Tag Archive: dc


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.

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.

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.

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.

Rocksteady has confirmed that no multiplayer mode will be present in Batman: Arkham Knight. 

Even though last year’s disappointing Batman: Arkham Origins had a versus multiplayer component handled by Brink developer Splash Damage to go along with Warner Bros. Montreal’s sad attempt at a prequel, Arkham Knight game director Sefton Hill has already gone on record saying that won’t be the case with this game.

“[Arkham Knight] is a single player game. There is no multiplayer. Right at the start this was our vision.  It’s going to take all of our effort for all of this time. We don’t have the time to do multiplayer,” Hill told Game Informer (via VideoGamer).

“We want to focus on making the best single player experience we can. We don’t feel that it needs a multiplayer element. Warner Bros. backed that up right at the start.”

I don’t know about the rest of you Bat-fans out there, but I, for one, am thrilled by this announcement, as the multiplayer in Origins felt tacked on and completely unnecessary. Thank goodness the franchise is back in Rocksteady’s trusted hands.

Batman: Arkham Knight is due out sometime later this year for the PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

Injustice gets the all-star treatment

When Injustice: Gods Among Us came around for the first time seven months ago, it was hard for me—being the huge DC fanatic that I am—to not immediately fall in love. Not only was it a fantastic fighter that built on developer NetherRealm’s success with the 2011 Mortal Kombat reboot, but it also delivered a story that made perfect sense for the DC Universe, providing plenty of the comic-style moments I’ve always wanted to see in a game like this.

But, looking back, I now realize that first version of Injustice was incomplete. Six new fighters, 60 STAR Labs missions, and a cornucopia of alternate costumes would come later via DLC, but you needed to shell out a few extra dollars for it. Until now.

Injustice: Gods Among Us – Ultimate Edition puts all that extra content on the same disc as the original game. Now, if you’ve already bought the DLC separately, you’re probably kicking yourself—as is often the case when Game of the Year, Ultimate, Ultra, or whatever fancy word you want to slap on a game to signify “the entire package”, finally comes out. Especially since there’s really nothing else on this disc besides the DLC. No new modes or characters, and only a single new costume (Black Adam’s “New 52”, exclusive to the PS4 version). So, I admit that the appeal for original buyers is lacking.

But if you haven’t played Injustice yet, this is also the perfect time to experience what you missed the first time around. Since the game includes several elements from Mortal Kombat, fighting-game fans should quickly pick up on the power meter, the Clash system, and the STAR Labs tribute to MK’s Challenge Tower. The game handles as tightly as it did before, and its unique two-lifebar system is still a fresh addition to a somewhat stale genre. I specifically went out of my way, however, to see if the next-gen version of the game was any different than its current-gen counterpart.

As with most next-gen titles, all the visuals look slightly better than on the current-gen incarnation. In story mode, though, it seems that High Voltage’s scaling/remastering for the PS4 version was a little sloppy. Longer cutscenes—specifically the ones in between chapters—have clearly noticeable lag and screen tearing.

Story mode also takes advantage of the PS4’s touchpad. While it’s optional—you can use button presses just like in the current-gen versions—the touchpad can be utilized in the various minigames that crop up during the narrative. Though I personally still prefer button presses, I found the touchpad to be surprisingly responsive and accurate while adding a degree of freshness and challenge to something familiar.

Not surprising—but very welcome—is the huge cutdown on load times. You could go make a sandwich while bouts loaded on current-gen, but on the PS4, the process is far faster, which is great if you can’t wait to get back into the action.

Something that did shock me a little was how unbalanced some of the DLC characters still felt. It’s not atypical for a DLC character in a fighting game to be a bit off-kilter when they’re first released into the wild, but patches usually fix what couldn’t have been anticipated during testing. Several of the six newcomers felt just a bit off, and I’d either have extra trouble fighting against these foes or an easier time fighting with them—at this point, I’d figured this would’ve been corrected already.

Despite these minor issues, at its core, Injustice: Gods Among Us is still one of the best fighting games you’re likely to get your hands on. Ultimate Edition simply makes whole what we should’ve gotten in the first place. There’s not much here for original Season Pass holders, but newcomers and folks dying to play something on their PS4s won’t be disappointed.

Developer: NetherRealm Studis/High Voltage Software • Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 11.15.13
9.5
All the DLC of the original—including costumes and more STAR Labs missions—plus a little nex-gen shine makes a great fighting game even better.
The Good All the DLC of the original game on one disc.
The Bad Could use a bit more balancing.
The Ugly It’s still Solomon Grundy.
Injustice: Gods Among Us – Ultimate Edition is available on Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4.

A load of Killer Croc

Batman’s seen so many great representations in different mediums over the past couple of decades, whether it’s animation, movies, or videogames—so it absolutely boggles my mind when someone utterly fails to capture the essence of the Dark Knight. Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is such an awful depiction of the Caped Crusader, however, that I had to wonder whether Armature had even heard of Batman before being tasked with making this game.

Set several months after the events of the console Arkham Origins, Blackgate sees Batman infiltrating Blackgate Prison—again—in order to quell a riot. Three of Batman’s most notorious foes are at the head of all the chaos, and they’ve divided the prison up into sections that their respective gangs control. Batman must defeat them all if he hopes to save the hostages kept in the prison’s Arkham wing.

Aiding Batman is Catwoman, whom he apprehended a couple of weeks prior to the riot. In exchange for her assistance, Batman will put in a good word for her to be moved to more “accommodating” quarters, since supposedly a fragile thief like her could be torn apart in a place like Blackgate. Batman must unlock new abilities and gadgets to help him traverse the different security systems and hazards of the now-dilapidated prison, often backtracking frequently to do so.

And sure—this sounds like the makings of a decent Batman game. The prologue level that revolves around catching Catwoman at an abandoned construction site gave me high hopes that this would be the Batman game we never knew we wanted on handhelds. But as soon as you set foot on the prison grounds, the game takes a serious nosedive. When I sat down to write this review, two words kept coming into my mind to best describe Blackgate: broken and boring.

The first major flaw? Armature tried to develop the game as a Metroidvania within the confines of the story. As we all know, Batman is never without his gadgets and his utility belt, and he goes to Blackgate of his own volition after being called by Commissioner Gordon. Yet, right from the get-go, all he has are Batarangs. No rhyme or reason—just to stay within the parameters of what defines Metroidvanias as a genre.

Someone who actually knows the character would’ve set up the story so to have Batman kidnapped and dragged to Blackgate against his will. Since we’re talking about a young Batman here, he wouldn’t have all the safeguards in his utility belt to prevent it from being forcibly removed. Batman shouldn’t randomly find a Batclaw in a container—like he does in Blackgate—just because he forgot his other one at home. Breaking the character’s basic traits to fit the genre you want your game to be is not forgivable.

Speaking of breaking character, Catwoman’s always played both sides of the fence in Batman lore, but she fills the role of Oracle/Alfred in this game—again, for no apparent reason. Catwoman doesn’t need Batman to break her out of prison, and she doesn’t really need to help Batman. After what happened in Origins, Batman should know Blackgate like the back of his hand. If he does need help, though, did Batman give Alfred the night off? Were his shows on again? Yes, I could definitely imagine Alfred curling up with a cup of Earl Grey and catching up on Downton Abbey instead of manning the Batcomputer!

The story isn’t the only element that’s broken, though. The game itself, from a technical standpoint, is as glitchy as it gets: items flickering in and out of existence, Batman getting caught on invisible walls, or falling through the floor to oblivion (or a checkpoint reload). At one point, I actually glitched through a wall and into a hidden compartment that had an armor upgrade I shouldn’t have been able to get to at that point. I was lucky I could backtrack with the gadgets I had—otherwise, I might’ve had to start over completely.

And if I had to start over, I might’ve just chalked this game up as a lost cause (more so than I already do). If I had to stare at another gray, bland, repeated prison wall, I’d have broken my Vita. The only good-looking aspect of the game is the comic-style cutscenes.

You can forgive the look of a game to an extent if it’s at least fun to play. But with Blackgate, the combat system that has made the Arkham games great is almost completely nonexistent. You can’t quickfire any gadgets, and you don’t even need to counter most of the time, since you’ll rarely encounter more than three of four guys in a room at once. Sometimes—almost like an early-’90s side-scrolling arcade game—a couple more will crawl out of the background when the first group’s been dispatched, but never will there be more than a few fightable enemies onscreen at any given moment.

Detective mode was also a pain in my cowl. I don’t mind having to tap the touchscreen to turn it on—it actually helped deter me from wanting to stay in Detective mode and served as a unique fix to a persistent problem with the series. But I did mind having to keep my finger on the screen to actually scan or look for things because it prevented me from freely interacting with the environment while I was in the mode. I had to move, enter Detective mode, scan, find I was out of range, turn the mode off, move to a better position, re-scan, turn the mode off, then interact. Just let me scan things automatically—no one wants their thumbs off the sticks for that long!

At least the boss fights provide much-needed variety. New characters to the Arkhamverse like Bronze Tiger actually make you work for your wins, since they’re more or less the only time you need to utilize multiple gadgets or techniques. And even though we’ve seen most of Batman’s gadgets before, the one new addition—an explosive-gel launcher—was something I’d like to see on consoles at some point. It reminded me a lot of a grenade launcher, and it could be used in a lot of ingenious ways in both combat and puzzle-solving.

Some decent boss fights aren’t enough to save this game, though. Never before have I been so disappointed in a Batman-inspired property. Plus, this is also one of the worst examples I’ve ever seen of a Metroidvania, since the backtracking and gadget-finding is kept to a bare minimum. Broken, boring, and just plain bad, everyone should steer clear of this as though you had chiroptophobia (fear of bats).

Developer: Armature Studio • Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 10.25.13
3.0
A waste of potential, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is a broken, boring game and a stain on the Metroidvania genre. Its positives are few and far between, buried under a mountain of glitches, tedious gameplay, and poor level design.
The Good Comic-style cutscenes look great.
The Bad One of the worst Metroidvanias you’ll ever play.
The Ugly All of Blackgate Prison—and its single shade of gray.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is available on Nintendo 3DS and PS Vita. Primary version reviewed was for PS Vita.