Friday, November 25, 2011

Cleared: Batman: Arkham City

I had the good fortune to have pre-purchased this game with some gift cards I had from a survey site before the events of my last post transpired, so I had no conflicted feelings about just downloading it from Impulse and playing it when it finally came out this past Tuesday. I will say right up front that while I have finished the game, I am far from finished with it. My first playthrough finished with a completion score of 37% - I did virtually nothing with side quests and I still enjoyed the game. Animations are considerably better than the previous installment - enemies crumple to the ground in more appropriate poses and moving around Arkham City feels very natural between the bat-line and Batman's cape functioning as a hang glider. It also amazes me just how much of Batman's mythology they managed to fit into the game, especially after Arkham Asylum. Playing as Catwoman for some of the sections was also fun - she has a much more limited toolkit, but also some other options Batman just doesn't have. Sneaking around clinging to the ceiling with her was fantastic. The game is a wonderful experience and very much worth the price of admission, but one quick warning: it is incredibly dark in places. The monstrousness of Batman's enemies is on full display here, with thugs talking about all sorts of horrible deeds and even a few times where someone you can't get to screams desperately for help as you try to get to them in time. I really wish the ESRB had seen fit to tage this with an M rating, because I think the content merits it. Still: very much recommended.

RPG notes: This section contains probably the single biggest spoiler of anything I've ever written, so please bear that in mind if you haven't finished the game, but first some other thoughts: this game does an excellent example of showing how you can have an unabashedly comic-book setting, with all of its weird conflicting sources of power and weirdness, and still have it work. Batman goes up against foes that are not superhuman in any way, save their utter evilness, such as The Joker, Two-Face, and Penguin, a few that are augmented via super-science or science-fiction technology of some kind like Mr. Freeze and Bane, and even a couple with mystical undertones like Solomon Grundy and Ra's al Ghul and it all works. The setting still feels like a dark, gritty, crime-ridden modern city instead of a cartoony mess. The game also has a very interesting example of how to finish a major recurring villain in a satisfying and character-appropriate way. Okay - remember the spoiler I was talking about? This is it. You have been warned. The Joker's death, while richly-deserved, came at his own hand and he found it funny at the end. Mark Hamill has also said that he's retiring from voicing the character now, and so there is a real sense of finality to this - between this and the sad events around Heath Ledger's death, I almost think it may be time for DC to kill The Joker off for real in the comics and see where Batman can go from there. There is a great deal of reference to how the two characters of Batman and The Joker are kind of dependent on each other and two sides of one coin in almost all the mythology around both of them, so leaving one to go on without the other is storytelling gold. The opportunities to transfer that into an RPG campaign are extensive, particularly if one or more of the PCs has a recurring nemesis of some kind. It should be mentioned, however, that if this is attempted, the surviving adversary is going to feel somewhat lost and "off" and they should. Play with that, and see where you can go.

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