Batman: Arkham Origins – A Review

Batman_Arkham_OriginsWhen I heard that there was going to be another Batman: Arkham game I was excited. When I heard it was going to be a prequel I pulled a face but wasn’t surprised as Arkham City had ended rather definitively. Then I heard that Rocksteady wasn’t to helm the project and my excitement started to be replaced by cynicism. Rocksteady did a superb job of building the parallel timeline based on the one-off series by Frank Miller and I was concerned that the newly founded Warner Games Montreal had been founded purely for Warner Games to cash in and cut Rocksteady out of the action in one hit.

If I’m perfectly honest I didn’t get on brilliantly with the comic. It was too stylised and Batman was portrayed too much a like a bitch but there’s no denying the importance of the work and the original game title expanded on it wonderfully. The sequel was a tad far-fetched but still good fun and driven by a great story which for me has always been the appeal of the caped crusader. So Origins had a lot to live up to, especially as prequels tend to be somewhat of a poisoned chalice.

Warners Games Montreal were charged with the development of on of the biggest titles of 2013 and if they fucked it up they’d not only go pop but kill the franchise forever. So, rather shrewdly they didn’t change too much. A few game play tweaks here and there, a few new gadgets, and lots of new menus which are clumsy, annoying and unnecessary. Batman also gets a new look to tie in with the post Year One setting. It’s actually my favourite bit about the game (so far). It feels less like the custom suit of awesome from the first two games and more like a series of components modified with a couple of bespoke bits chucked in. It works very well.


Unfortunately the similarities to the previous game don’t stop there. Half of the area of Gotham city you have to play in is directly taken from Arkham City. Obviously it’s all in much better condition at this point in the Arkham timeline but I for one felt rather cheated by the fact that half of the environment I was running around in I’d already spent hours and hours running around in. I was also incredibly disappointed to find that Riddler trophies once again made an all too prominent appearance. But instead of question marks (because he’s not the Riddler yet) and riddles data packets and a relay network. But it’s all toss because at least the premise behind how the question marks got around the Asylum and Arkham city made sense. This just doesn’t as it’s an inhabited city and feels noting more than laziness on the part of the developers.

Granted I did spend ages trying to track down all the trophies in the first game because I wanted as high a score as possible. In the second game it was a refusal to be beaten by the Riddler despite how tedious many of the challenges were. This time round it’s just boring.

Perhaps my standards are too high and I shouldn’t expect so much as the second game merely expanded on the first. But this doesn’t feel expanded, it feels copied, tweaked and wrapped up as something new.

Other similarities include ‘Crimes in Progress’ which is essentially like rescuing political prisoners fortunately though this is an improvement as rather than saving a snivelling wretch you get to duff rival gangs, rescue pinned down police officers or duff up crocked cops who are roughing up civilians. So it’s all a lot of fist swinging, face kicking fun.

Well, sort of. Whilst overall the game play is good with the combat mechanic improved further from the near perfect display on show in Arkham City, the crime scenes aren’t challenging, save points during missions are far too far apart and the environment too big to navigate by grappling and gliding which forces you to use bat plane drop off points which would be quick were it not for the insufferable and unskippable cut scene. Should you choose to swing and glide your way about you’ll be rewarded by an extremely rich environment. And despite my misgivings about the environment being copied from Arkham City, it is nice to see those parts of the city looking as they once were. Rather than knackered.

The plot however is pretty good. It’s Christmas Eve and the Black Mask has hired a small army of trained assassins to do Batman in. The story twists and turns forcing you to deal with the likes of Penguin and other well-known Super Villains. If I’m perfectly honest the story didn’t grab as immediately as the but I think it’s much more to do with the freedom of the environment offers as you can spend hours doing other stuff before you even start playing the main story. This is both a good thing and a bad one as it’s easy to get bored with the game without really giving it a go.

Although it’s other big problem is that it crashes. A lot. If I were working for Warner Games Montreal I would be embarrassed. If I worked for Rocksteady I’d be really pissed off. Because the fact of the matter is, for all the duplications and rip offs, it’s still a good and very enjoyable game. But it is totally let down by the frequency it crashes and the total lack of patch available. And they’re not minor either. The game crashed for me just as I was about to defeat Deathstroke – who’s a hard fucker to beat – much to my utter despair.

So is Arkham Origins worth getting then? Yes. Of course it is. Because for all the rehashing and the flaws it’s still a Batman game. It still looks and feels right and it’s still great fun. Should you pay £40 for it? Good God no. £30 from Amazon, fine, but not top sticker because there’s just not enough newness in there despite the good story, the fun ways in which characters are introduced and not to mention some awesome punch ups you get to have with some seriously bad ass villains. It’s just such a shame it’s let down in other areas.

Buy Batman: Arkham Origins because you’re a fan. Buy it because it’s part of a fascinating story. Buy it because you just love to kick in face. Just don’t buy it expecting it to work all of the time. Because it doesn’t. On several levels. And remember, although it may be glitchy it’s still better than most other games in the market. And it has Batman in it.

The Dark Knight Rises – A Review

I finally saw The Dark Knight Rises yesterday and before I get on to the review proper there’s two things I need to get clear right from the outset.

1. I’m not a super fan. I think Batman is awesome and I’ve read some of the comic books and watched the films and animated series. I’ve also played Arkham Asylum and Arkahm City to death. I say this so you understand that I have some knowledge, but I’m not an expert so please don’t fanrage me if I get something wrong.

2. Anne Hathaway has a cracking arse.

Anyway, it’s been 8 Batman years since the Dark Knight and Gotham City is all lovely and peaceful thanks to a handy-dandy and thoroughly draconian bit of legislation called the Dent Act, passed in honour of Harvey Dent because everyone thinks he’s awesome and not a massive wanker. Bruce Wayne, meanwhile, has hidden himself away in Wayne manor and become a whiney little bitch. That is until Anne Hathaway turns up and steals his mum’s necklace. The gets gooey of eye and stiff of something else. I’ve heard a few people say some unkind things about this alabaster beauty but I’ve always quite liked her. Add a leather catsuit into the mix and you’ve got yourself a movie. One to be enjoyed alone but still…

In fairness, Anne Hathaway, I think, does very well as the sultry cat burglary and switches between minx and cold criminal with a bat of an eye. Plus she’s undeniably beautiful and feminine and seemed to understand the character far more than Michelle Pfeiffer ever did. Unfortunately she’s the only member of the main cast that does. But more on that later.

Bane turns up and starts plotting and scheming and generally scaring people with his weird voice. And all the while Batman is chasing Catwoman about Gotham like a teenager with hard on that hasn’t discovered masturbation yet. And in so doing starts to pick apart Bane’s plot to destroy the city.

And destroy it he does. The film doesn’t lack for scale or ambition or a weaving plot. And it’s pretty bleak viewing. A lot of people die and the city is torn asunder by its own citizens. Bane and his personal army take control of the city all the while Batman is off trying to remember how to kick ass and take names.

Now, Batman fans will be irritated by the TDKR version of Bane as, apart from being mad strong, he has sod all to do with the character we first met in the awesome Knightfall series beyond breaking Batman’s back. Except he can’t even do that right. To be fair Tom Hardy exudes menace and his casual disregard for life rivals that of the Joker but depressingly the Bane featured in the God-awful Batman & Robin was more accurate.

Which sums up The Dark Knight Rises. It’s just a mess. The story is confused and can’t decide if it’s wrapping things up or leaving it open for a sequel which by the end there is no doubt. Bane’s character is torn to pieces and shared out between Bane and another character which I can’t expand upon without ruining the end.

But more significantly both the script and Bale lets Batman down. Neither seem to understand the character they’re bringing to life in this film. Batman is a psychopath. Strong words but true. Bruce Wayne is the alter ego not the other way around. He is an extraordinary intellect and trained in criminology, psychology, forensics, martial arts, mechanical engineering, science etc etc etc. And all of it tempered through a life time of suffering and trauma. Every trauma strengthens his resolve to fight the darkness not give in to it. Yet in The Dark Knight Rises none of that comes through.

The few fight seems that do occur are done well enough but all of them are brief they feel more of an inconvenience to Nolan than of no consequence to Batman. The fight scene with Batman and Catwoman working together on a roof top was the only one sequence that caught my attention.

Batman is totally overshadowed by every other character in the film. Catwoman steals every scene, partly because of the leather body suit and Anne Hathaway’s aforementioned arse, but it’s because she’s the only character that actually rises to the occasion throughout the whole film. I know there’s the point that Batman is a symbol to inspire people – and that point is laboured enough throughout – but when the chips are down they all turn to old soppy bollocks to do the business. And although in its darkest hour Gotham rises up but it lacks gravitas and occasion and when it happens and is all but wasted. It’s also the backdrop for the climatic battle between Bane and Batman, but it feels slow and under rehearsed. And how it ends is lame. There is a plot twist prompting a Return of the King-esque drawn out ending and you don’t see it coming but that’s only because of the of the horrible characterisation.

I really wanted to enjoy TDKR and as film I did. As a Batman film it had more plot holes than a  sieve, some character re-writes that made no sense and would annoy fans and ultimately didn’t feel like a Batman film. It’s an absolute tragedy because the first two films in the trilogy were fantastic. For all the film is long it just lacks heart. Yes its got big explosions and lots of human suffering but considering so much of it is supposed to be directed at Batman I just spent the film waiting for him to sack up.

My opinion is partly eschewed having just read the Court of Owls story arc which is, to be honest, fucked up. During the 11 comic arc Batman is hunted, tortured, tormented, stabbed and driven to the edge of sanity but keeps coming back for more, each time more determined. With the TDKR crew at the helm Batman would have been found sobbing in the darkest corner of the Bat Cave.

Ultimately the biggest problem with The Dark Knight Rises, and, the more I thought about it, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight as well, is they’re just not as cool as Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. For the uninitiated, these are video games that came out in 2009 and 2011 respectively in which you take command of Batman and fight your way through Arkham Asylum (in one form or another) to ultimately thwart one of Joker’s diabolical schemes. And that’s the thing, the sense of peril and general revulsion you experience both in the comics and in those games has never made it to the big screen. We saw glimpses of it in The Dark Knight but it never fully delivered on that promise. Both games capture the grim reality of life in Gotham, the mind bending horror of some of the city’s inhabitants and the cold, unstoppable force that is Batman. And it does it all within the limitations of games consoles that are reaching the end of their life spans. That’s not to say the games are perfect it’s just that with The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises a lot of what makes Batman awesome got forgotten.

With movie making at the level it’s at, with movies like Inception being made, there’s simply no excuse of for half measures. Especially when it comes to an IP as beloved, as written about and as embraced as Batman.

Ultimately, the Dark Knight did rise, but only for the last half an hour by which point I’d stopped caring which is a crying shame. It is an enjoyable film, although what you’ve read may say otherwise. There are some very cool scenes in it and when Batman does make appearances he does bring it and bring it hard. Mostly. It just felt, all the way through, like it was being phoned in. And it was yet another case of writers thinking they know better than the creators of the IP which never ends well.