Arkham Origins #4: Grate Move!

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Dec 28, 2021

Filed under: Streaming 36 comments

Thanks to everyone who stopped in for the stream. I’m really enjoying these. We’ll be streaming again tonight at 7pm Eastern (click here for local time) on the RamblePak64 channel. I hope you’ll drop in and join the fun.

And here is the VOD from last week:

For the record, I played through this section this week. And sure enough, the entire Harley Quinn sequence is there.Fun fact: According to Steam I last played the game on Dec 15, 2015. This playthrough started on Dec 17 2021. Like Chris, I have no memory of this section, but I must have played through it back in 2015 and then flushed it down the memory hole. It’s interesting that we both forgot this part.

Also, I guess Blackgate Prison keeps a psychoanalyst on call at all times, even at 2AM on Christmas Eve, just in case any nutters get dropped off and we decide to analyze them in the middle of the night for fun?

And I also guess that Harley Quinn wasn’t slowly turned by the joker after months of manipulation. Apparently she fell for him during a ten minute conversation? Okay then.

And while we’re bitching and moaning about things: This Bane fight SUCKS.

You beat him down in gameplay, then a cutscene happens that negates your progress and resets the fight to the beginningShit guys. At least give him a health bar that carries across the two halves of the fight so it feels like I accomplished something in that first section. and makes you fight him again.

That fight starts with Bane hitting you for huge damage the instant the cutscene ends. Batman stands there and takes it on the chin. You could see the attack coming, but the game doesn’t release you from cutscene mode until Bane has already run you down once.

*BEGIN LOOP*

Anyway, Bane runs at you. Maybe he runs you over, or maybe this isn’t your first time through the loop and you manage to dodge.

Then once Bane is behind you, you’ll want to swing the unhelpful camera around so you can see what he’s doing. Bane magically ping-pongs off the wall without regards to inertia and slams you again before you get your bearings. Also, Bane will often still hit you a second time, even if you press dodge like the game is telling you to do. It seems to be random. I dunno.

Then Bane will launch himself at you. This is an attack that is – in defiance of the rules of the game – not telegraphed whatsoever. You just have to know that he does this leap attack after rushing you twice, and you have to also know to do another sideways dodge to avoid it.

Then the game throws up the prompt for ultra-stunning him, telling you to hit B three times. Except – because of the previous move – you will ALWAYS be too far from Bane when this prompt appears.Either you dodged away, or his stomp landed and shoved you back. So you push the buttons when told (because this game designer is in LOVE with his quicktime events) and discover that oh shit, I’m waving my cape around at nothing. So then you run closer to try again. Right about now is when Bane will attack you. The BBB prompt is still there so you’re probably going to press that instead of hitting counter like you’re supposed to.

Congratulations. You’ve just been hit four times and the fight just started. You’re more than halfway to dead and you have four more trips through the loop to go. The game designer is using your existing muscle memory and your trust in his garbage button prompts to trick you into making mistakes. This isn’t a fight against Bane, this is a fight against a griefing jerk game designer that looked at this wonderfully interesting and deep system and thought what it needed was quicktime events, abrupt rule changes, and exhaustive repetition.

It makes you loop through the exact same sequence several times. Every time you hit him, he turns himself invulnerable. So then you need to attack him again to disable his invulnerability, then stun him again, then beat him down again, then see that awkward animation where it feels like you messed up and he grabbed you but no wait Batman does a weird sideways kick to take a chip off his health bar, and now you go all the way back to *BEGIN LOOP* and the process begins again.

It’s like the fight exists in this horrible dead zone between quicktime event and gameplay, so you can’t tell if you’re supposed to be playing the game or following prompts. The real trick to the fight is to just lose a couple of times until you get the pattern and timing down. I realize a lot of games take this approach to boss fights, but I absolutely hate it and it feels wrong in a Batman game.

And then at the end when you finally “win”, you actually lose in a cutscene but then Bane leaves anyway.

This game has a lot of really awful boss fights, but this one still manages to stand out as particularly atrocious.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Fun fact: According to Steam I last played the game on Dec 15, 2015. This playthrough started on Dec 17 2021.

[2] Shit guys. At least give him a health bar that carries across the two halves of the fight so it feels like I accomplished something in that first section.

[3] Either you dodged away, or his stomp landed and shoved you back.



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36 thoughts on “Arkham Origins #4: Grate Move!

  1. John says:

    The Harley Quinn sequence is the point at which I discovered that the game will let you skip cutscenes. I was so sick of listening to the Joker talk that I started mashing buttons and, lo and behold, the game skipped ahead to some actual gameplay. It was gameplay I had no narrative context for, but that ended up not mattering very much.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      That can be a fun way to play a game. Shadow of Mordor featured extra-long, extra-dumb cutscenes that added nothing to its cliche’d revenge plot, so I just took to skipping them. It actually added a bonus feature of sorts, where I could construct my own narrative to explain how I ended up in various places.

      “I started the cutscene walking into some woman’s hut. Now I’m in a cave full of ghouls. How did this happen?
      …why, let’s think…”

      1. John says:

        I wish I’d thought of that. Although I get the feeling that the end of Shadow of Mordor was a little rushed, because even after watching the last couple of cutscenes in their entirety the last couple of gameplay segments don’t make a whole lot of sense.

        1. Ofermod says:

          I still think SoM could have been mostly fixed by a third act where you get depowered and have to undo having just handed an Orc army to Sauron.

  2. Dreadjaws says:

    And I also guess that Harley Quinn wasn’t slowly turned by the joker after months of manipulation. Apparently she fell for him during a ten minute conversation? Okay then.

    This is one of the major problems I have with the game’s story even though I overall enjoyed it better than City’s and Knight’s. The unnecessary idea of cramming years of character progression into one night. Yeah, you have 10 villains who have a reason to be here: 8 of them are hired specifically to attack Batman by another one who is pretending to be yet another one. Sure. But then you also have the Riddler starting his career at this very moment. Then Anarky decides this is a good moment to show up. And the Mad Hatter believes this is the perfect time to make his introduction. Then Harley Quinn is getting her start here as well. And hey, what do you know, Mr. Freeze decides to introduce himself too. I guess Gotham had a Christmas discount for villain debuts.

    At this point I wouldn’t be surprised if the end stinger meant that this is literally the first day Amanda Waller is putting the Suicide Squad together. Even for comic books this would be pushing it.

    This game has a lot of really awful boss fights, but this one still manages to stand out as particularly atrocious.

    This hasn’t stopped people from saying this game has some of the best boss fights in the series, though. I guess mindless repetition and lack of agency is what constitutes a good boss fight these days.

    I said it before: I actually like this game. I like it way more than Arkham Knight. But man, it has some really frustrating parts.

    1. Thomas says:

      Superhero games (and games in general) should use timeskips more. You need could tell stories about people gradually changing. It’s also an opportunity to change the map up a bit in an open world game, players can spot the changes and work out what’s happened in the meantime.

      Every game that has used timeskips frequently, I’ve liked it.

      1. Philadelphus says:

        I bought Wildermyth last week and have been playing it a fair bit, and it does timeskips multiple time per “campaign”. (For those who don’t know, it’s an RPG where you play campaigns authored by humans but which also have procedurally-generated maps and random events, the goal being to try to replicate the feel of a tabletop RPG.) I’ve only finished the tutorial campaign, which has three chapters (with a ten-year timeskip between each chapter), but the rest tend to be five-chapter deals so that ever your early-twenties starter heroes will be in their seventies at least by the end. (The part where you’re actually playing in each chapter generally happens over a few years, too, with map travel time). In my first playthrough I had a child of my original heroes come of age and join the band, and all my starters were white-haired by the time I’d finally rid the Yondering Lands of the Gorgon menace, which was pretty neat to see. I suspect in a five-chapter campaign you could easily see your starting people retire (retirement age is an actual stat) or die of old age in the timeskips.

  3. Lino says:

    Really liked this part of the Let’s Play. And I definitely agree with Chris – the less we know about a villain like the Joker, the better. In my opinion, the more you reveal about his background and motivation, the less interesting he becomes. Also, what the hell was that Harley Quinn sequence? Didn’t Arkham Asylum establish that it took months for the Joker to turn her? Even if it didn’t, the way they do it in this game feels extremely rushed, and really cheapens her as a character, I think.

    On an unrelated note, I really like the graphics of you two talking. And on an even more unrelated note, is Chris from Boston? Even though I’m not very good at recognising accents, for some reason he sounds very Bostonian to me :D

    1. Chris says:

      I’m a different Chris, but I too believe the Joker works best as a mysterious force of nature rather than as a character with ordinary motivations.

      The Chrises have concurred.

    2. RamblePak64 says:

      Not Boston. I am from South Jersey, less than an hour outside of Philly. We North-Easterners have very similar ways of talking, though, when our accents aren’t exaggerated for television.

      Honestly, part of me wants to give them the benefit of the doubt and believe they’re being stylistic with how Joker’s therapy sessions had gone over time, but it’s hard to tell because it’s all stylistic. Are they just choosing an interesting way to reveal Joker’s backstory by mixing it with gameplay? Or are they trying to convey a passage of time? Why is this here? Ultimately, it’s there because people love the Joker without question. Unfortunately, if it really does take place all in one night, it’s sort of an insult to Harley Quinn that she’s portrayed as this gullible even as a professional. Arkham Knight’s Day-One DLC prologue mission where you play as Harley Quinn reveals that Harleen Quinzel still exists inside of Harley Quinn, a sort of conscience, and she has no accent and is fully aware that what she is doing is wrong. This fits in with what I feel was always intended with Harley Quinn, which is that her criminal persona is completely unlike who she was in civilian life and is more of a fantasy of who she yearned to be deep inside.

      The Arkham Origins… origin… does what a lot of other adaptations have done, which basically just assumes she’s always spoken like that and was always pretty airheaded and fell for Joker immediately rather than a long, slow process of her therapy sessions backfiring and Joker getting in her head instead.

      But we’re also talking about a pair of characters that people will unironically create memes that say “Relationship Goals” with the two despite the fact that they are, canonically and demonstrably, a horrifically abusive relationship.

      1. Lino says:

        Dang, I really need to work on my NA accent recognition! At least I’m not as bad with it as I am with British accents. Anything beyond the most well known ones (Scottish, Irish, Welsh, and Cockney) are beyond me. With American accents I can at least tell what general part of the country somebody’s from….

      2. Nixorbo says:

        I am from South Jersey, less than an hour outside of Philly.

        Which county? Burlington County/Mt Holly area native here. Somehow I ended up with a neutral American accent.

        1. RamblePak64 says:

          Now why you gonna go and have me dox myself that severely? :P

          Gloucester County is where I reside.

      3. Christopher Wolf says:

        I concur about the accents. I am from central Jersey (north Jersey says south, south says north, and at the deli some people order pork roll and some people order Taylor ham, both ways of finding central Jersey) and nobody in Los Angeles clocks where I am from. The only word I still say odd is water.

        Rural parts of south Jersey can sound downright southern in fact.

        1. RamblePak64 says:

          I argue there is no such thing as Central Jersey, but mostly because this state is too small for a center. However, what you note about rural parts of Jersey sounding Southern is certainly accurate, and in truth a lot of the accents are derived first from what city is closest. For example, saying “water” like “wooder” is technically a Philly thing, but it carries over into Jersey. Similarly, it’s not really a “North/South” divide so much as “South-West/North-East” slanted divide, and you can determine it based on what city that region of Jersey’s fans are loyal to.

          Jersey is such a weird state whose identity is mostly known for the cities up top and on the bottom, and people from both of those states do nothing but complain about us until they start crowding our roads in the summer coming to our shores. What ingrates!

          1. Lino says:

            By the way, is it just me or is it popular for people to dump on New Jersey? I’ve seen a lot of shows and movies where New Jersey is presented like it’s an awful place. Is this perception actually a thing, or have I just been “lucky” in stumbling upon such types of shows?

            1. Syal says:

              As a West-Coaster I have no idea about the accuracy, but the country-level perception is real; it’s got a reputation as essentially the ghetto for people who can’t afford to live in New York.

              1. RamblePak64 says:

                That’s part of the problem: there’s so much of the entertainment industry tied to New York, and people either live there, live in Connecticut and commute to NY, or live in North Jersey and commute to NY, and both NY and Philly have what I like to call “toxic run-off” in terms of their industry and their people.

                It’s not a great State and has its share of issues, but there’s a lot of positive as well. Unfortunately, since we don’t have a huge hold on the entertainment industry, we don’t get much of a say. There are even fewer folks from South Jersey in Hollywood as well, with Bruce Willis being one of the few (he grew up not far from me).

                It’s not unlike Delaware. Delaware’s not a bad place, but because it’s so small no one really thinks about it, but it’s got some beautiful land and some great places to eat.

                1. Gautsu says:

                  Jersey sucks. :) All of my relatives who live there spend their life trying to move to New York

                2. Syal says:

                  It’s not unlike Delaware

                  …Don’t know if that was intentional, but now I’ve got that stupid joke stuck in my head.

                  (“What did Delaware? She wore her New Jersey.”)

                3. Mr. Wolf says:

                  Imagine being magically whisked away to Delaware.

                  God, I hate that film, but thanks to it I will never forget Delaware.

  4. Vect says:

    I think the main problem with the Arkham combat system is that it is simply not meant for one-on-one fights. It’s designed for group combat so it heavily falters in times when it expects you to have a straight-up slugfest with an enemy that can take Batman on. There’s a reason why the best boss fight in the series is primarily a Stealth Fight where your goal is to find different ways to dispatch Mr. Freeze rather than take him mano-a-mano.

    There are games that actually have combat systems designed for that but they seem like the kind you’d deride as “dumb action games”.

    1. ContribuTor says:

      I think you’re right, but I’ll raise you this. Batman has very few enemies who are actually worthy of a boss fight.

      In most games, the trope of a boss fight is facing an enemy that’s your physical superior, or at least physical equal, that you defeat through the use of cunning and proper tactics. Most bosses in video games can kill you a heck of a lot faster than you can kill them in a straight up punch duel.

      That’s…not Batman. While (unlike many comic heroes) Batman lacks super powers, the vast majority of his rogues gallery lack them as well. Joker, Riddler, Penguin, Catwoman, Scarecrow, Harley, Twoface, Black Mask? All basically humans. And not just human, but generally physically not a match for a well trained, armored and gadgeted-up Batman in a fair fight.

      Sure there are exceptions. Bane and Killer Croc are massively powered up former humans. Ivy and Freeze have some trans human powers. Ra’s has his crazy chemical pits that make him near immortal.

      But most* Batman villains are a poor fit for a one-on-one boss fight. And that’s not how they act in the comics. Many of his main villains work through an army of minions from their various criminal/political empires. Many others work like the non-boss in a boss fight, trying to ambush Batman with clever tactics.

      Which makes for GREAT Batman combat. But the industry has taught us that players want one-on-one boss fights, and the series has increasingly incorporated them (though I still feel like the Titan’ed up Joker from Asylum was the beginning of the cheating to make a boss fight).

      *Dosclaimer: I am not a Batman expert, and I’m sure I’ve missed some good examples and may have ignored your favorite villain. I stand by my assertion that, relative to many other comic book superheroes, Batman has a disproportionate number of enemies who lack physically intimidating super powers.

      1. RamblePak64 says:

        I think the Titan’ed up Joker from Asylum was actually an attempt to address what you very well note: making a boss fight out of an enemy that can’t do a one-on-one fight with Batman. By time Batman is in melee range of Joker in any comic or animated medium, that’s basically it. Fight is done. One hook to the jaw and Joker is down for the count. So the Titan’ed up Joker was an attempt to apply gameplay logic – a boss that tested the player’s abilities thus far by “building” off of the mechanics of the whole game prior – to the main villain.

        The unfortunate thing is they already had a couple of better examples of creating a boss fight with different super villains that felt a bit more Batman-y. Killer Croc can be frustrating or tediously easy, but it relied on Batman’s observation and evasion skills rather than a hand-to-hand fight with an over-powered foe. Scarecrow wasn’t exactly a “fight” either (until he made you fight fake goons of yourself) but it reflected the villain well and allowed Batman to do more than just sock him in the face. Even in City, there seemed to be a consideration as to which foes were made into bosses at all. Ra’s used mental manipulation and is, himself, a skilled warrior. Mr. Freeze is intelligent and therefore adaptable to your techniques. Penguin required stealth because he was relying on sniping Batman rather than fisticuffs. Solomon Grundy is a canonically sturdy villain that Batman can’t just punch into submission, and therefore the boss fight implemented more than just punching into submission.

        But, and I was going to note this as a direct reply to Shamus’ comment, what these games did was make it clear how each phase and the health bar of the enemy were linked. Just like with Copperhead, Bane’s health bar never seemed to go down when I expected it to. Sometimes it went down in a mini-cut-scene, sometimes during combat. I was never certain what the health bar was reacting to, which leaves you wondering if you’ve only got so many phases of boss fight because you’re doing something wrong or if you’re following instructions. Which, admittedly, is a horrible way to feel about a boss fight: “following instructions”. Growing up with the SNES and other modern action games, observing enemy patterns and knowing when and where to attack shouldn’t feel like you’re following directions but discovering the secret to defeating the foe. You play a Mega Man (X) game and many bosses seem to have random attack patterns at first, but you figure out the tells and how to dodge each one and when to launch your own attack. Hollow Knight is not too different. The trick to many of these older action games is to play more defensively at first until you’re used to seeing the different enemy attacks, and then you can start going on the offensive once you’ve learned their openings.

        Arkham Origins doesn’t really work this way, and as Shamus notes, by time it tells you to stun him with your cape, he might already be primed for one or two attacks that don’t allow for a three-cape stun in the timing window. So the prompts seem like they’re there to inform you of your opportunity, but it’s better to ignore the prompts and just hope you can find a solid window on your own. Even then, what you need to do is so specific that you need instructions regarding what to try. Yes, other big goons require the three-cape stun in order to pummel, but this fight has already behaved differently from standard goon fights. Unlike Titan’ed up Joker, the mechanics aren’t consistent with all fights prior.

        And that, too, is part of the problem: these fights don’t build off of the player’s experience in any prior fight. Perhaps for some players that makes these fights “some of the best”, but I think they’re confusing arbitrary conditions to force confusion and difficulty for a proper challenge.

        1. Mattias42 says:

          A villain I’d personally love to see in an Arkham game, and that I think would have made for a really disturbing mix between ‘one punch and it’s over’ and ‘can take Bat-Man down but only from afar’ would have been The Ratcatcher.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ratcatcher_(comics)

          He was actually referenced by one of the Riddler Collectibles in Asylum, but apparently this one prequel comic for Knight killed him off to show how though and no-nonsense that COMPLETELY ORIGINAL CHARACTER~ was. [Insert Eye-roll Here.]

          Dang shame, honestly. I mean, imagine trying to tightrope across a sea of snapping, rabid rats while you heard this haunting piping over an intercom system, or something. Would have made for a dang cool and disturbing set piece.

          Still, I think that speaks to one of the endemic problems with the Arkham series that Samus mentioned before: How Joker is so gosh darn THE villain, that it means everybody else ends up playing second fiddle. And it’s just really unfortunate they kept doing that for four whole games.

  5. Smith says:

    I thought the Harley thing was just supposed to be the start of her corruption.

    1. Smith says:

      PS: When I played this on Wii U, I felt like the counter markers weren’t accurate, or I was missing the window. Glad to know it wasn’t just me.

      Also, The Batman 2022 may be inspired by David Fincher’s Se7en, which is a psychological thriller detective story. Much like Joker was inspired by Taxi Driver and King of Comedy. Riddler sure seems a lot like John Doe.

      1. RamblePak64 says:

        I feel like that side-by-side is bound to draw more visual comparisons than substantial ones, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if Se7en was indeed an inspiration. Though I joked with Shamus in this video about the more reclusive Kurt Cobain interpretation of Wayne, I am, admittedly, interested in this Batman flick if, for no other reason, I’m curious to see what Matt Reeves can do in the director’s chair. I liked his latter two Planet of the Apes films a lot and so, while I feel like this is definitely a darker-than-necessary take on Batman, it feels like “what if we did what Snyder wanted to do, but with more competence?”, and I’m open to that.

        I’m sure Shamus will love this interpretation of The Riddler, though…

    2. Olivier FAURE says:

      Yeah, I think the game isn’t too contrived here. Joker doesn’t instantly turn Harley, she just gets a small crush on him. The implication is that there’s still weeks of prolonged contact between the “feels weirdly sympathetic to him” phase and the “madly in love, will kill for him” phase.

      (but, yes, the backstory in this game directly contradicts the Harley Quinn document you collect in Asylum; those were basically lifted directly from BTaS)

  6. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    The Harley Quinn part is honestly coherent with the serie’s interpretation of the character, she’s a drooling moron in the Arkham games. Asylum even strongly implied that she slept her way to her PHD. I really dislike that about these games.

    1. RamblePak64 says:

      Asylum even strongly implied that she slept her way to her PHD.

      Wherever that was, I missed it, and I played the game multiple times.

    2. MaxieJZeus says:

      But the same thing is also pretty strongly implied in “Mad Love” as well:

      https://readcomiconline.li/Comic/The-Batman-Adventures-Mad-Love/Full?id=53899#12

  7. droid says:

    Watching those streams gives me the feeling Batman isn’t angry at them because they are criminals, but because they messed up his combo counter.

  8. Olivier FAURE says:

    I don’t remember the Bane fight being that hard. Actually, I liked it a lot.

    From what I remember, one think that really helps is that dodging towards an enemy (the moves that puts you behind them) is almost always safe in the Arkham games. So when Bane pulls an unblockable move and/or charges you, you shouldn’t jump away from him, you should jump *towards* him and you’ll be fine. It also helps you pull off the triple-cape move (Bane takes longer to attack you if you’re behind him, I think).

    I don’t know, I think part of the problem is that Chris is talking and playing at the same time, which is always harder when you’re having to understand new mechanics.

    Same with the martial art mooks: I don’t remember them being that hard, once you understand their moveset (and you realize that the cape+beatdown combo works on them).

    1. John says:

      Giants–which I suppose includes Bane–are much more difficult and much more annoying than martial artists. Martial artists’ only trick is that they can counter regular attacks. They’re still vulnerable to your counters, just like normal enemies. All you need to do to beat them is avoid attacking them directly and counter them when they attack you. Unless or until they’re the last mook standing, they don’t require any special treatment. I actually enjoyed fighting them. They don’t break the flow of combat the way giants do and you don’t have to be aware of them in the same way that you do for giants.

  9. bobbert says:

    I enjoyed you two trying to guess what-s-his-name’s favorite bands and song. I can’t remember his name. He liked fire, though.

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