Tag Archives: Gotham

The Obvious Gotham

Gotham

Television pilots are terrible. They’re rarely indicative of the future of the show. Either through drastic shifts in showrunners, celebrity guest director, or hard swings in characterizations, the ensuing series often pivots in some not insignificant way. For instance, the first episode of New Girl was terrible and the show turned out to be quite fun.

The prominent mutation can usually be attributed, however, to the fact that the pilot has so much to do. It has to set up characters, motivations, and conflicts that will blossom over the course of the season and entire series. It’s full of so much stuff that is doesn’t have room to breathe and luxuriate in personality or subtlety. It’s rare you get a pilot like Boardwalk Empire or Breaking Bad and are afforded nearly feature length time.

That’s why it seemed like a rash idea to pass judgment on Gotham after it’s first go at broadcast. It had a terrible habit of treating the audience like drooling buffoons. Or it had no idea how to play coy, opting to spit on your face instead of throwing you a wink and a smile. It basically hit you on the head with its foreshadowing. (Penny Arcade’s expert skewering is dead-on.)

Gotham continues to do that, opting for an Independence Day-sized foreshadowing rather than a deft silhouette passing by the doorframe. It makes up for it by capitalizing on a rather talented cast (especially with Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock and Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney) and two hefty scoops of dark and moody, but Gotham has a larger problem that looms tall—even bigger than the signs it puts up pointing to Edward Nygma as the Riddler.

Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, let’s go over quickly what Gotham is: James Gordon is still a detective at the Gotham City Police Department; Bruce Wayne’s parents pretty much just got murdered; and neither Batman nor any of his nemeses exist yet in the mature forms with which we’re far more familiar. It centers around Gordon as he attempts to fight back against the rampant and thorough corruption of the city while parading around big name villains like the Penguin, the Riddler, and Catwoman.

Do you see the problem? There are so few ways to make this work and so many ways to make this fail, and unfortunately, it seems as if Gotham is going the way of the latter. As it currently stands, it appears as if the show is structured to shape up around Gordon’s vigilance and tenacity against the endless, crushing waves of dirty crime and dirtier politics. And there’s no compelling way that works out in the context of the greater Batman mythos.

Gotham

You see, all of those stories begin and end with Batman. Not that they only ever existed or need to exist while Bruce Wayne is capable of being Batman but that their impact on the city tightly orbits around the caped crusader. Even when we find out the backstory of the Joker or Mr. Freeze, it’s because we know what becomes of them that we care where they started, and what becomes of them is inextricably tied to the Batman’s existence.

Tying the bad guys solely to Gordon’s career at Gotham PD is severely problematic because then it impacts the both the necessity and impetus of Batman’s involvement. Consider that if Gordon is successful, he wholly negates the need for Batman. Even if he doesn’t entirely take down the villains, he can build massive cases that can bring about legal victory through the courts, also nullifying Batman’s utility. What need is there to don the cowl and cape when all of the baddies are already behind bars?

Further consider that if none of these incognito personas à la Edward Nygma or Oswald Cobblepot fully develop into their demented alter egos until Batman arrives in Gotham, then their dastardly deeds weigh fully on the Dark Knight’s shoulders. His coming into being actually symbiotically brought into existence the Riddler and the Penguin instead of leaving them to be a coroner and a garden-variety mobster.

Gotham

Any amount of driving narrative success from Gordon can only serve to inject doubt into our minds regarding Batman’s future guard of the city. Consider instead that the far meatier story would be Gordon’s golden resolve versus the temptation to fall to underhanded policing. We would, in effect, watch him fall.

We see him at a stalemate and lose butting heads with the seedy underbelly of Gotham. His victories are tantamount to saving lives but rarely thwarting crimes—and don’t even bother integrating the likes of Selina Kyle or Carmine Falcone. It’s demoralizing to him and it beats him down into the ground. Eventually we see the cracks in his formerly solid and taut gaze towards justice.

He stumbles. He’s clearly and understandably tempted to fight dirty. Each season he falls deeper into the delectable bargain of being and corrupt as his foes, spitting and clawing in the name of a safer city. The end state is for him to reach his breaking point just as Wayne returns to Gotham and takes up the mantle of Batman. That cape and that cowl are not only Gotham’s salvation but—more importantly—Gordon’s as well. He shows that Gordon’s faith and Gordon’s actions were not misplaced.

Gotham

Gotham is an obvious show. It’s not just about it’s on-the-nose references and painful elbows in the ribs about future villains and the like but it’s about the show’s core problem: even without Batman, it still fails to not be about Batman.

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Batman: Arkham Origins Review: Old Bat in the Belfry

Batman: Arkham Origins

I wish I was more careful of what I wished for. Ridiculous, yes, but that’s where playing Batman: Arkham Origins has left me. My time with the latest in the remarkable built-like-a-fridge-vigilante franchise has opened my eyes, made me lucid to my desires. After finishing its predecessor, Batman: Arkham City, all I wanted was more. That’s what I got. Unfortunately.

No longer developed by Rocksteady Studios, Arkham Origins has been passed on across the pond from London to Warner Bros. Games Montréal. It tells the story of a younger and more reckless Batman, a mere two years into his career as the Caped Crusader. He, as a crime fighter, is still seen as more of a myth than reality in the eyes of the public.

The Gotham underground, however, knows better, so Black Mask organizes a manhunt. On Christmas Eve, he breaks out of Blackgate Prison and invites eight of the world’s best killers to compete for a $50 million bounty on the Bat’s head. And as he is wont to do, Batman decides it’s best to put an end to it on his terms so that no one gets hurt that doesn’t have to get hurt.

Luckily, the streets of Gotham are mostly empty. In fact, they’re strangely empty. Much in the same way as Arkham City contained nothing but bad guys in the streets and on the rooftops, everyone is fair game to get beaten to a bat-scented pulp, including members of the Gotham City Police Department. It is a major disappointment as 1) it is haphazardly explained away by the winter storm and warnings of danger in the streets, and 2) with the promise and fulfillment of a bigger open world, there was fair hope for seeing a living, breathing Gotham.

It represents the thematic problems with the game at its core, which is to say it’s sloppy. Sure, Batman is a little rougher around the edges this early into his return to Gotham, and sure, most of the cops in the city are corrupt, but he stills beats them around like they’re street thugs. And when you get the concussion grenade from the Batcave, Alfred says it’s so you don’t have to beat up policemen. But then you do anyways because the concussion grenade isn’t actually all that helpful in combat.

It’s meandering and imprecise. Arkham Asylum was about overcoming fear and becoming a better self. Arkham City was about the balance and necessity of good along with evil. Arkham Origins is about…Batman being kind of an ass? That’s not to say it’s a bad story, but it’s not as consistent as it should be and strangely relegates many of the eight assassins to side quests and cameos. The writing, however, is probably the best of the series, though Kevin Conroy is missed as Batman. (Troy Baker, however, is absolutely fantastic as The Joker.)

Batman: Arkham Origins

Mechanically, though, the game is still as taut as you remember. That’s because nothing has changed. The combat is almost entirely identical with some new enemy types, but you still attack, counter, quick-fire gadgets, and flip over dudes with shields. Sneaking around still leaves you in detective mode while hiding on vantage points and inside of vents while you lure guards into secluded areas one by one. It is all almost exactly as you remember.

And that’s great! It is still as manically fun and obsession-inducing to get a perfect combo in a massive group encounter; to do double and triple counters before summoning up a whirlwind of bats to sun everyone around you; and to cape stun a dude and then beat him into submission with a stunning and rapid succession of punches to the face. But it is still more of the same, and sadly, it shows the limits of the game’s framework. What else can you add now that you’ve maxed out controller usage (and, worse/better yet, cognitive usage)?

The navigation in the open world has also gone unchanged in Arkham Origins. Grapnel up to rooftops, launch yourself in the air, and glide away into the night. Grapnel takedowns were added, but that’s about it. It’s the same skeleton with a new skin, a new set of rooftops and buildings to infiltrate and stalk.

Batman: Arkham Origins

The problem is that it’s a worse skin. Traversing the world is a chore because half of it seems inexplicably impossible to grapnel onto. Fast travel is an ugly concession for a poor design; if the world and the game are worth it, players would be willing do the dirty work themselves.

Combat scenarios don’t get more intricate with challenging setups involving varying heights and enemies and instead just throw more and more dudes at you. All of your old tricks in the predator bits still work and they’re still just as tiring once you get into the late game. At best, some of the predator sequences happen outside and you don’t realize they’re stealth sections until you’re all up in them, which is a pleasant change of pace.

More interesting, though, is the fact that there’s somewhat of a switch in the plot about halfway through. (Trust me, this is not a spoiler, but if you want to go in completely unaware in terms of story, just skip this paragraph.) The game suddenly concerns itself with the genesis of Batman and the Joker’s strange, twisted, beautiful relationship. If you got all the case files in the past games, you might recall some of the mythos previously established, but seeing at least some of it play it is utterly delicious and warped.

Batman: Arkham Origins

But that’s about as change-of-pace-y as it gets. The collectibles are different, but they still amount to mild puzzles and trophies. Thinking about playing this back-to-back with Arkham City is heartbreaking because Arkham Origins is a good game, but it’s not a great game. If this was the first Arkham game, it would be an excellent first step. But it’s not, which lands it squarely in the Same Old bucket. Batman: Arkham Origins is more of the same, but more of the same thrown down a hill and told to stand up straight so no one sees all the bruises. But hey, I got what I wished for.

+ Still looks and sounds great
+ Fantastic voice acting and all-around quality writing
+ The parts involving The Joker are incredibly compelling
– A strangely high number of framerate issues and clipping bugs
– See more of the same gameplay highlights the limitations of the mechanics

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Game Review: Batman: Arkham Origins
Release: October 25, 2013
Genre: Third-person action
Developer: Warner Bros. Games Montéal
Available Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U
Players: 1 offline, 8 online
MSRP: $59.99
Website: http://batmanarkhamorigins.com/

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Not Really Exploring Gotham

Not Really Exploring Gotham

The latest Batman: Arkham game came out last Friday to rather tepid reviews, although I say that only given the fact that Asylum and City both racked up a ridiculous amount of year-end awards and Batman: Arkham Origins appears to be poised only to get Most “Eh, It Was All Right” of the Year. I’m still working my way through it (few outlets outside of the big ones got advanced copies) and a review will be coming soon, but I have some thoughts on it as it stands now.

Asylum was a taut little adventure that felt like a simultaneously expansive and claustrophobic adventure, something like shuttling through a pitch black roller coaster and you can only sense how close the walls and rafters are as they zoom by your head. (It’s also one of my favorite games of all time.) City introduced, well, a city: Arkham City, in fact. It was a the result of former Arkham Asylum director Quincy Sharp becoming mayor of Gotham and turning the projects of the city into one big ol’ outdoor, poorly maintained prison.

It allowed the player to explore Gotham in a way we’d always wanted: freely, albeit a small subsection of it that is largely disgusting slums and dirty streets. Batman’s cape gliding mechanic from Asylum translated to the open world rather well, especially with the addition of the grapnel boost which allowed you to hook onto ledges and launch yourself higher and faster for sustained travel. It actually reminded me of how amazing it felt in Spider-Man 2, slinging webs and zipping around the city like a spandex-clad god. It is a comparison all open world superhero games aspire to make.

Batman: Arkham City

The single problem I had with the system was that right in the middle of the city was a huge facility, locked down the private military firm TYGER. It presented you with an immense impasse if you wanted to travel from one side of the city to the other, forcing you to go around because getting into it early would break the story’s flow. It was, needless to say, a gigantic bummer.

Now imagine that instead of one instance where that’s the case, they just made an entire city of grapnel roadblocks and gliding obstacles. That is Batman: Arkham Origins. A lot of people will casually call it polish or refinement, and though it is a horribly generic term when it comes to games criticism, it is still a true statement.

Origins comes from a new developer, Rocksteady Studios opting for Warner Bros. Games Montreal to take a crack at their masterful take on the storied property. And each time they failed to design or implement some structure to meaningfully allow you to traverse the city, they also failed to give you a satisfying experience. Not just because we have a game that does it better but because it is altogether frustrating.

Batman: Arkham Origins

It seems like half the buildings don’t let you grapnel up to the tops for no other reason than just because. And all those communications towers you have to solve to unlock fast travel destinations? Not a chance. Those are no fly zones even though their entire heights are so far below the grapnel’s range and half of them are shorter than the buildings surrounding them. I don’t even recall seeing the little red circle-cross in City, but it might as well be permanently affixed to the screen in Origins.

This may not seem like a big deal, but comprehensiveness is what makes an open world game. Spider-Man 2‘s decision to attach webs to the open air if it served the flow of locomotion was a critical one because it made the world feel complete. Getting from one place to another was slick, fast, and fun. Getting to the top of any building was just a matter of you understanding how to flip your way up there, not figuring out how to cheat the game.

Then look at Grand Theft Auto V. The previous iterations were great as well, but this Los Santos is undoubted the best city Rockstar has ever crafted because of the attention to detail. There are no roads that exist in that game that, as you approach them, turn out to be unattainable mirages. And all the small stuff from the rumble strips to the crumple barriers make the city feel like something you’re intimately familiar with.

Batman: Arkham Origins

Now we have Origins. Fast travel was ostensibly added because this game world is even larger than City, but I use it even when I have to travel just a few hundred meters because I know the frustration involved in bumping into the limitations of the game’s travel mechanics. If fast travel had been in City, I wouldn’t have used it because seeing that loading sequence would have broken the visage of a complete, real city. Now I just don’t care because I don’t want to be frustrated at a game that has a lot of other good things going for it.

Yes, there is a lot of good to Origins and I’ll put all of those thoughts (and more bad ones) into a review later this week, but this little nugget I had to get off my chest immediately. It’s a new developer, sure, and you can’t expect different and better at the same time (though it’s nice when we get it), but this is still an unfortunate turn. I like Batman: Arkham Origins, but it also took one of the best parts of Batman: Arkham City and turned it into a mess.

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