Monday, June 22, 2015

Batman: Arkham Origins

A funny thing happened while I was playing Batman: Arkham Origins.  Set five years before the original Batman: Arkham Asylum game, we see a young, fresh-faced massively bitter Bruce Wayne still enjoying the "Batman is a myth" aspect of being a costumed do-gooder who only goes out at night, while the cops are determined to stop the rise in crime committed by people in colorful outfits as well as take in this crazed mercenary dressed like Dracula but understanding the whole "transforms into a bat, not dresses like one" thing.

You have the same game play as in previous games, with a few little touches here and there.  Batman's more of a rookie, so he doesn't have quite the same massive skill set, though he's still busting out double take downs when he couldn't do it in the original game.

But here's the funny thing.

Halfway through the game, I stopped having fun.

And I think I could pretty much just leave the review there and call it a night, but I think I need to explain why I stopped having fun.

I think a lot of games tend to lose something when they're taken away from the original studio that thought them up.  Bioshock 2 wasn't done by the same people who did Bioshock, and it was pretty much a copy/paste of the original but worse.  Much is the same with this game, which went from Rocksteady over to Warner Bros. Games Montreal.  You lost that original creative drive and idea factory that worked so well.

The game isn't as crisp as it was in previous games.  I would frequently find myself trying to dodge large attacks just to get stuck in corners being continuously clipped by charging bad guys.  Large muscular guys who need you to focus on them to bring them down would manage to slowly walk up and kick me in the head despite my mashing the button for Batman to duck and roll away from them while they were still walking.  Grapple locations would dance annoyingly in front of me as I tried to swerve the camera around so Batman would realize he could take hold of a distant street sign and not fly face-first into the side of an apartment building, but he never realized there were any options available.

Besides the lower standard of game play, I think the story suffered this time as well.  In previous games, they had a pretty good reason for having Batman trapped in areas that he would essentially bring under control through the power of "boots meeting teeth."  Arkham Origins opens up the entire city of Gotham (which is strangely smaller than the sequestered area from Arkham City), and tries to keep you busy with the plot hook of "Black Mask (a bad guy) puts out a huge bounty on Batman, and every crazed psychopath/ninja/mercenary wants to collect."

"Well," I hear you thinking, "why doesn't Batman just stay home and listen to holiday music and invite over a supermodel or two to share some eggnog with?"

"Well," I reply, freaking you out with my uncanny ability to read minds, "it turns out that Gotham's police are equal parts incompetent and corrupt, so even though murderous psychopaths are running amok, they can't get their act together enough to take down a D-List loser like Firefly or Copperhead, much less Bane or Lady Shiva."

It's a rather depressing idea that Gotham is so far gone that Batman would probably have better success in the long run if he just bought up all the buildings in a small section of it, bulldozed everything, built new houses and offices, and then invited in a select few people and set up a giant gate to keep the unwanted people ou- oh, wait, that was the plot of the second game, sort of, just without the sensible urban renewal.

One of the highlights of the previous games was being able to be a stealthy predator, taking down mooks from the shadows and leaving them tied up like pinatas filled with disdain for the law and emptying bladders.  There were large segments of the game where I would be clambering around in sewers, hallways, and back rooms, essentially just kicking open doors and punching everything that moved until I was allowed to move on.

Plus, I want to point out that having a dodgy (no pun intended) dodge system combined with multiple enemies that need to be taken out with lengthy combos in a single map space is really unfair.  I would attempt to break a combo to parry or dodge someone else's attacks just to have Batman ignore me and merrily punch away until someone removed his memories of playing the piano with a baseball bat strike to the head.

Then there's the DLC.  I love Mr. Freeze, he's in my top 5 Batman villains simply for how tragic a character he is.  To have an entire episode devoted to him should make me happy beyond belief.

Then I started playing.  I got to one part where I had to locate a drill to get through some ice.  "Okay," I said to myself, "I don't know why Waynetech wouldn't have already built something out of the billions of weird gadgets and gear it builds daily, but okay."  So I hunt down the guy with the drill, just to find out that the drill was broken into three parts that are scattered across the city.

"No," I said, as I paused the game.  "No.  I am not playing "Batman goes on fetch quests," I'm playing "Batman."  Batman does't do fetch quests for ridiculous reasons."  It left me in the same mindset of games in the Legend of Zelda series, where I'd have to scour the landscape for the one guy willing to trade me a fishhook so I could get something else that would lead me to a weapon that could help save the world.  You'd think "hey, I need to stop the Big Bad Guy, gimme that fishhook, I'll pay you back later" would work.

Speaking of gadgetry, Batman's somehow even more well equipped during this game than in any other game.  Once you've gone around punching people with shock gauntlets that break through any defense, why would you ever take them off?

If you want to play a good Batman game, play Arkham Asylum or Arkham City.  This one's passable, but when being Batman feels more like a chore, something you just HAVE to get over with to get on to something more enjoyable, then the Batman games are going back to some pretty dark times for the caped crusader in video games.

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