on Jun 10, 2015
Here it is. Listen to the cast try to admire a game to death. All this gushing and praise makes me nauseous. I’m not sure how much of that is because this is a fantastic game and how much is because it’s not Hitman: Absolution.
(Note that at the 11:30 mark I say “Officer Cash” when I should have said “Officer Boles”. My bad.)
This game generally gets a pass for the long opening because the scene is really good by the standards of movies, and phenominal by the standards of videogame cutscenes. The opening to this game is about ten minutes of barely-interactive talking. It’s actually worse than a simple video, since the fact that it’s quasi-interactive means it can’t be skipped. You can’t even put the controller down and go make a sandwich, since you need to be there to nudge Batman forward.
But setting aside how stupefyingly risky it is to begin an action game by making the player walk implacably forward for ten minutes, the scene really does a fantastic job at putting all the pieces on the board. We get the Batman / Joker dynamic, we get that Joker is up to something and that Batman knows it, we get a look at this main corridor of the Asylum where a good chunk of the game will take place, we get the explanation for why so many of Joker’s men are here in an asylum instead of in a regular prison, we get the setup for Croc, we meet Warden Sharpe, we meet Gordon and establish his friendship with Batman, we see how the layers of security at Arkham work, we get some foreshadowing with Officer Boles, we see how Batman is ready for Joker’s move, and we see Harley spring the trap.
Note to other developers: Yes, Arkham Asylum began with a long cutscene, but it wasn’t just a bunch of clichés and dramatic visual cues. It was also packed with detail, exposition, lampshading, characterization, and foreshadowing. You should be very cautious about trying something this audacious in the future. If you pull it off, fine. But if the cutscene fails, annoys, or tries anyone’s patience, then your entire game is going to faceplant before the player even settles in.
I suppose we can think of this as the Half-Life Tram Ride 2.0: This is a sequence that worked for this game, but probably shouldn’t be attempted by anyone else.