Developers: Rocksteady Studios
Publishers: Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment
Plot: Penguin hires Harley Quinn to break Poison Ivy out of Bludhaven, so she can take part in Scarecrow’s plan to kill the Batman.
I never really got the appeal of Harley Quinn until Arkham Asylum came along. My first true interaction with the character was with the comic strip Hush, and she never really interested me. She came across as a Joker-esque female sidekick to the popular villain, an excuse to stretch out the running time whenever Bats took on his most feared nemesis. In fact, we could argue that’s exactly what the writers of Asylum did – Harley was essentially a mid-act baddie for Batman to take on, without the Joker ever getting his hands dirty. However, the difference was that the game absolutely nailed her personality. She was bursting full of it. Obsessive, manic and just so much fun, Harley Quinn has since taken the world by storm, getting a movie deal in 2016, which is set to be incredible (Margot Robbie already looks exactly like the Harley I want). In Arkham Knight, she never really got the screen time I wanted her to, her side-quest in Panessa Studios one of the highlights of the game for me, but one that she felt strangely absent for. Her villany was over-ridden by the arrival of the three sub-Jokers and she never really got her time to shine. But that didn’t bother me, because I always knew that my copy of Arkham Knight came with a free copy of a DLC, where I got to play Harley Quinn. Finally, all of this power, craziness and hilarity was in my hands.
It is such a shame that the DLC is utter crap. While the main game is packed full of immersion and attention to detail, Harley’s quick piece of entertainment is so thrown together and shallow that is a wonder the same studio created it. It makes the pointlessness of the Arkham City Catwoman DLC seem like gaming at its best. The story is essentially a quick flash of prequel to the main story, but one that realises no further light nor depth to the main story, making it out to be less a clever narrative trick and more an excuse to make a DLC without having to think too hard on how to get an Ivy, Penguin and Nightwing cameo into proceedings. Worse still, it lasts around fifteen minutes of gameplay time. Yes, quarter of an hour! That, in my books, is unforgiveable and I cannot thank myself enough for getting the free copy and not being one of those poor gamers who actually forked out additonal money to get their hands on playing Harley. It is a total waste of time. The fifteen minutes of gaming isn’t even done well, Harley thrown right into the thick of the action, before we’ve had so much of an opening cut-scene and the story fades to an end credits scene without any cinematic resonance. The developers literally threw together around four maps for you to fight in, wrote up some Harley alternatives to the takedowns and gadgets, then called it a day. There is no time to dwell on the relationship between Harley and Ivy (something quite interesting in the comics that I have always wanted to see Arkham incorporate), nor time to savour the power of playing Harley. Even the Nightwing boss fight (it is mildly interesting taking on a hero rather than a villain for the final showdown), has no depth to it, merely a character model attacking you with the same grace of one of the goons from the actual Arkham Knight game. Everything about this DLC screams laziness.
No, not everything. In fairness, there were a few beats of story that were entertaining and the usual brand of Rocksteady cleverness. The usual ‘oh, I like what they did there’ feeling. However, all of these little signs of promise just make the DLC that more painful. There is a great experience hidden in this DLC somewhere, but a rushed deadline or a lack of care has just squandered what could have been a piece of cult gaming for any Harley Quinn fan. Tara Strong is on fine form as the actress that brings Harley to life. The dialogue is excellent, as she calls the cops every cliched name under the sun and mocks Penguin over the intercom. Even better are the little flashes of ingenuiety. The Silent Takedown has been replaced with the Loud Takedown. Harley tells the gamer that ‘quiet’ just ain’t in her vocabulary. Yes, it makes the Predator sequences much harder, but you’ve got to admire her honesty about it. The detective mode system offers the most interesting new dynamic on offer. She can do everything Batman can (track enemies through walls, spot points of interest via highlights), but with the added detail of writing on the wall. It symbolises her madness, as words are scrawled, often illegible, across every surface. Sometimes Harley imagines a sentence as clear as day in front of her. During a fight with guards, Harleen Quinzel, the girl before Harleen became Harley, shouts at her psychotic self to rationalise what is going on. Harley bites down, although sometimes comes across as a scared girl unable to process her surroundings. It allows us a peek under the hood of Harley’s mentality and throws a whole new light on the character. Again, it is easy to see the game that could have been. It is just a shame that, apparently, no one cared.
Final Verdict: It could have been something spectacular, but instead it is just a lazy mess. Mr. J wouldn’t be pleased, Bat-Brain!