“There’s Still Work To Be Done Here” – Arkham City and Gaming Scavenger Hunts

James Gordon Jr.: [Batman runs off into the darkness as James Jr. joins his father by Harvey Dent’s body] Batman? Why’s he running, Dad?
Lt. James Gordon: [Staring after Batman] Because he has Riddler Trophies to collect.
James Gordon Jr.: But the game is over, why is he still playing?
Lt. James Gordon: Because he’s the hero Gotham deserves. But not the one it needs right now. And so he’ll hunt them. Because he needs the XP for upgrades. Because he’s going to do a run in New Game Plus and when you do that, the enemies don’t have those flashing lights above their heads that tell you when to counter and he might need more armour and maybe the move where he disarms a gun.

I’m not normally one for collectathons. I don’t hunt pigeons or shoot kerotans, I don’t pick flowers, I don’t smash emblems or pick up cigarette boxes – I do none of these things because ultimately I don’t care about concept art galleries or trophies and I don’t care about getting that 100%.

So why, then, am I -Batman – stood in an alleyway, looking at three neon green question marks trying to time a batarang throw to coincide with a remote-controlled batsplosion in order to get my bat-hands on a smaller neon green question mark?

It’s precisely because I am Batman. But also because I’m Bruce Wayne.

Though Arkham City offers a fair number of distractions away from the critical path, the main quest is so propulsive and well paced that the collectibles don’t really tempt the player too far off track. It’s only when the story is over and Batman returns to Arkham City that the scavenger hunt begins in earnest and while you feel plenty like The Batman when you’re flinging ‘rangs and swooping down from gargoyles, you never quite get inside Bruce Wayne’s mind until you’re wandering the deserted streets looking for trophies.

And it’s not because that makes the player feel like a detective. No detective I know uses his cape to float between pressure pads to unlock a cage. And I know almost one detective. No, I feel like Bruce Wayne because he’s a videogame hero who’s as obsessive and finickity as the player. Of course, for Bruce it’s called ‘drive’ – for us at home gripping the controller it’s that old familiar desire to ‘catch-em all‘ coupled with the perpetually dangling carrot of new content – be that in the form of new Riddler challenges or snippets of story.

New content is all well and good but without tying it to the motives of the main character, a scavenger hunt feels nothing like idle time wasting. But in Arkham, it feels more like character development. Bruce Wayne seems like the exact kind of guy to stay out all night trying to nail those AR challenges over and over again or practicing his disarm move against the handful of goons left wandering Arkham City. And so am I.

Niko Bellic on the other hand, doesn’t seem the type. Neither does Rico ‘Scorpio’ Rodriquez. And though the scavenger hunts in Splinter Cell are called ‘opportunity objectives’ and are woven into the story of the game, nothing spoils the illusion of being a silent super-spy than wandering around a drab, now deserted military base looking for junction boxes after the mission is over.

Part of that is because all of the hunting and collecting and combo practicing feeds into itself like a bat eating its own tail (damnit, I knew should have been talking about Peace Walker – does a similar thing you know. ) Call it Skinnerian, ouroborosian or loop-de-loopian – but the way that Arkham doles out its secrets is cunningly concieved whichever way you put it. Riddler trophies unlock riddler challenges which allow the player to practice for more riddler trophies via the ‘navigational/combat’ challenge section of the pause menu. All the while, the player is occasionally uncovering new pockets of story via unfinished missions and Riddler hostages that are locked until enough trophies are collected. Not since MGS Peace Walker has mindless grinding seemed so gosh darn alluring. Shame I can’t do it on the train.

And so I’ve been swooping between the same map night after night, not moving on to a new game or even starting another playthrough. Because I’m the hero Arkham City deserves – not the one it needs… or something.¬†