“A Matter of Family,” the first “major” downloadable content for Batman: Arkham Knight, has arrived. In this brief prequel episode, you assume the role of Barbara Gordon when she was still Batgirl, before her paralysis at the hands of the Joker and becoming Batman’s wheelchair-bound tech support, Oracle.
The Joker has kidnapped Barbara’s father, Police Commissioner Gordon, and is holding him hostage at the dilapidated, nautically-themed Seagate Amusement Park that the Joker and his minions have taken over. Batgirl plans to infiltrate the amusement park and rescue the hostages with the aid of Robin – the Joker has warned them that if they call in Batman, he will kill Commissioner Gordon immediately.
Related: Batman: Arkham Knight review
In order to thwart you, the Joker has devised…pretty much the same challenges you face in the rest of the game. There are a few big brawls and stealth sections with armed thugs. There are no real puzzles for you to solve or new enemies to fight. A few times Robin calls you over to a timed-fuse bomb, where you team up to beat down a group of thugs and then hack the bomb in order to disarm it before the timer runs out, but that’s as complicated as it gets. The climactic battle against the Joker and Harley Quinn stands out only because Harley is wearing her classic, animated series outfit, which is a nice little nod to the character’s origin. All in all, it should take you no more than an hour, which is pretty light, even for $7.
Batgirl handles essentially the same as Batman, but with fewer tricks up her sleeve. She is armed with explosive gel, the line launcher, grappling hook, batarangs, and the remote hacking device. Hacking is prominently featured because Barbara is supposed to be a tech whiz, but there is nothing particularly new or interesting in its application other than a few opportunities to turn off the lights or activate electronic devices remotely to startle or distract goons. There are no new devices, upgrades, or special moves. In terms of difficulty it’s somewhere in the middle of the curve relative to the rest of the game. The only real challenge comes from the fact that Batgirl is a bit spongier than Batman without the option for armor upgrades.
The story is about as basic as they come: the Joker has kidnapped someone, taunts you about it over the PA, then you beat him up and rescue the hostages. Ostensibly “A Matter of Family” is drawn from The Killing Joke, one of the most famous Batman comics, penned in 1988 by the legendary Alan Moore. As part of a plot to drive Commissioner Gordon insane, the Joker shoots Barbara Gordon, paralyzing her from the waist down. He then kidnaps Gordon and holds him in a run-down amusement park and forces him to watch images of his naked, wounded daughter before Batman comes to rescue him.
Barbara’s paralysis, which is featured in a flashback as part of the main game, is what leads her to become Oracle, but her sadistic treatment in The Killing Joke has been subject to decades of feminist criticism as one of the canonical examples of “women stuffed in refrigerators.” Moore himself has subsequently admitted that Barbara’s treatment was mishandled. Having Batgirl rescue her father could be a potentially interesting way to reframe the story, but “A Matter of Family” does nothing with its source material other than lift the premise of Gordon being held by Joker in an amusement park. Batgirl can’t have more than a dozen lines, most of which are spent in painfully stilted banter with Robin as he fawns over her and tries to do everything himself while she patiently reminds him that she is more than capable of handling herself.
This is a real missed opportunity. Although the Harley Quinn pre-order DLC is considerably shorter and doesn’t have any cut scenes, at least Harley played a little differently and had her own redesigned UI. Batgirl is just a re-skinned and less capable Batman. That would have been okay had the context in which you used her had unique twists or a compelling story, but it’s really a rehash of the main game. If she’s going to play so identically to Batman, then the developers might as well make her an optional skin for the rest of the game, like Lithariel in the Arkham-reminiscent Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor.
“A Matter of Family” was developed by WB Montreal, which created Batman: Arkham Origins. I skipped that entry in the series because of the underwhelming critical consensus, and Warner Brothers seems content to pretend it didn’t happen either, referring to Arkham Knight (the fourth entry in the series) as the conclusion to a “trilogy.”
There is nothing overtly wrong with “A Matter of Family,” but it offers very little to recommend itself. If you like the gameplay of Arkham Knight and somehow need more of it after clearing out countless guard towers and around Gotham, then this is another dollop. If you’re expecting The Killing Joke, however, don’t hold your breath for a punchline. Subsequent content had better be more substantial if it is going to justify the steep $40 Season Pass price tag.