Batman Arkham Origins: Over-Analysis Part 5

By Shamus
on Dec 27, 2013
Filed under:
Batman

Usual flame-shield disclaimer: I’ve been nitpicking the game pretty hard in this series. This does not mean the game is bad or that you shouldn’t like it. This is an exercise in comparing different art teams and design approaches. Rocksteady made the first two games, WBGM made Batman: Origins, and I find it interesting to see a property being handed off like this. Some of my complaints might have seemed small or trivial, but they’re part of a larger point that I’m making.

Boss Fights

Okay, push the yellow button a whole bunch… now the blue one… now the… no no no! Wrong button! That’s not how I decided you will win this fight! Try again!
Okay, push the yellow button a whole bunch… now the blue one… now the… no no no! Wrong button! That’s not how I decided you will win this fight! Try again!

I’ve never been a huge fan of the boss fights in the Arkham games. The fights with Titans in Arkham Asylum were pretty shallow old-school vidogame stuff: Wait for the big brute to charge you, then jump out of the way so he hits the wall, then punch him in the butt a few times and run away. There’s one way to beat the boss, and you just do the right move at the right time to beat him down. It’s all very… Zelda? I guess?

These sequence-based fights are the weakest parts of the gameplay. You lose your agency as a player and are shoved into a fixed set of actions with a simple pass/fail outcome. There’s nothing to do but do what you’re told.

The one fight I liked was the Arkham City fight against Mr. Freeze. You had lots of freedom on how to approach it, and it used the mechanics you’d been learning since the game started. It was like a final exam for your sneaking and ambushing techniques.

Use your Batclaw, player. I know you like Batarangs, Bat-grenades, Bat-explosive gel, and Bat face-punching, but when I designed this fight I decided you’d be using the Batclaw here. You can use those other things in the other fights. You know, the ones that don’t matter and don’t advance the story.
Use your Batclaw, player. I know you like Batarangs, Bat-grenades, Bat-explosive gel, and Bat face-punching, but when I designed this fight I decided you’d be using the Batclaw here. You can use those other things in the other fights. You know, the ones that don’t matter and don’t advance the story.

But Arkham Origins goes even further into the sequence-based combat. The sequences are longer and more rigid, to the point where the fight is nearly a quicktime event. You dodge until he does A, at which point you respond with B, then he’s stuck in C, so you do D, then button-mash through quicktime event E and you’ll chip a little bit of his health away. If you mess up, then you’ll probably take some damage and shift back to an earlier stage of the sequence. The bosses have larger health bars in this game, meaning the fight is an exercise in belaboring the point.

But the worst sin of the boss fights is that all of the really important stuff happens in cutscenes. The game designer will let you have your interactive “fun” chipping away at the boss health bar, but once the bar is empty you’re shoved aside so the designer can give the fight a proper finish. In a pre-rendered cutscene the bad guy – apparently unscathed from the beating you’ve given him – will pin Batman and cackle over him. (And remember you the player just won this fight during gameplay and then “lost” in the cutscene by designer fiat.) Then Batman will do some bullshit that’s not possible during the normal course of the game. There will be backflips and flying and Michael-Bay style gasoline explosions. And THEN the Batman wins.

This is pretty offensive. This is not the player defeating the boss. This is the game designer beating the boss. It’s like a roleplaying game where the DM pits his ultimate sword against the ultimate badguy, and the players contribute by fetching and holding the sword. It’s just game designer wanking. The game designer knows how to defeat Bane “properly”, and they don’t trust the stupid scrub players to get it right.

We’re just adding an exciting cutscene for you to watch! What’s the harm in that?

To the game designer it’s a trivial change. All they did was insert a bit of trailer-friendly action schlock. But adding this cutscene changes the entire perception of the combat in the minds of the audience. Instead of defeating Dr. Evilpants in gameplay, you have to overcome the gameplay to reach the point where Evilpants is defeated by something else. (Not you.) Nothing is accomplished in the gameplay sections. The only meaningful damage done to the boss is in the movie.

But the earlier games ended fights with cutscenes!

Actually, the earlier games followed-up fights with cutscenes. The cutscene was for dialog between characters once the combat had ended. Again, the distinction to a game designer is small: The fight ends in a cinematic either way. But for the player, it shows them that the fighting they did was meaningless and also it denies the player the chance to score that last hit. I can see the writer wants to land the final punch. But so does the player, and the game is supposed to be an empowerment fantasy for them, not the writer. The writer can go play some other videogame if he wants to feel empowered.

Get out of the way, player. Your gameplay is getting in the way of the game designer’s movie.
Get out of the way, player. Your gameplay is getting in the way of the game designer’s movie.

Here’s another good example, which is also a spoiler. Skip the next block if you want to remain un-spoiled.

This game has you fight Bane a LOT, and his cutscenes are always the worst. Deconstructing them all would be beating a dead horse, but let’s talk about the final one.

The last fight tries hard to re-create the awesome Freeze fight from Arkham City, but it’s muddled and arbitrary and annoying and Alfred spends way too much time haranguing you while you’re trying to guess at what the game expects of you. But after a hard-fought victory Batman calls Alfred and announces that he’s defeated Bane. Which of course causes Bane to leap back up and grab Batman, thus negating the entire previous sequence.

The worst part is the quicktime event that follows. The game slows down, aims your crosshair, and tells you what buttons to push. Then Batman fires a Bat-line that trips and electrocutes Bane. But I had no idea what was going on or how pushing the buttons would help me. I was playing the unironic version of the Stanley Parable: I was doing what the prompts told me to do without understanding what was going on. This wasn’t a payoff of some earlier-established mechanic, or pulling the trigger on Chekhov’s gun. It’s just a quicktime event that turns the player into a viewer instead of an active participant.

The rule in movies is “Show, don’t tell”. The rule in games is “Do, don’t show.” The writer is yanking control away from the player at the very moment they want it most: The moment of victory. I realize it’s not as exciting for a viewer to sit there and watch the fight end in button-mash beat down #7, but this is a game, not a movie. The focus should be on making something fun to do, not just fun to watch.

Enough venting. Let’s talked about something that really worked.

Investigation

Enter detective vision to re-create the crime. Ostensibly it’s so we can figure out what happened, but I see it as a chance to watch this dude get blown up over and over.
Enter detective vision to re-create the crime. Ostensibly it’s so we can figure out what happened, but I see it as a chance to watch this dude get blown up over and over.

The whole “detective” aspect of Batman never seems to work outside of comics. Reading about how someone unraveled a crime is fun. Watching them do it in an action movie is going to be less interesting because of the time constraints and lack of an inner monologue. But having the player solve a crime interactively is… weird. I mean, it would require the player to be able to solve a crime. What if they miss a clue? What if they don’t possess some real-world knowledge required to make sense of the clues? What if they don’t have a head for this sort of puzzle-solving? It would be like a mystery novel where you can’t continue reading unless you’re capable of keeping up with the protagonist.

This isn’t a problem limited to Batman games. The crime-solving in LA Noire was filled with compromises to allow the clueless player to proceed. And the last time I looked at a Sherlock game it was to crime-solving what Super Mario Galaxy is to plumbing.

The Arkham games took a stab at solving this problem and the result was shallow but admirable. As Batman you have “detective vision”, which lets you switch to this VR-styled rendering of the environment and look around for highlighted items. Sometimes you’ll find some blood and Batman will use his space magic DNA scanner to ID the blood and create a breadcrumb trail for you to follow to your next goal. It’s not crime solving, but it was the closest a game had come so far.

Until Arkham Origins.

Step carefully through the guy getting blown away and look for more awesomeness. Nitpick: If this guy was blown through the wall when the keypad detonated, then shouldn’t the keypad be… detonated? In the game, it looks shiny-new and is apparently none the worse for wear after exploding.
Step carefully through the guy getting blown away and look for more awesomeness. Nitpick: If this guy was blown through the wall when the keypad detonated, then shouldn’t the keypad be… detonated? In the game, it looks shiny-new and is apparently none the worse for wear after exploding.

In Arkham Origins, Batman’s more primitive but paradoxically more powerful crime computer is capable of re-creating crime scenes and reconstructing events. If you find a dead dude outside a broken window, the Bat-computer can run a simulation to rebuild the original crime scene. You can replay the murder, shuttling back and forth through the event, seeing where the victim was standing before they went out the window and watching the crime play out from as many different angles as you like. Information is added to the reconstruction as you uncover clues, adding more people to the simulation and filling in specific details.

Sure, it’s preposterous. But it’s interactive and interesting, which is what we need from crime-solving gameplay. The investigations now last a little longer, which gives Batman more time to narrate his thinking, which makes the payoff more rewarding and Batman-esque. The player needs to do more than just find the obvious glowing item in a static scene, and solving a crime now requires several passes over the area. WBGM took the investigation idea and ran with it, turning Rocksteady’s busywork into actual gameplay and creating a more satisfying and interesting mechanic to represent the whole “detective” dimension of Batman.

Going back, the Rocksteady “Bat Vision” now seems strangely incomplete without this more robust investigation gameplay.

Wrapping Up

MORE ANGRYFACE BATMAN.
MORE ANGRYFACE BATMAN.

So that’s Arkham Origins. It’s not nearly as strong as it’s predecessors, although it’s still basically a fun game. A lot of its problems are the result of being painted into a corner by Rocksteady. The rest of the mistakes seem to come from WBGM being afraid to stand in the shadow of Rocksteady.

I hope rough, unshaven ANGRYFACE BATMAN was just a one-off here and isn’t the new face of the series. I really miss stoic, professional Batman, because the angry young man in this game is a brute and a jackass. The whole “Batman is a fascist thug” joke becomes a lot less of a joke when he’s got real anger problems, treats his allies like peasants, and seems to enjoy the bone-breaking a little too much. We have PLENTY of young, angry brutes among videogame protagonists. Let Batman be Batman.

The WBGM mis-steps are annoying, but they don’t ruin the series for me. WBGM has proven they can use the tools. They’ve got a great vocal team. They have solid mechanics to work with. Now they just need to get the tone right, stop using the QTE crutch, and fix those goofy environments.

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From the Archives:

  1. Blov says:

    Not played Origins (and now doubt I will… tbh I liked Arkham Asylum and never even made it to City).

    Batman was a sort of para-fascistic figure for much of Miller’s The Dark Knight, which is basically the pinnacle of all things Batman and the greatest thing in the history of comic books not written by Alan Moore. I think there’s a lot of room for a darker Batman figure in games but I also kind of think that needs to have a proper character arc rather than just *be* dark. Which is also the mistake of the most recent films where there’s none of the age and paternality themes from the Miller books.

    • Rutskarn says:

      You know, I don’t actually like The Dark Knight Returns very much. Frank Miller is one of those authors that make you want to take a shower–not because his worlds and stories are dark, but because of the lens he seems to see them through.

      • Guildenstern says:

        Let’s not forget that that particular story is responsible for Bats shooting a guy with an M60 and then the story continuing as though nothing happened. I’m not against Batman killing somebody in a dire moment but if you’re gonna have him break his one rule then TALK ABOUT IT, FRANK.

        Also, if you read his forward it seems like he pushed the timeline forward not for any artistic reasons, like he wanted to explore “old Batman” as a thematic idea, but simply because he himself was feeling old and wanted his characters to go through the same crap. You can see some of that almost weird bitterness in the way Bats and Superman interact.

        I’m with Ruts on this one, Miller just seems to turn everything he writes into an uncomfortable experience for the reader.

      • Kavonde says:

        THANK you! It seems to be heresy to suggest that TDK isn’t actually very good, even among more open-minded comics “scholars.”

        The comic may have been more impressive if you were exposed to it before it became a pillar of the Batman mythos and before Frank Miller’s… oddities became the dominant themes of his work. In light of the self-parody Miller’s become, not to mention the entirety of the 90’s (and now the New 52), it’s just another grimdark “Batman is better than everyone” story with a cyberpunk aesthetic and a really weird-lookin’ Bruce Wayne.

        • Blov says:

          Eh, I suppose my position is that as someone not hugely attached to the idea of Batman (I like some comics, films and games featuring him but agree with the Yahtzee view that he’s usually the least interesting character in everything he’s in), The Dark Knight Returns had some actual themes and arcs and didn’t feel the need to morally absolve Batman, decide on a right and wrong and then return to a status quo.

          @Ruts, that’s completely fair.
          @Guildenstern – however, older Batman is explored thematically whether or not that was the primary aim, and I think having that erosion of certainties and weariness makes for a much more compelling protagonist than the Dark Knight films’ it’s-Batman-but-he’s-dark-because-that-looks-cooler.

      • Dreadjaws says:

        I agree. Miller’s earlier work was heavily praised purely because it was different. Later, it became pretty obvious the guy was just disturbing. Plus, he clearly dislikes every non-Batman DC character and has a complete lack of respect for women.

        The Dark Knight Returns is not his worst Batman work, though. That “honor” corresponds to “All-Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder”. That is one of the worst comics in existence, not even saved by Jim Lee’s masterful art.

    • Kalil says:

      Yah, I was actually really uncomfortable with the way Batman treated his allies in Arkham City. He actually seemed considerably /friendlier/ towards Mr. Freeze than Oracle and Albert, and it wasn’t lost on me that he was considerably more upset by the death of Joker than by the death of Talia (although that could be explained by her ability to return…). Perhaps the underlying theme of the game was that Bruce himself was just another suited supervillain, but it was kind of uncomfortable…

      • Tizzy says:

        I always thought the whole of Arkham City was a vast shaggy dog story, written not to culminate in a bad play on word, or a nonsensical end, but to culminate in the visual pun that is the ending. The batman walking out with the corpse is clearly meant as an ironic echo of that iconic image of batman and Jason Todd in Death in the Family.

        when I saw it, I thought: I bet the writers hit on that idea early on in the development, and it was so irresistible that they wrote everytthing they needed to make it happen.

        The joke almost redeemed the whole thing. Almost. The story is way too convoluted and holey for my taste.

  2. Weimer says:

    I wished they would throw their creative juices at something else than friggin Batman of all things.

    I mean, there’s old ideas and then there’s OLLLDDDD ideas, straight from the 40’s, for crying out loud.

    But nooooo some kind of bat-disease has swept over everyone and thus they HAVE to make more media about this tosspot. Blegh.

    But yeah, good for the the game developers for making a decent game, I guess. Profeciency around interactive systems is commendable, regardless of the subject matter.

    • Drew says:

      I hear ya. But at least it’s not another friggin’ zombie game.

      • Attercap says:

        At least until 2015, when they release Batman: Arkham Zombies.

        • Eruanno says:

          Don’t give them ideas!

        • ET says:

          So, with the latest AssCreed, we’ve got (essentially) ninja pirates.
          Presumably by 2023, we’ll all be playing Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot Velociraptor: Space Station Trading Simulator 2: The Darkening 2023.
          Obviously, They were going to make NPZRV:SST 3, but decided instead to favor the yearly installment method.
          Ironically, sports games became open source, donation-supported games in 2019, and simply release patches every six months.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      The problem with batman is not that its old,but that its oversaturated.Give the bats a break,and put some other superhero into the fray.Its not like theres a shortage of them.

      • Torsten says:

        It’s not that there isn’t plenty of superheroes to choose from, it is that there are not that many that people who dont read the comics know, and even less that they care about. Although many of those heroes could probably work well as game characters since they would have less history and fan demand to deal with.

        Perhaps the best way to make a new superhero game is to just create a new superhero for it.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Same is true for every hero before their big success.Remember that no one outside the comic world cared about dark batman before Tim Burton.

        • Cinebeast says:

          They tried that with Infamous on the PS3, Torsten, and I guess they were successful — a third Infamous game is in the works.

          Hey Shamus, thanks for this series. I wasn’t going to buy Arkham Origins, but you’ve piqued my interest and exposed me to some fascinating comparisons between Rocksteady and WBGM. I might be tempted to try out Origins after all — although I hate ANGRYFACE BATMAN.

          Happy New Year, Shamus!

      • Weimer says:

        Along with Superman, Batman has been everywhere, he has seen everything, he has fought everyone, he has solved every mystery and he has kicked someone for eating ice cream.

        Yeah, sure. Let’s give these.. relics some rest. Behind a shed. With a shotgun.

        • Ciennas says:

          Okay, I’ma call you on it.

          Which superhero deserves a chance to shine next then? Rocksteady nailed Batman, and that’s something that hadn’t been here for a while.

          And they were both Fun and Batman.

          Three games should not be the end of tolerance (Especially since everyone got tired of zombies after every game genre had a zombie mode circa 2010 or so), but I can acknowledge you want to see a team this good and devoted give a shot at someone else.

          So who?

          • syal says:

            Squirrel.
            Girl.

            Squirrel Girl.

            • Ciennas says:

              The only problem foreseeable would be that she wins all of her big fights off panel.

              Although, something like a puzzler game… where she’s trying to set the stage against the villains and tricking them into setting foot into Central Park or a squirrel preserve or something…

              Something like the ancient Home Alone Sega game, although more active in trap and gag deployment.

              I don’t know much about Squirrel Girl, though. What would this game look like to you?

              • syal says:

                Apart from utterly silly, no idea. Maybe some sequences controlling the companion squirrel, gathering info or opening doors or shutting down mechanical and electrical devices. You could have sections where you use squirrels to draw guards’ attention, then either blindside them or go around them. Or scare them off because they realize it’s Squirrel Girl. Or swarm them. Maybe the squirrels learn to use slingshots in the later levels and pelt everyone with acorns from afar.

                And then have world-ending supervillians for bad guys and beat them in really stupid ways. (Maybe Thanos is allergic to squirrels. Maybe every supervillain is!)

                Maybe you fight the Hulk as he’s raging and have to use your abilities to trip him up, then shove delicious snacks into his mouth until he calms down.

                • Ciennas says:

                  Honestly, While I’m sure it would make her e-ceptionally badass, it would be more fitting if the game was not anything like Arkham:

                  The opening would be very serious looking- very final boss vibe. Galactus and Thanos are preparing to snuff the earth working together with a huge combined army or whatever. All hope is lost. Every other Hero and villain bows their head, in sure defeat.

                  And then they hear a woman scream “Hey!” and look down from their lofty perch. And lo, there is Squirrel Girl, clutching a bag full of groceries and looking up at both of them irritably.

                  “It’s taco night! Could you do this later?”

                  Instantly, their demeanor changes. “Oh Shit, it’s HER” Written all over their faces.

                  Stammering apologies and stumbling over themselves, they immediately pack up and leave.

                  The remainder of the game will be a globe spanning galavant as she foils every other villains plans, while she goes on a quest for the GOOD picante sauce. There are no Boss fights. They all know better by now.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Green arrow,green lantern,flash,wonder woman,or even superman(though that would be a bit tricky to pull off).All of them deserve to shine next.Or heck,if you want to stick to gotham,give us robin,or batgirl,or nithwing.Or anyone else from the vast DC roster.

            And its not just three games,its three extremely similar games,coupled with three extremely similar movies.Yes,we had zombies for much longer,but at least they spanned genres and were made by different studios.

          • Weimer says:

            I was talking about bat-media in general there, not just the games. Frigton of movies, comics and previous games under these new ones creates a cake that is starting to smell by now.

            But I’ll bite. I would pick a “superhero” with no superpowers, no special or silly costumes and no theme or ideology.

            Yes, I am a boring person.

            (If you didn’t get my drift, I dislike ALL comicbook superheroes. Especially obsolete ones. Thus griping about Bats and Supes.)

            • Kylroy says:

              “…no superpowers, no special or silly costumes and no theme or ideology.”

              Dude, I don’t know that there’s a character of *any kind* that meets those requirements (mostly the last two). At least one that isn’t a deliberate dadaist joke making fun of the very idea of entertainment.

              • Weimer says:

                I’m thinking of grounded actionheroes. Say, Jason Bourne. Nothing too special about that tosspot, just secret kungfu spytraining and nothing to lose. Theoretically anyone could BE Jason even in real life, given right circumstances.

                I prefer the idea of *anyone* being capable of awesome things, not just “super” -people who are “better” than others for whatever reason. I just might be instinctually averse to the idea of the Ubermench of something.

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  The remake Jason Bourne grounded?Now thats a joke.

                  • Weimer says:

                    I was talking about Matt Damon Jason. I thought everything he did in those movies was plausible, given the special training and resources.

                    Wait, did they already remake the Bourne after that? What the hell?

                • Ciennas says:

                  … I think you just described the appeal behind Batman. Besides his fabulous wealth, which is there so people won’t ask where he got the neat toys, he’s a regular dude, who chose to be badass.

                  (Actually, he’s more impressive than that. This is a man who hangs out with and competes against gods, demi or otherwise, and he holds his own by sheer force of will.)

                  And you’ve made an interesting point. So, let’s turn your idea on its head: Everyone’s super. Most of them remain civilians with non-combat applications of their powers. You’d play a military-type fellow who trained his powers and how to wield them as a weapon.

                  Because what you want is played quite frequently- Uncharted, Tomb Raider, Portal, etc. So why don’t we make your idea not like CoD or what have you?

                  • Weimer says:

                    What I want is for media producers to challenge themselves creatively, instead of just making more of the old, familiar faces all the time.

                    But since that isn’t happening apparently, I’ll settle with a bit more relatable protagonists. The problem is that most of the games you mentioned have something else that makes me not want to play them.

                    And sure, Bats isn’t terrible in any sense. The bat-theme just makes me weep blood every time someone references it.

                    • Ciennas says:

                      The problem is Batman has claimed that territory for now. Any brawl-em-up with stealth and detective elements (Or anything similar) Would be called arkham-the-not-batman-edition.

                      I see your point better now that you’ve given me a reference frame. Something like Mirror’s Edge then? there was an intriguing concept, too.

                      Ooh! Schwarzenegger City! The Last Action Hero, using the Arkham Engine!

                • X2Eliah says:

                  Sounds like Riddick, in a way.

            • syal says:

              But I’ll bite. I would pick a “superhero” with no superpowers, no special or silly costumes and no theme or ideology.

              That sounds remarkably like Call of Duty. Or Red Faction. Or almost any FPS, for that matter.

            • Alexander The 1st says:

              But I’ll bite. I would pick a “superhero” with no superpowers, no special or silly costumes and no theme or ideology.

              So…Aquaman?

        • Axe Armor says:

          FYI, the dude being kicked is Two-Face. He was trying to commit suicide, because he’d poisoned the ice cream. I don’t remember the rest of the story; it was probably weird.

    • Khizan says:

      Batman’s got a few things that make him an ideal candidate, though.

      1) Everybody knows who Batman is. You don’t have to explain him, his story, anything like that. The sentence “Batman took the Joker to the asylum, but the Joker escaped and took over the asylum” sets up the story enough for practically anybody to understand it with no build up or explanation past that.

      2) Batman’s power level is ideal for a game. He doesn’t fly. He doesn’t have super strength. He’s not invincible. You don’t have to put a ton of work into explaining why a mook with a gun can hurt Batman.

      3) Similiarly, his power set is ideal. He doesn’t have flight, or super strength. He doesn’t wall-crawl like Spiderman and necessitate level design to account for it. His primary combat style is melee, despite all his bat-tools.

      Batman is basically the perfect video game superhero.

      • Ofermod says:

        How about Captain America? The only interesting mechanic you’d need would be the shield, and that could be a ton of fun if done properly.

        And yes, I know Nazis are played out, but after the recent glut of modern shooters, I wouldn’t mind going back to the days of punching Hitler in the face.

        • Daimbert says:

          Wolverine would work better, overused though he is. You can be as violent or as tame as you want (because he’s been both incredibly violent and quite tame, depending on where he is), he can cover off both a detective/hunting type story and a straight-up action story, he has an interesting Rogue’s Gallery to play with, and you can delve into many different cultures and even times based on his rather convoluted backstory. I don’t think it a coincidence that when they did the Amalgram between DC and Marvel, Batman and Wolverine were combined …

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            The only problem with those two is that they arent DC characters,so a new studio would have to do them.

            On the other hand,since a new studio would have to do them,theres no need to divide resources between that game another arkham game.

          • One problem with Wolverine in a game is he’s basically unkillable. In a comic it’s fine for him to fight mooks because offensively he’s at a scale for plausible fights with them, and as a character it’s reasonable he prefers not being shot or stabbed because it, like, hurts and stuff.
            But in a game, Wolverine is a character with infinite hit points.

        • Khizan says:

          Cap would be a great hero, that’s true.

          I was going to say that Batman’s big advantage over Captain America was that the Joker is such a fantastic nemesis. Everybody knows who he is, everybody knows about him. Batman’s other nemeses aren’t that bad either, if not as awesome and well-done as the Joker.

          However, you could set a Captain America game in WWII and set him up against the Nazis. They don’t have the personality and charisma of the Joker, but “The Nazis are doing and Cap has to stop it” is a perfectly functional plot.

          • For that matter, Cap inhabits the Marvel universe. He can go up against anyone you want, not just his particular enemies. Nothing stops him from fighting Dr. Doom or Kraven the Hunter or whoever. Maybe Peter Parker has the flu and calls him up and is all “Look, Venom is doing these awful things, but I just can’t take a step out of bed right now. Cap, could you help?”

  3. Daemian Lucifer says:

    The boss fight with the electro guy was hilarious however.I wish the rest were as inventive.

    • Guildenstern says:

      This. And I let the guy talk for about a minute, circling like a boxer waiting for him to try something before I dropped him. It reminded me of the first fight with Mysterio in Spider Man 2: you walk into a convenience store and the guy gets like 4 overlapping health bars on the HUD. You choke on your drink a little, then pony up for a long fight in a confined space…

      Then you uppercut him and he goes down in one punch.

      To this day that remains my favorite instance of interface screw ever in a video game.

    • Dreadjaws says:

      I don’t know. Story-wise it was funny, very similar to Indiana Jones gun scene in Raiders, but…

      Game wise, once you remember this was one of the characters hyped in the trailers, and one who would have been interesting to fight, it becomes underwhelming. It’s another missed opportunity.

      Though, considering all the other boss fights, I doubt they would have done anything interesting.

  4. Volfram says:

    The new Detective activities actually sound REALLY interesting. Detective Mode was my least favorite aspect of Arkham Asylum.

    Shame the rest of the game is apparently so bad.

  5. Guildenstern says:

    I don’t think we’ll have to worry too much about angry-Batman going forward; this was an “Origins” game after all, and looking at the whole virtually every interaction with Alfred was built around smoothing out Batman’s rough edges, while everything with Joker is aimed at trying to sharpen those edges while simultaneously having the side effect of showing him why they can’t be that sharp if he wants to be the symbol he wants. Batman is actually a comparatively reactive superhero when compared to the unflappable forces of personality like Superman, as the Bat-family and his rogue’s gallery are incredibly important in shaping the character. If the franchise does what I hope it does and continues to introduce more characters (Robins, JLA members, etc.) we’ll get back to that professional Batman real quick and hopefully showcase some of his less-punchy moments in those interactions.

  6. MelTorefas says:

    I have really enjoyed reading these posts, even though I have never played the games and doubtless never will. I have never been a fan of Batman (or indeed most superheroes). I enjoyed Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, but I didn’t love them, and I thought The Dark Knight Rises was kind of rubbish. I don’t read the comics, at all.

    That being said, I did recently watch the entirety of the animated series Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and loved it. I really like that style of Batman. Maybe I’m old-fashioned when it comes to superheroes, but I like the idea of heroes who are actually heroic, rather than “dark and edgy/angry”.

    Of course, I doubt a game featuring that kind of Batman would sell nearly so well as the Arkham games have.

    • gyfrabrd says:

      A Brave and the Bold game with the same polish as the Arkham series.
      I would buy that game, and eat it. Over and over again.

      And that is coming from someone who enjoyed AA and AC a whole lot.

  7. Akuma Reiten says:

    Setting up investigations that are initiative enough that any player can work them out has to be one of the hardest things to try. The Phoenix Wright series dipped into this a bit, but I’ve only played a little and couldn’t give a broad description of how it works.

    The example I’m going to use is D&D. I, and I’m sure all Dm’s run into this problem all the time, but due to how open pen and paper games are it’s very easy to miss vital clues related to a mystery. You can have as much information or lore as you like but I have gone through entire sessions where players never even asked who runs the city. Some groups need some form of feeding, a general clue of direction or they will be forever lost.

    Mysteries by their very nature are not designed to be intuitively solved, but as the designer that’s exactly what you have to do. So it becomes an issue of how much information you need to feed the player without giving away the answer verses not drowning them in that info. It’s a hard middle path to hit, and it’s the very reason why lot of Adventure point and click games come with inbuilt hint systems or straight up walkthroughs.

    There’s not really a perfect path for this issue, but I do however appreciate it when games give you… less refined methods to solve mysteries. Like New Vegas.

    Who was the murderer?
    A) The Guy
    B) The Woman
    C) Shoot both of them and take their stuff

    • kdansky says:

      I’ve played through all the translated Phoenix Wright games (Curse you Capcom for not bringing the last one over! My Japanese isn’t good enough to understand legal speak!) so allow me to shed some critical light on the matter:

      The game is divided into two different modes. Investigation and Trial.

      Investigation: You walk around a place similar to a point & click adventure or a hidden item game, and do exactly that: Click on stuff to look at it, talk to people (in a very non-interactive way, you cannot progress until you’ve exhausted every dialog option), and repeat until you’ve triggered every single event there is. The gameplay itself is very shallow to non-existent, and you end up with a collection of items as your evidence.

      Trial: Some guy will give a testimony, broken up into five or so statements that you can interact with separately. You can (and pretty much have to) press him on every sentence, sometimes resulting in a changes to his original statements. Then you “Objection!” to one of them, and select the piece of conflicting evidence from your collection. This moves the story forward, and the pattern is repeated.

      The game isn’t so much a great game as it is full of brilliant writing, and makes you feel clever about figuring out the puzzles. I loved the games, but they are borderline books.

  8. Dreadjaws says:

    Ooooh, the boss fights… The most hyped moment from this game was the fight against Deathstroke. They had pictures, videos, DLC, it was everywhere. Then you get to the game and not only Deathstroke’s presence is ridiculously short (Harleen Quinzel has more screen time), but the fight is so stupid I can’t even begin to understand why so many people praise it.

    I admit I wasn’t a fan of most boss fights in the previous Arkham games (like you say, the Titan mooks Rhino-style fights got tiresome), but at least they were more dynamic. Here, they’re basically QTEs. Rail shooters have more liberty, and none of the fights made me feel like Batman, since his regular techniques and gadgets would be useless most of the time.

    I wasn’t such a fan of the new Detective mode, though. I mean, your reasons are logical and I agree with them, and yes, it’s a superior system than in previous games, but every time you use it you realize you’ll basically doing the exact same thing over and over. There’s really not much variation to the crime scenes, and they all start to look the same after a while.

  9. Talby says:

    This is why the boss fights in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance are so satisfying. At the end of each fight, you get to slice your opponent into little pieces using Blade Mode.

  10. “But the earlier games ended fights with cutscenes!

    Actually, the earlier games followed-up fights with cutscenes. The cutscene was for dialog between characters once the combat had ended.”

    The original AA has Joker being defeated when Batman punches him in the face with some ‘splosion gel he glued to his fist…all done in a cutscene with no player interaction.

    I’m just…

    • syal says:

      I don’t really want to defend that boss fight, because it looks pretty boring, but I’ll make this comment anyway.

      It’s not about whether the player gets the final blow, it’s about giving players the feeling that the ones they delivered still mattered. Going into the cutscene, The Joker looks like he felt the shots you gave him in the fight. That’s the important part.

  11. The Rocketeer says:

    You say that the crime solving in Asylum/City was “the closest games had come,” but the same thing had been done better years ago in Condemned: Criminal Origins. While I haven’t played Batman Origins, the way you describe I the improved crime solving makes it sound similar to the crime solving in Condemned 2: Bloodshot, which was indeed very cool and the only way in which Bloodshot triumphed over the original.

    Well, not counting the bear, anyway.

  12. Vect says:

    From what I can tell, the Deathstroke battle was their attempt at making a proper “Rival Battle” that many really good Character Action games such as Devil May Cry 3 or Bayonetta tend to have where the player squares off against an opponent of equal skill/abilities as him/her that generally provides a good challenge to the player’s skills. The thing is, while those games tend to have very good combat systems capable of elaborate combos, the Arkham games’ combat system is geared more towards quickly dispatching crowds of enemies rather than one-on-one combat. So the result is that the Deathstroke battle is more a struggle of counters rather than something elaborate like say, Jetstream Sam of Metal Gear Rising.

    I still believe they get kudos for trying, though that’s mainly because I really like those types of boss battles.

  13. Sean Payne says:

    Hi Shamus, I was just reading this and I think you’ve hit the nail on the head in every aspect, although I would like to add that the new section of Gotham introduced in this game was a complete nightmare to navigate in comparison to the revamped “Rocksteady area” (it also looked visually boring and lacked the gothic, almost Olde English touches to the buildings – although Rocksteady had an advantage in that they hail from a city that has a lot of really old buildings for reference).

    Your comment on the investigation system and the Frogwares Sherlock Holmes games is also spot on, but I urge you to try Crimes and Punishments – their latest stab at Sherlock Holmes is a lot more engrossing, in fact it’s almost like they have taken a page out of the Arkham Origins book!

    Big fan of the blog, apologies if this is reviving a dead topic!

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