The first piece of DLC for last month’s Batman: Arkham Knight, for which you can find the review here, Batgirl: A Matter of Family, as the name suggests, lets players dawn the cowl of Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, before she became paralyzed and took on the role of Oracle. Released early for season pass holders, ‘A Matter of Family’ will land as a single purchase of $6.99. At its core, the DLC is short and sweet, and not really much else.
With a near completionist playthough (I still can’t find those last three chattering joker teeth collectibles) clocking in at roughly two hours, a focused playthough likely would take substantially less time. For those hoping for a meaty package of Batgirl awesomeness, ‘A Matter of Family’ might fall a bit short of expectations, but, that said, in its one to two hours of gameplay, what the episode does deliver is still fun and interesting to boot.
The story of ‘A Matter of Family’ is relatively straightforward, amounting essentially to that the Joker, having abducted Commissioner Gordon and a number of GCPD officers, holds up inside a run down amusement park and calls for Batgirl to come rescue them. While not offering much in the form of additional story beats or twists or turns of any form, the basic premise gets the job down, giving Batgirl a reason to be where she is, doing what she’s doing.
As far as the ‘where’ of the premise, this is actually one of the DLC’s strongest points, as players are treated to the new and unique setting of Seagate Amusement Park, an amusement park literally built on top of and around an oilrig. Though nowhere near the size of even a single island from the core game, Seagate is large enough to allow for a degree of freedom and exploration, even if keeping the player relatively focused on the task at hand.
A strange mixture of industrial piping, furnaces, machinery, rides, carnival booths, and dilapidated park fixtures, Seagate is delightfully creepy and weird. It is even possible to play some of the broken down games, each successful completion earning you a clue to the past of the odd, abandoned park, encouraging at least a little exploration.
As far as the act of playing as Batgirl however, the DLC’s limitations begin to show themselves. In the lead up to its release, the marketing surrounding ‘A Matter of Family’ was keen to point out that, though she may not be as strong at Batman when it comes to brute force, Batgirl can accomplish even more, all by outsmarting her enemies by using her computer skills to hack things in the environment around her. It’s clear from the outset that this was the intention, but ultimately, the execution of the brains-over-brawn formula landed as a bit of a mixed bag.
When it came to fighting, there was never a point where I felt compelled to tackle a situation any differently than I would as Batman. While it was nice to feel a slight change of pace in the fights, Batgirl moving from thug to thug faster and a bit snappier than Batman, I still felt just as comfortable taking on large groups, the mechanics of fights not changing at all between the two of them. If anything, I only felt limited in the fact that Batgirl has less gadgets than Batman, a fact that, instead of making the fights more difficult or tactical, just gave me less things to have fun with.
If one thing does differentiate Batgirl however, it is definitely the hacking, as, around every corner, the game gives you something new to hack, be it to progress or simply to use against the poor, helpless thugs of Seagate. This however, still doesn’t quite live up to being as fun or as satisfying as it was so clearly intended. When hacking gates or bombs, or anything not involved in combat, the same letter scramble minigame, the one that has been used for hacking in every Arkham game, returns. While there is nothing empirically wrong with this, it would have been nice to see something different when playing as a so-called master hacker.
In the same way, hacking for the purposes of combat just doesn’t meet the fantasy as much as it could. With the use of her hacking gadget, Batgirl has the ability to overload circuit panels, turn out the lights, or activate park attractions all to knockout, blind, or distract thugs. However, every time I was given the option of doing so, it never felt as if I was the one deciding to do it, it, instead, always feeling specifically designed for me to hack something at that moment for my benefit. When entering a room, there would be a group of thugs and then a single thing on the wall to hack, perhaps two, if it was a lot of thugs and a big room. Either I could launch straight into the fight, or use the obvious, glowing panel on the wall to gain a momentary advantage and then launch into the fight.
On paper, ‘give the player the ability to hack things in the environment’, sounds good enough, but in the final product the design and implementation did not allow for the creativity or trial-and-error freedom that could have made the experience more satisfying. Instead of being given a sandbox to hack my way through with mischievous, thug-bashing inventiveness, it felt more like I was playing a violence-themed game of connect the dots.
As much as I felt disappointed with the lack of diversity in ‘A Matter of Family,’ nothing changes the fact that it is still one to two more hours of soaring through a crazy environment, punching people in the face, and stalking them from the shadows as only a bat can. While not changing a radical amount, the episode changes enough about the flow of gameplay to clearly feel like Batgirl is a different character, not simply a reskinned Batman. And for only $6.99, that still means having a good time without breaking the bank.
And finally, though not integral to the experience, it is worth noting that the thug dialogue, the random snippets of conversation you hear over the radio as you fly around, is by far better in ‘A Matter of Family,’ than it is in any Arkham release yet, causing me to burst out laughing multiple times. Some of the highlights, given the episode takes place near Valentine’s Day, included an argument over white roses versus red roses and one thug helping another write a poem.
While straightforward and offering little in the way of surprises, Batgirl: A Matter of Family still manages to offer an hour or two of fun, and most importantly, lets a series character take center stage and shine in a way that she hasn’t been able to until now, even if it doesn’t mean shining quite as brightly as some might have hoped.