Wednesday, 21 January 2015

batman: arkham origins

i don't usually like to review games until i've finished them, but something happened while i was playing arkham origins last night that really summed up the experience for me.

i've had a bit of a love/hate relationship with this game. i loved the first two games so i was really looking forward to this one, and it had that amazing teaser trailer showing bruce wayne growing up into batman that really made it feel like some thing really special was on the way. this one -

but when i first played it, the whole thing felt a bit like an afterthought. the map is almost exactly the same as the last game, there are no surprises in the gameplay and the gimmick of this being batman's first encounter with famous villains isn't really played out. it felt like filler, like the developers were rushing out a game using the same graphics and mechanics before they had to redevelop it for the next generation of consoles. how many times can you beat up a bunch of dudes with your cape before it gets repetitive? how many times can you fight bane before the fact that it's simply a case of jumping out of the way when he charges at you starts to seem old? how many times can they reinvent the joker?

then the joker origin sequence happened. after you fight the joker there's a scene with him in prison being evaluated by a doctor who will become harley quinn. then you take control of the joker in this surreal sequence that takes place in his mind, fighting off hecklers in a nightclub and then navigating a nightmare landscape as the red hood. there are all these references to the killing joke that it doesn't really explain, it just throws them in. the whole sequence plays like something from an art film and it's amazing. this is followed by this really well-written speech where alfred is trying to stop batman going back out and batman explains to him why he has to do what he does. it's like the writers were suddenly allowed to do cool stuff halfway through the game.

so my review would be that it's nothing new but that there's cool stuff in there that makes it worth playing. that's not really anything to do with what happened last night.

my favourite moments in games are those where you as a player suddenly feel this synergy with the character, like you understand what it's like to be them and feel complete empathy with their situation. it's only happened a handful of times, but when it does it's better than anything any film or book or piece of music in the world. i had one of those moments.

in arkham origins there's this riddler sidequest where you have to collect these datapacks he's left all over the city. it's a tedious task and one i kept thinking i wouldn't bother with but then i'd collected so many of these things already i thought i may as well finish it off. earlier in the game there's a sequence where the joker takes over this huge hotel. he lines the hallways with bodies and bombs and stuff and he turns the ballroom into a funhouse. i was walking through the hotel looking for riddler datapacks and suddenly i started to feel really creeped out. in real life, i've always found large, empty spaces a bit creepy. like i was in brighton museum on my lunchbreak the other day and suddenly found myself alone in their ocean exhibtion. so there are stuffed birds everywhere and the sound of waves and it's empty. something about that emptiness in a space designed to be full of people really scares me.

that's what i started to feel whilst wandering the empty halls of this hotel. when i'd been there before it was full of joker henchmen trying to kill me. now the emptiness of this vast space was really creepy, especially with the bodies and the funhouse parts. i started to want to see a bad guy around the next corner or behind the next door, just to see someone; anyone. i preferred it when there were people in there trying to kill me, because at least there was life there. and it struck me that in that moment myself and the character were feeling the exact same way.

games are weird and interesting and mindblowing sometimes. i think they're the most interesting form of art and i think they have the potential to do incredible things with storytelling. i just wish there was a little less of the hitting and shooting people.



  2. is that brighton museum? i didn't recognise it at first. i don't know why, the giant bird thing in the ocean room is pretty obvious.

    you're local, then? do you have a twitter or facebook or something like that? sorry, i'm not being nosy, just curious.