Monthly Archives: October 2013

Time to be afraid of the dark: Batman Arkham Origins impressions

batman-arkham-origins-4Watching my teenage son play Batman Arkham Origins is an interesting study in how emotion comes to the fore while playing a video game..

One moment he’s smiling with glee as floats across a snowy Gotham city before glide kicking an unaware thug into a snow drift and acrobatically taking out the handful of thugs that have surrounded him, the next he’s cursing because his rapid pressing of the “b” button to stun a boss hasn’t worked and his Batman is slammed to the ground, knocking his health for a six.

The swing of emotion is quite fascinating to see: the highs of happiness when something has gone according to plan, the lows of frustration when a button press doesn’t do what it’s supposed to when it’s supposed to.

For me, Batman Arkham Origins is like that much of the way through.  I hit moments when I’m genuinely enthralled and captured by the story telling then completely frustrated. Generally the frustrated part is during the boss fights with the assassin’s that descend upon Gotham City, lured by the $50 million bounty on Batman’s head. DC characters that make an appearance include Copperhead, Shiva, Bane, Deathstroke, Firefly, Black Mask and The Joker. It’s Christmas Eve, too, so the city is in lockdown and quiet.

I’m confused as to why it’s called Origins, though, as the game stars a Batman who has been on the prowl for a couple of years so it’s not really an origin story where he’s a Bruce Wayne just coming to grips with the responsibility of being a masked vigilante. He’s already confident with his skills and knows what he’s capable of.

Batman Arkham Origins owes a gratitude of debt to Rocksteady’s Batman games. A gratitude of debt that should be accompanied by a large chocolate cake, a few sacks of nice wine and a signed “Thank you” note. Batman Arkham Origins sits firmly on the foundations established by Rocksteady and doesn’t stray far from the formula.

Perhaps that was to be expected, though: I guess new studio WB Montreal wasn’t going to reinvent the wheel when it came to the lucrative Batman franchise, but by deviating little from the tried and true means that Origins is a good game without being a spectacular one.

Visually, it looks little different from the other two Batman games, and Troy Baker does a great job channeling Mark Hamill’s Joker. It’s a pity that Kevin Conroy wasn’t bought back to voice the dark knight, although it must be said that the new voice of Batman does a sterling job in presenting a younger Batman (he even seems to imitate distinctive growl at times).

batman-arkham-origins-combat

The smooth combat from Rocksteady’s Batman games returns, and it’s just as good here. I’ve always loved the free-flowing melee combat of Rocksteady’s Batman, granting the Dark Knight almost ballet-like poise and grace as he jumps from foe to foe, handing out vengeance and justice.

Although, at first, it seemed as if my Batman beat-’em up skills had left me since as I initially had trouble defeating even the first boss Killer Croc. I soon got my groove back, but for me, the boss battles had no consistency:  The fight against Slade WIlson, aka Deathstroke in the bowels of a derelict ship was a lesson in frustration punctuated by swear words and numerous restarts, while the fight against Copperhead was ridiculously easy.

There’s a strong sense of deja vu with Arkham Origins but it does try to tweak somethings a little (scanning for evidence is handled differently now, although it holds your hand a little) and some of the gadgets, like a pair of gloves that can electocute enemies, are genuinely great fun.

Overall, Batman Arkham Origins is a solid game that plays it a little safe. Perhaps that was the idea, though: that it was designed as a tester to see whether WB Montreal, which made the Wii U version of Batman Arkham City, could take the reins of a new game itself and make something of it.

Well, the studio has shown that it can, but now it’s time for WB Montreal to show that it can deliver a fresh, innovative Batman experience (I’m sure more Batman games are planned) that will come out from behind the shadows of  Rocksteady and stand on its own two bat boot-clad feet.

Footnote: There’s an interesting scene in the game’s closing credits featuring Deathstroke, that could hint as to what direction WB  – or perhaps Rocksteady – are taking the series. No doubt we’ll know soon enough.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution Director’s Cut trailer

Deus Ex Human Revolution was a game that I loved, apart from the boss fights, that is.

The boss fights were completely out of character compared with the rest of the game, and we all know why: The boss battles were outsourced to another developer.

Now, SquareEnix, DXHR’s publisher, is making amends with the Director’s Cut edition, which promises to offer better graphics, includes the enjoyable Missing Link DLC (which makes more sense being incorporated into the main game rather than making you play it once you’d finished the story) and improved boss battles which let you complete them the way you want, rather than be forced to face off against other augmented characters front on. If you want to hack your way through it, you can. If you want to take them out all-guns blazing, you can, it seems.

You can find more information about The DIrector’s Cut here but nicely, SquiareEnix has a number of ways you can buy the new game: if you don’t own Human Revolution at all, it’ll cost you  £12.99/€19.99/$US19.99; if you own the game but no DLC it’ll set you back £6.99/€7.99/$9.99; if you own the game and the Missing Link DLC it’ll cost you £3.49/€3.99/$4.99. Seems pretty good value, actually, although I’m not sure how much that is in New Zealand dollars (less than $10 perhaps if you own the game and Missing Link DLC?)

I’ve already got the game on Steam (PC) and Xbox 360 so think I’ll “augment” my Steam version and have another crack.

Batman Arkham Origins: 17 minutes of footage

Warner Brothers have sent across a developer video showing 17 minutes of footage from the upcoming Batman Arkham Origins, which comes out, I think, this Friday.

Here’s what WB has to say about this, the third game in its Batman franchise. “Taking place before the rise of Gotham City’s most dangerous criminals, the game showcases a young and unrefined Batman as he faces a defining moment in his early career as a crime fighter that sets his path to becoming the Dark Knight. As the story unfolds, players will meet many important characters for the first time and forge key relationships.”

To be honest, Arkham Origins has a lot to live up to. Arkham Asylum and Arkham City were two of my most favoured games  and I know that while the core mechanics won’t be changed by developer WB Montreal (I’m a little disappointed that Rocksteady hasn’t done this game), I’m hoping there’s actually new mechanics that will make this game stand out from the previous two.

Batman Arkham Origins is going to go one of two ways: It’ll either deliver a compelling experience that builds on what the other two games have established or it’ll be lost in mediocrity,  despertae to move from the shadow Rocksteady’s previous Batman games created.

Watch the footage and decide for yourself.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=09AcTLkKSgM

Watch Dogs delayed: I have some theories

Wait a little longer: You'll have to wait until next year to play Ubisoft's Watch Dogs.

Wait a little longer: You’ll have to wait until next year to play Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs.

Watch Dogs, from Ubisoft, was a game I was looking forward to, so I was disappointed when Ubi announced the other day that it had been delayed until 2014.

Here’s the official line from the company: “Our ambition from the start with Watch_Dogs has been to deliver something that embodies what we wanted to see in the next-generation of gaming. It is with this in mind that we’ve made the tough decision to delay the release until Autumn 2014.

“We know a lot of you are probably wondering ‘why now?’ We struggled with whether we would delay the game. But from the beginning, we have adopted the attitude that we will not compromise on quality. As we got closer to release, as all the pieces of the puzzle were falling into place in our last push before completion, it became clear to us that we needed to take the extra time to polish and fine tune every detail so we can deliver a truly memorable and exceptional experience.

“We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you. We thoroughly enjoy and appreciate the way you respond on the web, at events, press conferences and during other opportunities we have to interact. Your passion is what drives us.

“We can’t wait to see you in Chicago next Spring. We are confident you’ll love this game as much as we love working on it.”

I’m all for games being delayed if it’s going to give a better game – I think we all are – but is the delay of Watch Dogs really because Ubisoft wants “extra time to polish and fine tune every detail” or is it because Ubisoft was fearful that Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, which is releasing on October 29,  almost a month before Watch Dogs, would have taken sales away from Watch Dogs, a new and untested IP.  It’s a theory, anyway.

Watch-Dogs-Splash-Image

And here’s a conspiracy theory that I’m going to throw into the mix: Could the real reason for Watch Dogs being delayed be because Ubisoft aren’t happy with the state of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 version – and will eventually announce that the game will only come out on PC and next-generation consoles, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

I mean, it could happen, right? I saw some video comparisons of current generation Watch Dogs versus next-generation Watch Dogs and the current generation visuals looked poor when put alongside their next-generation brothers.  Will Ubisoft eventually make a surprise announcement that Watch Dogs is next-generation console and PC only?

I’m not worried about the console versions, anyway, I was going to buy it on PC anyway but one upside with the delay is that I now have a little longer before I’m forced to upgrade to Windows 8 from WIndows 7.

[Although, I may have to upgrade to Windows 8 sooner than expected as I’m expecting a review copy of Battlefield 4 and I believe that it runs better under Win 8. Oh, well.]

 

What’s been happening in my little world

I know this is supposed to be a gaming-centred blog – and I will mention some gaming somewhere – but I thought I’d update you on how things are in my world at the moment.

Despite being unemployed for the past five weeks (did I tell you that I took voluntary redundancy from my newspaper employer after they restructured our department and “disestablished” my job?), I’ve actually been darn busy lately so sorry for the lack of blogs over the past few weeks.

I’ve been riding my bike quite a bit – two two hour rides in three days this week – and playing a bit of Grand Theft Auto V, as well as doing some freelance work for gaming blog NZ Gamer (which you can find here). And in something that’s completely out of character for me, I emailed off my CV to Snap, an internet service provider in Christchurch asking if they had any work going as a communications or social media specialist.

I wasn’t expecting a response but, luckily for me, Snap’s GM of retail got back to me and he offered me three weeks of contract to generate new content for the company’s new-look website.  So for three weeks, I was gainfully employed, arriving at Snap’s offices at 8.30am Monday to Friday, leaving about 5pm. It made me feel like I was part of the employed again.  I absolutely loved the work and the Snap crowd are a great bunch of people but it was only temporary contract work

Since Monday I’ve been re-evaluating where I want to go with my life – and after getting another job application rejection letter: I’ve applied for so many jobs both in NZ and in Australia that I’ve lost count  – I’ve decided that I might look at re-training, but as what, I’m not sure.

I’ve thought about maybe doing an adult apprenticeship as an electrician, or some form of tertiary training, but I’m actually contemplating heading back to “school” next year and doing a Diploma in either Web Design or Software Engineering and Design. As a tech journalist I’ve always enjoyed the technical aspect of gaming and app making so perhaps this is where my future lies.

Of course, I’m not sure whether we can survive on one wage so if I were to do full-time study again, I’d have to find some part-time work to supplement. It’s worth thinking about, though.

In terms of gaming, I was going to post some thoughts on David Cage’s PlayStation 3 game Beyond Two Souls – my daughter asked me while I was playing it: “Are you playing a game or watching a movie?,” she said. “There’s too much movie and not enough game” – but after spending literally hours on deciding what to write about it for this blog, I decided I’d just link to something I wrote for the Media Design School in Auckland’s gaming-centric blog, the Pick & Shovel. Have a read & let me know what you think about the game.

Would you like to fly in my beautiful, my beautiful ... blimp?

Would you like to fly in my beautiful, my beautiful … blimp?

I’ve played a fair bit of GTAV lately but I’m starting to feel a little “burned out” now and might just leave it for a few days, recharge my GTAV batteries. I actually spent most of the last couple of sessions driving cars or motorcycles up mountain tops and the driving them down again. I also ordered a blimp and drove (can you drive a blimp?) it as high as I could then parachuted out. That was pretty great.

I’ll come back to it in a couple of days. Maybe I’ll feel like playing it then.

I promise the blog will be back to normal in the next post.