Honest review of “Batman: Arkham Knight”

The 2015 release of Rocksteady’s “Arkham Knight” wasn’t at all what I had hoped for, a tragic disappointment for me and my wallet.

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No one was more disappointed in the 2015 release of “Batman: Arkham Knight” than me.

Especially since I had already bought the season pass which amounted to an extra ten minutes of gameplay with characters that refused to be fleshed out in scenarios that would have been so much more fun if they hadn’t been tacked onto the end of “Arkham Knight” like a sad afterthought.

In my driving games article, I talked about the difficult driving controls and the convoluted gameplay mechanics that had been introduced to incorporate the Batmobile into all levels.

For this blog, I was originally going to post a two-minute video of me driving through around Gotham to illustrate my point, but as I mentioned last week, I think it’s more productive to talk about what we do like about video games rather than complaining about what we don’t.

That being said, I have to address the dead Robin in the room.

To all the comic book junkies that may or may not be reading this, I have to say that while Jason Todd wasn’t my favorite Robin – photographer/stalker Tim Drake takes the number one spot over plucky Dick Grayson and homicidal Damian Wayne – he was an interesting character to be sure.

However, I think the best thing DC may have done for his character was kill him off because they allowed him to come back with a vengeance as Red Hood, the scourge of Gotham’s underbelly, a little bit of an anti-hero who’s not afraid to kill to get what he wants.

In “Arkham Knight” the story of Jason Todd is a little different in that he isn’t killed and resurrected via Lazarus Pit. Instead, he’s tortured and fake-killed off by the Joker, before being brought back as the Arkham Knight, a bat-like villain with a grudge the size of Gotham City.

same with him.jpg

Source: Kotaku.com

Part of my problem with this rendition of Jason, is that it left no room for surprises as far as the plot of “Arkham Knight” was concerned. When word got out about the Red Hood DLC, any lingering questions about who the Arkham Knight was and what he wanted with Gotham’s caped crusader vanished in a puff of Batman’s smoke pellets.

Because Rocksteady waited so long to “reveal” the Knight’s identity – almost half a game too long – the impact of his character was left wanting and all his earlier actions came off as bratty and incoherent.

Another thing about the game I really did not like was its treatment of women.

Denny Connolly on Gamerant.com hit the nail on the head when he said that nearly all the women of the game were treated as damsel-in-distress type characters, something that sets Rocksteady apart following the revival of Lara Croft, and not at all in a good way.

From Poison Ivy to Catwoman, nearly all the women of the game were thrown in various distressed situations with Batman acting as the white dark knight in shining armor.

What makes this so sad is that there was so much potential for bad-ass female representation. Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Catwoman, Barbara Gordon, all of them had the potential for greatness, but instead of the royal treatment they deserved, we were given a few cut scenes and some DLC content that amounted to poor character and female representation.

The worst, by far, was the game’s treatment of Barbara Gordon as Oracle. In reviving the controversial comic arc in which the Joker shoots her and relegates her from Batgirl to wheelchair-bound paraplegic, Rocksteady did not do their game any favors.

the POTENTIAL tho.jpg

Source: Youtube.com

In the comics, Oracle is a member of the elite female team Birds of Prey, an extension of the Bat-family and a set of awesome crime-fighters in their own right.

But in “Arkham Knight,” Oracle is merely a tool to further male angst, something I think we could all do without.

She spends nearly the entire game captured by the Knight and her supposed “death” by suicide only increases Bruce’s man-pain to near staggering levels.

However, I have to give credit where credit is due. The Batman/Joker dynamic really came to fruition in this game with the Clown Prince’s death in “City” and the merging of his consciousness with Batman’s at the beginning of “Knight.”

no more words.jpg

Source: Dualpixels.com

His deliberately crazy dialogue, interjecting conversations and general hanging-about was probably the most compelling part of “Arkham Knight” and playing from his perspective towards the end was the most fun I had in the entire game.

So while I could say a lot more about what was wrong with “Arkham Knight,” I’d rather end this post on something Rocksteady did right, a positive note that gamers can point to when we talk about what else we might want from future video games.

Next week, I finish off my own Arkham trilogy with an open letter to Rocksteady and a proposal for a Wonder Woman video game.

For a more comprehensive look at what “Arkham Knight” did wrong, read Paul Tamburro’s post on Craveonline.com.

So game on, caped crusaders, and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

A tribute to ‘Batman: Arkham Origins’

The beauty of “Arkham Origins” was not its graphics or gameplay, its design or combat mechanics. The heart of the Arkham prequel was in its unparalleled storytelling, something that can make or break a video game.

Following the crazy success of “Batman: Arkham City” was no easy task for Warner Bros. Games.

Why exactly the series branched into a prequel after the company’s subsidiary Rocksteady Studios released “Arkham City” in 2011, the world may never know.

But I can say I think the Batman video game canon is a lot better for it.

For what it’s worth (read: not much), I was pleasantly surprised by “Batman: Arkham Origins.” I definitely had some issues with the gameplay – it took me almost two years to unlock the Point Counter Point achievement in the Deathstroke combat – and the graphics, if only because the environmental proportions were way off scale.

But these minor issues aside, I really enjoyed “Arkham Origins” as a prequel to the Rocksteady trilogy.

What really made the game for me was the humanization of Bruce Wayne.

Just saying his name can give hardcore fans the hero-worship willies, but at the end of the day, Batman is a person. He is Bruce Wayne and even if he has entirely devoted himself to the cause, to his mission, to the pursuit of justice and the persecution of criminals, he is just a man.

And I think it’s really important to remember that if you’re playing the video game or watching the movie or even reading the comics.

One aspect of “Origins” that really sold the humanizing angle for me was the change in Batman’s voice actor.

To anyone in the know, Kevin Conroy has voiced Batman in nearly all his incarnations, from the famous animated show to the past two games in the series. He is Batman for many fans.

However, there is something about his voice that sounds oddly flat to me.

In opting for a younger Bruce Wayne, and therefore a younger Batman, WB Games went with Roger Craig Smith as their voice actor. In his dialogue delivery, he managed to convey a powerful animation that was conspicuously absent from Conroy’s performances.

I’m not saying Conroy was a bad Batman. He just wasn’t a good Bruce Wayne.

And I think that’s an important distinction.

In “Origins” we are given a look at the younger, more vulnerable side of Batman. From the opening scene when Bruce Wayne descends into the Batcave as hundreds of bats swoop in and around him, from when Alfred comes up behind him and places a silver tray on his desk which reflects a small Wayne family portrait, from when Vicki Vale is interviewing Bruce asking him about his years away and he brusquely brushes her off, players can tell this game is meant to be more about Bruce Wayne than about Batman.

bruce bat

Source: Nerdreactor.com

And there’s something commendable in crafting the game with that attitude in mind, with the focus less on Batman and more on the man behind the feared Dark Knight mask.

Another thing I liked about Origins was the way it introduced us to various characters in the Batman canon. Some of these introductions were incomplete, but they did give us a taste of what the characters were like in their infancy and what kind of early reactions they had to Gotham’s protector.

Bane is a perfect example of a fascinating character whose introduction was interesting in the context of the game but somewhat incomplete. While the ending in which Bane, driven mad by his own drugs, forgets Batman’s identity and everything but his hatred of the caped crusader was oddly poetic and certainly did set things up for his involvement in the later games, I found his introduction somewhat lacking.

Mostly because Bruce seemed surprised to see Bane in Gotham, and acted almost as if he knew him from somewhere else. Now, if this was because he had actually met the buff junkie before or because he had heard of him through his various crime-fighting sources, I don’t know. But it’s something that I think merits further inquiry – not that I’m likely to get it.

Another character I wished the game had talked about more was Barbara Gordon. How exactly did the plucky teen hacking Batman’s comms and asking him to destroy stolen weapons go from behind a computer screen to on the streets fighting crime?

We know how she ended up back behind that screen – “Arkham Knight” did an okay job of taking us back to guilt old Brucie at the cost of actual character development – but “Origins” did little to explain how she took the giant step forward into becoming Batgirl, a kick ass superhero in her own right and one of Bruce Wayne’s (many) protégée children.

For that matter, where is Robin? He was available to play in the game’s multiplayer mode – not something I ever wanted out of a story-heavy game like “Origins” – but conspicuously absent from the streets of Gotham and all of the game’s DLCs.

Give me a DLC that further humanizes Bruce Wayne by making him care for and train little Dick Grayson and I’d happily give you my soul and all my future game money.

“Origins” also did a really good job of setting up the future Batman and Joker conflict.

Not only was this game’s Joker both creepily compelling and interestingly dynamic, Troy Baker’s performance, while nothing like Mark Hamill’s iconic interpretation, managed to woo and wow me in turns.

What I particularly loved was the brief snippet of dialogue Joker shared with a cop as he was arrested after Batman saved him from plummeting to his death.

As he shoved him in the cop car, one of Gotham’s finest asked the Joker if he had any clue where “his partner” was headed. The Joker told him Batman was not his partner, to which the cop responded, “who else would save your crazy ass?”

wtf is wrong with you man.jpg

Source: Conceptart.org.

The Joker’s reaction – a slow smile and a sinister echo of the cop’s question – sets the stage for their entire relationship, one that matured beautifully in “Arkham Knight.”

But that’s a topic for another blog.

If you haven’t already noticed, I could talk for hours about the gameplay and mechanics, but I think the heart and soul of a game lies in its storytelling.

Without a good story, there is no game – I’m looking at you, “Call of Duty” 89 or whatever version is out right now – I don’t care how awesome your graphics are, or how engaging the combat.

To that end, I think “Arkham Origins” had a compelling story in the characters it introduced, its handling of Troy Baker as the Joker and Roger Craig Smith as Batman, and its focus on Bruce Wayne as Batman instead of the other way around.

While I could write another blog entry about all the things the game did wrong beginning with crazy graphic scales and ending with Firefly’s disastrous cameo as a major villain – he burns stuff, big deal – I think it’s better to talk about what we, as players, like in video games so we can get more of that in future games rather than just complain and complain about what we don’t like without giving any constructive feedback.

This tribute to “Batman: Arkham Origins” is the first in my three part Arkham series, so keep a look out for next week’s unkind honest review of Rocksteady’s “Arkahm Knight.”

Talk video games to me on twitter (@lydmcinnes) or email (lydiajm96@gmail.com).

Game on, my feared vigilante warriors, and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

take it down a notch bruce

For a good read on the comparative differences between the art style of “City” and “Origins” read part 4 of Shamus Young’s “Batman Arkham Origins: Over-Analysis” on Twentysidedtale.com.

Source: Shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale

Driving games give me anxiety

I’m the kind of person that feels bad when I knock over a light post during an in-game high-speed car chase

I have never played “Grand Theft Auto.” I have absolutely no experience with the games aside from my impressions upon seeing the box art and watching some of the gameplay on YouTube. The only thing I know for sure about the wildly popular game franchise is that it involves breaking the law in a major way and driving cars. Lots of cars.

The name itself gives you a hint into what the whole game is about, right? You go around driving through the streets of Los Angeles, or what have you, stealing cars and wreaking chaos and just generally being a crazy person.

It is this craziness that I have a problem with.

I’m the kind of person that feels bad when I knock over a light post during an in-game high-speed car chase. I wonder at the damage I’m causing, the potential harm I’m inflicting on nearby NPC’s and how much money it will cost to clean up the mess I’ve made with my horrible video game driving skills.

My personal anxieties aside, it seems more and more games are experimenting with in-game driving capabilities. While some of the foundations for driving-related mechanics have existed in games since their beginnings, new games are incorporating an increasing number of driving levels to appeal to an audience used to “Grand Theft Auto” and its car-heavy gameplay.

You don’t need to look far to see examples of what I’m talking about.

Rocksteady added a driving feature in “Batman: Arkham Knight” with a high tech Batmobile capable of Gotham street-warfare.

Ubisoft included a horse and buggy with “Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate” along with several new levels and loyalty missions to incorporate this new capability.

The foundation of the “Mad Max” game and franchise is built entirely on the use of cars to beat back the post-apocalyptic crazies in a world where water and oil are your most precious resources.

Now I’m not saying driving mechanics are a bad thing. If done correctly, I think including a driving capability can expand the game and open up a new experience for players.

However, it is important that driving mechanics are implemented correctly.

For example.

As much as I loved the next-gen Arkham, I think the Batmobile was hard to drive and difficult to incorporate. While its battle mode was certainly interesting and even fun at some times, it was hard to justify the car’s use in Arkham Knight versus Asylum or City.

Also, like I mentioned before, it was hard for me to drive around Gotham causing the kind of damage that massive tank of a machine wreaked just by existing.

I understand that nobody but criminals and militiamen were in the city by the time of the game’s beginning. I understand that Rocksteady included animation of criminals jumping out of the way of the Batmobile just in time so they wouldn’t be run over and Batman wouldn’t kill anyone, even accidentally.

And I understand that the use of the Batmobile was 100% justifiable according to Batman canon. It even makes sense because nearly all Batman movies include some sort of Batmobile vehicle, so why shouldn’t the video game?

All I’m saying is that I could not park the car without inflicting some pretty massive damage on the city of Gotham. I could barely move it one foot before there was something getting knocked down in my way. If it wasn’t a street sign or a part of a barbed wire fence it was the glass storefront next to the street or even the concrete corner of an office building.

“Forbes” contributor Erik Kain said it all in his article “Batmobile Blues” when he described the Batmobile as the game’s “second protagonist” and that the game itself could have gone a lot farther with a toned down version of the Batmobile mechanics.

And for those of you who have played the game, don’t even get me started on the Riddler and his racing quests. Or on what Jason did to the city’s underground after he plowed through the dirt with that monstrous digging machine.

I mean, what justifies that kind of incredible force? I love you Jason Todd, but seriously? How? And WHY?

But that’s an issue for another blog.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I would be interested in seeing if Bethesda would ever include a driving capability in their Fallout series. While navigating the post apocalyptic wasteland would be difficult in the bulky nuclear powered cars of 2077, it would be cool to see if the player character could use car parts to hotwire a motorcycle or another smaller mode of transportation.

What other games could benefit from a few driving levels? What games have you played that could have done without them? Leave a comment or send me a message on Twitter (@lydmcinnes).

If you have a game you want me to talk about, or a specific question you want to ask, hit me up and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

Drive on, speed demons, and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

combined cars

And while all these cars look fly as hell, the in-game destruction they leave in their wake is anything but.

Image source (clockwise from top left): Batman.wikia.com , Player-zone.com, Gamespot.com, Gta5car.com