Tag Archive: batman


The original Injustice was an epic comparable to any major comic book event, movie release, or series of TV crossovers. It had everything from multiple universes to the kind of fights fanboys spend way too much time on the internet arguing about. Couple this with tight gameplay all around, and it is no wonder the game was such a hit. Topping all this in its inevitable sequel would be no easy feat—and although I enjoyed the first game of the series a tad more, Injustice 2 is still great enough that Batman would offer it a seat at the Justice League table.

Injustice 2 takes place shortly after the events of the first game. The heroes from our universe have mostly returned home (Green Arrow decided to stay and help out) and those in the Injustice-verse must aid the rebuilding efforts now that Superman’s Regime has been overthrown. In its place, however, new threats have arisen. Gorilla Grodd has brought together various villains to form a group called The Society, determined to rule in the Regime’s place. Meanwhile, an interstellar threat from the stars—the world collector Brainiac—has set his sights on Earth after finding out not one, but two surviving Kryptonians reside there. The heroes of this Injustice-verse must again band together, and even forge some uneasy alliances, if they are going to survive this new conflict.

It is now official: it seems the writers of Injustice have a better grasp of how to make a compelling DC Comics universe more than anyone currently behind most of the comics and all of the movies. The overarching story of Injustice 2 is a logical continuation of the first game’s narrative, told in NetherRealm’s now signature chapter-based sequences that follow individual fighters in the universe. It continues to flesh out this Injustice-verse and find, for the most part, natural ways to integrate new and interesting characters. There’s even some chapters that you can replay with different characters, and multiple endings depending on a choice you’re forced to make—although one feels much more like it will stand as canon beyond the other.

The story isn’t without flaws, however. While many characters made sense here in Injustice 2, several seemed to be shoehorned in just to expand the roster number. Firestorm’s ability to create any element was nothing more than a plot device, and the Joker—who appears as a Harley hallucination—was completely unnecessary beyond needing to continue to push that awful Jared Leto-esque Suicide Squad design onto us yet again. The worst, though, might’ve been Green Arrow, Black Canary, and Atrocitus. They all had small—yet interesting—side stories started, but they never came to a logical and satisfying conclusion, leaving us holding onto unfinished B-story threads. That said, I’d still rather have a dozen Injustice stories for every piece of garbage that DC Comics now prints or sends to our theaters.

Where Injustice 2 really stands out from the crowd is in its gameplay. The fighting mechanics are deeper than ever, with an extended specials meter that allows for more special moves to be buffed up, new escapes from combos, or the always-entertaining supermoves that cue a cinematic should they hit. Whether it’s Batman blasting you with the Batwing, Green Lantern obliterating you with a mechsuit construct, or even the Flash literally punching you through time, they never get old to watch—except maybe if you’re always the one being hit with them instead of doing the hitting.

As well, each of the game’s arenas once again feature a plethora of objects you can interact with. From throwing alligators in Slaughter Swamp to knocking opponents into the marquee of the Empire Theater, being aware of your surroundings can be just as important as memorizing combos. The only downside I found in the arena design was that one major feature from Injustice was surprisingly watered down here in Injustice 2: the stage transitions. Whereas we used to be able to knock opponents into one or two other stages on almost every level, many levels in Injustice 2 are self-contained, or only feature one transition. I’m not sure the reason for this, but the transition threat on both sides of a stage is something I sorely missed from the first game, and—considering the roster size—made the lack of overall arenas all the more telling.

A few new characters and a continuing story are expected in a fighting game sequel, though. The biggest change that Injustice 2 introduces is the new gear system. Similar to an action-RPG, leveling up your profile, leveling up a character, or completing certain objectives across all the game’s different modes will reward you with loot, gear, or Motherboxes, which—depending on rarity—rewards two to six more pieces of gear. You can then take the items you’ve earned and equip them into one of five different gear slots on each fighter. It not only changes the cosmetics of each fighter, but also boosts their ability, attack, defense, or health. You can even find new moves for your characters that you can equip, such as a teleport for Scarecrow, or a ground pound for Superman.

The system is one of the deepest rewards systems I’ve ever tried, and saying I became hooked by it would be an understatement. After every fight, I had to compare and contrast what my fighters were wearing, and it kept me playing far longer than I might have otherwise. It basically means that mirror matches are far less predictable, and even if you don’t like the idea of gear changing your stats, you can turn off the effects before every battle if you so choose. As characters level up, new gear becomes available to them until you hit the level 20 cap per character, and even if you should find a piece of epic gear at a lower level, you can earn regeneration coins that allow you to recast those items at your current level.

Sure, there are microtransactions that can speed up this entire process—including leveling up all your characters to max if you so choose. Honestly, though, I am having way too much fun fighting for every piece to make me potentially more powerful. I’ve never felt this direct connection between my hard work and the loot I earn so strongly before, even if the numbers are all randomly generated. My only complaint would be how I wish there was an easier way to earn epic loot for characters you don’t play with in the story. For beating a respective character’s story chapter, you’re rewarded with a piece of level 20 epic loot; it then made me really sad that half the roster was one piece of loot behind everyone else, even though there’s still the process of getting everyone to level 20.

Still, you can earn gear in every mode. Whether you’re trying to climb the online leaderboards (which are all operating smoothly at last check now a week after the game’s launch) or watching your characters duke it out in the new AI mode (where you pick three of your custom fighters to fight other custom teams and let the computer decide the winners as you watch), the gear and loot is always coming. My personal favorite way to get new gear, especially of the epic variety, is the new Multiverse mode.

The next step in MKX’s Living Towers system, these time-based events are portrayed as Batman keeping an eye on all the different worlds he learned about after the first game. Picking a planet affords players the opportunity to tackle special challenges against the AI; should you complete all the objectives on each one of these Elseworlds, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best gear in the game. Each planet, though, has a variety of stipulations. Some might help you, like having characters from the last game—such as Ares or Raven—offer their assistance as an AI ally that you can call on with a button press. Others will hinder you, as maybe you take damage every time you do a special move, or your opponent will have armor on, allowing them to absorb a certain number of hits before you can actually chip away at their lifebars. Either way, these challenges are constantly cycling in and out every few hours, and will keep you on your toes while keeping your coffers stuffed with loot and gear. The only one not set to a schedule is the “Multiverse Battle Simulator,” which is the well-hidden equivalent to Injustice 2’s arcade mode.

Injustice 2 is everything fans of DC Comics would want from a game like this, and then some. The gear system is surprisingly balanced and delightfully addictive in a way that will keep you coming back to this game long after you’ve seen every arcade ending and both endings in story mode. The story itself is very good, and even with a few holes and cheap gimmick characters thrown in for the sake of expanding the roster, is easily the best writing any DC property has seen since the first Injustice came out. And, most importantly, the gameplay remains top-notch, and is deeper than ever with new escapes, meter burns, and those fantastic supermoves. Even in a year that seems to be full of fighting games, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one better than Injustice 2.

Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment • Developer: NetherRealm Studios • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 05.16.17
9.0
Injustice 2 is one of the most complete fighting games you’ll ever play. From the story to the Multiverse Mode, there is something for everyone here to enjoy. And with how addictive the gear system is, you’ll be hard-pressed to put it down.
The Good The gear system is as addictive as advertised, and the Multiverse concept only feeds into this.
The Bad Story tries too hard to shoehorn some characters in. Less stage transitions than previous game.
The Ugly The new Joker design. Stop trying to push the Suicide Squad movie on us Warner Bros.!
Injustice 2 is available on PS4 and Xbox One. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.
Advertisements

It’s extremely difficult to appease Batman fans, and I’m admitting right from the get go that I count myself amongst the most hardcore of them. It’s almost tradition now for every new version of The Dark Knight to suffer some backlash—especially from those of us who are as obsessed with Batman as he is with fighting crime. Fans of Bill Finger and Bob Kane’s original gun-wielding, rooftop leaping lunatic from the late ‘30s and early ‘40s hated Adam West’s camp-filled romps in the ‘60s. Those fans in turn disliked when the comics crafted a noir vibe and turned back towards some of Finger/Kane’s roots in the ‘70s with Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ take on the character. Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, and Tim Burton’s film version of the Caped Crusader in the 80s all had their haters, too. So, when it finally came time for me to play Batman: The Telltale Series, I was both excited and worried about what the latest take on Batman might bring to us, knowing it would be extremely difficult for me—even though I’d like to think of myself as a more open-minded fan—to come away satisfied.

Batman: The Telltale Series is best described as a transitional adventure between “Year One” and “Year Two”. What this equates to in Batman’s history for those unfamiliar with comic book parlance is that he’s taken his lumps in that first year of crime fighting, and just now is starting to come into his own as “The Batman.” It’s also when the supervillains start to show up; classic foes like Catwoman, Penguin, Two-Face, and the Joker all make their presences felt by the end of the game, along with the traditional mobsters that Batman had to deal with in his early days. The bulk of the game’s narrative, however, centers on Bruce Wayne needing to clear his family name after a new bad guy reveals that Thomas Wayne (Bruce’s father) wasn’t the philanthropist that Gotham necessarily saw him as.

Being a Telltale game, the narrative does a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of one’s enjoyment of the product—or lack thereof. And right from the start, this was a decision that started to turn my opinion sour. With writers running out of ideas now that Batman is wrapping up his eighth decade of print, the idea of questioning his origins and casting doubt on the sanctity of his purpose has been done countless times in recent years of the comics. The easiest way to do this is to attack Bruce’s parents, and I have always taken issue with this.

One of Batman’s greatest appeals is his mission; his obsession is one that we as fans mirror back onto him. He makes a vow on his parents’ graves to wage an unending war on all criminals as a child, and the fact he follows through on it and lets it dictate his life is twisted and unhealthy, but in an odd way also very pure. It’s a child lashing out against a cruel and unjust world for the love and security that was ripped away from him in a random act of violence. When you remove this, you simply have a maniac in a mask. Yes, that’s what Batman really is at his core, but you greatly lessen his appeal when you strip away one of his founding dimensions, and undo a lot of the great work that those came before had laid out. Simply put, if something isn’t broke, stop trying to fix it.

Batman_Catwoman1160

And I understand the appeal of wanting to do it. Attacking Bruce’s family also attacks his money source—Batman’s true greatest superpower. His inherited wealth has always been Bruce’s deus ex machina, allowing him to get out of more situations than I could count no matter the era. It’s like putting Superman under a red sun; it’s a classic comic book gimmick to take our hero out of his comfort zone. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But when your powers are so closely tied to your origin like Batman’s are, it’s more apt to blow up in your face.

One thing Telltale did do a fantastic job of, though, was trying to pay homage to a lot of great Batman media over the years. The font in the title graphic evokes memories of Batman: The Animated Series, and the superb voice acting from this cast is on par with the legendary voices from that groundbreaking series. Although still well within the parameters of Telltale’s signature cel-shaded art-style, Two-Face’s design is largely based on that seen in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, and Penguin’s feels more akin to what we’ve been given on FOX’s Gotham. And, several gameplay elements like Detective Mode—more on that in a bit—borrow from Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham games. One other element that Telltale touched on from the Batman: Arkham series is taking a previously-established comic book canon character and trying to pass them off as a new villain. The worst of it, though, is this character was never a Batman villain to begin with.

This leads us to the main villain of the story, a new character dubbed Lady Arkham, which I will try to refer to as vaguely as possible to avoid giving away her true identity. Even with my distaste for the Thomas Wayne bashing, the first two episodes of Batman: The Telltale Series were actually quite compelling. When Lady Arkham reveals her true self in episode three, the series takes a marked turn for the worse. I don’t know if it comes from Batman’s license holders at Warner Brothers, or if there’s just a general fear of introducing new villains into the Batman universe outside of the comics, but the disappointment at the revelation of Lady Arkham was even worse than when we all realized within the first 15-minutes of playing Arkham Knight that our foe was Jason Todd. At least, at that point, he was a villain in the comics.

Lady Arkham’s true identity was always a close ally of Batman/Bruce Wayne, and twisting her like this felt like it was just cheap shock value for us hardcore fans who never suspected her because of our familiarity with the character. If Telltale had created an entirely new character with Lady Arkham, keeping her network seemingly as powerful as Batman’s and as long-standing as Bruce Wayne’s—but minus the preconceived notions from her true identity’s long history in Bat-media—I think she and her Children of Arkham could’ve been a welcome addition to the Rogues Gallery (in the same way Talon and the Court of Owls was a few years ago, and Ra’s Al Ghul and the League of Assassins was in the ‘70s). As is, she feels like a throwaway character used simply to establish Telltale’s new universe while not wasting any of the classic villains, thus weakening the entire story arc as a whole.

BatmanVsLadyArkham1160

The series also takes a turn for the worse on the technical side of things starting around her reveal. Telltale’s game engine continues to show its age, and does so markedly as this series progresses. The first couple of episodes are mostly glitch-free, but by the time we reach episode five, the choppy cutscenes, dropped audio lines, and general lag after decisions are made make finishing the game almost a chore. I understand that Telltale prides itself on its products coming out on every playable device imaginable. At some point, however, the studio needs to take some of this licensing money and invest back into tech that is optimized for modern consoles, and stop giving us this lowest common denominator garbage.

From a gameplay perspective, the bulk of the game remains around Telltale’s iconic choose-your-own-adventure multiple-choice scenes that change character interactions and dialogue depending on the decisions you make. Some additions we haven’t seen before in a Telltale game, and some that are even exclusive to Batman: The Telltale Series, were included here, though.

Detective mode, the special lenses that paint the world in a blue hue and allows Batman to recreate crime scenes, makes an appearance here. Similar to the Batman: Arkham games, examining clues will help Batman figure out what exactly happened in and around a crime scene, and piecing things together properly will help him decide what to do next on a case. Telltale also smartly allows you to link clues together this way to make it feel more like you’re actually solving the puzzle yourself. You also use Detective mode before certain ambushes, allowing Batman to plan out how he wants to clear a room before starting the quicktime button-mashing fest that helps him to defeat thugs unscathed. It’s just different enough from the Arkham games, but it still feels very much like you’re Batman while using it, and was a pleasant surprise.

Unlike a lot of other Batman projects, this game also does a great job of balancing life as Bruce Wayne and Batman. Whereas the Bruce Wayne parts of most movies, TV shows, and even comics can lean towards the mundane, the sequences here were just as intense and action packed as those where you’re dressed as Batman. Sometimes, they were even more difficult, since you don’t want to give away your secret identity. I loved the idea of there being branching paths, and you can even choose to confront certain individuals as either Batman or Bruce Wayne, which results in the dialogue obviously changing drastically. I only wish there were more of these choices as well as more Detective mode sequences, with it feeling like there was only maybe one per episode of either of them.

Batman_Batmobile1160

Batman: The Telltale Series had a lot of potential. There were some clever ideas, and some nice tribute Easter eggs to Bat-media of the past. Unfortunately, they aren’t enough to overcome aging, glitch-ridden technology and some weak narrative decisions in a narrative-centric experience. Therefore, it’s now time for me to try to find some Bat-Telltale repellant and see if I can’t get this game off of my bat-addled brain.

Publisher: Telltale Games • Developer: Telltale Games • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 12.13.16
6.0
The bigger a Batman fan you are, the less you’re likely to enjoy Telltale’s take on The Dark Knight. Combined with the obvious age Telltale’s engine is showing, this simply isn’t their best effort.
The Good Weaves elements from so many different Batman iterations over the years into one cohesive product.
The Bad Cheap plotline twists will leave some fans unhappy. Telltale’s engine is really starting to show its age.
The Ugly Selina Kyle’s apartment. I can’t stand a messy woman.
Batman: The Telltale Series is available on PS4, Xbox One, PC, Mac OS, iOS, Android, Xbox 360, and PS3. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Telltale Games for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Here is the best cosplay I saw at New York ComicCon 2015 and in only 90 seconds!

Knightfall

Editor’s Note: Because of the issues I had with the story, I will be referencing several major reveals from the game, as well as the prior game’s ending. If you wish to remain spoiler free, consider yourself warned. 

Whenever a modern, story-driven action game transforms into a successful series, particularly a trilogy, it starts to suffer from Star Wars syndrome. The middle game is always the best, and all the prequels aren’t nearly as good as the originals. We’ve seen this with Gears of War, God of War, and even Uncharted. Well, we can now add one more trilogy to that list: the Batman: Arkham games.

That’s not to say that Batman: Arkham Knight is an awful game. It’s just inferior to its predecessors (except for prequel Arkham Origins). Instead of bringing everything to a natural conclusion and tying up all the loose ends it left open from previous games, it tries to cram too many new conflicts into this final title in an attempt to needlessly raise the stakes—which were plenty high enough as they were. The results feel like a narrative mess, and I think a large part of this is the result of developer Rocksteady writing the script in-house instead of having it done by a veteran Batman scribe like Paul Dini, who also happened to pen both Arkham Asylum and Arkham City.

Taking elements from some of the more epic Batman stories over the past three decades from various forms of media—including Death of the Family, Death in the Family, Under the Red Hood, and Batman Beyond: Return of the JokerBatman: Arkham Knight sees the Scarecrow filling the criminal void left by the Joker nearly a year after his demise in Arkham City. With his most potent Fear Toxin formula yet, Scarecrow threatens to detonate a bomb that would blanket the entire Eastern Seaboard in the stuff, sending every man, woman, and child into a state or perpetual terror.

This, in and of itself, would’ve been a fine conclusion for the Arkham series, revolving around Batman having to constantly overcome his fears. Also along for the ride, however, is the Arkham Knight—a “new” character whose identity Batman fans should easily be able to deduce based on his taunting dialogue and how well he knows the Dark Knight. But even those who don’t immediately uncover the Arkham Knight’s identity will surely notice the cavalcade of clues, because Rocksteady wanted to make sure they really spelled it out before the big reveal.

Easily the worst narrative decision stems from the fact that Rocksteady and/or Warner Bros. wasn’t brave enough to make a Batman game that didn’t feature the Joker as a major player, though. For some reason, the Joker’s spirit lives on inside of Batman and several other of Gotham’s less fortunate citizens through his contaminated blood (I guess that cure in Arkham City wasn’t good enough), and Joker’s personality is trying to assert itself over those bodies in an attempt to cheat death. As time goes on and they become weaker, the Joker’s personality emerges more and more.

At that point, even as a comic book fan, it was too much. To have three major villains vying for attention in your main story—one in an incorporeal form—left a bad taste in my mouth. At the very least, the game’s ending felt like a fitting conclusion to the series, but I just wish it weren’t such a mess of an adventure getting to that point.

Instead of trying to shoehorn so many foes into the main story, maybe Rocksteady could’ve just added more side villains to allow the primary plot a chance to breathe. Those that are included—referred to as “Gotham’s Most Wanted” in-game, since you have to actually drag them back to GCPD after defeating them—provide a nice respite from the muck that is the main narrative. I could’ve easily done with more, especially Hush, Man-Bat, and Deacon Blackfire—or at least some longer missions involving them. The game does feature more than a dozen side missions in total built around a double-digit amount of classic Batman rivals, which helps to take some of the focus off of Scarecrow, Joker, and Arkham Knight. It’s a testament to the size of the world that it never felt like any of Batman’s Rogues’ Gallery encroached on each other’s turf, and I still had to search long and hard at times to uncover my next set of clues.

That’s definitely one of Rocksteady’s most impressive achievements with Arkham Knight. Gotham City is absolutely massive and comes alive like never before. Whether it’s ACE Chemicals, Port Adams, the GCPD, or Wayne Tower, the game includes every building and street that Bat-fans want to see, and you can seamlessly explore them all with no loading times while you hunt down your enemies as Batman.

Plus, Detective Mode has been expanded to help you on those hunts. With new elements like deep-tissue analysis on murder victims, security camera footage reviews, and fingerprint reconstruction, along with the addition of crime scene reconstruction from Arkham Origins, prowling Gotham for clues is as rewarding as ever.

Combat remains the high point of the Arkham series here, though. The smooth, free-flowing battles return, meaning that you’ll pull off 50-hit combos with regularity, but the game also adds new throw counters that help with crowd control, and instant environmental takedowns that can immediately remove the toughest thugs from a fight. Arkham Knight even offers special missions where you’ll team up with Robin, Nightwing, or Catwoman and can take control of them mid-fight instead of Batman as seamlessly as you do a counter, or perform team-up moves for some truly epic action. With these added nuances to combat, no encounter ever plays out the same way twice.

Predator Room combat has also seen a drastic improvement. The new Fear Takedowns allow you to remove as many as five enemies from the field at once when you’re fully upgraded. This will have you planning out your knockouts well in advance in an attempt to get enemies to bunch up together so you can swoop in and wipe them out in a single flourish. New devices like the Disruptor also lend a hand in planning strategy before jumping into the fray, since its special bolts will jam any gun—and, when upgraded, it can even short out enemy drones.

I wish that every element of Arkham Knight’s gameplay were so stellar. On the whole, all of these additions and improvements almost make you forget about the muddled plot. Then you get in the Batmobile. This was one of Rocksteady’s most touted features leading up to the game’s launch, and at times, the Batmobile is everything it was supposed to be: a dual threat fast enough to chase down fleeing enemies that still packs enough firepower in combat mode to take on dozens of Arkham Knight drones. The Batmobile even helps with ground combat by unleashing rubber bullets that incapacitate enemies in the streets.

But Arkham Knight relies on Batman’s ride far too often—and in far too many missions. The car’s deficiencies easily become evident, and it’s revealed to be one of the least enjoyable aspects of the game. I get that it’s supposed to be this monstrous vehicle, but trying to control the Batmobile in pursuit mode is a chore; it pinballs all over the road. Even after putting 30 hours into the game, with more than half of them in that damn car, I still never felt like I was in complete control.

And the Batmobile’s tank mode is even worse. While it features a strafe ability, I still felt like I was a sitting duck most of the time during an enemy missile lock-on, since the strafe only moves you a short distance in a particular direction. Then you have to try to dance between the two Batmobile forms to sneak up on certain tanks. They wanted me to be stealthy? In the Batmobile?! I just wanted to hang up the cape and cowl at that point.

The problems don’t stop with the Batmobile gameplay, though: Arkham Knight includes its fair share of bugs. I played on Xbox One and didn’t experience all the glitches that make the PC version unplayable, but the Batmobile still fell through the world in several instances where I had to drive up walls. And the bugs weren’t limited to the car, either. Several times I had to restart checkpoints when necessary button prompts wouldn’t appear, and I couldn’t advance unless I reloaded.

As much as I loved Arkham City and Arkham Asylum, Arkham Knight is nothing short of a disappointment. Two things are clear: Sefton Hill and his team of writers pale in comparison to Paul Dini, and Rocksteady should stay as far away from car combat as possible in the future. The excellent gameplay foundations, however, still shine. The fighting, side content, and stealth are as polished as ever, and considering the massive world fans have to explore here, they should still find something to enjoy with Arkham Knight, even if it’s not the conclusion we all hoped for.

Developer: Rocksteady Studio • Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 06.23.15
6.5
The main story is a convoluted mess, and the Batmobile gameplay is a serious detractor on the fun factor—especially since the Dark Knight is forced to use this clunky vehicle far too often. The combat outside of the car is better than ever, though, so exploring the game’s bountiful side content remains a bright spot in an overall disappointing conclusion to the Arkham franchise.
The Good The combat might be better than ever, the world is absolutely massive, and the story provides a fitting end to the Batman of the Arkhamverse.
The Bad There’s too much reliance on the Batmobile, the Joker aspects are unnecessary, and the game has a fair amount of glitches.
The Ugly Every Batman fan will be able to guess the identity of the Arkham Knight from his dialogue long before the big reveal.
Batman: Arkham Knight is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for the benefit of this review.

In honor of the day we here in America eat copious amounts of turkey, watch giant balloons float down major New York thoroughfares, and decide we’d rather be saving $20 on a new TV instead of spending time with our loved ones, we here at EGM decided to push aside the negativity and ambivalence that can sometimes befall the game industry and look back upon those things that we were thankful for this year.

Pure West, Baby
01

It made sense that Stan Lee, the king of hamming it up, would make an appearance in Lego: Marvel Super Heroes last year as a playable character as well as replacing the series’ standard “citizen in distress.” But I was genuinely surprised that instead of just going back to a normal citizen for the role, TT Games brought in Adam West, one of the most celebrated men to wear the cape and cowl, to do the same this year in Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham. It was, without a doubt, a guilty pleasure gone amazingly right.

I’m someone who can point to West’s portrayal of the Caped Crusader from the ‘60s (I watched in syndication, like many folks my age, and now I’m rewatching with the long-awaited release of the entire Batman series of DVD/Blu-Ray) as what helped spur a lifelong obsession with not just Batman but comic books in general, and it thrilled me to see him still embracing the character and hamming it up for his fans—even serving as narrator in a special level dedicated entirely to the show!

It’s Not Just a Car
02

Yeah, I know—two Batman posts on the same list. But the honest truth is that, outside of specific games, there wasn’t a ton for me to be thankful for this year, and you’ll have to wait for our “Best of” lists in a couple of weeks to see what stoked my fire in 2014.

Anyway, back at the beginning of the year, we got what many Batman fans have been waiting for: the announcement of Batman: Arkham Knight. And this time, it’s headed up by true Arkham series developer Rocksteady (even they ignore Warner Bros. Montreal’s Origins effort). Looking to cap off what they’ve said time and again will only be a trilogy, they’ve opened up Gotham like never before and given us what we’ve asked for all the way back when we first saw Arkham Asylum: the ability to drive the Batmobile.

I actually got to go hands-on with this multi-use behemoth at E3 this year, and in the small snippet of gameplay I got to try, it blew me away. Not only was it great for combat against other cars, but it helped with crowd control when Batman got into a hairy situation at Ace Chemicals. What’s more, I could even solve puzzles with the vehicle’s winch. The only thing I’m not thankful for is that the game’s been delayed several times, and now I have to wait until June 2015 to go hands-on with it again. Considering all the recent launch disasters, however, maybe it’s a good thing Rocksteady admitted they needed another nine months with the game.

Flip Side of the Coin
03

I’m completing a couple of trifectas here. This marks my third Warner Bros.related property, and I’m now the third person to mention something from Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor.

Normally, I’m not the biggest Lord of the Rings fan, but Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor really surprised a lot of us here in the office. While Josh may appreciate the new patch that lets you play as the female leader of the resistance and Andrew loves protagonist Talion, for me, it was all about the Nemesis system.

This feature offers incredible systemic gameplay, with each victory or defeat changing dialogue, power levels, and how you need to approach your target—and it’s a potential game-changer for the action-adventure genre. It offered me immense replayability well after the completion of the main story as I began to develop my own narrative within the game. Now, here’s the only question: Who will be the first to try to ape this gameplay revolution?

Holy Lego Bat-Trilogy!

Batman, as a character, has been a part of my life for as far back as I can remember. Growing up, I had Batman bedsheets, a Batman lunchbox, and I’d watch the syndicated reruns of the 1960s Batman during dinner with my mom and go absolutely bonkers each episode, shouting out each onomatopoeia as it flashed on screen with joyful enthusiasm. So, it was with a near-equal childlike glee when I found out that Adam West and the ‘60s TV show would be getting a pretty fair-sized tribute in Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham. Working one of my all-time favorite TV shows into a series that’s already established itself as a great jaunt for Bat-fans of all ages? Sign me up!

Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham picks up right where the last game in the series left off. After his failed team-up with the Joker in Lego Batman 2: DC Superheroes, Lex Luthor is still trying to become President of the United States, but he knows he’ll have to knock off the Justice League if he has any hopes of following through with the misdeeds he’d have to commit to get there. Enlisting the aid of other DC villains to his cause like the Joker again as well as Cheetah, Firefly, Killer Croc, and Solomon Grundy, Luthor sneaks into the Hall of Justice—and, from there, teleports his team of rogues to the Justice League’s orbital space station, the Watchtower.

Unbeknownst to the heroes and villains as they clash high above the Earth, though, is that a new villain, Brainiac, an android obsessed with collecting slices of various civilizations and preserving them in his personal macabre museum, has been up to mischief of his own. He’s gathering the seven spectrums of light in order to power up his shrink ray, and he plans to make Earth doll-sized and add it to his species-preserving collection. Only through the heroes and villains coming together to tackle Brainiac as a team—and visiting the homeworlds of each Lantern Corps—does Earth have a hope of surviving the unstoppable android.

What TT Games is able to accomplish here with this, their third Lego Batman, is nothing short of impressive. Sure, the gameplay’s mostly the same as it ever was: Go around smashing pieces of Lego bricks around the world to open up new pathways, collect a variety of items, or rebuild them into something useful to take on the bad guys. Along the way, you collect “studs,” the series’ form of in-game currency, to unlock extra characters and other goodies.

But the scale of this Lego Batman compared to the previous entries is what blew me away. There may only be 15 story levels, the same number as all other Lego games, but each one’s far larger and more intricate than before. What’s more, they offer myriad new puzzles that really put you to the test in Free Play mode if you want to 100-percent the game.

And the story itself is yet again one that Bat-fans of all ages will appreciate. It starts off pretty slow, not really hitting its stride until about the seventh level, but it’s chock-full of the simple-but-enjoyable slapstick humor we’ve come to expect from the Lego series of games. It also stays very true to the source material, so you’ll be hard pressed not to relish the twists and turns of this latest adventure.

Besides the story, though, the game also offers nearly another 15 levels just to run around in and find a variety of DC or Lego themed collectibles. Whether it’s the Legion of Doom headquarters, the Moon, or each and every homeworld for each respective Lantern Corps, you’ll be blown away by just how much you can explore—and how much detail went into each area. From the lava rivers of Ysmault to the emerald fields of Oa, or the exotic forests of Odym to the prisons of Nok, Free Play mode will suck up your time as you undertake sidequests and hunt for the 250 gold bricks scattered about the DC Universe.

There’s also a special post-credits level. Not only can you rescue Adam West 30 times in the game (much like you had to with Stan Lee in Lego Marvel), but you can play as him, too. The post-credits level is a tribute to the 1960s Batman, with Adam West as the narrator. You can (briefly) drive the ‘60s Batmobile and then take on the Joker—redesigned to look like Cesar Romero. He even has a little Lego mustache poking through his white facepaint. It’s an epic showdown worthy of the Batusi!

Beyond all the extra story content, there are also 150 different characters to collect and play with. You’ll find variations on the main characters, like Batman of Zur-En-Arrh and lesser-known villains like Music Meister—even the reality-altering fifth-dimension inhabitants Bat-Mite and Mister Mxyzptlk. If they were ever a part of DC lore, chances are they might be here. Beyond Adam West, a few other random celebrities make an appearance, like Smodcast host and legendary Bat-fan Kevin Smith, the Looney Tunes’ version of the Green Lantern, the Green Loontern (Daffy Duck dressed as Green Lantern), and Conan O’Brien. With the first two, I can at least see some loose connection to the DC Universe, but have no idea why Conan was there, and he proved to be extremely annoying while serving as the guide for many of the hub worlds. He’d often repeat himself to the point where I almost muted the TV when he was around.

But, as the narrator of the 1960s Batman TV Show used to say at the start of each second episode of the two-part stories: The worst is yet to come. For as much as TT Games was able to cram into Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham, there are a lot more technical issues than normal. You’ll see framerate drops on almost every other level, and they often crop up at the worst times. I can’t remember experiencing this with a Lego game before, so it was really jarring for the issues to pop up as often as it did here. It’s also still a little mind-boggling that TT Games hasn’t instituted online co-op into their games yet. I understand that local co-op probably works better for a game like this, given its chaotic nature, but I think offering players the option would be nice.

The camera also remains a greater threat than anything the Legion of Doom could hope to throw at you: quest-givers hidden away behind the scenery, your hero falling off an edge because the field of view doesn’t follow them into a blind corner, or just trying to keep all the action onscreen as you take projectile damage from enemies you can’t even see.

The technical shortcomings don’t sabotage the overall package, though. With dozens of hours of post-story content to keep players coming back for more, plenty of new worlds ready to explore, and a story that somehow finds a way to entertainingly tie it all together, Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham remains as reliable and enjoyable for fans as Bat-Shark repellent.

Developer: TT Games • Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 11.11.14
8.5
Despite some technical shortcomings, Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham does a fine job of continuing to build on what the series has established while also hitting all the right notes to keep pleasing Bat-fans of all ages.
The Good Massive universe to explore. ADAM WEST!
The Bad Camera is a nuisance more than ever; surprising amount of framerate drops.
The Ugly Just how much I know about a TV show that originally aired 20 years before I was born.
Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham is available on Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, PC, OS X, iOS, Wii U, 3DS, and PS Vita. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Warner Bros. for the benefit of this review.

Three years after the game’s release, players are still finding hidden messages from Calendar Man in Batman: Arkham City.

Julian Gregory Day, a.k.a. Calendar Man, is best known for committing crimes centered on holidays, seasons, and anniversaries. He first appeared in Detective Comics #259 (September 1958) and was long considered a joke villain until he was reimagined by Jeph Loeb in Batman: The Long Halloween. This more sinister take on the character would follow him into Batman: Dark Victory, the 80 Page Giant Batman Special Edition “All the Deadly Days”, and, of course, the Batman: Arkham series.

Locked away beneath Arkham City’s courthouse, Calendar Man would taunt Batman even though he was trapped inside a cell for the entire game. If you approached him on various holidays throughout the year in Arkham City, his dialogue would change as he recounted some past crimes. If you did this once a month for 12 months on specific holidays, you’d unlock an achievement in the game.

Fans of the game, however, have not stopped grilling the cryptic criminal, even three years since its release. After a mysterious YouTube channel—which many fans think is actually a dummy account for series developer Rocksteady—uploaded a clip titled “Arkham City Secret?” where Calendar Man was seen spouting never before heard dialogue before it faded to black halfway through, fans sprung into action to unlock the riddle of how to trigger it themselves.

Several days later, it seems the Batman Arkham Videos channel on YouTube has solved the mystery. By setting your console or PC’s calendar to December 13, 2004, and then visiting Calendar Man, the dialogue starts. The significance of this date is that is when Rocksteady was founded.

To hear the new dialogue, you can check out the video below, but it once again features cryptic messages talking about the beginning and the end of things. Could it tie into Batman: Arkham Knight somehow? We’ll have to wait until June 2, 2015, to find out.

Batman: Arkham Knight will be available for purchase on June 2, 2015, and will also have two different collector’s editions, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment announced this morning.

The first collector’s edition is the Limited Edition and includes an 80-page art book full of concept art, a unique SteelBook case with the game, a limited edition comic, three skins from DC’s New 52, and a Batman Memorial Statue. This entire package will cost $99.99.

The second collector’s edition is the Batmobile Edition and will include everything as the Limited Edition, except the Batman Memorial Statue is replaced by a fully transformable Batmobile statue by Triforce and will retail for $199.99.

The final chapter in Rocksteady’s Batman trilogy (Arkham Origins was done by Warner Bros. Montreal) was originally scheduled for release sometime this fall before being delayed earlier this year. There were then rampant rumors, including some started by the voice of Batman himself, Kevin Conroy, which had the game looking at a Q1 2015 release. WBIE put all the speculation to rest, though, with this announcement.

Batman: Arkham Knight will be available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC.

Adam West, the man who played Batman on TV in the 1960s, will be a voice in Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment announced on the game’s official Twitter feed.

The picture accompanying the tweet leads us to believe that West has been cast as a Lego-fied version of himself and will only make a small cameo. For many Batman fans, though, his inclusion on any scale is a welcome nod to the character’s storied past.

West portrayed Batman in 120 half-hour episodes of what was a smash hit for ABC from 1966-1968, plus a full-length feature film that came out between the first and second seasons of the TV show’s run. Warner Bros. just announced the entire TV series will be released on DVD/Blu-ray for the first time this November. In recent years, West has seen a resurgence in popularity, in large part due to his role as “Mayor West” in FOX’s Family Guy, and got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in April of 2012.

He joins an ever-expanding cast of accomplished actors/voice actors, led by Troy Baker as Batman and Dee Bradley Baker as Brainiac. West will also be a part of the Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham panel being held at San Diego ComicCon next week.

Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham is coming out sometime this fall on Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Wii U, 3DS, and PS Vita.

 

The Dark Knight returns

Everyone who knows me understands that I am one of the biggest Batman fans around. I spit out comic book storyline recaps like they were scripture and swear by all things The Dark Knight. So, when Warner Bros. announced Batman: Arkham Knight—and the return of Arkham Asylum and Arkham City developer Rocksteady to the franchise—my elation could hardly be contained.  My feelings of ecstasy only intensified, however, when I was finally allowed to see a half-hour of the game at GDC last week.

With bated bat-breath I watched as Rocksteady devs showed us what they’d been working on as their first project for the new generation of consoles (and PC). The Scarecrow threatens Gotham with a WMD that would flood the streets with a new, highly potent brand of his trademark fear toxin. After evacuating millions of people out of Gotham, all that remains is a skeleton police force, the criminals who want to take advantage of the mayhem, and the Batman.  But Batman isn’t alone in the shadows. In addition to Rogues Gallery mainstays like Two-Face, Penguin, and Riddler, a new villain, the Arkham Knight, emerges.

Although Rocksteady isn’t divulging too much info about the Arkham Knight himself just yet, we do know a couple of facts. First, he’s a brand new character, and he’s making his DC Universe debut in the game. We can see from pictures that he brandishes a large pistol and has taken on a motif similar to Batman’s (pointy ears, chest plate). His “anti-Batman” description also gives him an air that reminds me of the comic book villains Wrath and Prometheus. Whoever he is under that mask, we saw him get the drop on Batman during the demo, so I’m sure he’ll be quite the adversary over the course of the game.

After running through the basic plot points, we finally got to see Batman in action once again. New-gen tech has allowed for a bevy of upgrades and we got to see many of them in action. The biggest change is how Batman gets around. We finally get to drive the Batmobile. A major gameplay pillar this go around, the Batmobile is essential in helping Batman navigate a world that is 20 times larger than Arkham Asylum. But, as brand marketing producer Dax Ginn told us, the Batmobile isn’t the whole game.

“We wanted to be very confident and sure that we didn’t add the Batmobile and it suddenly just felt like a driving game or a driving bolt-on. That was something that was really, really important to us,” Ginn explains. “So, we’ve integrated Batman’s abilities and the Batmobile’s abilities, so that it very much feels like it’s a man and his machine, the integration between the two. You can eject out of the Batmobile to gain insane height, and that sort of augmentation of Batman’s gliding ability is the perfect example of how the Batmobile complements Batman’s features. There’s a lot more the Batmobile can do, but the way Batman gets into the Batmobile, gets out of the Batmobile—those things have really been designed to feel very natural and very organic.”

And from what he showed us, the Batmobile did seem to be more of a complement than the entire experience. In one segment, it launched the Caped Crusader into the night sky allowing Batman to effortlessly glide onto the roof of the building he needed to infiltrate. When Batman was ready to move onto his next objective across town, with a single button press, the Batmobile came roaring around a corner and Batman dropped into the driver’s seat, seamlessly, as Batman then raced off to his next destination. The player was in control the entire time. But between these segments there was still plenty of gliding, fighting, and case solving for the Dark Knight to do.

Also, it should be noted the Batmobile could be used for more than just catapults and driving around town. There are car-chase sequences where Batman can fire debilitating missiles to stop runaway criminals and even Riddler rooms dedicated solely to pushing the Batmobile—and your reflexes—to the limit.

“The role [Riddler] had in Arkham City, he’s more of an engineer. Very physical, constantly covered in a layer of grime, and so we wanted to think about what he would do next, where would he take the motivations he had in the previous game,” Dax says. “Integrating that with the Batmobile was an interesting design choice because he can achieve so much, even just as one guy, but it really comes down to the focus we put on the Batmobile. Driving through Gotham feels incredible, but there’s so much that it can do that the Riddler caves give us an opportunity to design puzzles that are specifically there to push the Batmobile to it’s limits, so we can really give gamers the opportunity to experience the Batmobile in all of its insane facets, not just driving incredibly quickly on the flat. You can drive up walls, drive on the ceilings, but that’s not so easy to do in the open world of the city. But the Riddler circuits can be anything, so that’s where it really starts to get fun and interesting.”

So, yes, the Batmobile can drive up walls. It is confirmed. I saw it do so, and it was amazing. But Batman’s car isn’t the only thing that’s tricked out in Arkham Knight. Gotham’s Guardian has a few new tools as well. In combat, Batman can now utilize the environment, like smashing a thug’s head through a car window, to get instant knockouts.  He can also finally use his gadgets while gliding to get even more of a drop on unsuspecting ne’er-do-wells. And speaking of gliding, the precision while doing so has been increased so Batman can even do 180-degree turns midflight.

Batman: Arkham Knight is looking great—but with only a small taste of the full game so far, I’m eager to see if Rocksteady’s plans indeed pan out. Still, if there’s anyone I trust to make a Batman game, it’s them, so I have faith they’ll be able to deliver on their promises of the best Arkham game yet. Knowing the care and detail that came off in this demo, it’s hard not to believe they’ll come through for Bat-fans everywhere in the end.