Tag Archives: Rocksteady Studios

Batman: Arkham Knight Review – Batter Up

Batman: Arkham Knight

Rocksteady Studios return to the series is a fantastic one. In closing out the same tale that they started back in 2009, they have gone back to their already stellar framework and improved upon it in ways that probably few fans could have guessed (or even desired on their own). Batman: Arkham Knight is as much as a statement about Rocksteady’s pride and talent as it is simply a fantastic game.

Arkham Knight throws us back into the present day for Batman, one year after the events of Batman: Arkham City. Scarecrow is back and has forced a city-wide evacuation in Gotham with the threat of a new fear toxin. This leaves a vacuum in which his militia fills, an effort led by a mysterious Arkham Knight fellow who seems to have some sort of history with Bats, as well as all of the Big Bad Guys of Gotham.

The Dark Knight, however, is dealing with his own set of problems. Coming out of the events of Arkham City, our brooding hero has to deal with the death and absence of the Joker. (Slight spoiler alert ahead for Arkham Knight.) It begins to manifest somewhat physically as a brush with Scarecrow’s toxin reacts with the Joker’s blood in him and he begins to hallucinate.

This is easily the strongest component of the game. Its narrative is just top-notch throughout with some spectacular turns sprinkled all around. The singular flow of Batman: Arkham Asylum is missing, but it also fixes the broad and reaching plot of Arkham City.

But most importantly, it is thematically dense and significant. Batman and Joker have always been closer than the Caped Crusader would rather admit, but this game addresses it in an exceptionally potent way. Batman can throw around tough guy lines (like responding to a concern about the militia taking him down with a gruff “they won’t”) but the Joker that’s inside his head is voicing all the fears and doubts and insecurities that his gravel-soaked machismo hides.

Some of the twists are not even twists in the conventional sense, but rather that the game does a great job of building up to increasing degrees of “oh no oh no oh no” instead of a single “buhhhWHAT.” It cultivates a sense of dread of the inevitable that, unfortunately, will likely land under the category of Divisive.

Batman: Arkham Knight

The story, however, manages to inform some of the gameplay in interesting ways. For instance, just as Scarecrow has cobbled together the likes of the Penguin, Two-Face, et al. in an uneasy alliance, Batman has friends he works with. There’s a new Dual Play mechanic that allows you to switch between characters like Catwoman, Robin, and Nightwing in combat and predator sections as well as outside of them.

It adds a much needed wrinkle to an old fighting system. That’s not to say that it’s not good (it’s just as great as you remember and a welcome reminder of how to do it right) but there certainly was a monotonous drone to it all as you reached the ends of the past games. Having you dip in and out of different move sets and teaming up for dual takedowns adds spice and variety to it all, reminding you to still have fun with it.

Other than that, though, the combat is still the Freeflow system. The difference is that Rocksteady has tweaked how you use Batman’s gadgets into a more manageable button structure as well as how they fit into reactions to certain enemies. That was a huge problem with Arkham Origins; at a certain point, it all got so convoluted that you just regressed into a meat and potatoes kind of fighter instead of a resourceful, skillful one.

Batman: Arkham Knight

A lot of that has to do with the enemy designs and progressions. There isn’t much of a tutorial to speak of—almost a self-aware recognition of this being “another” Arkham game—but instead relies on throwing complexity to you and have you figure it out. And it works because it’s intuitive. From preparing for encounters to strategizing the mixed use of combat and stealth techniques, it just makes sense.

Medics revive so you stop that, but you soon find out they can charge dudes up with electricity, a concept you are introduced to with henchmen with stun sticks. So now you have a similar enemy created preemptively by another one that can also bring them back. At this point, you have an idea of how to deal with the results and a priority. It’s a guidance that has a stunning lack of hand-holding that is most welcome.

Most of the game, actually, doesn’t hold your hand, and it’s better for it. From excising button prompts where most other games would harangue to letting you figure out how to find missions, it just puts you out there. There’s a bit early on where you are trapped as you attempt a rescue mission, and there’s no indication of what to do. For all you know, this is the end. But the solution teaches you how the game wants you to think about this pickles and how to get out of them: this isn’t just Batman anymore.

Batman: Arkham Knight

Namely, there’s also, like, a two-ton tank called the Batmobile. This is probably another portion of the game that will be divisive as hell, but it is handled deftly enough that it’s a welcome respite from punching people in the face and hiding in rafters. There’s pursuit stuff that has you chasing down cars (mostly okay), the Riddler race challenges (novel and pleasantly chaotic), environmental puzzles (strangely engaging), and the tank battles (superb).

Truly, the pursuits are mostly harmless palate cleansers for the other Batmobile shenanigans. You just chase other cars and try to lock-on with missiles. The Riddler races are more interesting in that you have to simultaneously manage the race track while maneuvering the Batmobile up walls and on ceilings and through the air.

And then there’s the battles. They have you up against an army of drones that require you to dodge shells and missiles while peppering airborne buzzers and blasting other tanks. It’s both frantic and measured in a way that the series hasn’t explored before. You’re keeping in mind timing and spacing and monitoring your secondary weapon gauges and anticipating openings and cover all at the same time. Save for the pseudo stealth bits where you fight Cobra tanks, it’s pretty great.

Batman: Arkham Knight

Side missions also make a return, which almost goes without saying since this is an open world game. But this time around, rather than being of the ilk of “go here, do this, come back,” each individual kind of mission plays into a specific subplot that feels wholly unique. From tracking a giant bat to helping out Catwoman to playing an entirely different character, it all feels substantially personal.

The way you touch base each time you switch between objectives is great, too. It adds context and immerses you at the same time. If you go from the main story to say you’re going to go track down gun runners, Alfred will chime in with something about Nightwing. Or maybe Batman himself will comment on the situation himself. It’s a little touch that works wonders.

There’s also a lot of times where you’ll get into a mission and that mission kind of sends you, well, nowhere. Or seemingly nowhere as there’s nothing to do there. Instead, you have to actually seek it out, kind of playing into the idea that you’re actually Batman searching for clues and not somebody playing a game and going down a checklist of objective markers on the map.

Batman: Arkham Knight

It’s not all gravy, though it does come very close. There were more than a forgettable amount of bugs from missed mission triggers to enemies getting stuck on geometry. (Note that this is the PlayStation 4 version being reviewed, not the stupidly broken PC version.) And it’s still hard to wrap your head around the idea of Batmobile stealth in tight quarters where everything it touches somehow crumbles like a dry sand castle.

There’s also a layer of endings after the story ending that is, well, either wholly disappointing or absolutely baffling, depending on your patience for collectibles. And that’s not to mention the main narrative’s linchpin twist and gameplay’s Batmobile bits, which already are splitting opinions like toppings requests in a dorm room. There is likely to be no middle ground on loving or hating those things.

Take those little lumps out, though, and it is pure, uncut, grade-A gravy. If you think you’ve had your fill of the Batman: Arkham games, you might want to give this one a try anyways. There is value to the masterful refinement of a craft, and Batman: Arkham Knight just might be that.

Batman: Arkham Knight

+ Fantastic and thoughtful narrative about Batman’s nature
+ Return and girding of a defining combat system
+ Batmobile sections work well at adding variety
+ Mixing stealth and combat elements makes both more contemplative
– More than a few bugs

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Game Review: Batman: Arkham Knight
Release: June 23, 2015
Genre: Action-adventure
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Available Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Players: Single-player
MSRP: $59.99
Website: https://www.batmanarkhamknight.com/

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Highlights from Sony at E3 2014

Highlights from Sony at E3 2014

Well, as good as Microsoft was on Monday morning, the general consensus seems to be that Sony somehow surpassed the Redmond efforts. Honestly, I’m inclined to agree. Not only did we get a far more varied selection of game demos thrown at us with Sony, there were more significant surprises, which is really what a press briefing should be for.

Granted, journalists really shouldn’t be cheering or hollering (as someone much better at this job once told me, you only clap for people and not for spectacle), but some of the announcements Sony pulled out of their seemingly rabbit-filled hat really made me want to fist pump. I guess, however, it only serves to highlight how even press has been reallocated to something on par with seat fillers at the Academy Awards.

But let’s put such depressing ruminations behind us (and likely save them for another time). Let’s relive Sony’s numerous tweet-worthy shenanigans like they didn’t just happen on Monday!

Entwined

My immediate reaction to this was similar to everyone else’s: this is Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons + Tempest. But once I played it, I realized you definitely need to throw a little Panzer Dragoon and Child of Eden in there, too. Its one-line summation is heartbreaking (“it’s about two souls that are in love but can’t be together”) and it plays just beautifully. And it’s out now for $9.99! A review will come sometime when it’s, you know, not god damn E3 week.

The Order: 1886

The Victorian Era aesthetic is one of my favorites. And I’m not crazy about the button prompt situation going on in the video, but the lurking in the darkness and the pacing and pretty much the other 99% of what was shown on stage seems pretty great. Besides, it’s about time those Ready at Dawn guys get a shot at their own IP. Look for it on February 20, 2015.

Infamous: First Light

You know what? I liked Infamous: Second Son. And more than that, I thought Fetch was a pretty cool character with an interesting backstory, so I’m pretty excited at the prospect of learning more about her within a framework that I already know I enjoy. The only problem is that instead of multiple powers, now we’ll just get the neon set, but come on, that was everyone’s favorite anyways. Releases August of this year.

LittleBigPlanet 3

While substantial that LittleBigPlanet 3 is indeed being made, it’s hard to not notice that 1) it’s being made by Sumo Digital and not Media Molecule (and their attention is being split a high profile exclusive for Xbox with Forza Horizon 2), and 2) it seems to feature basically every fundamental problem that has not been addressed in LBP 1 or LBP 2. However, it does look as charming and fun with friends as ever. I loved that the demo seemed so natural. Expect it this November.

Bloodborne

This is where the hype led. Project Beast is now Bloodborne, though I honestly like the name Project Beast a lot more. But this game, led by Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls director Hidetaka Miyazaki, looks to be everything we’ve been hoping for: creepy, gross, and wholly compelling. It also kicked off the day’s trend of trailers with double title cards. Double! Set for release sometime next year.

Dead Island 2

The complete polar opposite of the original Dead Island announcement trailer. That’s what this is. It’s unfortunate that trailer even exists because this is quite fun and the E3 demo is quite solid as well. But my god that trailer hard to live up to. Also, it’s not being developed by Techland (they’re busy with Hellraid and Dying Light) but Yager Development. Expected early 2015.

Grim Fandango

This was basically the surprise of the briefing. This is what these sorts of things were made for. Journalists get big news pieces and questions to ask and interviews to set up while fans get to drool and hoot and holler while executives roll around in their money pits. Also, Tim Schafer confirmed via Twitter that this remastered version will eventually make its way to other platforms. I’m also going to go ahead and guess John Vignocchi had something to do with this.

Abzû

Much like the Mesopotamian breakdown of the title itself, Abzû is a beautiful game. I do mean on a purely visual level since I’ve yet to play it, but it surely seems like this game was made just for people like me. It looks a bit like Journey (not unexpected considering Giant Squid was founded by Journey art director Matt Nava and the project itself includes composer Austin Wintory and thatgamecompany’s lead designer Nicholas Clark) while certainly something all its own. It will launch in 2016.

Magicka 2

I love how stupidly and impressively absurd every Magicka trailer has managed to be despite, you know, reality. I mean, I also like Magicka and how surprisingly deep the co-op elements were, but the trailers are just so fun and ridiculous. I guess that also applies to the game as well.

No Man’s Sky

I can tell you firsthand that even hours after the event, this trailer and this game is all people were talking about. It’s still something I want to talk about. It looks like the game has grown even more impressive and that’s considering that the studio Hello Games flooded around Christmastime and had to redo quite a bit of work. And this quote: “We’re dealing with planet-sized planets. Even if a million of us played on one planet, we’d still be really far apart.” Yes please.

Let It Die

Yep, definitely looks like a Suda game. And apparently it’s being shown somewhere at E3, but you have to either know the right people or be lucky to see it. I have one more day to find out if I’m one or both of those things. I’m not even entirely sure what Let It Die is about, but I’d really like to find out.

PlayStation Now, Free-to-Play, and TV

The free-to-play thing was weird. It was more like they were trying to get away with saying “these games are free!” and then whispering “…to play.” It was definitely not well received. PlayStation Now and PlayStation TV, however, were pretty well on point. Now is Gaikai rebranded but still totally a gaming streaming service and TV is a little $99 microconsole that pairs with a controller to play games and watch things. PlayStation TV come this fall, as will PlayStation Now, though the latter will go into beta on July 31.

Ratchet & Clank Movie

It was only a matter of time. It and a “reimagined” game will be hitting PSN in 2015.

Remastered The Last of Us and Grand Theft Auto V

I promise you I will play both The Last of Us and Grand Theft Auto V in their entirety over again just because. I did it for Tomb Raider and I will do it again because I think all of them are fantastic games. The Last of Us will come out July 29 and Grand Theft Auto V sometime this fall.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

If the title wasn’t telling enough, Nolan North, voice actor behind Nathan Drake, also believes this will be the last Uncharted game that Naughty Dog will make. It makes sense and I sincerely hope so. No matter how good Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End ends up being (or bad, who knows), I don’t think anyone wants to see this storied franchise end up becoming a commoditized burden, especially without Justin Richmond and Amy Hennig behind the wheel. Look for it in 2015.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

While not as classic as last year’s E3 trailer, this is classic inscrutable Kojima. I can’t wait to look at my TV with a dumbfounded layer of confusion plastered across my face.

Batman: Arkham Knight

One word: Batmobile. Glad to see Rocksteady Studios back at it. Comes out in 2015.

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