Batman: Arkham City - Harley Quinn's Revenge Review
Not content with reinventing Batman for video games, Rocksteady's also gone and made Robin cool. How did the studio do this? Robin isn't cool. His day job is "ward", which is not exactly a recipe for excitement. Nobody's thrilled when he turns up in a movie and even the mildest of street thugs won't be too upset to see him dropping out of the sky with a quip and a couple of raised fists.
The secret, of course, is typically simple: Rocksteady let him hit people with that collapsible pipe of his, and it stuck him in Arkham City. Up until now, the Boy Wonder - hardly the coolest of nicknames there, Robin - has been left to fend for himself in challenge rooms. But Harley Quinn's Revenge, Arkham City's first story-driven downloadable add-on, sends him out into the metropolis itself.
This two-hour mini-adventure takes place just after the events of the main game, and Robin's finally getting a chance to share some of the limelight with Bats. I'd call the whole thing an epilogue, incidentally, except it doesn't really feel like one: it doesn't tie up any of Arkham City's dangling loose ends and I'm not sure it's dropping too many hints of what's to come, either. Well, maybe one hint. But you'll have to really keep an eye out for it.
So what is this DLC? It's a self-contained chunk of comic-book plotting in which you play as both Robin and Batman - switching back and forth as the set-piece of the moment demands - and it all unravels within Gotham's steel mill, where Harley Quinn has gone to ground after you know what occurred. Harley's madder than usual, which is saying something, and she's kidnapped a bunch of Gotham City policemen, who seem to major in being kidnapped these days. She's holding them to ransom, Batman's gone in to save them, and now he's AWOL, so it's up to Robin to save him as well as the cops. If my nan was still alive, she'd whistle through her teeth and say, "What a palaver." Then she'd try to talk to me about Jesus.
If you've met Robin in any of those challenge rooms, he won't hold too many surprises here, but he's still enormous fun to play. There's that pipe of his, of course, but he's also got a reworked grapnel gun called a zip-kick, which allows him to blast across short distances boots-first, and he's got a fancy fold-out bullet shield, plenty of shurikens, and a few other gadgets which are fairly entertaining to mess about with.
More importantly, he has another set of Rocksteady's world-beating animations, and he fights, I think, with a slightly different rhythm to Batman. Robin's rehabilitation isn't complete, of course - any right-thinking Batfan would always want to play as the man himself - but he's a lot more enjoyable than he should be nonetheless.
Fighting's front and centre in this campaign. Although Rocksteady does its best to mix things up with a bit of chimney-hopping, a touch of stealth, a few detective-y moments and all of that other Batjazz, this is mainly a story about a man and a boy and all of the nutcases they send to the hospital between them. With the main event completed, Rocksteady's turned up the heat a little - and if you're rusty, you're going to struggle to get back into the flow at first, such is the number of enemies you'll be up against in some battles. It's not just the quantity of baddies, either. Most punch-ups here pit you against a jaunty mixture of different villains: knifey boys, shockers, padded loons, car-door fetishists, and even snipers.
Combat doesn't just mean brawling out in the open, of course. Towards the end of this adventure, the team offers up one of its best silent predator moments yet, involving a heady blend of gargoyles, underfloor grating, interesting patrol routes and vulnerable hostages. You'll pummel the pad until your tendons hurt, but you'll also get to lurk in the shadows and plan, and then swoop in and out of the hot zone leaving unconscious goons in your wake. You'll get to disappear in a puff of smoke and pop up somewhere unexpected - and then you'll get to hit somebody with a pipe.
It's a short adventure but it covers a lot of ground, and it offers a sheer ferocity that the wider game doesn't often match. Meanwhile, although it limits you to a single location - and not, if you ask me, one of the city's best - it manages to rework the steel mill a little so that it doesn't feel like you're simply going back over old territory. Best of all, perhaps, is the dazzling new star of the show, and this time I don't mean Robin.
Arkham games are always about the man in black, but they're also about the voice in his ear - the mocking, rambling madness unspooling over radio waves and loudspeakers. Harley, with her gum-chewing valley girl voice, her sudden tantrums and her pathetic longing for one of funny books' greatest monsters, is every bit the equal to the Joker when it comes to providing a focal point for a narrative, and a weird reference she drops near the end of the game suggests she even knows her way around classic 1980s computer games, too. Dennis Caswell would be proud.
Harley Quinn's Revenge doesn't offer much that you won't have seen before, but it's unexpectedly tart and pleasantly grim. It's a chance to get back to the city, to rough up its thugs once more, and to leave with a few new bruises and a few extra memories. It's another slice of balletic super-violence, in other words. It's another wild ride.