I always feel a bit silly when I review older games. Clearly, Arkham City has been out long enough to get a “Game of the Year” and “Armored” editions, so there are already a lot of reviews of it out on the internet. General consensus: it’s awesome – go play it. So today I won’t be reviewing Arkham City and the Catwoman DLC so much as taking a quick look at how the DLC develops Catwoman as a character, and how this affects the overall story of the game. To be up front, Catwoman is a character that I have loved ever since I watched Batman: The Animated Series on Saturday mornings as a child. I have a bit of unconditional love for her that allows me to typically overlook any faults that come with different incarnations of her character…except the Halle Berry version. I’m still not sure what that movie was. That being said, I think the Catwoman DLC was a phenomenal bit of both character development and gameplay that goes beyond my fan-worship of the character, and here’s why:
1.) The Catwoman DLC helps Arkham City pass the Bechdel Test
For anyone unfamiliar with the Bechdel test, here’s Anita Sarkeesian to the rescue to explain
As Anita points out, the recent cycle of Batman movies have miserably failed the Bechdel test. Most superhero movies/games do, primarily because they are focused on a male hero. However, even movies focused on women fail the test. For example, horrible thing known as the Halle Berry Catwoman moviet. The Catwoman DLC manages to pass the Bechdel test by focusing on the relationships in Catwoman’s life that actually don’t revolve around Batman.
Catwoman needs Poison Ivy’s help to access some goods in the game, but Ivy is mad at Catwoman for not taking proper care of the plants while Ivy was away. Clearly, since this is an argument between two comic book characters, it gets a bit out of hand. But this exchange is unique in that it has two women discussing something other than men. Taking the superpowers out of the narrative, it can be read as an argument between two roommates about killing the plants. A fairly mundane argument that probably happens once every five minutes in real life. In fact, in real life most conversations between women don’t focus on men. I appreciate that the DLC incorporated something so mundane as an argument between roommates, it made Catwoman feel more real to me as a character. This is the same reason I liked the flash-animated series “Gotham Girls” (although the girls did have to focus on boys, saving them mainly). Catwoman is depicted as a real person with her own special relationships with characters, and I think the DLC handled that very well.
2.) The Choice to Save/Abandon Batman Feels Meaningful (Spoilers ahead!)
I was reading this post by Ninety Nine Percent Gaming about why death in video games is often pointless, and it made me think about how death is handled in the Catwoman DLC. When Catwoman is killed, you have to re-start, which is clearly in keeping with most video game conventions which can be seen as slightly silly at this point. However, the decision to save or abandon Batman is made more meaningful by the innovative way they treat his death if you choose to abandon him.
If you choose the option to say “screw him” you are treated with a terrifying SOS message from Oracle, the ultimate death of Batman, and a credits sequence. Clearly the Catwoman DLC is in 4 episodes, but if you choose the abandonment route in Episode 3, you get hit with a credits sequence. In video games, death is typically not permanent, but a credits sequence signals finality. Triggering a credits sequence signals the end of the game, the end of your playtime. Having the decision to abandon Batman end with a credit sequence makes the decision, and Batman’s death seem more significant. Sure, after the sequence you get to go back and make the “right” decision (if you want to make it through all 4 episodes), but the cut-scene combined with the credits give finality and weight to the decision, that doesn’t make it feel pointless. Honestly, I think either decision is right up Catwoman’s alley as a character, and I appreciated that the player was given an option, and that the developers made the player’s decision feel like it mattered.
Overall, if you like Catwoman and appreciate the chance to play as a female character in a male-dominated genre (super-heroes or video games, take your pick), this DLC is done well from a narrative standpoint. If you dislike the gameplay of Arkham City in some way, clearly the DLC isn’t doing anything new in terms of that, so you’ll still hate it. But! If you like the Arkham City gameplay, and you’re looking to add to your experience or just fan-girl out over how awesome Catwoman is, I’d definitely recommend playing through this DLC.