Arkham City Part 1: Gameplay First

By Shamus
on Jan 26, 2017
Filed under:
Batman

Batman: Arkham City is an interesting contrast to the last two games we’ve talked about:

1) Mass Effect: Details / worldbuilding firstAt least in the first game. The fact that this focus changed is one of the things that makes the series so controversial and fascinating..

2) Final Fantasy X: Characters / emotions first.

3) Batman: Arkham City: Gameplay first.

I don’t want to be overly reductive here. I’m not implying that the Mass Effect teams didn’t care about gameplay, or that the story in Arkham City wasn’t important to anyoneAt least, I HOPE someone cares about the story, since I’m going to spend several entries on it.. But there is a clear mechanical focus about Batman. To me it looks like Mass Effect (especially the first one) was written like this:

“I’ve come up with this world and I want to tell a story about it. What gameplay would work best?”

While Arkham was written more like:

“I want to make a Batman game about brawling, stealth, and puzzle solving. What story would work best for that?”

The Arkham games are designed with a particular rhythm of changing gameplay modes in mind, and a story is stretched to fit over this framework. If that means adding in the occasional supervillain boss fight with no relevance to the main story, then so be it. Both are completely valid ways of designing a game, but they produce different experiences with different challenges for the developer to overcome and different problems for us to nitpick.

The Test of Time

The world of Arkham City FEELS big, but unlike Arkham Origins and Arkham Knight, it doesn`t feel like the points of interest have been diluted for the sake of ramping up the number of square meters of gamespace.

The world of Arkham City FEELS big, but unlike Arkham Origins and Arkham Knight, it doesn`t feel like the points of interest have been diluted for the sake of ramping up the number of square meters of gamespace.

Arkham City is a pretty good example of a game that’s aged well over time, and why after-the-fact retrospectives like this one can be useful. Two years ago I put it at #13 on my “stupid list of top games in a meaningless order”. I’ve played the game again since then, and I think I’d put it a few pointless slots higher. For contrast, Tomb Raider made the top 10 back then, and I’m sure it wouldn’t today. It’s not that I think the game is bad. It’s just that I doubt I’d remember to include it at all. In both cases I finished the game and thought, “That was pretty good!” They’re both open-ish games with a linear story, combat and stealth sections, some light puzzle solving, and the usual collect-a-thon filler. But I’ve had the urge to return to Arkham City many times over the years, and my opinion of it has increased with every trip through the game. In contrast, I tried to revisit Tomb Raider and found the magic had kind of faded.

My point is that while games are often purchased based on their day-1 reviews, we don’t typically have a full understanding of their virtues and faults until after we’ve had a few years to collectively think about, discuss, and replay them.

I’m worried that a lot of people will give this series a pass because it falls pretty far outside our usual areas of interest. It’s not an RPG. There’s no dialog wheel. No morality meter. No branching story that reacts to player choiceUnless you want to count the one where your choice is “continue linear story” or “Game Over”.. There’s almost no focus on the relationship between our hero and his friendsSure, Batman argues with Oracle and Robin a little, but the vast majority of the dialog is between Batman and whomever he’s about to punch in the face.. There’s very little worldbuildingTo be fair, the world has already been built in other works, and this story just sort of assumes you’re familiar with the basics.. So in order to capture your interest I’ll say something provocative yet vague, and promise to explain it later.

I’ve said before that I don’t like Dark Souls. But what’s interesting is that I love Arkham City, and the things I love about Arkham City are the things it has in common with Dark Souls.

Hopefully I can string you along with that idea for a few weeks.

One final note is that I did a short-form review of this game five years ago, and I’m going to re-use a few of those points in this series. I’m only pointing this out because if I don’t, someone else will.

Too Many Batmans

We`re Batman!

We`re Batman!

These days when someone says they like Batman, I always feel the desire to clarify: Which Batman?

Do you mean Animated Series Batman? Cornball camp Batman of the 60’s show? The “Sherlock with a cape” Batman? Frank Miller’s violent psychopath Batman? The Vegas camp duo of the Batman and Robin movie? Year One Batman? The Batman who leads a franchise of Bat-sidekick alumni as various Bat-themed crimefighters? Iron Man with a Cape Batman? Obsessive loner Batman? Chubby post-post-retirement Batman?

From a pure character design standpoint, he’s a really striking and versatile hero. The gothic city sets him apart from the other crimefighters bouncing around in their various New York / LA analogs. Everyone is familiar with who he is and what he’s all about. Yes, we’re pretty sick of his “my parents are dead!” schtick now, but the reason we’re sick of it is because people keep telling the story. And they keep telling the story is because it’s so evocative. He’s got interesting foes that have complicated relationships with him. He can go it alone, with a partner, or as part of a sprawling team. His stories can be crime thrillers, murder mysteries, personal dramas, and standard-issue superhero power fantasies. He’s an incredibly interesting character with a rich background and is one of the most instantly recognizable characters ever created.

So it’s understandable that there have been so many different remixes of him over the years. He’s like Hamlet. Everyone finds something different when they analyze his stories, and everyone feels the need to take the familiar base recipe and give it their own distinct spin.

But out of all of them, my favorite is the stoic idealist of the Arkham series, who is pretty close to the Batman of the Animated series. I like how he works as such a great straight man for the antics of this crazy-pants adversaries. It’s okay that he’s totally humorless and has a massive stick up his butt. His stiff persona is a great contrast with basically everyone else in his world.

This game offers three very distinct difficulty levels (and also a New Game+ variant) and since Arkham City is so gameplay-focused I imagine some people will be curious what I chose. I’ve been through the games many times over the years. For this series, I went through an additional three times. I did it once on easy difficulty to quickly round up screenshots, and again on hard difficulty because that’s my preferred way to play. And then last week in a fit of madness I began yet another trip through the game on normal, so I could go achievement-hunting.

I enjoyed the game every time, although they make for very different experiences. We’ll talk much more about the gameplay in the next few entries.

Saved From GFWL

GFWL does NOT stand for "Gotham Football Women`s League".

GFWL does NOT stand for "Gotham Football Women`s League".

This game came out at the tail end of the Games For Windows LIVE ordeal. It was one of many afflicted titles. During my first playthrough, I actually lost all of my savegames. I fired up the game one day and my save was simply GONE. The Microsoft help database had many irrelevant answers to unrelated questions, but nothing to say about my problem. Sure, I could have submitted a support ticket, but this was not my first time at the GFWL rodeo. The odds of them helping me were astronomical and I didn’t want to waste any more hours on the problem. So I started over.

Then some weeks later, my saves vanished again. By this point the problem was widespread enough that clever people had figured it out. Some searches brought me to a site (probably a thread on NeoGAF or somesuch) where someone explained that GFWL shuffled your saves around between a couple of different directories. One location was where the GAME ITSELF wanted to keep saves, and the other was where the dingbats at Microsoft thought they should go, and if GFWL bungled the movePerhaps if it crashed at an inopportune moment, or perhaps it got into a tiff with Steam about which one of them owned the files, or perhaps it was a bug, or whatever. then the saves would be stranded in that other directory.

Once I knew where to look, I was able to find my saves. I also found the long-lost saves from the previous incident.

Everyone rejoiced when GFWL finally started to die. It meant no more games would be infected with this time-sucking murderer of fun. The only worry now was about what would happen to the existing GFWL titles.

Arkham City was one of the lucky ones. GFWL was patched out, and today you can play it with no additional encumbrance beyond Steam. Other games (like FUEL) were not so lucky.

This game is a classic, and it would be heartbreaking if the only way to obtain a working copy was to pirate it. Since I refuse to use the torrents – even for games I own – I’d be cut off from one of my favorite games forever.

This stuff matters. It’s going to be hard enough to keep our games working in the future. We don’t need our games to enter into a suicide pact with irresponsible, apathetic, and incompetent systems like GFWL. This is why I’m pushing so hard against the Windows 10 store. It’s why I don’t think we should “Give them a chance” or “wait and see if it gets better”. I’m not impressed if someone insists that they’re “really trying”. Screwups like this can destroy games.

I’m glad Arkham City was saved. I’d feel better if we weren’t about to put another generation of games in jeopardy.

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Footnotes:

[1] At least in the first game. The fact that this focus changed is one of the things that makes the series so controversial and fascinating.

[2] At least, I HOPE someone cares about the story, since I’m going to spend several entries on it.

[3] Unless you want to count the one where your choice is “continue linear story” or “Game Over”.

[4] Sure, Batman argues with Oracle and Robin a little, but the vast majority of the dialog is between Batman and whomever he’s about to punch in the face.

[5] To be fair, the world has already been built in other works, and this story just sort of assumes you’re familiar with the basics.

[6] Perhaps if it crashed at an inopportune moment, or perhaps it got into a tiff with Steam about which one of them owned the files, or perhaps it was a bug, or whatever.


A Hundred!2011There are 131 comments here. I really hope you like reading.

From the Archives:

  1. Thomas says:

    Tomb raider 2013 isn’t an open world game and Arkham City is an open world game. Tomb raider is less open-world than Asylum and Asylum is only ‘open-ish’.

    Whereas City is a giant open map that you fly around doing minigames and sidequests until you start a story mission.

    EDIT: oops sorry, horrible of me to open up the commenting with a silly nitpick. I’m looking forward to this series!

    • ulrichomega says:

      Nitpicking is what we do best around here.

      • Joe Informatico says:

        In the spirit of that, Metroidvanias like TR reboot and Asylum have superficial similarities to open-world games like City (which mostly begin and end with “you can go back to places you’ve already been and unlock new content”), but they’re still distinct things.

        • GloatingSwine says:

          TReboot isn’t really much of a Metroidvania.

          Metroidvanias need to have a highly interconnected world where your expanding suite of abilities change the context of how you traverse the areas. Although in a Metroidvania you might pass through the same zone several times the new abilities you’ve gotten since the last time you were there mean you can now bypass some obstacle or puzzle that you had to solve last time and so you feel the weight of your increased capability. (Metroid Prime games are super strong at this).

          TReboot didn’t really do that, you could go back to an area with a new item and open something you couldn’t before, but the new item was just a key to a particular type of locked door, it didn’t change the way the area felt to traverse very much.

  2. lllVentuslll says:

    Definitely not the kind of game that’s in my wheelhouse (especially to discuss) even though I have played it but I am super curious to see your thoughts on it. I remember the post you made about the combat stuff in the Arkham games which really articulated a lot of why I think people like the games. I’m almost curious as to whether you’d do a similar post comparing Mad Max (or other similar games) combat systems since they directly rip from these games yet are not as successful.

  3. el_b says:

    gears of war 1 was never let off gfwl, its dead. you can play but you cant save, play online or co op. epic doesnt even recognize the pc games existance on their website. thankfully 2k and wb gave me alternate steam versions to replace arkham asylum and bioshock 2. i dont trust this new windows store for a second.

    • Zekiel says:

      Thankfully my experiences with G4WL on Arkham City (and Arkham Asylum) were relatively painless. It was just a pointless waste of time auto-logging in and checking for DLC every time I booted up the game. Also pointlessly replicating the Steam achievements so two icons popped up simultaneously whenever I got an achievement to interrupt my immersion. Yay.

  4. Zekiel says:

    Squeeeeee! Super-excited you’re delving into this game; it’s one of my favourites. Hopefully I can stand the criticism that you’re inevitably about to heap upon it :-)

    Edit: Having actually properly read your piece maybe there won’t be as much negative criticism as I thought… anyway I’m realling looking forward to reading this over the coming weeks.

  5. lethal_guitar says:

    Can’t wait for the next entry! This is actually perfectly in line with my interests :) I’m not really that much into RPGs, I liked reading the Mass Effect and FF series, but I never played those games (and have no intention to). Whereas I played a lot of the Arkham games, and City in particular. And Dark Souls. ;) So this is going to be good!!

    • Cinebeast says:

      At the risk of being a pedantic piece of crap, Dark Souls is technically an RPG too.

      • tmtvl says:

        Not much pedantic, it’s an Action RPG, as opposed to a “Tabletop” RPG or jRPG.

      • lethal_guitar says:

        That is technically true, yes :D But for me, Dark Souls is all about the mechanics and the gameplay. And that’s a whole genre of its own, I think. It doesn’t have that much in common with what I would consider a “traditional” RPG. Although this gets into the question of “what is a RPG”, which is a whole different story..

      • GeorgeMonet says:

        Dark Souls is not an RPG. You never take on a role therefore it cannot be a role playing game. Dark Souls is purely an action game and nothing more. It isn’t even a good action game imo.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Oh god,please no.No more the “true rpg” thing.It was meaningless back when rpgs were only played with papers and dice,its meaningless now as well.

  6. Durican says:

    Arkham Asylum will always be the best and most enjoyable Batman game to me, but I can’t deny that City absolutely nailed the franchise’s gameplay. I even went through and completed all of the challenge maps just because they were a heck of a lot of fun to play and incredibly satisfying to beat. The mixture of intuitive controls and allowance for player creativity in both the combat and the predator sections got me coming back time and time again.

    Which made it heartbreaking to see Knight water down everything that made City so great and shove in a tank sim. Racing in the Batmobile? Very fun and very Batman (nobody’s going to fault a Batman movie for including a car-chase sequence). Fighting drones in the Bat-Tank? No thank you, and may I please be allowed to stop?

    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

      Knight didn’t water down anything. It had all the Predator stuff with new, very fun gadgets and moves to use. It had combat, now with team up fights where you can switch characters, which is easily the best representation of Team Batman fighting I’ve ever seen in any game. It just, yes, also had the mediocre tank fighting in there.

      • Gloatingswine says:

        I think even City watered down the experience from Asylum.

        Arkham Asylum was a tightly designed environment where every major fight was a crafted encounter that happened either the first time you went somewhere or on returning there after something had changed as you progressed the plot. Every fight fit into both its environment and the story, and retraversing an area would have a different encounter there (or none), which combined with new abilities made covering the same ground smoother every time.

        In City you would have goons just kind of standing around on a rooftop to duff up, and even putting a justification in the game for them being there didn’t make them fill the same role in the world or narrative, they’re just there to stop the world looking so empty.

        The change away from being BatMetroid to being, well, a fashionable superhero open world lost something that never came back.

        • That’s not really a watering down, though – that’s just a different design decision. It’s apples and oranges.

          Though I would agree that I preferred the focus of Arkham Asylum. It felt like a more compelling “survivor” story, which Shamus has written about before. Actually, now that I think about it, I find the original Arkham Asylum touches on the same mood I get playing the original system shock. I guess the difference is that in the Arkham series, the ability to continue in the face of overwhelming opposition is rooted in internal strength, while System Shock had me feeling like Ripley in Alien, brandishing the flamethrower like a crucifix.

          • FelBlood says:

            It always struck me as weird hat people treat the old saw of Apples and Oranges like some kind of conversation stopper.

            If I enjoyed Fruit: Orange, but found that the milder, less tart flavor of Fruit 2: Apple unsatisfactory, that’s a valid criticism.

            Now, if you prefer the crunchier textures and ease of accessibility introduced in Apple, that’s a valid point too, but it does not invalidate the position of tartness enthusiasts.

        • Gndwyn says:

          I mostly agree, but the Mr. Freeze fight in Arkham City is one of the best boss battles in any game ever, with its combination of a huge variety of possible attacks that you can choose from freely and the nifty “you-won’t-get-me-that-way-twice” mechanic.

          At one level, it’s mechanically the same as any boss battle which has several stages and you have to do a different thing at each stage. But the fact that you can do them in any order, that you can roam around and choose a tactic as the opportunity presents itself, completely transforms it. It’s peak Batman, because it feels like you’re fighting against an opponent who can react to your attacks, but you’re always one step ahead of him with a new surprise that he’s not ready for.

          • GeorgeMonet says:

            ““you-won’t-get-me-that-way-twice” mechanic. ”

            This pissed me off to no end because of how impossibly stupid this was. Let’s say I punch you in the face, then I punch you in the gut. How does knowing I am going to punch you in the face or the gut make you immune to being punched in the face or the gut? Boxers know they are going to be punched in the face or the gut, their entire lives revolve around punching in the face or the gut and trying to block punches to the face or the gut, but they still get punched in the face or the gut. Knowing that something might happen doesn’t mean you can prevent it from happening 100% of the time, especially as the number of possibilities increase. If you can’t see someone then you especially can’t try to protect yourself.

            • Droid says:

              When Batman is done interrogating someone, he hits them in the face so hard their face turns around into a very strange angle and you hear a very distinctive bone-crunching sound. How on Earth did he pull that off without actually snapping that guy’s back? Because obviously Batman didn’t just kill him.

              Even when Batman stands on explosion gel when he activates it, or when he pushes his face into it, he doesn’t take any damage from the explosion.

              Not to even start about all the supervillains that could never work in the real world.

              There are games that have realistic mechanics, and there are games that don’t. And don’t tell me you were annoyed by every single attack and move Batman makes that is kinaesthetically impossible.

      • Taellosse says:

        No, the other gameplay wasn’t watered down, exactly, but the forced inclusion of all that Batmobile stuff still compromised the overall game. There were a LOT of points in the main story where use of the Batmobile was compulsory, and that gameplay worked for some people and REALLY didn’t for a lot of the rest of us.

        And personally, I kind of resented how much of the optional content was Batmobile-centric, too, because I like all the other kinds of gameplay in the Arkham series a lot – especially the new team-up sequences with supporting cast members – and I’d have MUCH rathered more of that than a bunch of irritating races and tank battles. Didn’t mind the stuff where you had to find a way to get the Batmobile up somewhere hard to reach so you could open a heavy door or something, though – those were mostly interesting puzzle sequences with an extra layer to them.

        • Chuk says:

          There was way too much Bat-tank in Arkham Knight, but the non-tank sections were better than the earlier games — I thought it was a good progression with lots of abilities to unlock and scenes to use them in. (I also liked the story a bit better.) If there was no tank, or even only a little tank or the option to skip the tank, it would definitely be my favourite of the Arkham games.

  7. Oliver Edleston says:

    Well, there is one other way to avoid GFWL and play the game. Though it’s only open to the filthy unwashed console gaming masses, and even then only those with “last generation” hardware available…

    Very interested to read through your thoughts on this game and looking forward to the rest of the series.

  8. MrGuy says:

    “I want to make a Batman game about brawling, stealth, and puzzle solving. What story would work best for that?”

    To some degree, this is a description of comics in general. We have an established world with a set of established characters and rules for how they do and don’t interact. Now let’s try to think of an interesting story to tell in that world.

    While every new story adds additional color and texture (and, rarely, a new character) to the world they all use the same base assumptions about the world and its characters (as well as what they look like), even if the authors and artists change.

    This is a Good Thing for the medium. It means we don’t have to explain that Batman is Bruce Wayne in every issue. The audience never needs to wonder “why didn’t he just kill that guy?” We don’t have to explain who that guy in the clown suit is. This makes them very accessible. Once you know the basics, you can pick up any issue and generally understand what’s going on. The specifics of the current story are somewhat interchangeable.

    This is not a knock on comics, nor is it to say they can’t tell extremely compelling stories. Just that the notion of “Ok, we have this world, now let’s figure out a story to tell here” is largely inherent to the medium. And many others, in a tradition that stretches back at least as far as Comedia Del Arte, and includes radio serials, sitcoms, and procedural tv dramas.

    Comics as a genre have built amazing worlds. But long running serial comics are, in general, “let’s find a story to tell in this world” and not the other way round.

  9. Daemian Lucifer says:

    1) Mass Effect: Details / worldbuilding first[1].

    2) Final Fantasy X: Characters / emotions first.

    3) Batman: Arkham City: Gameplay first.

    I see.So following that pattern,you are going to review the special edition of the new hope next.

  10. Daemian Lucifer says:

    These days when someone says they like Batman, I always feel the desire to clarify: Which Batman?

    No need.Because these days we have the batman,which incorporates all of them:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHgQSwgKygk&t=1m3s

    • Oliver Edleston says:

      Including the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh? Though plausibly true if the entire Lego Batman movie is just Bruce Wayne’s hallucination which triggers in defence of a mental assault…

    • Tizzy says:

      I like how the “too many batmans” picture in the article has all these versions of the character that have appeared over the years, but they’re all impossibly ripped like the worst excesses of the 90’s and 00’s. Adam West they ain’t!

    • MadTinkerer says:

      Actually, Lego Dimensions establishes that the “Buffoon Batman” from the Lego Movie and the Batman from the Lego Batman games are actually two different characters. So Buffoon Batman is a satire of all of the movie Batmen put together, but Lego Batman is actually a Lego-fied Animated Series Batman. Which also means that Arkham City Batman and Lego Game Batman are essentially the same character, with the main difference being that Lego Game Batman hangs out with Gandalf the Grey and thinks all the worlds of Lego Dimensions are real.

      If you don’t believe me, just keep in mind that the same voice actors who play Batman and The Joker in Arkham City are the same ones who play Batman and The Joker in the third Lego Batman game. (I don’t think they were able to get Mark Hamill for Lego Dimensions.)

  11. Wide And Nerdy ♤ says:

    Chubby post-post-retirement Batman?

    I am not familiar with this Batman and I want to be. Somebody help me please.

  12. Zak McKracken says:

    Dude, what’s wrong with the title image?

    It looks as if Batman and …Batwoman? Catwoman? are strangling Harley Quinn with that rope thingie, and whose hand is the left one on the Riddler’s staff? Based on where it’s coming from and what it looks like, it could be Batman’s left hand, but strangely twisted, or it could be the Riddler’s left hand, but then how is it in front of Batman, although his shoulder is behind Batman?

    Looks as if someone got half the Z buffers inverted or somesuch.

  13. Merlin says:

    This game came out at the tail end of the Games For Windows LIVE ordeal. It was one of many afflicted titles. During my first playthrough, I actually lost all of my savegames. I fired up the game one day and my save was simply GONE.

    This happened to me approximately 5 minutes after I had collected the last riddler trophy. Why did I collect all 10,000 doodads? It’s a mystery. But I do know that that single moment was enough to make me ragequit Arkham City – and most other open world games as well – forever.

  14. Henson says:

    I had never seen that image of all the Batmans at once. Is the beefy third one the ‘two days until retirement’ Batman?

    EDIT: Yes, Shamus already made this joke. My brain is not working properly this morning.

  15. Vermander says:

    Regarding all the different Batman’s, what are the essential aspects that every version of Batman has to have?

    In my opinion, you’ve got to have: A bat themed disguise with pointy ears, a secret identity, dead parents, a love of justice, a need to protect the innocent, brilliant detective, relentless determination, refusal to kill his enemies (at least on purpose).

    Without those things he’s not Batman.

    Also important, but not necessarily essential are: a cape, cool gadgets/vehicles, operates out of a secret lair, Alfred (or a similar helper), Commissioner Gordon (or a similar cooperative/incorruptible authority figure), one or more thematic villains, and sidekicks (ideally some version of Robin and/or Batgirl).

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Without those things he’s not Batman.

      So you are saying that the original batman isnt really batman.Because he did kill on purpose.Also,Im not sure when “dead parents” was established,but I think it was later on.

    • Zekiel says:

      Yeah I’d argue that “dead parents” is actually not essential (though it is definitely extremely prevelant). Batman could be Batman without that as his initial motivating factor (and in some versions of the character, that is no longer his main motivating factor even though it did happen).

      Of tangential interest is that the wonderful Batman Animated Series even had a stipulation in the show bible that they were never going to do a Batman origin story cos it’d been done already so many times. (Though his parents were definitely dead in the backstory nonetheless.)

      Also is it relevant to the conversation that 1989 Tim Burton Batman does deliberately kill people? Is he still really Batman? I know that pissed a lot of fans off. (Not me, since the film was basically my first introduction to a version of Batman that wasn’t played by Adam West so… yeah).

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Also there is the “does not kill,but will not save a villain from a doomed train” Nolan batman.How does that fit along the kill/not kill line?

        To me,they are all batmen.Just different interpretations.Just how the elseworlds batman in justice league war is batman,only in a very different world.

  16. Disservices like GFWL make me glad to be the occasional pirate. I played a number of tainted games and never had to put up with that malarkey. I can respect someone standing by their convictions, but there comes a point where the legitimate process puts one through so much trouble that they look more foolish doing the right thing than the wrong thing. As has been frequently said, piracy is a service problem, and you can hardly blame someone for it when the alternative is to suffer through something like GFWL.

    • MichaelGC says:

      You can respect someone up to the point you call them foolish? Funny notion of respect we’re dealing with, here.

      • galacticplumber says:

        He can respect someone for doing that UP TO A POINT. Important difference.

        • MichaelGC says:

          No, if you’re suddenly going to flip from ‘respect’ to ‘foolish’ then it’s an unimportant difference. Standing by your convictions means exactly that: you don’t abandon them when it becomes inconvenient, or they weren’t convictions in the first place.

          Similarly, you can’t claim respect for something but then spin it around as soon as it hits some arbitrary barrier. Or it wasn’t respect in the first place.

          I don’t care about piracy, but anyone attempting to salve their own conscience by criticising those who don’t pirate can fuck right off.

          • galacticplumber says:

            Several otherwise respectable things you can support with conviction become foolish taken to extremes. I would even go so far as to say that everything does if you take it far enough. By all means, you’re welcome to contest that by naming something which doesn’t and also doesn’t break site tabuu law like politics or religion.

            • MichaelGC says:

              Not-pirating games isn’t taking anything to extremes. “Everything does if you take it far enough,” sure, by definition. So what? I’m not talking about end-spectrum hypotheticals, I’m talking about the specific statements made above, which I did and do take exception to.

              • Syal says:

                Standing by the conviction that games should be bought and played through legal means is respectable. That conviction does not require putting up with any old trash a publisher puts around their game. There’s the legitimate alternative of not playing the game, and it’s not contradictory to consider someone foolish for ignoring that option.

                • MichaelGC says:

                  Evidently not the legitimate approach under discussion, though, given that it would be the opposite of troublesome. And the word ‘contradictory’ is making its first appearance, here. So really in this subthread everything has been completely irrelevant to where we started since… let’s see… yes, since “fuck right off.”

                  • Syal says:

                    The approach under discussion was someone suffering through Games For Windows Live out of a desire not to pirate. One part of that is a moral stance, the other part is likely not weighing all the options.

                    (If you’re picturing something being flipped or spun without being contradictory you’ll have to explain it to me.)

                    • MichaelGC says:

                      I don’t have to explain anything.

                    • MichaelGC says:

                      *sigh* But I suppose I will. ‘Contradiction’ has a distinct, technical meaning, which indicates x and then not-x. It is a logical error, but it does require x to be present in the first place. What I’ve been saying is that there was no x there in the first place.

                      Can we drop this now? I’m really tired of arguing about things I didn’t say, and which are therefore irrelevant. I don’t mind arguing about things I did say, but that is much rarer on here these days.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Isnt that one of the natural limits of respect?Why is there a problem with “I can respect you up to a point where I have to call you foolish”?

        • MichaelGC says:

          The speed of the switch indicates there was no respect there in the first place. As I mentioned above, the fact that convictions were mentioned is important: convictions are things which should be able to withstand a large amount of inconvenience. So the notion that if they’re not tossed aside then the person holding to them is immediately worthy of ridicule reveals that mere lip service was being paid to them. It either demonstrates a lack of understanding of what convictions are, or – as I obviously hold – that the apparent respect initially shown to them was actually a complete sham.

          To be clear, It’s the casuistry which bothers me, and the particular angle taken on that, not the piracy. If the comment had been “GFWL? Fuck that noise; I just pirate instead. Much easier,” I’d have scrolled on by. But instead the comment suggests that someone who pirates is better than someone who puts up with inconvenience, and that I strongly disagree with. (Note that I’m not saying the non-pirate is ‘better,’ either; I’m just refusing to accept that they are worse.)

    • Jokerman says:

      Its very a Batman mindset… stick to your convictions no matter how much extra harm it causes, i think Shamus even did an article on that…. :D

      I don’t think Shamus judges people who do pirate for the reason where you own a game… and “steal” it by torrenting due to not being able to access it any other way, just that he won’t do it himself.

      I do it… i pirate games i have bought, and lost the disk, games just lost to time like ‘no one lives forever’ and games lost to GFWL, but then again… i always judged things like this more on my own moral code than the letter of the law. Not that i like doing it, torrenting is a minefield, and there is the fact you are supporting the same people who pirate legitimate releases on a daily bases.

  17. Syal says:

    So what you’re saying is that Batman is the Dark Souls of Hamlet.

    I’m assuming the blue Batman is their take on Adam West’s costume, but apart from being way too ripped, they didn’t make the eyebrows obtrusive enough. Disappointing.

  18. Mikey says:

    “… the stoic idealist of the Arkham series, who is pretty close to the Batman of the Animated series.”

    Borrowing a writer and most of the major voice cast from that series probably contributes to that feel.

    Also, fun fact: this makes twice in a row you’re giving one of these analysis series’ to a game with a major character played by Tara Strong. She was Rikku in Final Fantasy X, and has been the voice of Harley in the Arkham series starting with this game. (Arkham Asylum used Harley’s original voice actor, who I’m given to understand is retired from that role but not from voice acting as a whole.)

  19. Inwoods says:

    >And they keep telling the story is because it’s so evocative.

    This sentence fragment needs a revisit.

  20. Retsam says:

    I decided, in order to enhance my reading experience of this series, to write a small JS script inspired by this XKCD comic, to replace “Batman” with “a man dressed as a bat”.

    It’s probably going to be impossible to get just right (really hard to figure out when it’s appropriate to have “a” in there and when to capitalize); but early results are promising:

    These days when someone says they like a man dressed as a bat, I always feel the desire to clarify: Which a man dressed as a bat?

  21. Ledel says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading your takes on these games a lot. I can’t wait for Mumbles to show up somewhere in this series just to tell you that you’re wrong and Arkham City is a perfect game.

  22. Ledel says:

    Fun fact: Arkham City was my introduction to the Arkham series. I enjoyed the gameplay and mechanics so much that I went back and bought Asylum to play.

    While I still enjoyed Asylum, it was very off-putting seeing where they started after seeing where they had polished the mechanics. By comparison, Asylum Batman felt slightly slower, and more robotic. Losing all the versatility that was achieved by City made it feel more like a game, losing some of my immersion. City allowed me to truly feel like I was Batman, mixing in gadgets into my combo’s, seamlessly jumping between enemies to keep them all off-balance, it flowed so well. Asylum had me constantly pulling what I shall affectionately call “Josh Punches” where I try to move to the next enemy after dropping one, and I just pointlessly punch the air, losing my combo.

    • Jokerman says:

      I liked that smaller, more linear environments… the continuing push towards bigger open worlds is one of the few things i haven’t liked about the progression of this series.

      • Baron Tanks says:

        Yeah, Arkham Knight basically pushed the same line even harder. Asylum really benefits from being the first and not knowing better (when it comes to movement and combat) if you played it then. I agree the environments made more sense, but the visceral feel is just so perfect in City. And the gliding you can do. But the scenario of City makes no sense (and Knight even less so). It’s funny, because the whole premise of Batman is of course inherently silly, but when you start thinking about how City would work and how readily the populace seems to accept it, the world still breaks.

    • Neil D says:

      I’ve gone back to Asylum a couple of times and did notice that the combat was just a little more janky than I’d remembered. You could still work with it, but the later games really perfected the flow.

      I’d love to see them give Asylum an update to smooth that out. I would totally buy the game again just for that.

  23. Neil D says:

    I am also very much looking forward to this series. I’m a longtime Batman fan, and thought the games did a fantastic job of presenting the “Batman Experience”. Though Arkham Knight had a few major stumbling points, unfortunately.

  24. Ninety-Three says:

    I don’t think City did nearly as good a job as Asylum when it comes to the Batman Experience. I was going to wait to talk about this until the part of this series that dealt with that, but I’ll do it now, in case it gives Shamus something to think about when he’s writing that article.

    My favorite scene in Asylum is the introduction where Batman is escorting a restrained Joker through Arkham. The lights suddenly go out, and in the darkness we hear sounds of a struggle. I was imagining that when the lights came back on, Joker would have miraculously escaped his restraints and he’d been standing at the head of an army of goons who he sicced on Batman before making his escape. Instead, the lights revealed that Batman had Joker in a choke, the clown still fully restrained. Where every other videogame protagonist in history would’ve stood there drooling, Batman acted like a competent human being whose ability to act doesn’t vanish the moment a cutscene starts. I was on-board instantly, and the game did a great job of maintaining this feeling that Batman was a cool, competent guy. When Harley showed up, I was expecting a bossfight and instead Batman defeated her in a cutscene, in a single hit. Yeah, go Batman!

    Then City comes along, and every single boss gets some kind of suckerpunch on Batman. City’s Batman had come down with a textbook case of cutscene incompetence. The Batman Power Fantasy broke for me because Batman was no longer powerful. Instead I found myself shouting “MOVE YOU IDIOT!” in the hope that the world’s greatest detective might possess the insight or reflexes of the ordinary player controlling him. By the time he let Penguin randomly nail him with an ice gun, I had reached the point of actively resenting him. This dolt deserved everything that happened to him.

    • Baron Tanks says:

      While I was too excited to play the power fantasy of roundhousing mooks in City to really be bothered by all that, I have to wholeheartedly agree with the intro to Asylum being pitch perfect. In fact, it might be my favourite intro into any game. Also I think it’s more universally appreciated than some other intros, where you get a hate it or love it feel (I’m thinking Skyrim in my head as an example, where some love the intro while other hate it). I don’t remember seeing many, if any, detractors of the Asylum intro. No complaints of, let’s get on with the show. And it’s such a great moment when you see the intro play out in reverse during a Scarecrow sequence

  25. MichaelGC says:

    Oo, a Batman category. Assuming that the whole point wasn’t that it be just for this series, these might be good posts to put in the Batman category if there is to be a Batman category. A bat-category. Bategory.

    Why Batman Can’t Kill People
    http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=27382
    http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=27397

    The Elephant in the Room
    http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=33584

    There’s also the City stuff already linked to above, plus the first part of the series on Origins, but that’s all maybe happy enough where it is.

  26. Baron Tanks says:

    Very excited to see one of my favourite writers tackle one of my favourite games. When you were talking about this earlier I wasn’t sure if this was going to be about City alone or the trilogy as a whole. I’d love to see your take on Knight, as it’s such a divisive product. (for what it’s worth it ranks as meh to ok in my book and comes nowhere near Asylum and City, but still a lot of solid gameplay in there).

    I remember when the first info about Asylum started making the rounds and how quickly it started to look too good to be true, a comic book/established character adaptation that didn’t suck? I was genuinely hyped, preordered it for my 360 and it was actually even better when I got to play it. Such a masterpiece. I loved City to death too when it came out, not in the same way but the two exist wonderfully together as different shades of a great Batman game. Curious to see your praise, critique and Dark Souls angle on this. Exciting Thursdays to come!

  27. Ander says:

    Predator combat scratches an itch nothing before it did for me. Even Shadow of Mordor later got close, but the open environment didn’t give the same feel as Arkham. City relative to Asylum has the same difference for me.

  28. Christopher says:

    Haven’t got a lot to say until the game talk proper, so I’ll just compliment the new background. It’s cool! Also, I’m surprised you started with City talk.

  29. MrGuy says:

    The thing I have trouble forgiving Arkham City for is the name.

    Arkham Asylum is a specific place within Gotham City. It was the name of an island, on which there was an insane asylum, which was sorta also a super duper max prison. And that’s it.

    Yeah, I get the plot conceit is around sectioning off a significant chunk of the city to BECOME a prison, so they’re sort of extending the name. But it’s a stretch to call it “Arkham,” and it started a stupid trend of naming every game in the series Arkham for no reason.

    Imagine this took place in actual New York. You have a game take place in the Blackwell Island Asylum*. Blackwell Asylum makes sense as a name. Then they elect a crazy mayor who blocks off all of midtown Manhattan as a prison. Calling the prison “Blackwell City” is a major stretch – it’s not even ON Blackwell island anymore. It’s Manhattan Prison, or New York Prison, or Midtown Prison. At a stretch, Blackwell Prison. But Blackwell City? It’s even worse if a later story completely disconnected from the prison plot is called Blackwell Origins, or if some calls himself the Blackwell Knight. It makes no gorram sense.

    Somewhere, there are kids who play a lot of games but don’t read comics who think Batman is a superhero who comes from Arkham City.

    Putting “Arkham” in the title feels like a decision by someone with such a low opinion of the audience’s IQ that they won’t recognize this game as a sequel if they don’t dump the work “Arkham” in the title.

    Why not Batman: Arkham Asylum, filled by Batman: Gotham Imprisoned?

    * The Asylum was infamous (Google for Nellie Bly for a taste), but has been gone for decades. Also, the island was renamed Roosevelt Island at some point. But still.

    • Cinebeast says:

      I see your point, but I’m not really on board with it. I like the “Arkham” signifier. It makes it easier to differentiate the games from other Batman adaptations.

    • Syal says:

      ‘Arkham City’ makes sense because the place is controlled by Arkham Asylum’s most famous inmates. It’s like how everyone puts ‘-gate’ at the end of every scandal even though very few scandals even remotely involve gates.

      • Taellosse says:

        Even the original Watergate scandal has nothing to do with gates. “Watergate” was just the name of the office complex that Nixon’s flunkies broke into in order to steal stuff from the DNC.

        From there, “-gate” just morphed into a convenient portmanteau to indicate a political scandal. Originally reserved for really big ones, it’s been *ahem* watered down rather a lot in the last 20 years or so.

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      It’s a brand thing, though I agree it’s somewhat stupid. I almost suspect they didn’t expect Asylum to do well enough to warrant direct sequels and they want for the series to be immediately recognizable from any different Batman related sub-franchise. Holding it all under the umbrella Batman: Arkham Whatsit term also makes the trademark much easier to defend should the need arise. It’s also possible there may be other legal reasons from agreements we will never get to see.

    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

      Arkham Knight is by far a worse offender, the title character having ZERO reason to call himself that as a Supervillain name. Meanwhile, Arkham Origins is actually a perfectly fitting title.

      • Dreadjaws says:

        Actually, there is a perfectly reasonable in-story reason for him to call himself that. The real problem comes from real life, where the developers simply struggled to change stuff around in order to have another “Arkham” title. Which was pretty much pointless, because Arkham Knight could have easily been another knickname for Batman.

    • Dreadjaws says:

      “Somewhere, there are kids who play a lot of games but don’t read comics who think Batman is a superhero who comes from Arkham City.”

      Man, if there’s someone with low opinion on people here, it’s you. Gotham City is just as high in the pop culture list as Batman himself. Plus, the game explains very well that Arkham City is merely part of Gotham. Only a complete idiot would think Arkham City is the place where Batman comes from.

    • Chuk says:

      That is a good point. I’m sure it actually was done for some kind of marketing reason. I have just accepted it now.

  30. Mr Compassionate says:

    Welcome to 2017 where Trainspotting has just come out and Shamus is talking about how annoying Games For Windows Live is.
    We are unwittingly living in a timeline that an irresponsible time traveller messed up. Soon we’ll turn on the TV where Hitler has just assassinated president Kennedy on the Titanic.

  31. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Shamus,you really should start a collaboration with Ross Scott,of the freemans mind fame.He too hates the practices that lead to games becoming dead,like mandatory internet connection with no plan for when the servers shut down.And the more people do something about it,the more chances there are that some sort of preservation project will seep into the aaa games industry.He even started a channel for dead game news,though he doesnt update that one as much as his main one.Heres the intro:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xboF33ZsOg4

    • Elemental Alchemist says:

      like mandatory internet connection with no plan for when the servers shut down

      They have a plan, planned obsolescence. They just don’t tell you about it up front.

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        I’m going to side with the lack of forethought, or more likely lack of shit to give. Planned obsolescence only makes sense when lack of obsolescence potentially damages future sales, I don’t think it’s that much of a factor in case of video games.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          It didnt use to be,back when you had to make physical copies of your games.But now that your game can still be sold decades after release,why not have that extra revenue for basically no cost?

          • Sleeping Dragon says:

            But… this would actually work better if you kept the games working. If a game no longer works because, for example, there is no server for it to call to you’re not getting any revenue with new sales. Unless you mean someone would be purposely planning to sell rereleases of said game in working condition GOG style but this doesn’t sound like something AAA industry would plan for in my opinion. For one, they’d need to make plans for that many years forward, for two make the extra effort for the game to be working again and AAA usually is not interested in the scope of the profits that could be obtained in this way.

            Unless you mean that the older game being still available takes away from sales of the new releases, which again seems unlikely in case of AAA titles.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              I mean making a plan to patch out the “call home” routine would allow you to still sell your game even after you close down the servers.Sure,not at the same rate as when it was sold at the start,but even small money is better than no money.

  32. Taellosse says:

    For what it’s worth, I’m on board for a longform analysis of Arkham City. RPGs are certainly my favorite genre, but they’re not remotely the only kind of game I play. I loved the first 2 Arkham games (I skipped Origins for the most part, and the Batmobile badly compromised my enjoyment of Knight). No need for weird tie-ins to some other franchise you think I’ll care about more (personally, I am disinterested in Dark Souls for the same reasons you are, and have never played those games). Analyze away!

  33. MadTinkerer says:

    This is why I’m pushing so hard against the Windows 10 store. It’s why I don’t think we should “Give them a chance” or “wait and see if it gets better”.

    To me, every positive thing that everyone has to say about everything Microsoft produced after Windows 7 is a symptom of Stockholm Syndrome.

    My brother was given a Microsoft Surface as a gift. We had reset it to factory settings and prevent it from connecting to the internet.

    If we do let the Surface connect to the internet, it will automatically install mandatory updates without asking. Those updates will make Microsoft Word stop working. This is not a bug. This happens because Microsoft want us to pay a subscription for the product we own. Those updates will make the music player refuse to play mp3s. This happens because Microsoft want you to buy music from XBox Music and assume all mp3s are pirated media.

    The worst part is even after we installed all the updates the Windows App Store still would not let us actually install anything from it. The only way to actually use the tablet at all is to prevent all online functionality and just use what’s already installed on the system.

    Did I mention Win32 applications don’t work because it’s not an x86 processor? So it’s only possible purpose is the preinstalled apps, which all break when we update the OS?

    This is just one reason why there is no such thing as Windows 10. I can still buy Windows 7 computers. I will eventually figure out how Linux works. But most importantly…

    I AM GOING TO MAKE MY OWN COMPUTER. I was going to do this anyway, but Microsoft are forcing me to learn faster.

    Because a computer with Windows 8 or Windows 10 is not yours: it’s Microsoft’s. They control everything on your computer. They want to force you to buy from them. They want to build a walled garden on the ashes of the open architecture they pioneered in the 1980s. They’re betraying, not just us, but themselves.

    And I will learn how to make my own computer in part because I hate Windows 10 that much.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      You’re being just a smidge overdramatic there. You seem to have jumped from hating on the Surface (which sounds pretty awful) to hating on Microsoft as a whole, and then you’re making absurd hyperbolic statements like “They control everything on your computer”.

      Counterpoint: I’ve been on Windows 10 for over a year now and there’s pretty much nothing wrong with it. I’m not really praising it, the point of an OS is to “just work” and Win 10 has done so. I’ve had no compatibility problems and my one bad experience was when it downloaded some updates and told me that it was going to restart itself automatically in order to apply them: Five minutes on Google and I was able to kill its insistence on restarting.

      • Dreadjaws says:

        “Five minutes on Google and I was able to kill its insistence on restarting.”

        Now see, what you call an easily-solvable problem I call a problem that has no bussiness existing in the first place. MadTinkerer’s experience doesn’t seem to be what you claim, but actually the last straw in a series of unreasonable issues, which is how it is for everyone.

        Microsoft has literally decades of experience. They should not still be doing this kind of crap. It’s only excusable when you’re just starting. You can’t keep forgiving them for this.

        • Ninety-Three says:

          I shouldn’t have to spend five minutes fixing stupid default settings just like my videogames should never crash, but I’m not going to throw a game out because it crashed once.

    • Taellosse says:

      I’m very sorry you’ve had such a bad experience, and I get how frustrating it can be when it feels like the machine is out to get you like that. I’m forced to agree with Ninety-Three for the most part, though – I, too, have been on Windows 10 for some time now, and it’s been a largely pain-free experience. I have perfectly functioning copies of the core Office programs (the 2010 version, I believe), and I haven’t opened the Windows Store for anything since before I upgraded from Windows 8.1 (which was better than 8, but still had some significant interface flaws that are now largely fixed). Really, the only irritating thing about it is 10’s insistence on installing updates and restarting when I’m away from the computer – I’m in the habit of leaving programs with open projects running, and it’s irritating to have to load them back up again when I return in the morning.

      None of which is to say that Microsoft can’t be incredibly obnoxious. Just yesterday I posted a rant to my Facebook about how irritated I was with them for the garbage that the unpatched Games for Windows Live infestation put me through when I had a hankering to play the copy of Fable 3 I’d bought on Steam back in 2013 (short version, the version that installs with the game is literally broken, so the game does not run. This can be updated from xbox.com, but even after patching, the game crashes to desktop every 20 minutes or so) – it was frustrating enough that I ended up uninstalling it rather than keep trying to get it working properly. I’ll hook my 360 back up and play it there before I try that again.

      Is the version of Word on that Surface some kind of trial edition that came pre-installed on the device? That’s the only reason I can think of why a Windows update would try to turn it into a subscription to Office 365. As for the music player issue, I can only suggest not using (I assume) Windows Media Player, which is kind of crap for playing music anyway. There’s all kinds of 3rd party Windows-based music apps, lots of them are much better than WMP, and none of them care where you got your MP3s. I hope that doesn’t come off as patronizing or anything – I’m honestly just trying to help with what sounds like a maddening situation.

  34. Dreadjaws says:

    Oh, man, I’m really excited for this, but being honest, I would have expected you to tackle the entire series, as it would have been interesting to compare each game, their changes, their ups and downs and all that.

    Well, here’s hoping you also decide to talk about the rest in the future. I’m well aware you’ve already done a deep analysis of Origins and talked a bit about the other two, but certainly not on the level you analyzed the Mass Effect series, which I’d love to see.

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