Arkham City: Riddle Games

Last night’s session involved zero progress in the main plot and a whole lot Riddler Trophies. Let’s talk about those.

As in Arkham Asylum, Riddler Trophies are little question mark doodads left in hidden or difficult-to-access locations by the Riddler. In Arkham Asylum, the Riddler existed only as a disembodied voice, with no character model. That role in City is taken over by Victor Zsasz, who talks to you on the city’s anachronistic-by-game’s-release payphones; the Riddler has more of an embodied presence here, although it’s still a relatively subdued one, more spymaster than warlord. He doesn’t have his own gang patrolling the streets like the other major baddies, but his people have infiltrated all of the other gangs. He doesn’t have turf, but he has secret hideouts, where he sets up special tests for you. In order to be permitted into these tests, though, you first have to collect trophies scattered through the world.

Often they’re locked in a distinctive little dome that opens up when you activate the associated machinery. There are lit-up question marks on the city’s walls, and you come to recognize that the dots under them are buttons that can be pressed by thwacking them with batarangs. There are trophies that seem inaccessible until you realize that you can snag them with your grapple, or dodge through a low opening by sliding under it like a baseball player, a move you learned in the early tutorial but haven’t used much since. There are question mark buttons that don’t seem to do anything, until you figure out how to trace their power lines. It’s all about knowing what you can do, and how to do it.

And that means the difficulty of the puzzles has a lot to do with how much you remember the controls from Arkham Asylum. A lot of things are automatically tutorialized when you have to apply them in the main story, but not everything, and never for Riddler Trophies. When I started playing, I didn’t even know how to switch gadgets. You’re taught how to use the left and right trigger buttons on a controller to aim and throw a batarang, but not how to use the D-pad to swap in other aimable devices, like the cryptographic sequencer or the explosive gel. Before I discovered this, my options were severely limited. (In fairness, I could have read the manual, but who thinks of that when the in-game tutorials have been so good about everything else?)

My experience of the designated “Riddles” are a more extreme example of this. At a certain point in your dealings with the Riddler, you get a new page added to the pause menus, a grid keeping track of what Riddler Trophies you’ve found in each region, as well as various other little achievements, like breaking security cameras or popping balloons in the Joker’s territory. And some entries in the grid are Riddles. Select them, and the Riddler’s voice gives you a riddly and roundabout description of some kind of landmark, often a Batman-related one like the Ace Chemicals building or the alley were Bruce Wayne’s parents died. 1There’s a button prompt there to “pay respects”. Apart from the choice of button, it’s identical to the much-derided “Press F to pay respects” prompt in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, which it preceded by three years. Find the landmark and scan it in via Detective Mode, and the Riddler contacts you to confirm the answer and check it off on the grid.

The thing is, I discovered all this almost precisely backward. The grid made no impression on me; I didn’t thumb around it far enough to hit any of the riddles. Instead, I only really became aware of the Riddles when they started showing up on my map. See, those Riddler henchmen that I mentioned infiltrating the gangs? You can find them in the patrolling goon squads, clearly identified by the UI. If you can pummel everyone in a group unconscious except for the Riddler guy — a nontrivial task, given how incomplete your control is over exactly who Batman punches when you mash the punch button — you can interrogate him to get the locations of a bunch of randomly-selected Riddler Trophies and Riddles. It’s an invaluable service, given the size of the city and how much effort it would take to find everything manually. The Riddles show up on the map as a marker just labeled “Riddle”. It took some experimentation to figure out that I had to scan them, but the UI’s reactions like “Subject obscured” and “Subject too small” were a great deal of help. And when I at last got one not too small, or too obscured, but just right, I got the Riddler’s voice in my ear explaining the answer — but it was an answer to a question I had never heard. A couple such experiences finally aroused my suspicion enough to make me check the grid and see the intended entry point that I had sauntered past obliviously.

The thing is, I can’t even be angry about such failures of communication, because the Riddles are optional, and because they’re riddles. The whole point of riddles is coming to understand them after being initially confused. I don’t think my experience is the intended one, but at least it’s fitting.

1 There’s a button prompt there to “pay respects”. Apart from the choice of button, it’s identical to the much-derided “Press F to pay respects” prompt in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, which it preceded by three years.

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