Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Thoughts on Batman Arkham Knight

I have been lost in the crime ridden streets of Gotham since I got my hands on Batman Arkham Knight just a few weeks ago. I have been soaking in every gorgeous detail and cherishing my time with some of the greatest villains ever created. Unfortunately, it wasn't much time because I finished the main story in about 3 days. Now that I have finished the game, with the exception of all Riddler activities, I figured I would share some final thoughts. So this would be a good time to mention that this post will be full of SPOILERS. Seriously, all of the SPOILERS! SPOILERS upon SPOILERS. And just in case we aren't clear...

The Batmobile

This seems to be quite the divisive topic when it comes to this game. Some people love it, some people absolutely hate it. I would say I'm somewhat in the middle. I didn't absolutely hate the batmobile, but I most certainly could have gone without it. I will say, it is extremely polished. Going in and out of battle mode was seamless and the tank drone fights were really well done. However, later battles in the game that pit you up against the Arkham Knight and his ridiculously armored tank and drill were some of the most frustrating gaming moments I have encountered in recent years. Something about him being in pursuit of the batmobile seemed to change the handling in a way that it felt like the game world was suddenly butter, and the batmobile would slide in every direction except the one you wanted it to go. Derpy camera angles and the searchlight from his drill going through the underground tunnels made things all the more difficult. So difficult and frustrating that I shamelessly changed the difficulty to "easy" for those particular battles. Maybe I just suck at this game, but I was sick of him getting in the way of finishing the main missions. I also didn't want my frustrations to taint my perception of what is a near perfect game. Which brings us to...

Glitches and Other Weirdness

This won't be a very long section considering I played this on PS4 and not on PC. During my time in Gotham I only encountered two major glitches. One near the very beginning of the game while going into the clock tower. The cut scene began but there was no audio, I tried to switch on subtitles so I could at least read the conversation happening but that caused my game to crash. I quit to the Playstation main menu but it suddenly jumped back into the frozen game and crashed the entire system. The second happened near the very end of the game. One last time for good measure, SPOILERS! I had just had the shock of a lifetime finding out that Barbara was alive. After a dramatic showdown with Batman, Gordon, Barbara, and Scarecrow I was able to rescue Oracle and bring her back to the GCPD. Only when Batman carried her in, she wasn't in his arms. I thought maybe Batman really was losing his mind and she really wasn't alive. So after an awkward scene of Batman talking to the air around him, gameplay resumed and I could finally see Barbara. Other weirdness I encountered mostly had to do with weird camera angles when trying to maneuver the batmobile and really weird combat when it came to trying to fight someone on a set of stairs. 

The Story

When I first heard that Scarecrow was to be one of the main antagonists of Arkham Knight, I was stoked. I loved his segments in Arkham Asylum, they were so well done and caught you by complete surprise. Particularly when it made you think your system had crashed. Even though his demeanor is quite a departure from Asylum, I still really enjoyed all of the bits where he actually made an appearance. Particular high points included the movie studios takeover by Harley Quinn, the eerie airship battle when suddenly all the henchmen rise like zombies, any chance you got to use those incredible dual takedowns with your sidekicks, and the ending of course. My only real complaint with the story is that I wish it was longer. But you can't fully delve into talking about the story without mentioning...

The Reveals

After the ending of Arkham City I sat in shock in a dark room with endless credits rolling by while being serenaded by the Joker and what seemed to be his last words. After that, websites everywhere went crazy about Mark Hamill saying that was his final performance as the Joker and he was retiring the voice. I believed it. I was interested to see what kind of a Joker-less Batman game they were going to bring to the table. Who could have guessed that killing off the character meant you would see them more than you ever have before. In what would be the first of many jump scares in the game, (that weren't ruined by E3 demos) you are confronted by Joker. You assume it is Scarecrow's fear toxin working its magic when you are suddenly transported to a flashback at Batman's movie studio hideout. There you discover the patients who were poisoned with the Joker's blood in Arkham City who are now transforming into him. Only there is one empty cell reserved for the dark knight himself. That's when you realize it wasn't Crane's toxin after all, he is really in our head. From then on he is the little devil on your shoulder, popping up constantly to give you his point of view on things. His transitions in and out of scenes are flawless and his commentary is absolute perfection. And I haven't even mentioned the incredible musical number...Oh, how good it was to have him back!

But that wasn't even the big reveal. Of course the big reveal was who was going to be the Arkham Knight. For a lot of people, this wasn't a huge surprise. For many people, this was a crushing disappointment. As someone with minimal knowledge of the Batman universe other than info provided by the games and quick google searches to understand things better, I knew immediately after the first trip down Joker's torture lane. Was I surprised by the Jason Todd reveal? Obviously not. Was I disappointed? No. I mean, who else could it have been? It made sense, (even though I'm still somewhat confused on where he was able to pull the funds for an army and advanced military equipment.) In fact the only thing that disappointed me about his reveal was his weak boss battle.

Of course the final reveal, that I spoiled already, was Oracle being alive and well. I mean, as well as one could be after spending some time with Scarecrow. I wasn't exactly surprised by this, but I was happy. I guess if comic books and comic book films have taught me anything, it's that no one really ever dies, (looking at you Captain America: The Winter Soldier.)

But even once you've finished the story, there are still a number of things to keep you busy in Gotham. Which brings us to...

Side Missions

Arkham City had some of the greatest side missions to grace any video game. You got to interact with the likes of Bane, Zsasz, the Mad Hatter, the ever cryptic Azrael, and more even though they weren't central to the story. Arkham Knight continues this trend and adds even more. The murder mystery and reveal of Pyg was interesting and unsettling in the best way possible. Tracking down Penguins weapons caches was a nice little treat if only to use those very well done dual takedowns with Knighwing. It was nice to see the Riddler integrated more into the story by including Catwomen. The Two-Face bank robberies were hectic fun. And the Man-Bat was a terrifying and fun surprise. It was also nice to see continuations of side missions from City, like the conclusion to all those cryptic messages from Azrael. However, some continuations were a tad disappointing. What was setting up to be one of the most interesting side missions when all communication with Lucius is lost turns out to be a continuation of what happened with that Bruce Wayne identity thief Hush from City. The start of the mission was incredible with you assuming you are in control of Bruce Wayne only to violently be told you are actually in control of the baddie. But, almost as quickly as it begins, it is over within minutes after a simple counter move. I guess I was hoping for a series of missions involving Hush after all of the set up in Arkham City. Other frustrations include the endless bombs and watch towers which just get monotonous after a while and the painful Firefly batmobile chases....Okay, maybe I just really suck at driving the batmobile. Seriously, I think I did more damage to Gotham than the criminals. It should be a pile of rubble with the amount of support pillars I demolished...but we're getting off topic now. 

Final Thoughts

Overall, it was an incredible game and was the first game that made my PS4 purchase feel worth it and has got me even more excited for what's to come. It's hard to say if it is my favorite of the series, I will have to go back and revisit Asylum and City before I can say. But it was a damn good game and I am a tad bummed I finished it so quickly. Here's to hoping the Batgirl DLC will be awesome!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Am I Falling Out of Love With Gaming?

I have been rather radio silent on the blog front for quite some time now and that's because to write a blog about video games you have to play some video games. As of now, I haven't played a game since I finished Infamous: Second Son. I haven't purchased a game since Christmas (or I guess before that because technically those were gifts.) Assassins Creed Unity sits unfinished. Far cry 4 sits unfinished. Both Destiny and Assassins Creed Black Flag remain unopened. So what happened? I used to be so excited about new game releases that it felt as if I couldn't breath from the moment I saw the reveal trailer until the day I finally held it in my hands. I would play it until I was forced to sleep, or eat, or until my Playstation's cooling fan couldn't handle it any longer. I couldn't relax until I had seen the credits roll and days at work or school were excruciatingly long because I just couldn't wait until I could get back to playing. 

The last time I felt that way about a game was all the way back in 2013. It was my first summer break in college, so naturally, and regretfully, it was spent in my hometown. I was working my full-time summer job and I was counting down the hours until I could rush home and find my pre-ordered copy of The Last of Us delivered on release day. However, being in rural Nevada, release day delivery was not guaranteed and my copy was not there. I had to sit through another long day terrified that I was going to stumble across a spoiler before I could even pop it into the PS3. Eventually I got my copy and much to the dismay of my brother and parents, I finished the game in two days. 

It's probably not the best way to play games, finishing them in a matter of days, but I just can't rest until I finish the story. Especially since we live in a world where keyboard crusaders find so much joy in spoiling everything for everyone. Of course I take my time exploring open worlds and doing side-quests, but in linear games I have to get through the story, I have to know what happens. It's like binge-watching a show on Netflix. So why am I not itching to finish Assassin's Creed Unity or Far Cry 4? 

Honestly, I don't know. Maybe because I was already starting to get fatigued by the AC series. Or maybe because Far Cry 3 was pretty fantastic and it seems like this quick sequel was just trying to cash in on that. Maybe I'm just coming up with excuses for being lazy, too lazy to even play video games. (Wow...that's bad.) Maybe this is what happens when you become an adult and your focus shifts to school and work and the only energy you have left is for watching Netflix and going down the rabbit hole of Buzzfeed and Or maybe the PS4 and Xbox One era just hasn't hit its stride yet and there is literally nothing to play. I'm hoping for the latter. 

I'm starting to get that sense of excitement that accompanies a new game release. Hopefully Batman Arkham Knight can save my love for the gaming art form. As for Monday, since I have the day off, I am planning on watching every E3 livestream in the hopes that something can get me as excited as I was when I first saw The Last of Us demo, I'm 100% certain it will probably be Uncharted 4. (Then I remember I still have a year to wait and I feel as if I've been punched in the gut.) Maybe we will all be blown away by an announcement that no one will be expecting, (fingers crossed for a Red Dead Redemption follow up.) Let's hope for an amazing E3 with lot's of surprises in store that will fill this next year with nothing but anticipation. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Always, Always, Always a Hero

Hello blogging world, it's been a while. Between school, work, sorority, and Netflix time, I haven't had a lot of time to play any video games. Well recently my work load decreased significantly and I was finally able to open up Infamous: Second Son and give it a go. As is tradition with this series, very early on you are given the choice of whether you are going to play as a "Hero" or "Villain." I chose hero. I always choose hero. And I always wonder why?

The point of video games is to give you a glorious world where you can choose to do whatever you please. These can be an escape where you can do despicable things that you otherwise couldn't do in the real world. The name of these games is Infamous, so why in every one so far have I chosen to not play infamously? This is far from the only game where I've played the good guy.

So, when did it all start? I remember very clearly when I was younger playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City killing every pedestrian in sight, never once playing a story mission. I remember getting a little older and doing the same in Grand Theft Auto IV, but this was also when I became engaged in the characters and story. I would say it all started with a glorious little game called Red Dead Redemption.

Rockstar Games are made to be played devilishly. They give you gigantic worlds full of pedestrians
shouting nonsense that just deserve to be sucker punched. Red Dead Redemption was the perfect landscape to play this way, to be the outlaw. Yet, I couldn't bring myself to do it. I couldn't bring myself to aid the bad guys, I couldn't just ride away from outlaws about to kill innocent people, and I couldn't let some asshole get away with stealing some poor man's horse. I loved seeing my honor go up. I loved rising from "nobody" all the way to "legend." I loved hearing the pedestrians praising me and saying hello as they rode by rather than running in fear. It made you feel like a superhero.

Ever since finishing Red Dead, I've realized this style of playing has followed me in every game since. Whenever given the choice, I always try to make the "right" one. Whenever given the chance to act as a hero, I always take it. Whenever I made a mistake and accidentally killed an innocent bystander, I felt guilty. Whenever I made a dialogue choice in The Walking Dead in which Clementine "remembered" it in a bad way, that sense of shame followed me all day. But why? In the same way that playing a villain gives you a sense of satisfaction because you don't do these things in real life, the exact same thing can be said for playing the hero.

I am not the kind of person that is going to step in and stop something horrible from happening in real life. Never will you see me as headline news for doing something miraculous. I keep to myself in the real world. If someone is on the side of the road with a flat tire, I'm one of the idiots slowing down traffic to look instead of stopping to help. Partly because I know nothing of changing flat tires, but mostly because I'm just trying to get through whatever misfortune is thrown at me during an average day without getting involved in someone else's. I am the exact opposite of a superhero.

So maybe that explains it. Maybe not. Maybe I just have strong moral values that follow me even into the virtual world. Or maybe some games are just better playing the hero.

For more gaming ramblings, or just my daily misfortune follow me on Twitter: @AshtynMarlow

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Returning To The Never Ending World of Assassin's Creed

Let me just begin this article saying I truly loved Assassin's Creed. AC 2 is most definitely in my top favorite games and, despite it being incredibly loathed, I quite enjoyed the world and story of AC 3. However, it was after finishing this game that I fell out of love with the series, or rather started to loath how regularly the games were coming out. It started to echo Call of Duty

Ah, Call of Duty, another franchise I used to be quite fond of. My adrenaline was pumping throughout the "All Ghillied Up" mission in Modern Warfare, I loved revisiting old characters in the over-the-top follow up Modern Warfare 2, and there were countless moments in World at War that had my heart pounding. But as the years went on and the games kept coming I realized it was pointless of me to make a 60 dollar purchase for a 4 hour story, especially because I don't play and have no interest in playing the multiplayer. If I went into my local game retailer today, I couldn't tell you which Call of Duty game came out last year and which one came out this year. That's how much I can't keep up with these releases, and sadly I'm starting to feel the same way about Assassin's Creed.

Of course this may be an unfair argument. After all, Ubisoft manages to give us an entirely new, detailed, gorgeous open world to explore every year, whereas Activision/Infinity Ward gives us a couple linear over the top set pieces to spend a few minutes per mission in. However, the more the AC series goes on, I keep finding myself less impressed by the world and characters around me and less interested in all the side-quests they have to offer.

I remember my first trip into the Animus. My first thought was; "...the f**k is an animus?" But as I started to get the hang of the tricky controls and got my first glimpses of the gorgeous cities that make up the huge and detailed world, I immediately fell in love. And though, at times, the first AC game felt like a bit of a chore to finish only to get a lackluster cliffhanger of an ending, it piqued my interest enough for me to immediately get on Amazon and have AC 2 shipped as soon as humanly possible.

Oh, AC 2...What is there to say about AC 2 that hasn't already been said millions of times? It was incredible, beautiful, and interesting. It had characters that I liked and cared about and a protagonist that I didn't mind spending endless hours with. Each city was programmed with such personality, from the petals that fluttered down from Florence rooftops to the mask wearing and fire breathing jesters throughout the streets of Venice. It was an experience. This was the game that made me fall in love with the series. And luckily, since I jumped into the series a couple years after release, I didn't have to suffer through yet another cliffhanger ending. Once again I was on the computer ordering the next installment.

Days later I was jumping into Brotherhood. And while it is not my favorite in the series, I loved all the improvements and new features added. Most of the improvements came in terms of that dreaded present day plot line. I found the modern day stuff interesting in the first game, but it was incredibly tedious, (for the love of god, just let me run back and forth to the computer and my room!) In Brotherhood, they stepped up their game. I found myself caring for the characters more, interested in seeing present day Monteriggioni, and putting my new skills to the test in modern cities. Man, it could have been great! Instead, they ended the game with a bizarre, you guessed it, cliffhanger ending and managed to take a gigantic step back when it came to the present day story in the next installment.

I had finally caught up with the series almost exactly in time for the release of Revelations. The game was good, the story was okay, the characters were interesting, and it was a nice wrap up to both Ezio and Altair's stories. However, after the improvements to the present day plot in Brotherhood, I was a little more than upset that is was reduced'm not even sure what to compare it to, but it was bad...really bad. I wasn't blown away by the game to say the least. I was going to mention how I felt about new features it introduced, but to be honest I don't quite remember. I remember protecting assassin's dens, I found it to be almost as tedious as reading those emails in the original. Mostly, I ignored all the little side stuff. I wanted to play the story, I wanted to know what happens next. I wanted to finish what I had started. I'm beginning to think I never will.

After finishing Revelations, I was totally okay if it was going to be a couple years before I played
another AC game. Ubisoft was not okay with this logic. Exactly one year later AC 3 was released to incredibly mixed reviews. Despite how I felt about Revelations, I was still very excited about AC 3. I loved the setting they were taking it to, after learning everything about the Revolutionary war from elementary school all the way up through my first semester of college, I was incredibly excited to see how they were going to bring it to life and incorporate real events. Also this game was to give a definitive ending to that present day story that they butchered so badly in Revelations. I was pumped! After completing the game I feel conflicted. I wasn't disappointed, I wasn't in awe, and the only thing that left me with a bad taste in my mouth was the cop-out ending of the Desmond story arc. (Am I the only one that somewhat cared about the present day story? Probably.) Sure, the villain was slightly more likable than the hero, the story had some plot holes and loose ends, and the cities certainly didn't have the flair that Renaissance Italy did, (Sometimes I couldn't tell whether I was in Boston or New York unless a character mentioned it.) But it wasn't a bad game by any means, it just wasn't as good as previous entries in the series. One of the more polished and certainly most praised parts of the game was the naval combat. Ubisoft saw this praise and gave the audience seemingly what they wanted...a pirate assassin.

The day Black Flag was announced I decided I was done. A new game every year was getting to be too much, especially a new game where each one is declining in quality. I came to the conclusion that I would never finish what I started and it was time to end my time with the series. Besides, how good could a game about a pirate assassin be? Very good apparently. I've heard nothing but praise for Black Flag and feel like an idiot for calling it quits before playing it. But it isn't too late.

As you've seen, I've recently got my hands on a PS4 and with it AC Unity. I figured I would see what Ubisoft has done with a next-gen AC. I have only just started and am impressed so far. The cities are beautiful and huge, the details on the more extravagant buildings are gorgeous, and the crowded streets are impressive. As far as story and characters go, I don't have any particular interest so far. Arno certainly doesn't have the personality of Ezio or even Haytham for that matter. I started playing this game after the floods of patches swooped in to save the day, so the glitches I have encountered are far and few between. (By the way, I'm a firm believer in delaying games. I would much rather wait than play a game that is broken.) However, I feel the controls have gotten worse as far as trying to get your character to climb a certain thing or go a certain path. I have made multiple attempts to go through open doors and windows while free running only to have my character decide he would rather climb to the roof instead. I also feel a little overwhelmed by the amount of markers on my map. I appreciate side missions and other activities to distract from the main story, but damn! Also, I have yet to try to co-op missions. I'm interested to see what it's like to play cooperatively, but I can't see it running smoothly. If we are all given the same target, isn't it just going to be a race to see who can kill him first? Because I know I want to be the guy that kills the target. We shall see...Since I am nowhere near completion, I can't come to a conclusion whether it's a great, okay, or just another lackluster entry in the never ending series that is AC. Perhaps once I'm finished with the game I will write a review of promises though.

As for my future with the series, it would appear they are going to keep making these games until they eventually don't make money and that's not something I appreciate. I suppose the same could be said for the Grand Theft Auto series, or Uncharted (Although 4 will be the last entry...sadly.) But the difference between these series is the time taken between games. GTA 5 came out 5 years after GTA 4. Uncharted 4, if released this year, will be coming out 3 years after Uncharted 3. It takes time, time to see what worked in the last game, what didn't, what to improve on and so-on. That is why each new GTA and each new Uncharted game are masterpieces. Okay, maybe masterpieces is going a tad overboard, but the games are great and the experience sticks with you long after the credits have rolled and you're dying of anticipation wondering what they will do with the next game and how long you will have to wait for it. Whereas, when information "leaks" about a new AC game, my reaction is mostly "...meh." And I'm sad that that's how I feel about a franchise I was once so deeply invested in...But, one can only play so much.