More Exclusive Batman Details and Suicide Squad Put On Ice

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We have recently dropped additional details about the upcoming Batman game – currently under development by WB Montreal – on our podcast, but for those that haven’t listened in, I figured it’d be a good time to put those details into writing.  But first, here’s links to the previous information that was brought to you exclusively by Byte-Size Impressions:

New Batman Game May Be On The Horizon – May, 2016

New Batman Game Still In Development, New Villain Expected – September, 2016

Who IS Batman In The Next Open World Game? – September, 2016

First Podcast Discussion

Second Podcast Discussion

In our last couple of podcasts, Gabriel Galliani – journalist with the Official Playstation Magazine in Italy – decided to drop some new bits of information and even field questions from a comic book savvy audience (a big thank to Slcmof of Youtube and Twitter for that).  Here’s what Gabe had to say:

He’s seen a vertical slice of the game and also has evidence to support that claim.  The visual aesthetic is bleaker than that of previous Batman games.  The city gives off a ‘something happened here’ vibe, and there’s even a bit of fog to help push the darker atmosphere that much further.  There’s still neon lighting in Gotham, but doesn’t seem as prevalent as it did in Arkham Knight (of course, things can always change during the course of development).  Featured landmarks we can expect to see are the Monarch Theater, Goth Corp., and even a rundown version of Wayne Enterprises.

To add to the roster of characters that have already been leaked, Gabe was also able to add:

-Katana

-Talon

-The Dee Dee Twins

-Mr. Freeze

He also confirmed a rumor – which originally circulated on Neogaf – about the Black Mask being female this time around.  The villain’s identity should make sense and not seem ‘out of left field’, her costume will be extremely sexy yet maintain a dose of class, and seems to enjoy treating her victims with both syringe and hammer.

Jason Schreier of Kotaku has spilled a few beans about the game recently as well, up-to-and including an appearance by the Penguin.  What’s interesting about this is that Gabe, who has an extensive list of the characters that should appear in-game, knows nothing about that character appearing in this game.  That doesn’t mean The Penguin won’t be in it, just that this information hasn’t also come his way.

Another interesting bit of news from Mr. Schreier is that the long rumored Suicide Squad game is being canned, as WB Montreal have been shifting things internally for various reasons.  While this may have put a temporary hold on the Batman project while the dust settles, they’ll probably get back to it with an even bigger push until the game is ready to be revealed and eventually released.

For future updates on this game – as we’re able to reveal more once bits of information are verified by multiple sources within WB Montreal – make sure to keep an eye pressed against the site’s news feed, Twitter account, and an ear glued to the podcast, because you never know when or where the info will drop!

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Greatness Delayed Podcast 027 – Slick Mother Effers

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Mike and Gabe are joined by special guest Slcmof of Youtube, and discuss PSX 2016, and more about the upcoming Batman game.

Download – Right Click/Save As

SLCMOF’s Youtube Channel

Who IS Batman In The Next Open World Game?

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In the wake of our confirmation that one of the numerous villains you’d be facing in the next open world Batman game is The Judge, there’s still one VERY big question about this game which people have been dying to get confirmation of (you already know if you’ve been listening to the podcast, though).

Originally, I had reported the protagonist under the cowl this time would be ‘Batman’s son’.  As I, myself, am Batman illiterate, I wasn’t aware that this information would have been perceived as controversial.  The outlets which ran my story had decided to slap Damian Wayne’s name on this, but they were jumping the gun, and I spent a good amount of energy attempting to set the record straight.

Honestly, Batman’s son could have been anyone.  Depending on how many ‘universes’ you’re willing to take into consideration:  Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Clark Wayne, Terry McGinnis, Tallant Wayne, Ibn al Xu’ffasch (yeah, I’ve been doing a little research)… and I don’t even know if that exhausts all the possibilities.  You can argue alternate timelines, people he loved LIKE sons, or anyone that’s been ‘developed’ rather than naturally created isn’t a connection that shouldn’t be considered.  But, fact of the matter is, if the game’s development studio is willing to change the face of Batman in gaming from Bruce to… well, someone else… then theoretically, they could go in any direction they please.  As long as the player spends most, if not all of the game as a dude dressed as Batman, will game sales ultimately be affected?  Doubtful.

In light of the recent information that’s come along, however, I made sure to inquire about the true identity of Batman in the new game.

And Damian Wayne it is. 

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To my understanding, Damian is the only TRUE son of Batman in the main continuity, so I guess the devs ARE trying to stay within that particular universe.

With people guessing Damian would be in the new game, I’ve seen opinions split down the middle.  Some just don’t want to lose Kevin Conroy behind the mic, others are too used to seeing Bruce Wayne as the Bat, and some just flat out dislike Damian’s reckless behavior… or at least, reckless when compared to Bruce’s vigilante-in-hiding styling.  On the other hand, there are plenty of others who genuinely prefer the fresh take that Damian has provided to a character that had been established for decades without TOO much change.

For additional news on this game – and there WILL be more – make sure to add bytesizeimpressions.com to your favorites list in your browser, and check out the podcast, which is available to stream or download on this site, or through iTunes Podcasts if you live in North America.  After all, we did break the true identity of this Batman on the podcast first…

 

New Batman Game Still In Development, New Villain Expected

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A few months ago, I reported that a new Batman game may be on the horizon.  I’ve been receiving some messages on Twitter as of late, from people who were wondering if I had additional information about the project.  Specifically, if I was even sure this was going to happen, since my source had revealed this project to me almost a year ago, and E3 has since come and gone with absolutely zero mention of this title (I never did say it was ready for any sort of reveal, though).  Batman VR is still set for release in the not-too-distant future, but that’s not what gamers REALLY want, right?  Right.  They want a new Batman adventure that echo, if not improve upon, the Arkham formula they’ve enjoyed over the last 7 years.

Well, I can confirm this game is still very real, and still very much in development.  And if it’s been in development over the last year without any negative change in trajectory, that’s very, very good news for fans of the franchise.  Of course, knowing the game is in development, while exciting, doesn’t exactly give fans anything to be TRULY excited about… not yet.  But, I think I’ve got just the thing to make you salivate.

But for those of you who aren’t up to speed, here’s what I had previously learned about this project:

The story will take place in the not too distant future, and the primary protagonist is actually Batman’s son.  The city is alleged to be bigger and more populated than ever, which should satisfy the primary complaints that even fans had against Arkham City and Arkham Knight.  The story won’t unfold in the span of a single night, which indicates there MAY be a day-to-night cycle.  It’s unknown if the Batmobile will be playable, but the Batcycle is supposed to be making an appearance as a mode of transportation.  Last but not least, you’ll have opportunities to upgrade the Batcave.

And now, I’ve received confirmation about one of the villains you’ll see in this game.  And it’s a big one, because we haven’t actually seen him appear in any of the prior Batman games.

Well, we TECHNICALLY saw him in Arkham City.

But, enough riddles.  Who’s one of the notable villains you’ll see this time around?

The Judge.

If you’re Batman illiterate, The Judge is the eventual third identity that Harvey Dent (otherwise known as Two-Face) develops.  It’s unknown how this character will be integrated into the game, but if it echoes the source material, he’ll be a vigilante who begins eliminating Gotham’s master criminals with a vengeance.

Keep an eye on this site.  I may have more information to report, as I’ve learned there are villains.  Numerous villains.  Interesting villains.  And you may learn more about them here…

Remaster Armageddon?

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You’re sitting at your PC, playing the latest game… and that’s when you feel it. The earth shaking beneath your feet. You tell yourself it didn’t really happen, because you live in a part of the world that rarely experiences seismic activity… but you feel it again. More than that, you hear a faint thud, as if in the distance. Tilting your head, you realize things have become uncomfortably quiet. The birds have stopped chirping, and the bugs have stopped buzzing. There’s just… nothing. All you hear now is your breath as you gently allow it to exhale. BOOM. It’s closer now, and a box of cereal left lazily on the edge of the counter falls to the floor. The icy fingers of paralysis – undoubtedly induced by fear – grab hold of your spine, but curiosity compels you to shake its grip and head for the door. Before you know it, you’re standing on your front lawn, looking in the same direction as the rest of your neighbors. You finally see what’s been shaking the earth, and it scares you enough to one again succumb to the grip of fear. It’s… it’s…

ATTACK OF THE REMASTERS!

Read any message board, and this is the scenario people are painting. Why? Because many believe the increasing number of remasters are destroying the industry. People want new exclusive IP’s, they want fresh ideas from third parties… basically, they want everything to be as pure as unicorn shit. They want it all, and they want it now, and there’s absolutely zero room in their plans for games they’ve already played.

Or, you know. Something like that.

Hyperbolic ramblings. That’s what it amounts to. And they’re unfair ramblings, at that.

Don’t get me wrong. I have loads of empathy for those who feel the pangs of remaster/rerelease fatigue, because I feel them myself. I mean, when it comes to the current generation of gaming, take a look at how many titles have been released, or have been confirmed for release in the near future:

Tomb Raider, The Last of Us, Diablo III, Saint’s Row IV, Grand Theft Auto V, Rayman: Legends, Borderlands: The Handsome Collection, God of War III, Halo: MCC, Final Fantasy X/X2, Batman Arkham Asylum/Arkham City, The Walking Dead Seasons 1 and 2, The Wolf Among Us Season 1, Resident Evil, Grim Fandango, Metro: Redux, Dark Souls II, DMC, Ultra Street Fighter IV, Limbo, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, and more.

Of course, mere speculation ends up clogging the headlines, too: Beyond-Two Souls, Kingdom Hearts 1.5 and 2.5, the Mass Effect Trilogy, Alan Wake, collections for Uncharted and Gears of War, and hell, Call of Duty fans have even petitioned for a port of Modern Warfare 2.

So yeah, I get it when people say this is the ‘generation of remasters’… but again, is that fair? Should that mindset really determine which video games are allowed to transcend their original platform?

Of course not.

People are certainly entitled to their opinions, but more and more, they’re being presented as demands. Many who say they’re sick and tired of remasters are really saying there’s no place for them in the industry, which simply isn’t true.

The most common assumption is that remasters are hindering the progression of new games. Eh, not really. In reality, a number of these projects are handed off to smaller studios, which is a solid win for everyone involved. The parent company gets to plug away at a new game without distraction, and the studio handling the port gets more experience and exposure.

And speaking of experience…

At the beginning of any given console generation, developers need time to acclimate. Simply put, they’re not going to learn how to fully utilize a new machine on their first go. They’ll do the best they can, but there’s little doubt that certain games weren’t as impressive as they could have been, all because they were subject to that period of transition. That’s one reason why porting an older game to the current generation makes so much sense. It allows developers to sharpen and upgrade their toolset, which in turn helps the next new project become what it should be.

Despite such reasoning, the kneejerk response from many has been, “Pfft. Yeah right. It’s a simple cash grab and you know it!”

Who’s arguing that? Of COURSE it’s a cash grab. Unless the gaming industry has collectively become a chain of charitable organizations overnight, I’m pretty sure that’s the intent behind everything they do. To make money. If spending the time and money to port an old game to a new platform makes sense for them financially, why wouldn’t they?

More importantly, why shouldn’t they?

There are tons of people who never played these games upon their initial release. Maybe they didn’t feel like adding to their backlog, or perhaps they never owned the console they originated from. Either way, they’re more likely to jump into a franchise if they can play from the foundation, up. After all, devs/publishers can’t expect every newcomer to feel comfortable jumping into the middle of a story. Remasters will bring the uninitiated up to speed, and potentially groom them into future customers, at that.

Likewise, returning players can use them as refreshers. Sure, they can play the OG version if they have it, but if there’s a newer, shiner version out there, it’s a viable, if not attractive option (depending on the person).

So… what’s the big stink?

People often overlook the fact that remasters/rereleases aren’t exclusive to the video game industry. Film, for example, has not only asked enthusiasts to double-dip with each successive format, but multiple times throughout each format’s lifespan (you’d never believe how many times I’ve dipped on Evil Dead II). The music industry has also made a point of remastering/rereleasing things at every opportunity. So, when it comes to video games, people need to accept that regardless of their personal preference, there IS a market for this sort of thing.

And those are the key words: Personal preference.

Like everything else, nobody is forcing us to buy remasters. I’ve seen people argue that this somehow punishes the early adopters, but nobody forced them to buy the original release, either. Even casual gamers understand that prices drop quickly, and special editions with more content will be released in time.

Simply put, it’s up to us to weigh our options and decide how to spend our money.

If you don’t feel like double-dipping, then don’t. If you’re sick of remasters, don’t buy them. It’s that simple.

If, however, the prospect of remasters tickle your loins, it’s worth noting that every rerelease is not created equally. Some are rushed out the door with little more than a higher output of resolution and framerate. Others are given a smidgen of polish. A select few are given major overhauls. What’s worth your time and money? That’s up to you.

The simplest advice I can offer is this: Weigh your love of a game against how extensive the porting process was. If a title didn’t manage to swoon you the first time around, a masterful, technical boost isn’t going to make it any better. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if there’s a game you’re absolutely nuts about, then even the most minute changes in detail will probably be worth the price of admission…

Or not.

That’s the thing with most console remasters/rereleases: They’re just not appropriately priced. Last generation, we’d routinely get 2, 3, or even 4 games at a discounted price… but now? With 4 games under its hood, I feel the Halo: Master Chief Collection justifies its $60 asking price, but that’s an exception to what’s otherwise become the rule. It can be argued that porting these games takes valuable time and resources, but that doesn’t explain why a single year old title should cost $60 (Grand Theft Auto V), or why a five year one should cost $40 (God of War III). Money is the reason, of course, but I’d imagine lower prices would help ease hostility towards remasters, increase units sold, produce longer term interest for any given franchise, and possibly inflate sales for whatever sequels follow in the coming years.

But again, the choice is yours. You can buy these games, or not… but keep in mind that just because YOU’RE not interested in remasters, doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for them in the market. Trust me: If remasters/rereleases prove to be a financial bust, they’ll go away. If they do well, they’ll thrive. That said, our job as consumers is to decide for ourselves, and NOT for everyone else.

Projekt RED Pill

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I’ve spent an awful lot of time pointing fingers at companies that care too much about revenue, and not enough about consumer satisfaction. So much so, that I, at times, have twisted that finger back at myself. It’s hard not to feel like an asshole when all I do is bitch and moan, but being that I’m constantly reminded of the sad state of the video game industry, I snap out of that funk pretty quick. I mean, I’m not asking too much of the devs and publishers, am I? I just want games to work the way they’re supposed to. Not on day two, seven, twenty-one or beyond… but day one. That seems both reasonable and logical, yet any time I bring this up, people tell me to “just deal with it” because “that’s just the way things are.” More than that, their attitude implies that because developers have the ability to patch our games through the internet, we should just default to being grateful… and I can’t side with that sentiment at all. As with most things I’m asked to ‘deal with’, my gratitude can only extend so far.

But it’s important to remember that just because a bunch of publishers opt to cut corners for the sake of deadlines, it doesn’t mean EVERY company is like that. No, there are studios that wholeheartedly believe in releasing games when they’re done. They know anything less would tarnish their name and drive customers away, so they try to do what’s best for EVERYONE, their company and gamers alike.

Let’s take Remedy Entertainment, for example. The studio is best known for its work on the Max Payne franchise (the first two installments), but I respect them most for the development cycle of Alan Wake. It was originally announced in 2005, with a brief tech demo shown to the press (behind closed doors, of course), but didn’t see the light of day until 2010. A long wait, sure, but the end result speaks for itself: It’s a game that exceeded both technical and conceptual expectation, and as a testament of this, stands as one of the best games on the Xbox 360. Will they uphold that quality with Xbox One’s Quantum Break? That remains to be seen, but this company has given me no reason to sweat them yet.

Rocksteady were supposed to release Batman: Arkham Knight this fall, but postponed it until June. The reason is unclear, but I think it’s safe to assume that they realized it wasn’t yet up to their level of standards. They have a decent track record thus far with Asylum and City, so why mess with it now? Warner Bros. Games Montreal took a stab at the franchise with Arkham Origins, and predictably, they shoved their offering out the door with a fair amount of bugs, including one which has been known to break the game.

You can say what you want about Nintendo, but one thing’s for sure: Their output is consistently problem free. When I turn on my Wii-U and pop in a first party game, there’s no question in my mind about how smooth an experience it will be. As a matter of fact, the only major issue I can recall is a game-breaking progression bug in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (which has since been fixed). Otherwise, everything I’ve played on their consoles has been technically spectacular.

So, why have I chosen this moment to break away from all the bitching and moaning to focus on something positive instead? That answer came in the form of an announcement from CDProjektRed:

“Dear Gamers,

Ever since we started working on The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, we knew it would be an ambitious game. We wanted, and still aim, to give you an incredible experience, an epic adventure in a vast, completely open fantasy universe.

The sheer size and complexity of The Witcher, key features of the title, have had a decisive impact on production. Now, nearing the end of our work, we see many details that need to be corrected. When we release the most important game in our studio’s history, we must be absolutely sure that we did everything we could to limit any bugs to a level that will allow you to enjoy the game thoroughly.

With this in mind, we took another look at current workloads and what they mean for the team. Even though everyone is working at full speed, we concluded that we need another 12 weeks, so we are shifting the release date of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt to May 19th, 2015.

We owe you an apology. We set the release date too hastily. It’s a hard lesson, one to take to heart for the future. We know what we want to do to make Wild Hunt one of the best RPGs you will ever play. And we continue to work hard to achieve just that. So, we apologize and ask for your trust.

Thank you for the all support you show us on a daily basis. We truly do appreciate it. It has fueled us in our passion since the start and will continue to do so.

The Board of CD PROJEKT SA”

Oh, and just prior to this, they announced there would be plenty of free DLC in the several weeks following launch:

“As CD PROJEKT RED, we strongly believe this is not the way it should work and, with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, we have decided to do it differently. Cutting to the chase, everyone who buys Wild Hunt will receive 16 specially prepared DLCs absolutely for free, regardless of platform. You don’t have to pre-order, you don’t have to buy any special edition to get them — if you own a copy of Wild Hunt, they’re yours. This is our way of saying thank you for buying our game.”

Is there really any question that this is how things should be done?

I know some skeptics are probably calling me a CD Projekt RED fan boy at this point, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. My first experience with this studio’s work was through The Witcher 2… and I only began playing that a couple of weeks ago. That said, I don’t have to be a devout fan to acknowledge the fact they just seem to ‘get it’. This company is openly against DRM, isn’t about to gouge their customers by selling DLC for what feels like an incomplete game, and they obviously care about the quality of their output.

It’s very seldom an entity in the industry decides to uphold these values, and while I understand that money has, and always will be the primary motivation, the likes of EA and Ubisoft should take note. If you ask gamers who they feel the most respectable studio is, you’re likely to find an overwhelming amount of people who echo Projekt RED’s name. Because of the respect they’ve shown for both their work and their customers, many in the gaming community feel they are a beacon of hope – at least as far as the AAA scene is concerned – that everyone should follow. There’s a reason why fans of this studio are increasingly loyal, and why more people swallow the RED pill each and every day. Hell, I know a couple of people who are going to buy The Witcher 3 JUST because they want to support this company’s business practices.

It’s unfortunate that so many companies have lost their way… that they’ve forgotten their customers are intelligent human beings who actually notice – and will respond negatively to – nickel-and-dime practices. Something else these companies have seemingly forgotten, is that people will actually REWARD the studios that treat them right. After all, CD Projekt RED hasn’t been elevated to ‘hero’ status amongst the gaming community for nothing. That’s not a label I’m comfortable bestowing upon them, however. My take is that they’re merely exercising common sense, but because various other companies have set the bar so low, it makes them look like saviors by comparison.

Still, the fact that an ever growing studio has managed to stick by their moral code, not to mention continually expandtheir business as a result of that, is highly encouraging. More encouraging than that, is that CD Projekt RED aren’t alone.

11bitstudios

Take, for example, 11 Bit Studios. Their latest effort, This War of Mine, had (of course) inevitably leaked on The Pirate Bay. Their course of action? Well, they didn’t call their lawyers, or release numerous ‘join the fight against piracy’ statements to the press. No, their response was pure class all the way. Direct from the comment section of the torrent page (which is now missing, due to The Pirate Bay going belly up):

“It’s Karol from 11 bit studios, the developers of This War of Mine.

We are really happy to hear that you like our game. They prove, that spending 2 years on it was worth it.

I would like to say thank you to everyone, who decides to buy the game and support us — because of that we’ll be able to develop TWoM further and create even better games in the future.

If because of some reasons you can’t buy the game, it’s ok. We know life, and we know, that sometimes it’s just not possible.

Here are some codes for the steam copy of the game, so some of you can take a look at it. And if you like the game after spending few hours in, then just spread the word, and you’ll help us a lot.”

They elaborated their position with Polygon, as well:

“It’s just that not all pirates are the same. Of course there are people that would pirate the game even if it would cost 10 cents, but you can do nothing about them…”

“What many of us often forget though, is that there are also other people. Folks that are doing that, because they are simply pissed about the current quality of many games, or those who simply can’t afford the game at the time, because of some personal reasons,” he continued. “That’s why we believe that instead of treating everyone the same way, where pirates are the most evil people on earth, it’s better to talk and try to find a solution, where everyone somehow benefits.”

“You can’t buy the game, but you would like to suport [sic] us? Tell your friends, and who knows, maybe one of them will pay for it and that would give us few bucks,” Miechowski told Polygon.

“Pretty well known Polish indie developer Sos did something similar some time ago, and just like in our case it proved, that it always pays back if you try to understand people, instead of condemning everyone.”

Every studio has tales rooted in humble origins, and while some have forgotten what it means to provide and interact with human beings, others remain humble regardless of success. Again, the studios I’ve mentioned aren’t alone, and I believe the future of gaming may not be as bleak as it often looks. Think about it: We have a slew of independent developers making a splash on both consoles and PC, and they, more than anyone, understand how important it is to let hard work and positive word of mouth lead them to success. As we’ve seen with multiple AAA releases in 2014, good things will not await those who release games that don’t work as intended… especially when DLC and microtransactions are involved. No, instead, the ‘indies’ know they need to take their time, say ‘thank you’ to their loyal customers, and hopefully if they’ve done a well enough job, reap the benefits.

Years from now, I believe at least a handful of independent studios – such as 11 Bit Studios – will grow and become as respect as the likes of CD Projekt RED, Remedy Entertainment, Rocksteady Studios, etc. All we need to do in return is ensure that those who show us respect, get it back in spades, while those who treat us like bottomless piggy banks are brought to the forefront of conversation… you know, to keep them on their toes. And believe me, it works. Obviously Microsoft had little choice but to listen to their potential customers when it came to the Xbox One. In more recent news, Ubisoft said they’re going to change the way they interact with people, while Electronic Arts looks to improving the overall quality of future projects. Why? Because this contrast exists within the industry, and our collective voice DOES have an effect on how these businesses conform.

Bringing this back full circle, I know I spend a lot of time bitching on this site… but when it comes to the gaming industry, I DO believe hope is very much alive. Support the companies whose practices you applaud, and the rest should fall in place.

@bytesizeimp

Bit-History: Batman – Arkham Asylum/Arkham City (And Why Asylum Is Better)

I’m going to do something a little different this time around – With Batman: Arkham Origins on the horizon, I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss something that’s bothered me for some time. In order to make my point, I’ll be ‘reviewing’ two games at once. This isn’t something I plan to do regularly, but when it comes to the Arkham-verse, I feel this is the best approach.

Anyone who follows the likes of IGN, Gamepot or N4G have undoubtedly seen their fair share of ‘best of’ lists. More often than not, we see one of the Arkham games make the cut, it not both, which is excellent. They’re solid efforts that took the gaming community by surprise, which is quite the feat, isn’t it? I mean, let’s face it – Superhero games tend to suck. They’re usually made to tie-in with an upcoming film, leaving the devs a very strict schedule to create and perfect whatever they hope their final product to be. This usually leaves the gameplay feeling ‘sticky’, the in-game world bland and uninspired, and the story… oh, the story.

So many of these games don’t even follow the plot of the film! They make up whatever the hell they want, slap on the film’s logo and call it a day. Remember the Spider-Man 2 game that was on Xbox and PS2? It was actually a better effort than most, but uh, it really had nothing to do with the film. You KNOW there are countless examples that illustrate my point, so I won’t bother in providing an exhaustive rundown. On the flip side of the coin, there are games that actually attempt to follow their respective films to a ‘T’, but come up with superficial (read: stupid) quests to pad the game’s runtime. This usually means you’re playing a bunch of levels that look like locations from the film, but all of your objectives still have little to do with the original plot.

*sighs*

So, yep, I was highly skeptical about Batman: Arkham Asylum. It looked dark and appeared to have some cool ideas in the gameplay department, but so what? Screenshots and promo videos never tell the whole story, so I continued to expect a so-so experience that did little to make itself memorable. Well, I was wrong. Not only was it memorable, but it stands out as one of the better games to have surfaced this gen. Apparently I’m not alone, as its popularity helped to make the Arkham-verse an annualized franchise… that is, if rumblings about upcoming projects actually come to fruition. Of course, everyone was excited as hell to see what the subsequent offering would provide, myself included. Well, Arkham City was met with even more critical acclaim, with more than a few fans claiming it to be better than the original. Even a bunch of those ‘best of’ lists rank Arkham City higher than its predecessor. Hell, sometimes those very same lists failed to mention Asylum at all!

Now, everyone is entitled to their opinion of course, but this is where I deviate from the general consensus. Don’t get me wrong – Arkham City is a damn fine game, but graduating from a sandbox island to a sandbox city? That decision was directly responsible for taking away the ‘core’ of what made Asylum work so well in the first place – Its sense of danger.

For the uninitiated, Arkham Asylum pulled no punches. At the very start, we (as Batman) escort the Joker into the Asylum, believing he ALLOWED himself to be captured. Of course, Batman wants to know why. Well before we know it, all hell breaks loose and the island is effectively sealed off from the rest of Gotham. So, there’s Batman, stranded in the middle of a plot that involves a host of villains with a bunch of their hired goons watching every square inch of the place. Does Batman run? Of course not. He uses stealth and nearly all of his gadgets to string these bozos up, hoping to figure out what the Joker’s plan is and what it means for the innocent people of Gotham.

It was a really, really dark game. Outside of Nolan’s Batman films of course, we haven’t seen such an accurate depiction of the Dark Knight since Batman: The Animated Series. Recognizing how successful and iconic that very show as, the devs wisely sought, and acquired the talents of Kevin Sorkin and Markin Hamill (voicing Batman and The Joker, respectively). They also capitalized on the series palpably tense mysteries, the cat and mouse games that were played in tight quarters, and kept the visual aesthetic as dark as possible. In each respect, Arkham Asylum succeeded – if not actually perfecting the formula – making it the definitive at-home Batman experience to date.

You see, Arkham Asylum was comprised of numerous buildings, each specializing in a particular use. One was where the inmates where kept, another was the medical facility, and so on and so forth. A fair chunk of the game is spent inside of these facilities, worming your way through enemy infested areas. At times you’ll be hopping across the ceiling as you strategize a way to take out all the armed guards in the room below, or you’ll be forced to sneak on the ground quietly without attracting any attention. In short, get spotted and the jig is up. Most of the time you’re in close quarters, which makes this not only a stealth-action game, but a nail-biter of one at that. The atmosphere just dripped with tension, and at times even a bit of fear. Once in a while the Scarecrow would use his hallucinogens on ole’ Batsy, causing his mind to transport him into a frightening world. This included reliving the worst parts of his past. Outside of the main story missions, you have an opportunity to pick up a bunch of clues left behind by The Riddler, as well as audio from Arkham Asylum inmate interviews (with the likes of The Joker, amongst others). Both of these audio cues throughout the game are very, very creepy.

So the atmosphere was flawless – Dark and serious, which is the way Batman should always be depicted… you know, because we don’t need bat suits with nipples or our hero to have his very own Bat Visa Card. Our villains also don’t need to look like they popped right out of a Sunday comic strip. Another thing that helped Arkham Asylum was, of course, the gameplay. You actually FELT like you were Batman. Hiding in the shadows using detective mode? Stringing up baddies upside down? Using gadgets from his utility belt to zip to high elevations in an instant? Even the fighting mechanics made you feel like a practiced brawler. It was a simple ‘hit a few buttons in succession to string combos’ method, although you’d have to watch for enemies that were ready to attack, which was always signified by a little flash of light around their heads. To counter, all you’d have to do is hit a single button, and then continue racking up hits. There’s nothing more rewarding than successfully taking out an entire room of bad guys without taking a single punch, or even being seen for that matter.

Everything just gelled. Between feeling like the Dark Knight himself and the palpable tension and dread, Arkham Asylum proved to be much more than your average superhero game (which as I’ve discussed, usually amounts to absolute suckage). It’s one of those games where if you hear a friend say the dreaded words, “I haven’t had a chance to play it yet”, you’d instantly respond with, “That’s a mistake. Correct it. NOW.” It was a semi-linear experience, yes, but that only served to keep you engrained in the story, not to mention convey the intended tone. This is probably where Arkham Asylum excelled most of all.

Last but not least, it’s worth mentioning how Rocksteady were able to incorporate a multitude of notable villains without having the game feel oversaturated. Considering how many foes you’ll be up against, I’d say the devs have accomplished a feat I previously thought to be impossible. Many other devs have tried to provide such a diverse range of villains in a single game, but at the cost of the story and the characters contained within…. And why? So they could ‘proudly’ tell their publishers they threw the kitchen sink at us. Rocksteady took a serious gamble in focusing on so many villains, but they ultimately made every character and plot device flow organically…

…So of course, hot on the heels of their success, they felt the need to outdo themselves, to go bigger and better with their follow-up.

In an attempt to deliver that bigger and better experience, Rockstar brought us Arkham City. I won’t give a complete rundown of the game because many of its core mechanics feel the same, so I’ll merely focus on what I feel it’s somewhat inferior to its predecessor.

As the name implies, Arkham City pits you in the middle of a significant chunk of Gotham City, as opposed to the confines of an island teeming with crazies. It’s a good idea on paper – being able to scale buildings and using your cape to glide around for what seems like an eternity – but the more time I spent out in the open, the less I actually wanted to. I appreciate Rocksteady’s ambitiousness, but I don’t feel they accomplished what they set out to do.

My major complaint is the city itself, as it acts as a ghost town with no real population to speak of… well, except for the assailants that have been planted on the occasional street or rooftop, but dealing with them quickly becomes a tiresome chore. Sure, they’re fun to toss around at first, but eventually the game’s development becomes too transparent to ignore – They’ve only been placed around the city so you’d have something to do. As a result, the city is so lifeless it’s boring, which is a shame. The devs should have taken a page from the likes of Infamous, where the city was populated with citizens in peril and destructible property. Don’t you think that would have upped the fun factor considerably? Anyway, I eventually just wanted to get from point A to point B without much of a hassle, because I exploring all that open, deserted space just didn’t entice me. It’s a downright shame, because I actually went out of my way to collect all the Riddler trophies in Arkham Asylum, but this time around I just couldn’t be bothered. After beating the game, I was content with my experience and wouldn’t look back.

Look, I know devs tend to believe that bigger always means better, but the Arkham-verse is a prime example as to why that isn’t true. Case-in-point, I had no desire to explore the open world they provided. Arkham Asylum was different though – Its island was big without being too big, so it was never a hassle to return to any of the on-site facilities, meaning it was actually FUN to move from location to location and collect everything, Arkham City just makes 100% feel like a daunting experience though, and not in a good way. I’m always looking for a challenge (look at my articles about Ninja Gaiden or Dark Souls for evidence), so difficulty wasn’t my concern. No, it was merely that the devs failed to hold my interest in collecting all the goodies they’ve strewn about.

Then there’s the story, which simply wasn’t as compelling as the first go-round. In short, it wasn’t as focused. More of the fan-favorite villains are introduced and provide some of the better boss battles in the series overall, but their inclusion didn’t feel so organic. They felt as if they’d been wedged into the plot, and again, it’s because the devs wanted ‘bigger and better’. Each villain has an intriguing story in and of themselves, but moving from one evil baddie to the next feels extremely disjointed. The inclusion of one villain in particular also ties in to another minor complaint I have, which is that Arkham City actually begins to stray from the grounded reality of its predecessor.

This is why I can’t understand why so many people prefer Arkham City over the original. Again, I understand that opinions are subjective and all, but I can’t help but feel that gamers are neglecting to take story and atmosphere into their overall consideration. Those are the things that made Asylum such a hit in the first place, and I feel that detaching those elements a bit was a big mistake.

Just so I’m clear though, I didn’t hate Arkham City. Not in the least. It was still a really enjoyable game. Playing as Catwoman was fantastic and I applaud Rocksteady for at least making her inclusion feel necessary. She’s probably the most engaging character in the game… outside of Batman, of course. Also, all the ‘levels’ you’ll visit in the city are really well done. Even more impressive is the amount of environmental hazards Rockstar implemented in each of these areas. Some are bad for the big bad Bat, some actually serve as advantages in a boss fight. I don’t want to give anything away, but I’ll say that one the biggest ‘oh shit’ moments I’ve had in this gaming gen, came from the Penguin’s temporary lair. Anyone who’s played this game knows about this unexpected way to die, and are likely to be even more irrationally afraid of in-game water than they already were. I know I am! Well played Rocksteady, well played. Thanks for making the water parts in The Last of Us that much scarier. Last but not least, the ending was far more satisfying (and shocking) than I had anticipated.

So after all is said and done, I definitely recommend playing both games. To miss on either one means you’ve missed on some of the greatest gaming this generation had to offer, and really, since both games are available as dirt-cheap ‘Game of the Year’ editions, there’s no reason for you to stay in the dark. This review/opinion piece was really the result of all the praise I’ve seen Arkham City receive over its predecessor. For my money, Arkham Asylum was a far more engaging and immersive experience in every perceivable way. I worry for the future of gaming if City is considered by most to be the pinnacle of Rocksteady’s work, because that means people actually care more about gameplay than the package overall… but then again, The Last of Us is already being touted as the best game of all time, and that’s BECAUSE of its story and character development. Sort of a mixed message that I’ve been receiving, but what can I do (besides bitch about it on the internet)?

As far as Arkham Origins is concerned, I’m actually not too pumped for it. I’m certainly intrigued, but Rocksteady isn’t working on the game, and when the original dev isn’t attached to such a project, that’s always cause for at least a little skepticism. The prequel route is also somewhat off the mark, because such a story should actually tie into the rest of the story in some way, shape or form. Unfortunately, game development doesn’t have a good track record in this respect. Just look at God of War: Ascension if you need an example. It’s a fine game, but completely unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. Here’s hoping the new dev is able to work a bit of magic instead of making the franchise feel stale. I have my fingers crossed, but I have a feeling that the best of the Arkham-verse is already behind us…