Tag Archive: warner bros.


I got to guest host on Nerd Alert this week with Kim Horcher. We talked about myriad topics, including the new Justice League movie coming out in November!

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.

The joke’s on us

Fandom. It’s a weird little concept, but it can add color to so many different elements of our lives. For me, my fandom centers mostly on Batman—and has since I was a little boy watching Adam West in reruns of the campy ’60 TV series. After that, I worshipped Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson. And now, I still swear up and down that Batman: The Animated Series is one of the greatest cartoons of all time. To this day, I adorn my apartment with Batman paraphernalia.

All of this makes reviewing a game like Batman: Arkham Origins a potentially enjoyable or maddening endeavor, however, because my lifelong obsession has me feel the highs and lows more than a casual observer might. And, at points, Arkham Origins goes very low.

The story is a simple one. The Caped Crusader has been cleaning up the streets of Gotham City for just about two years now, but just as we learned in the movies with Batman Begins, when you introduce an element like Batman into the world, there’s bound to be escalation—an evil to counterbalance the good that he represents. In Arkham Origins, the world’s eight best assassins have come to Gotham to try to collect a $50 million bounty that mob boss Black Mask has put on the Bat’s head. And when you get that many criminal elements converging on a sprawling urban center, “escalation” might not even begin to describe it.

This script is a brilliant breakdown of how everyone in the Arkhamverse reacts to this growing conflict when it first happens—and how Batman finally begins to transition from urban myth into a hero in the limelight. Though the story may start off a bit slow, once it hits its stride around the midway point, the twists and turns are worthy of any Batman story we’ve seen in print or on a TV/movie screen before. Dooma Wendschuh and Corey May—best known for their work on Ubisoft franchises like Assassin’s Creed and Prince of Persia—have proven themselves adept at handling the Dark Knight as much as any comic-book writer. And Christopher Drake (a veteran of several animated Batman films) delivers a chilling soundtrack, highlighted by some truly creepy Christmas-themed music, that sets the tone for a classic Batman adventure.

But there’s a lot more to a game than just the plot and atmosphere. Even though Warner Bros. Montreal took Arkham Asylum and Arkham City developer Rocksteady’s basic framework for much of Arkham Origins, it’s clear they wanted to put their own stamp on the franchise—but in the process, they’ve sullied several cornerstone elements from the first two Arkham games.

The first huge disappointment comes in the form of the boss battles. The game’s already scraping the bottom of the barrel with its many C-list villains, but Warner Bros. Montreal does most of them no favors from escaping that label. For every great boss encounter, there’s a horrible, pointless one that makes you question the character’s presence in the game in the first place. And even though the game touts eight assassins, not all of them are actually woven into the story. Instead, they’re relegated to side-mission status—but some of these conflicts are actually better than the story-related ones. It makes you wonder why Warner Bros. Montreal didn’t just trim the number of assassins down in order to deliver the consistent quality of encounters that players expect.

The biggest mistakes are found in the gameplay, though. The highly touted Detective mode crime reconstructor turns out to be a dud, since there are fewer than a dozen instances that you actually use it—and most of those are during the story. It’s an interesting idea that I would’ve loved to have seen more fully fleshed out, but at least the new Detective mode works.

The same can’t be said for combat, due to two of the new gadgets in Batman’s arsenal. The first, the Remote Claw, throws a tightrope between two points, allowing Batman to cross large gaps not normally traversable by the Batclaw. This gadget can also throw objects in the environment at thugs—or even slam two baddies together by attaching to both of them.

But when you give the Remote Claw its two upgrades via the new XP system, you can spam your attacks to make the stealth-based predator rooms far easier than they should be. At that point, you can use the Remote Claw to actually string up three thugs to gargoyles from a distance, never leaving the room’s opening perch, and whittling down the numbers from a daunting six to eight gun-touting thugs to a much more manageable three to five.

This is also a good time to mention that the AI in these rooms seems to have taken a step back from previous entries. You can easily lure all the henchmen in the room back to a gargoyle with a suspended thug, cut down the strung-up one with a Batarang, swing around the room, and string up a new thug to the same gargoyle. I could do this with an entire room, whereas in previous games, not every foe would go to these same spots over and over—they’d catch on to the trick sooner or later. Instead, now I have a pile of eight bodies in one location, which makes it very easy for the janitor to clean up after Batman leaves all the bad guys huddled together.

The second gadget in question breaks the other key gameplay element: hand-to-hand combat. When you get the Electrocutioner’s Shock Gloves, you can throw out any semblance of strategy. You see, the Shock Gloves are unblockable. So, when you activate them, instead of having to balance your attack against shield foes, armored enemies, and stun-baton thugs and actually strategize how to keep your combos going, you can just whale on them with the Shock Gloves for easy massive combos and no longer worry about performing cape stuns or dodges and attacking from behind. What was previously an intricate fighting system becomes a standard button-masher when using the Shock Gloves.

Of course, these gadgets—like everything in Batman’s arsenal—are wholly optional, so if you want to avoid using them to give yourself a more authentic experience, that’s entirely up to you. But, should you choose to use them, they’re clearly overpowered.

Now, I mentioned the new XP system before, and this is actually an addition that works pretty well. It makes every fight and action Batman takes mean something, since you’re constantly working toward leveling up and unlocking new abilities. It also does a better job breaking down how you get XP than what we’ve seen in previous games.

There’s another addition called The Dark Knight System, however, that’s irritating and locks some useful items behind it. In all, 60 specific tasks fall under being Gotham’s protector, thugs’ worst nightmare, being the best vigilante possible, and working toward becoming the world’s greatest detective. Each branch has 15 items in it, but only by completing each item in order can you unlock the next one, with rewards being given at different levels (like the Sonic Shock Batarang). I just couldn’t help but wonder why I needed to do the tasks in order, considering how hard the later ones are; if you accidentally pulled off task No. 14 while still on task No. 12, you’re out of luck and need to do it again. This is incredibly frustrating, especially because it’s an interesting idea that falls flat in execution.

Speaking of frustrations, glitches abound in Origins. This stuff could be patched at a later date, I suppose, but plenty of technical issues hindered my experience—and even forced me to restart many checkpoints. Thugs would suddenly start to hover 10 feet off the ground, so I’d have to do a dive attack from a higher perch to knock them off whatever invisible box they were standing on.

The controls froze up in several instances, preventing me from hurting any of the bad guys—but, interestingly enough, they couldn’t hurt me, either, which forced a checkpoint restart. Other times, I looked to Batclaw up to a higher point, and I got the RB button prompt to do so—but I instead launched across the room in the opposite direction.

And, of course, Arkham Origins also includes your standard bugs like the camera getting stuck on corners. Finally, there’s my personal favorite, lag and screen tearing in the open world. Not a lot of it, but enough to be a nuisance—and the frequency definitely spikes later in the game as more thugs are on the streets. Sure, it’s not like any of this is foreign to games, but it’s also stuff I didn’t see in the previous games.

Arkham Origins also includes something else we didn’t see in the previous games: versus multiplayer. Heck, I didn’t even know about it until I got the game. This is another example of an interesting idea from Warner Bros. Montreal that’s horribly executed—and completely unnecessary.

Eight players are split into three teams: three players on the Joker’s team, three on Bane’s, and the other two play as Batman and Robin (who doesn’t appear in the story at all). If you play as a Joker or Bane henchman, the game takes on a third-person-shooter viewpoint where you try to kill everyone on the other team. Each team has 25 respawns, and when these are exhausted for one side, the other team wins.

Besides kills, you can also capture three points in the environment. With each capture, the opposing team loses a reinforcement. Batman and Robin’s objective, then, is to perform stealth takedowns—like in the predator rooms—on as many thugs as possible in the hopes of filling up an intimidation meter in order for them to win. If they get shot and die, though, the meter is depleted. Players can also race to become their team’s inspirational boss midway through the match, bringing the Joker or Bane onto the field and giving one team a decided advantage, since most of Bane and the Joker’s powers are one-hit kills. What’s more, you can’t be Batman and Robin two matches in a row, since a randomizer selects who’ll don the cape and cowl after each match.

Just typing that made my head hurt. There’s way too much going on in any of these matches, and the term “clusterf***” came to mind frequently during my playtime. The shooting controls feel way too loose, the maps are far too small for Batman and Robin to ever be truly effective, and their stealth techniques are nearly impossible to pull off throughout an entire match because it’s so hard to predict human nature. Plus, they’re completely negated as long as teams stick together, since Batman and Robin can only take one guy down at a time. The two partner players will often immediately turn their guns on Batman and Robin as soon as something happens, since many of the takedowns also take far too long to complete.

But my biggest complaint about this mode is that Batman is the last character who needs a multiplayer component in his game, and I fear something like this could lead to co-op with Robin, Nightwing, and Batgirl down the line.

The addition of multiplayer shows where this game went wrong: from the get-go. Instead of trying to appeal to the core Batman audience, it feels like WB and DC rushed this game out the door in order to try to maintain the accepted two-year development cycle that’s become a standard for most franchises in order to maintain the widest audience possible.

And by asking Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker to impersonate former Batman and Joker actors Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill—instead of having them do their own takes on the characters—I think WB and DC are scared of upsetting an already precarious status quo that sees Marvel thumping them in almost every single media endeavor. Even though Smith and Baker do a stellar job for 90 percent of the game, that other 10 percent—where they sound like they’re struggling to get in the spirit of Conroy and Hamill—shatters the immersion. It’s so jarring, it’s like if I were watching Christopher Walken in Batman Returns, and then suddenly, Jay Mohr is there in his place instead. But the only reason why you’d have them do impersonations in the first place is because you’re scared the casual fanbase won’t be able handle change of any sort. You make a game for the lowest common denominator—the kind of player who needs multiplayer.

But most Batman fans are better than that. It goes back to that fandom thing: The diehards are amazingly in tune with their favorite characters and everything going on with them. To my knowledge, there wasn’t a huge clamoring for multiplayer. And there wasn’t a change in voice actors because WB felt they needed “younger-sounding versions” of these characters—especially because they got everyone else from the previous games to reprise their roles.

This all leads to my main problem with Batman: Arkham Origins: It’s nothing more than a stopgap game to keep Batman fresh in the minds of the casual consumer. With Rocksteady hard at work on whatever they’re doing for next-gen, whether it’s the Batman game we want that picks up right after Arkham City (and hopefully follows Hush) or some other DC-related property (there’s always rumors of them taking a crack at Superman), Warner Bros. felt they had to put something out there. In order to not rock the boat even further, they even figured out a way to work the Joker back in with the idea of a prequel.

At its core, despite the flaws, there’s a decent Batman game here, since it still has the basic mechanics of Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. But the game could’ve been so much more if WB Montreal had really tried to carry the series forward instead of trying to do their own impersonation. And at least then—if this effort had been in the name of wrapping up the series on this console generation with a truly magnificent bang—they could be forgiven a little for all the things they broke when it comes to gameplay. Instead, it feels like they cut corners, slapped a Christmastime coat of paint on Rocksteady’s previous framework, built a second island that looks strikingly similar to the first, and hoped that making a couple of references to the previous games would keep the fanbase satisfied. Because of all this, the game falls short of the lofty expectations established by the first two Arkham games—and my expectations as a lifelong Batman fan.

Developer: Warner Bros. Montreal • Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 10.25.13
6.5
Batman: Arkham Origins is a massive step back from Rocksteady’s Arkham efforts due to countless technical problems, poor gadget balancing, and a needless addition of versus multiplayer.
The Good The story, atmosphere, and music are all worthy of the Arkham series.
The Bad Many of the new elements Warner Bros. Montreal introduces are wholly unnecessary—or ruin Rocksteady’s cornerstone elements.
The Ugly The lack of faith WB and DC has in its fanbase.
Batman: Arkham Origins is available on Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360.

Join the Merry Marvel Marching Society

When LEGO Marvel Super Heroes was first announced, some of us less-open-minded comic-book aficionados had some questions about the idea of Warner Bros. (who owns rival DC) publishing a Marvel product of any kind. Luckily, it seems that developer TT Games has just as many mighty Marvelites on their staff as they do dedicated DCers (just don’t tell the bigwigs upstairs!).

Similar to the LEGO Batman games, TT started by making a LEGO-ized version of New York City, giving fans of the comic-book giant an open world comparable to DC’s Gotham. Sure, they’ve taken some liberties—the X-Mansion’s been moved to the North End and out of Westchester County, for example—but these changes were necessary to make everything fit logically into what’s a truly massive hub made of LEGO bricks. With well over 100 heroes and villains coming together in LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, however, there needs to be a universal threat that ties this hub and these heroes together.

Fortunately, Marvel has exactly that in the form of the world-consuming Galactus. And he hungers for Earth. Again. Only a select few know of his approach, though, and some of Marvel’s most nefarious nemeses like Magneto, Loki, and Dr. Doom look to turn this global threat to their advantage. Marvel’s best and brightest heroes will now try to work together to thwart the master plan of these villains, as well as turn Galactus away.

If you’ve played any of the LEGO titles before—whether they were based directly on a movie or more loosely inspired by a property like this one—then you have an idea of what to expect. For this particular game, the action’s broken into 15 levels across many familiar Marvel Universe locales. As you make progress, you unlock gold bricks for performing certain actions, such as saving Stan Lee (who always finds himself in a perilous situation!) or collecting a certain amount of studs (the LEGO version of coins). As you unlock more bricks and play more of the game, you’ll add more heroes and villains to an ever-expanding cast of characters—who can then, in turn, be used to unlock more bricks. And the cycle continues until you 100-percent the game.

LEGO Marvel Super Heroes features more activities than previous entries when it comes to acquiring bricks, giving the game solid variety and replayability. Some gold bricks require puzzle-solving and swapping of powers, but the game also includes plenty of fetch quests that are rather dull and populate much of the hub world. Escorting mini-figs slowly on foot from one side of the map to the other is not my definition of fun and could grate on completionists.

Speaking of swapping powers, your mini-figures can now wield more abilities than ever before. And not just the super-strength you’d expect from characters like the Hulk or the Thing—you can fire laser blasts with Cyclops, activate Magneto’s mastery of magnetism to move all things made of metal, or use Jean Grey’s telekinesis to move just about everything else in the world around. Mind you, wielding Magneto and Jean Grey’s power classes can take some getting used to, since they’re not as accurate as, say, a blast of flame from the hands of the Human Torch.

Since many characters can flylike Thor and Iron Mangetting around the hub world has also never been easier. The game even includes vehicles (some of which even having character themes, like the Green Goblin’s helicopterthough he really doesn’t need one, since he has his glider, right?) for characters that move around mostly on foot, such as Black Widow or Hawkeye.

So, some of the gameplay has changed to go along with the new IP, but one element remains mostly the same: the writing. TT Games usually does a tremendous job of finding ways to sprinkle in humor that freshens up the experience for older players, but they also inject plenty of slapstick and childish antics to ensure appeal to younger audiences. LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is no exception, and its charm should warm the hearts of even the most jaded of comic-book fans.

Unfortunately, the technical problems that have plagued the LEGO series also return here. The camera remains a problem, especially in the hub world, and it’ll often lead to some unnecessary deaths. The rotating split-screen in co-op is also a distraction and detracts from the co-op experience, since two characters can’t just run off—they need to stay close to each other at all times. In future entries, TT Games either needs to make two static, horizontal split-screens or keep me and my buddy stuck within the same window. I started getting sick from the rotating line that appears when one player decides to run north and the other south.

While on the subject of co-op, the other big problem is that we still don’t have online 4-player co-op. The game includes many instances with four heroes in a group in the story, and I had to needlessly rotate through them all to try to progress. Even at my age, I can imagine having a good time with friends or my younger cousins on the other side of the country if we could do this online. And why limit the 4-player fun to the story? The hub world is easily massive enough to fit four mini-fig heroes in it.

Besides the legacy technical shortcomings, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is immensely enjoyable. It has enough side content, including bonus missions and challenges, that should keep gamers of all ages entertained for hours. But even if you’re just in it for the story, you should walk away happy. If you love LEGO, Marvel comics, or both, this game won’t disappoint.

Developer: TT Games • Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment • ESRB: E10+ • Release Date: 10.22.2013
9.0
Some technical shortcomings aside, this is a tremendously fun experience that will appeal to LEGO and comic book fans young and old alike.
The Good Same humor and charm we’ve come to expect from all the LEGO games.
The Bad Same camera and technical glitches we’ve come to expect from all the LEGO games.
The Ugly Same wonton destruction of property we’ve come to expect from all the LEGO games.
LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is available on Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Wii U, 3DS, DS, PS Vita, and will be a launch title for PS4 and Xbox One. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360.

It should’ve left its mask on

I’ve been reading and obsessing over DC Comics properties for the better part of my entire life. Whenever a new piece of media is released in conjunction with my favorite superheroes, I must ravenously consume it and add it to my near-encyclopedic lexicon of DC lore. So, with the release of Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure, it was only fitting that I’d see what kind of an effect Maxwell’s magical notebook could have on the DC Universe. Unfortunately, this was a crossover that I wish could be erased like so many adjectives describing Maxwell’s adversaries.

Here’s the basic story: Maxwell, much like myself, obsesses over DC comic books and superheroes. While pontificating to his sister, Lily, one day about how great life would be if he could live in the DC Universe, the pair come to the conclusion that if Maxwell were to take a piece of paper from his magical notebookwhich allows anything he writes down to be brought into existencewith the word “Gotham” on it and slap it against Lily’s magic globe (which lets her travel anywhere in the world), they might be able to make Maxwell’s dream come true.

While the experiment works, in a drastic turn of events, Maxwell fails to realize that words are also written on the reverse side of that magical piece of paperincluding “Doppelganger,” who now ruthlessly aids the DCU’s villains in wreaking havoc on Gotham, Atlantis, Metropolis, Themyscira, Central City, and other DCU locales with a magical notebook of his own. In order to correct this grievous error, Maxwell promises Batman, Superman, and the rest of the Justice League to clean up Doppelganger’s mess and bring him down.

Anyone familiar with the Scribblenauts games will instantly recognize the basic mechanics of solving puzzles and progressing by writing down objects that would make sense to the situation—for example, writing “lasso” and then tying the rope to a box that you need to pull off a cliff. Of course, more drastic and ridiculous objects could do the same, and players are encouraged to let their imaginations run wild. The major difference now is that you can draw inspiration from the DC Universe. Instead of asking for a gun, you can ask for Mr. Freeze’s freeze gun or Adam Strange’s laser gun. And if you’re not sure how to spell something, the game also provides you with access to the Batcomputer, with thousands of objects and people specific to the DCU that you can call upon by scrolling through and simply tapping on them. After all, it’s not always easy to remember how to spell “Dkrtzy RRR of Sector 188 from the Green Lantern Corps.”

But for as many well-known superhero elements as you’ll find, the game is a bit of a grind. Several levels are locked off until you solve a certain number of minor problems in order to meet a “Superhero Reputation” quota. To do this, though, you have to constantly replay the same levels, never advancing the story, and saving the same old man again and again or beat up a bunch of B-list supervillains who randomly appear for no good reason. And just summoning an army of Batmen can solve most of these minor problems.

It’s a shame, because when the game does progress, there’s some enjoyment to be had. It’s fun taking on the story-related bosses, whose ranks include many of the DCU’s most infamous evildoers. Sadly, there’s only one such encounter per level. That means the game features a dozen inventive boss fights and around 100 uninspired tasks required to access them all.

Because of that curious decision, the pacing of Scribblenauts Unmasked is akin to that one Family Guy joke where Peter hits his knee, and he holds it because he’s in pain, and it’s funny. But then it doesn’t stop, and it’s not funny anymore. Then it goes on so long that it’s funny again because you can’t believe it’s still going. That’s Scribblenauts Unmasked. It starts off as a ton of fun to pull in all these zany DCU objects and use them againstor withyour favorite characters. Then it becomes a grind, because it’s insanely repetitive to get to the next story beat. Then you get to the final boss, and you laugh because you can’t believe they were able to cram six hours’ worth of “content” into the game and decide to charge you 60 bucks.

Developer: 5th Cell • Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment • ESRB: E10+ • Release Date: 09.24.2013
6.0
While certain elements will appeal to DC Comics fans, there simply isn’t enough substance here to make Scribblenauts Unmasked worth a purchasethe gimmick wears off way too quickly.
The Good The expansive amount of DC Comics material on display.
The Bad Grinding through the story with repetitive missions.
The Ugly You can get virtually the same game $20 cheaper on the 3DS.
Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure is available on Wii U, 3DS, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Wii U.

The DC Comics booth was abuzz as always at this year’s San Diego ComicCon, as demos of Batman: Arkham Origins and other DC-inspired videogames were available for the first time to the public. While everyone else was playing, I had a chance to catch a quick tutorial from Jim Lee on how to draw Aquaman, and found out how much he hates drawing scaled armor. But then I headed back to the movie costume displays and met briefly with Warner Bros. Montreal senior producer Ben Mattes to talk about some of the work going on with Batman: Arkham Origins.

EGM: What made you want to include a small-time villain like Copperhead in Batman: Arkham Origins, and what inspired the character’s drastic redesign?

Ben Mattes: I tell this story differently than Eric [Holmes, Arkham Origins’ Creative Director], but I remember the meeting where we decided to go for it. We had a big bulletin board up with a lot of different assassins on it. First and foremost, we had the assassin angle. So we were looking at KGBeast, we were looking at Firefly, we were looking at Lady Shiva, we were looking at Copperhead. All these different characters. Anyone who might’ve, sort of had the word assassin in their history. And then we were looking for elements that would match different components of gameplay. So we were saying “this one would make a good challenge for freeflow combat” and “this one would be a good option because it could challenge your navigation” or whatever the case may be.

So as we were looking at the board, we realized we didn’t have a ton of women on our roster and that was frustrating and disappointing for a variety of reasons. And Ames Kirshen, who is the vice president of production for all DC properties at Warner Bros. Interactive, kind of likes the idea of the Copperhead character, and likes the idea of this acrobatic, contortionist character. And there was this merging, this alignment of the stars, where we said we have an idea of what the gameplay could be with this character. We’ve got an interesting angle in terms of this being an assassin, but we’re looking for more females, let’s pitch the idea of a refresh, a rebranding, of the Copperhead character and make it a visually appealing female character.

At first Ames and DC were a little hesitant. They weren’t against it, but they needed some convincing. And so working with our character concept team, we put together a few compelling character pieces that showed how visually appealing this character could be with her claws and her tattoos and her costume. And while doing this, we’re describing the image we have of her being a dangerously seductive contortionist, and that was a cool image that everyone could see in their heads. Imagine her wrapping herself around Batman and using her claws to attack and poison him. It was a pleasing image we all thought would be cool.

Once that happened, we got [DC Comics’ chief creative officer] Geoff Johns on board, and then the rest was just implementation. And as we revealed at the San Diego ComicCon panel, the motion capture of her was probably the point where everyone looked back and said, “See, I knew it would work!” We all thought it would be cool, but then we got these three really talented actresses and we hodgepodged together their MoCap, glued it all together to create the Copperhead experience in the cinematics we’ve shown, and that’s really when it clicked.

And then to have Geoff Johns talk about it at the panel and give credibility to the character by saying she’s going to become canon, she’s going to become a character you’re going to see in the New 52, is really validating, and shows the working relationship between us and DC—which has been great—but it also shows the importance of videogames as a medium in the overall DC space. The Arkham games sell. They get millions of eyes on them. And so they’re becoming increasingly powerful and important just as a platform to influence the canon of this character, which is very rewarding and exciting for us.

EGM: You mentioned the New 52 and how the Arkham games are now influencing that. The New 52 is very young, and the Arkhamverse is in its infancy as well. Because of its freshness, are you guys tempted to reach for Batman’s newer history, as it might have a more viable audience, or do you like staying rooted in Batman’s lengthy pre-New 52 history? 

BM: Generally speaking, everything is on the table. We are more influenced by the older comics for sure in regards to references and inspiration and try to steer clear mostly just of the movies, TV Shows, and other media. What’s more important than if our inspiration is from old or new comic material, is if it makes sense to the Arkhamverse, because it is young and it is its own unique branch of the DC timeline.

Hypothetically, let’s stick The Court of Owls into the Arkhamverse. We go back then and ask if that makes sense, especially since Origins is Year Two and very clearly Court of Owls isn’t Year Two, so there are some things where the chronology of our story dictates who we can and can’t have in it. But in regards to what books or authors or anything—it’s all available. We just have to make sure it stays consistent. And that’s not necessarily a DC mandate. I mean, they appreciate that we hold ourselves to that even before we put options in front of them, but we want to make sure that we are building a cohesive, coherent universe first and foremost. Because first of all, we’re huge fans and that’s the world we want to play in, and we don’t want to create an experience where the fourth wall is broken for those extra hardcore fans who find inconsistencies and lose that sense of immersion because there’s something about our narrative that breaks and fractures their sense of understanding in the universe.

EGM: How hard is it to keep that consistency with a prequel, though? You have a lot of new villains and gadgets that weren’t around in the first two games.

BM: You know, it’s really not that hard if you put gameplay first. We’re not ashamed of it. We’re proud of it. We didn’t sit there thinking that we needed to create an awesome gadget, but it needs to be technologically inferior to Arkham Asylum and so we need to limit him. That’s not how you make an exciting game. We wanted to make a game that felt like an upgrade over the previous two games in as far as Batman’s capabilities, even though this is chronologically taking place before Arkham Asylum. As a player, do you accept that the chronology means Batman should miss some punches, the Batclaw cable should snap once in a while, and the Batarangs shouldn’t fly as far? It would be frustrating instead of an empowering experience.

Luckily, though, there is a very well-established component of the canon that makes it all moot. Batman never leaves the Batcave with everything. It’s part of the character. He has different outfits, different gear, different vehicles, different versions of weapons, different versions of gadgets, different suits, and it’s always been accepted that based on the different challenges he may face, Batman will use some subset of his arsenal to use in that encounter, and so we’re just staying consistent, really, with that part of the canon. In Arkham Origins, Batman finds a need for the remote claw, and so narratively we can still be consistent. It’s just part of who he is.

EGM: Well, as long as he never brings out the Bat-Shark Repellant again, I think we’ll all be okay with that. So, you have a new Joker voiced by Troy Baker and a new Batman voiced Roger Craig Smith. Besides the fact these are younger versions of the characters, what made you want to change the actors and what went into choosing the new actors?

BM: Really, younger is it. That was the main reason behind the decision to change voice actors.  It’s not that we don’t love Mark [Hamill]. It was simply the fact that we needed a voice actor who could sound like he was the Joker, but seven years younger from where Mark typically played him.

And everyone acknowledged that need. We are an early career story. We needed our voice actors to be younger men who have younger sounding voices, but who can still very much play the characters the way that Mark and Kevin would’ve played them. We didn’t want Troy to re-invent the wheel and come up with an all-new Joker. We wanted him to the deliver us the Joker who becomes the character played by Mark Hamill in Arkham Asylum and Arkham City.

So what went into the casting was listening and auditioning tons and tons of some of the best male voice actors in videogames for that angle. And trying to make sure we found partners who understood and embraced that, and saw that as a huge opportunity rather than a restriction or a confinement or some sort of limiting factor. And both Troy and Roger immediately keyed into that in their auditions. You could actively hear them trying to do their versions of the vocal mannerisms of Mark. And it became quite evident to us early on in the process that these were our actors—not just because they could deliver the voices, but because they embraced the challenge so wholeheartedly and are so respectful of the giants whose shoulders they were asked to stand upon, which is exactly what we were looking for.

Holy rusted armor, Batman!

For me, Batman: Arkham City was one of the crowning achievements of this console generation—never mind just 2011. So, when I heard it was being ported to the Wii U for the system’s launch (13 months after its initial release, mind you), I certainly understood why. But when I went hands-on with the new Armored Edition at this year’s E3, I was disappointed with the Wii U “innovations”—it seemed Nintendo loyalists wouldn’t get nearly the same smooth experience I had when I first played the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions. I understood that a 15-minute demo wouldn’t be nearly enough time to pass final judgment on this one, though—especially as it was my first experience with the Wii U, period.

Flash-forward five months later, and I’ve been playing the Wii U incessantly along with my fellow EGM cohorts. And though some of my fears have been assuaged—and some of the new features have even impressed me—several new problems that have arisen that make Batman: Arkham City—Armored Edition the clearly inferior version of this phenomenal game.

The first flaw that you’ll notice rather quickly is glitches that were never present before—audio suddenly cutting in and out and weird shadows in cutscenes that make many characters look unnatural. In fact, the very look of the game as a whole has almost a waxy quality to it now, where you wonder if it actually takes full advantage of the Wii U’s HD. Maybe some of this odd look is just Batman’s new cheap suit of armor, which leads us to another major problem in all the gimmicks that have been tacked on in order to try to sell this version of the game: the B.A.T. system.

With the B.A.T. system, Batman can absorb the kinetic energy thrown around in battle and then channel it into enhanced strength. The problem is that this redesign makes the game far too easy. Fights where you had to strategize who you’d take out first—as thugs came at you with knives, shields, stun batons, and all other manner of weaponry—are now nullified, as the B.A.T. system makes it so that every enemy can now be taken down in only a couple of hits.

The next problem comes via the Wii U’s GamePad controller and the touchscreen features that have been added. The hopes were that by adding your inventory screen and minimap to the controller, it would create a more fluid experience. Instead, it does the exact opposite. The controller’s minimap is less detailed and harder to read than if you were pausing the game and looking at it on a normal-sized TV screen. It also fails to streamline the experience in any way, as you’re still interrupting the game to look down at the screen and set waypoints, level Batman up, or change gadgets—and now you’re doing it with Batman in the open, vulnerable to the dangers of the living, breathing environment of Arkham City. This again deters the strategy offered in the original version.

One way to escape this problem is by playing the entire game on the Wii U GamePad tablet, should you wish to use your TV for something else. I do applaud the fact that there’s no lag or choppiness, but playing the game on the controller’s tiny screen—which is of a worse quality than what you’d get with an iPad, iPhone, or even the PS Vita—only makes the visuals look even more muddy and unappealing.

The final shortcoming with Armored Edition also involves the Wii U controller. Having to hold it up and move it around to scan areas in Detective mode or to pilot my remote-controlled Batarang had me grinding my teeth at times while also grinding the poorly placed controller joysticks. Also, the cheesy effect of having Alfred talk through the controller became tiresome quickly, as the audio quality is so poor on the small speakers. It all felt like unnecessary proof-of-concept mechanics that again were much smoother and simpler on other systems.

Now, I’ve really honed in on the negative aspects I found with this port, but this isn’t to say the game is broken and completely unplayable. Gamers who don’t have the muscle memory of playing the game on Xbox 360 or PS3 will likely more readily adapt to the controller, and the core elements that made Batman: Arkham City so great are still present. The enthralling story, the classic DC characters, and even all the DLC is bundled onto the disc so that once you beat the main story, you can go back and play Harley Quinn’s Revenge or use Nightwing, Robin, or Catwoman on their challenge maps. The combat system that allowed Batman to showcase his bevy of martial-arts maneuvers is also still available, should you choose to ignore the B.A.T. feature.

But, like many of the ports that are coming to the Wii U long after their initial release, there’s really no positive reason for you to look into this port if you’ve played it before on other consoles; this is simply a dumbed-down version for the Nintendo hardcore. I legitimately feel bad that they get this bastardized version of Batman: Arkham City—they’ll never know how great this game was in its perfectly polished original form.

SUMMARY: Although the core of Batman: Arkham City remains intact, new glitches and tacked-on gimmicks take away from the overall experience enough to make this a clearly inferior version of one of the great games of this generation.

  • THE GOOD: Same great story with all DLC packs already on the disc.
  • THE BAD: New glitches and unnecessary gimmicks make this a worse version than its predecessors.
  • THE UGLY: How the game looks if you play exclusively on the Wii U controller.

SCORE: 7.0

Batman: Arkham City: Armored Edition is a Wii U-exclusive version of Batman: Arkham City. 

At SDCC 2012, EGM Reviews Editor Ray Carsillo had a chance to catch up with Mortal Kombat co-creator and creative director for the upcoming Warner Bros. game, Injustice: Gods Among Us, Ed Boon.

This was an interview I did back at E3 for Injustice: Gods Among Us and forgot to post here. Sorry folks! Expect a more recent interview with the main man himself behind Injustice, Ed Boon, to be posted in the next day or so!