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Posts Tagged ‘Warner Bros’

BATMAN: ARKHAM CITY

Developer:Rocksteady

Release: October 2011

Genre: Action-Adventure

Format: PC, Xbox 360, PS3

In all honesty, I don’t think there’s been one game this year I’ve been more excited about playing than Batman: Arkham Asylum. Sure, there was the short lived Portal 2, and the epic finale that was Gears of War 3, but my anticipation to play those games felt like nothing compared to the seductive allure of Rocksteady’s sequel. The first game received Thirteen1 accolade of Game of the Year in 2009 – and rightly so – but how does the sequel fare? Is it an overwhelming improvement, taking what was great about the widely successful first game and adding more concepts and gameplay mechanics? Or is it just a case of copy-and-paste?

I was literally quivering with ecstasy when the main title popped up and the awesome music played; this felt like the dark Batman we’ve all grown used to. Unfortunately, my buzz was interrupted by notifications about DLC on more than one occasion. Now, I don’t want to get into a debate about the whole ‘DLC only available for those who buy brand new’, in fact that policy has proven to work sometimes (e.g. Mass Effect 2), however it should not mar the first – and most important – moments of the game.

The story begins 18 months after the events of the original game. Arkham Asylum has been shut down and decommissioned, and a section of Gotham City has been isolated to form its replacement: Arkham City. Overseen by the elusive Hugo Strange, Arkham City is a complex where all the super-villains and criminals of Gotham have free rein to do as they wish. Obviously this has led to a power struggle between rival villains, resulting in a major division of the city; with Two-Face, the Penguin, and the allegedly dying Joker seemingly leading the biggest gangs and owning the larger territories That being said, there’s still the presence of other supervillains behind the scenes; some who made an appearance in the original game, and others just waiting to make their debut in Rocksteady’s series. But where do we find our hero in all of this? The man behind the mask, Bruce Wayne, is publicly arrested in the opening scenes by Strange’s personal army. Strange knows who Batman really is, and makes this apparent to Wayne from the start. In order to keep him from interfering, Strange has Wayne incarcerated into Arkham City, making him easy-pickings for the inmates. After a brief encounter with The Penguin, Wayne has Alfred airdrop his Batman gear on a nearby roof, which he immediately dons and begins his investigation into Arkham City.

It’s a brilliant setup, and one of the greatest openings to a videogame ever. The overall plot keeps you hooked throughout, plus the fan service is absolutely incredible; characters don’t just make reference to the first game, but to other events in The Batman canon. From the delicious opening, right through to the shocking conclusion, the main story of Arkham City is an engaging and well-paced narrative. Rocksteady have really done their research, and any Batman fan would feel at home in the new environment, especially with the inclusion of iconic locations such as The Iceberg Lounge and Monarch Theatre, which of course leads to the infamous Crime Alley where a young Bruce Wayne witnessed the murder of his parents. Overall, the game’s presentation is dark and grim, which is perfect for all Batman acolytes, and the voice cast is simply sensational, with Nolan North as the cockney Penguin and Mark Hamill’s Joker stealing the show once again.

So how does it play? In a word: bat-tastic. The level of genius used to devise the combat system rivals that of Edward Nigma. The sheer simplicity of one button for strike, another for counter, etc., is implemented brilliantly, and the learning curve of new moves, combos, and finishing takedowns is steady, yet challenging. The freeflow mechanic that allows you to stack up your combo multiplier is smooth and responsive, and the addition of multiple counters is welcomed. The combat works great, and it feels even better due to the superb animations; each fight is so cinematic, as if they were carefully choreographed by Jackie Chan. I wouldn’t get into fights purely for the experience points; I just wanted to see Batman meticulously snap an arm or two. Gadgets can still be used in combat, and there’s a wide choice to choose from. Most are assigned quick-fire buttons, which allows you to grapple hook one enemy, batarang another, and freeze a third. It works seamlessly, which is a good thing since enemy types differ, and some require a more tactical approach than a simple toe-to-toe face off – Titan brutes aren’t as prominent this time round, but they do make the odd appearance.

Predator mode is very much the same but the enemy AI has been ramped up a bit; enemies will team up and search the area covering each other, and some will shoot down gargoyles if they clock on to your tactics. Again, it’s a brilliant addition, and it keeps you on your toes. Just like in combat mode, enemies differ to ramp up the challenge; some thugs have gadgets that can see you in the shadows, or interfere with your detective vision. It’s still fun to play the hunter, watching your prey shake with fear as their numbers dwindle, but hand-to-hand combat wins when discussing which is most enjoyable and empowering.

Despite looking like an open world environment a lá Grand Theft Auto, Arkham City is structured more like the first game: outside being a hub world with numerous areas acting like dungeons with a boss at the end. Not all buildings are accessible, but every structure is worth fine-combing in order to find all those Riddler Trophies. Each ‘dungeon’ is unique, and like Arkham Asylum, they’ll be something new to discover each time you visit; The Penguin’s museum being a genuine highlight for me. Rocksteady attempted something different with the boss fights, which is a change for the better considering how poorly received the final fight with Joker was in the first game. Not all Boss fights are challenging, but the memorable and arduous journey to reach them makes the finishing punch all the more satisfying. None of the encounters match up to the intensity of the Scarecrow in Arkham Asylum, but a fight underneath Arkham City with a particular supervillian will remain a fond memory of mine.

The main story took roughly fifteen hours to complete on hard, but that only counts towards less than 40% of the game’s completion. A hero’s work is never done, and the various side missions mean Batman is going to have a long night. The Riddler quests are more exciting this time round, asking for a lot more time and lateral thinking, and side missions such as the Pay Phone Killer and Identity Thief murders mix things up nicely. Once you’re done with your first game, you’ll unlock new game plus; a story mode that allows you to carry across all your experience, upgrades and gadgets from the get-go in exchange for harder enemy types and no counter-indicators – this is what it really feels like to be Batman. It’s actually worth playing a second time – provided your game doesn’t delete your save file (an exclusive Xbox 360 bonus/glitch that we unfortunately encountered eight hours into our first playthrough).

The Catwoman DLC is a bit of a disappointment, acting as intermissions from the primary plot, the chapters with the feline thief don’t add much to the experience, but it must be played if you want a bigger picture into the background of Arkham City and its vibrant characters.

Playing as the world’s greatest detective again has been the most thrilling gaming experience this year; even now I can’t put my controller down due to the new and improved challenge mode. It feels so empowering to fight as The Dark Knight, and Rocksteady’s accomplishments with our hero are awesome in a very obvious kind of way. The long list of subtle improvements give this sequel its own identity, while staying true to the formula we fell in love with two years ago. And after the end credits roll, after hours of riddles, 45x combos, and Batman’s armour getting split to hell, there’s one fact that’s undeniably clear. No one knows the Caped Crusader better than Rocksteady.

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BASTION

Developer: Supergiant Games

Release: July 2011

Genre: Fantasy-RPG

Format: Xbox 360, PC

The writer stares at the blank word document. In his mind, he knows that he must write a detailed review for the XBLA game Bastion, but part of him wants to just crack up a beer and call it a day. No, he won’t do that. The readers need to know about Supergiant Games’ debut title and just how it brings something innovative to the fantasy RPG genre. The writer continues to stare at the words he’s already written, and chuckles to himself at his poor attempt to mimic the game’s narration.

Ok enough of that. Bastion is a fantasy RPG set around an unnamed hero, referred to by the narrator of the kid. Now, for those of us who’ve played numerous fantasy-RPG, we know what to expect: a lucrative, yet complex backstory, blank-faced NPCs who yak-yak-yak-side-quest-yak-yak-yak, huge environments to traverse and plenty of button mashing. Well, prepare for the unexpected with Bastion, which manages to flip the genre on its head. That’s right, Bastion is different. It’s completely original, has innovative gameplay, a brilliant story (superbly narrated), and paces itself very well.

Part of what makes this game so innovative – and for the bizarre introduction – is the literal way the game’s narrated. From the first moment you move the on screen character, the narrator says: “He gets up.” From the get go your choices, victories, fights, and failings are spoken out loud by a wonderful voice actor who should be commended for his work. It must be cheaper too, instead of hiring numerous voice actors to play NPCs to tell the story; you have one bloke do it. What’s also great about this design element is that the narrative can be absorbed without breaking up gameplay. You can continue to fight enemies or smash up the environment, all while taking in what the narrator has to say.

While we’re on the topic of the environment, let’s divulge how the levels are setup and how the game works. Bastion is the central hub world, and when you first discover the land, it’s in ruin. The point of the game is to go to other worlds and collect Cores, which can be used to rebuild Bastion. Each level is uniquely themed, and the way they’re designed is intricate and impressive. The world is created around as you move, so when you walk forward the path will slowly be created in front of you. It’s a very clever idea, because it motivates you to play on from the word go, making the game wholly addictive. Combine this with the colourful design, and it’s like being in control of your own game; as if you’re making the world up as you go.

At its core, Bastion is a hack-and-slash fighter, which is disappointing compared to the aforementioned design aspects. There are numerous weapons for you to collect, melee and ranged, but none of them really give you that much of a tactical advantage. Many enemy types exist, but most can be defeated with a quick combination of bashing the attack and evade buttons. Another disappointment is the ability to explore the dungeons. Despite creating the world as you go, the levels offer very little in terms of exploration, making the game more of a linear action game than an RPG.

However, these are only two things, and considering the game is brief one, it’s not a huge problem. The game has a steady pace, but we’re talking only a few hours until you complete it, plus it’s very addictive, so we wouldn’t be surprised if many of you finished it in one sitting. Bastion may not have brought an innovative combat system to the fantasy-RPG genre, but the way the story is told and how the game progresses will keep you hooked right through to its fruition.

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