many as 40 hours to see everything in the entire game. In this review I’m reporting ALL of the content you will experience in the main mission, and also SOME of the content from the side missions. This is not an exhaustive report of all possible offensive content.

Brawling in Detective Mode
Brawling in Detective Mode

While patrolling Arkham City you will watch and listen as people are routinely taken hostage, choked, gagged, head-butted, pistol-whipped, shot, curb-stomped, bludgeoned with baseball bats and pipes, hit with projectiles, clawed, slashed, kicked, smothered, and otherwise brutalized. Arms and legs are dislocated from their sockets. At the end of every combat situation the final hit plays out in slow motion so we can see Batman’s foes go down HARD. If you’re brawling in Detective Mode the effect is even more jarring since you can your enemy’s bones. When a zombie super-villain gets electrocuted the skin on his chest fries off and he continues the battle with an exposed rib cage. Batman can only finish the fight by tearing something out of the zombie’s chest. A father takes his daughter hostage and threatens to kill her. Eventually all-out genocide comes to Arkham City but we don’t see any of that up close, only over the radio. Some of Batman’s detective work requires him to track blood trails. Batman coughs up blood, which we see from the 1st-person perspective. Some deceased victims of torture are suspended from the ceiling by their hands. Batman forcibly removes blood from a man as part of some medical research. A man is stabbed from behind and we see the blade come through his chest and then blood soaks into his shirt. One of the villains terrorizes the undercover police officers he’s captured. We hear one of these hostages scream as the villain shatters his frozen hand with a hammer. Several times we walk in on an interrogation in progress. In one case, some thugs are about to lower their captive into a vat of molten steel. They describe what happens next: “First it smells like meat on a barbeque. You know, burning skin, fat, meat.” They didn’t actually BBQ this guy (I waited to see if they would really show this in a Teen-rated game) but the intent was there. A lot of the violence is implied rather than shown, such as the man who cut off his own face and we can see him lying with his head in bandages, clutching a case of human organs. Or the ruminations of a serial killer who calls Batman on Arkham City’s payphones to describe his crimes.

Hammer versus Batman
Hammer versus Batman

Expect to hear at least this many uses of mild profanity: hell (35), b**ch (12), a*s (20), d*mn (10), b*stard (7), p*ss (8), and wanker (1). God’s name is abused 5 times. We hear phrases like “kick the crap out of” someone, “still the same old a-hole”, “grow a pair”, and “we’re screwed”.

The profanity itself probably isn’t nearly as disturbing as the hateful and violent threats that are heard over and over again. Villains threaten to cut out tongues and cut up bodies into tiny pieces. Inmates can be overheard discussing their favorite weapons, methods of torture, and how badly they want to kill Batman. I heard some thugs talking about how much they can’t stand the do-gooders in the church, and that they hope “the Joker hurts them bad.” One villain threatens to feed on Batman’s corpse. Some of the conversations are of a more sexual nature, including an argument over whether Harley (Joker’s girlfriend) “used to be a dude.” The thugs eventually agree that they’d be “crazy to let a piece of a*s like her get away.” Jokes were made about the promiscuity of one thug’s mother: “Is your mommy the town bike?” Most of these these conversations I heard while running across the rooftops or sneaking through the ductwork. They’re not part of any cutscene. They are triggered whenever you come within range of a group of thugs. It’s easy to interrupt these conversations by simply jumping in and starting a fight or gliding away out of earshot. After all, you’re Batman and you shouldn’t have to listen to that garbage if you don’t want to. But these discussions come up so frequently that you’re bound to hear something nasty anyway.

Note: Any cutscene can be skipped at any time by pressing the appropriate button.

Sexual Content
One of the unlockable extras, the “Character Trophies”, allows access to 3D character models. Some of the female models’ clothes are so form-fitting that they almost seem naked. In the game, Catwoman’s form-fitting suit is sexy by design, and she zips it up only partway up her chest so you can see a lot of cleavage. She purrs suggestive comments like, “Untie me and I’ll make it up to you.” In combat she has a move where she straddles the man before she finishes him off. She jokingly says, “What, no kiss?” to another female character. The Joker’s girlfriend makes a comment that “Mister J’s not feeling himself. Well, actually he was, earlier, but that’s not what I meant.” She calls attention to her new outfit which shows more skin than Catwoman’s. Both women use their good looks to draw attention from men. There are two other women whose costumes show a lot of skin, but they are in the game only briefly. One of Bruce Wayne’s old love interests recalls a night they spent together in Metropolis, and she wonders why he hasn’t called. Throughout Arkham City there are neon signs advertising “Live Nudes”. Some of the inmates express an interest in raping their hostages, though nothing ever comes of it. They don’t actually use the word “rape”, but the idea is couched in terms such as: “Can I have her before we kill her?”

Catwoman is a playable character with her own missions.

Spiritual Content
A few characters are heard saying, “Thank God.” Batman’s reply to one of them is: “You may want to hold off on thanking Him until after you’ve answered my question.” Batman’s dead parents beckon to him from the afterlife, urging him to step into the light, but it is quickly revealed to be a hallucination. In the “Chamber of the Demon” sequence, Batman meets up with an ancient cult of assassins. One of their members says to Batman, “May the spirits be kind” as he heads off to participate in an initiation rite called “The Demon Trial”. Batman picks up a chalice and drinks a liquid called “the Blood of the Demon.” Whispering voices are heard swirling around Batman as he does this. Batman is promised that the Blood of the Demon will give him eternal life. SPOILER WARNING: This whole scenario turns out to be a hallucination rather than a spiritual experience, because we are later told that the liquid Batman drank is a naturally occurring chemical. We also find out that Batman was never really interested in joining this cult, but merely gaining their trust in order to solve a problem. //END OF SPOILER

Drug and Alcohol Use
One villain is addicted to the life-giving chemical that has kept him alive for over 600 years. Batman gives him a chance to break that addiction, along with a warning that if he doesn’t then Batman will break it for him. Another villain smokes a cigar. There are neon signs advertising beer.

Frightening Scenes or Images
Many of the villains are badly disfigured or ravaged by disease and the camera zooms in on their faces. One of the villains is a shapeshifter who can break off pieces of his body. Sometimes Batman breaks off those pieces for him. Some locations have piles of dead bodies, some have hanging bodies, some have drowned bodies still floating in the water, and others have skulls and skeletons lying around. One area is littered with mannequin babies. Penguin’s museum features his collection of various serial killers and murder victims on display and posed in the positions in which they died. There are several jump scenes where enemies (and creatures) jump out to ambush Batman. There aren’t as many Titan-infected thugs as there were in Arkham Asylum, but these crazed mutant abominations still look as nasty as ever. The song that’s sung over the closing credits is haunting and creepy.

Two-Face isn’t even the ugliest character in Arkham City.

Positive Elements
Batman’s regard for human life is unwavering. He is tempted, even begged, to kill his enemies, but he maintains his code of honor and refuses to give in. He insists on getting medical attention for one dying villain, and dives to save another from his death. Even his most despicable enemy receives grace: “Even after everything you’ve done”, Batman tells him, “I would’ve saved you.” Batman is forced to choose between saving a loved one or saving thousands of inmates. His choice reminded me of what it cost God to sacrifice His only Son for a world that rejects Him. When Batman has an opportunity to bail on an inconvenient promise, he comes through, saying, “I’m a man of my word. You should know that by now.” Batman’s friends show genuine concern for his well-being. A man loves his wife deeply and makes sacrifices for her. SPOILER WARNING:When playing as Catwoman, you must make a moral choice between saving Batman or saving yourself and scoring some loot. If you make the selfish choice, the credits roll and it’s game over. Batman dies and evil runs its course through Arkham City. //END OF SPOILER As I watched the credits roll I thought this was a neat illustration of all that we stand to lose when we ignore the opportunities God gives us. In video games, as in real life, it pays to love your neighbor and help a brother in need.

In the 1960’s we had Burt Ward, dressed in Robin’s tights, saying things like, “Holy hole in a doughnut, Batman!” and we all laughed. Arkham City is a darker vision of Batman, more along the lines of Christopher Nolan’s movies, or Frank Miller’s graphic novels, and you need to adjust your expectations accordingly. One of our members on the Guide2Games forums was so shocked by what he saw and heard in Arkham he insisted that Batman: Arkham City should have been rated M. I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had been, so this is one Teen-rated game that I’m giving a “Strong Caution”. This game is as dark and brutal as anything I’ve ever seen with the Dark Knight, and I wouldn’t let my young children anywhere near the TV while I was playing this. I also kept them out of earshot so they wouldn’t be able to hear the cruel conversations. But at the same time, especially toward the end of the game there were some powerful demonstrations of mercy, integrity, and strong character. My recommendation to mature gamers is to play Arkham Asylum first, and if you can handle that then move up to Arkham City. It is the best possible follow-up to that Game-of-the-Year award winner, and the definitive Batman game.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this Spotlight review are those of the reviewer (both ratings and recommendations), and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Eden Communications or the Answers Network.

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