Saturday, October 15, 2016

Batman: Arkham Knight

I'm so very glad I didn't buy Batman: Arkham Knight on launch: it gained a bad reception mainly due to poorly done optimization and despite it's not the smoothest game around even now, it does run on +30 frames on my current rig. Given that my rig isn't the most powerful thing in the world, I'd suspect the game would not have ran at all on the initial release. So now, after some time and patches, it runs well enough for me at least. Not perfectly, especially the Bat mobile seems to make the game skip and jump a bit, but other than that, it's running pretty nicely now, especially if you don't play it with all the bells and whistles turned on. As a note, I played with full HD resolution and most other settings turned to medium. With lower resolutions and low texture settings I got all the way to +60 FPS and even then Batman looks pretty good.

And that's the technical stuff out of the way. As I said, I never did play Batman on launch, so I can only assume that while still not perfect, its performance has been improved greatly. So how's the game itself then? All in all, pretty decent. Not the best game in the series, but enjoyable action game none the less. This time around they playground is a good portion of Gotham city itself, or three islands of Gotham at least, and you can go almost anywhere from the get go. I say almost, as you do need your bat mobile from time to time and that one travels only on roads, so you do need to open up an obstacle or two before you can take full advantage of Batman's fabulous urban tank.

Bat-tank in nice 1970's colors. I really do prefer this skin over what the car looks in vanilla.
This time around it's the Scarecrow, who's menacing good people of Gotham. He's hell bent on bringing Batman down and  has recruited a man called Gotham Knight to help him. And Arkham Knight seems to know a thing or two about Batman. If you know things about Batman mythos, it's not a difficult thing to figure out who Gotham Knight is long before the dramatic reveal. There's also the other usual suspects pillaging Gotham as well, so Bats gets to pummel Two Face, Penguin and again  Riddler among other familiar villains. The Riddler has, again, planted his not so clever riddles all around the city, so if you want to see the 100% finale of the game, you'll need to locate 248 trophies and what not before you can beat that annoying twerp.

If you are familiar with the previous Batman Arkham games, the game play should be pretty familiar. You'll beat up thugs and villains, get upgrade points to upgrade the Bat equipment and pummel thugs some more. There's also crime scene investigations and some environmental puzzles as well, so all in all, standard stuff for a Batman game. The biggest addition this time around is the Bat mobile, or Bat-tank really, as that's what it really is with its cannon and machine gun, of which both fire non-lethal slugs towards humans, but pretty damned lethal stuff towards inanimate objects. The tank itself also works as a thug zapper, knocking down anyone who's unfortunate enough to get on its way.

I guess this is what you call "fan service"
As I said, Arkham Knight is not the best game in the series, mostly because of the technical glitches that still haunt it. It has gotten better, but it's still far from optimal, especially when you're driving the tank. Also the plot isn't anything really special and it does get pretty ridiculous relatively quickly, especially when you accidentally start thinking how expensive the Scarecrow operation must have been with all the drones and militia members. Batman alone destroys enough tanks to cover military budgets for most of the countries in the world. Not that the previous games are grounded to reality, mind you, but this time around the main scenario just felt more than a bit silly to me.

But yeah. In the end it is a fun game. It has some tedious stuff in it and in places it definitely feels overly ambitious effort that never really does manage to stay together in a coherent manner, but despite of that, it still is a good addition to the Arkham series.

Bats over Gotham
As Arkham Knight has been out for a good while now, it has a standard and Premium Edition available. The difference is, that Premium includes all the DLC, so that's the one to get. Besides some more story missions, it also provides more skins for playable characters, including Batman, Catwoman and Robin, making it possible to play with with Batman from Tim Burton's movies or the Dark Knight Returns for an example as well as you can change the Bat-tank to Burton movies car or the spiffy mobile from 1966 campy Adam West series. I don't usually care for cosmetic DLC's, but as far those go, these are pretty damned good and offer a good view to the history of Bat suits and all, including the very first appearance suit from the comic books.

The DLC packs also have story content, and provides a way to get more playable characters to the mix, including Batgirl and Harley. While these stories aren't very long as such, they're pretty fun and uniformly well made and offer some nice little tricks, like an in game view on how Harley's insanity works for her benefit. Another interesting little twist is the Red Hood story, which allows you to do something Batman would never do: shoot enemies dead in the middle of the brawl.

Playing with Batgirl is pretty much like playing with Batman, she just has less armor and her punches don't pack as much weight. But other than that, I'd call her Batman lite.
Batman: Arkham Knight can be bought through Steam. If you're a fan of the series and Batman, you can't really go wrong with this one. Make sure that you'll have good enough of a rig though, as this is demanding game. What I've heard the console versions should be much better, so in this case, if you have a console capable of running this one, I guess that might be the best way to go. In any case, if you've liked the previous installations in this Batman series, I don't see why you wouldn't like Arkham Knight as well.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Back to the Wasteland

 Wasteland 2 was on okay game. It has its fair share of faults, like the latter half of the game that just didn't click with me and the writing was at times trying a bit too hard to be hard core and the combat was fairly simplistic, despite it was aiming to be strategic. But over all it was a decent game. This is not a W2 review though. This is about Wasteland 3.

Indeed, Wasteland 3, which has just gotten its own crowdfunding campaign through FIG.CO, which is a site Brian Fargo, the head of inXile is a part of. So yes, Wasteland 3 is now officially being funded through crowdfunding, despite inXile did do well with. But that's not surprising, as Fargo has fallen in love with the crowdfunding method and I can't really blame him for that.

inXile's idea this time around is to gather a part of the money needed for Wasteland 3. They don't aim to get all, as they're also planning to use the money in their own coffers in order to fully finance it. So they are looking for 2.7 million dollars this time around and they are already on a good start with 2.2 million gathered. Also, through FIG you can, if you want, invest the money instead of just pledging in order to get the game and some extra loot.

At first I was a bit skeptical about FIG, but in the end I did end up backing inXile through it. I was thinking about accountability and the platform keeping tabs on the projects like what Kickstarter promises to do, but in the end, I really haven't seen anything like that from Kickstarter, as one project I've backed where the creator just stopped updating  was done nothing by Kickstarter despite people complained about it. So in the end it's about how much you trust the people who are doing the campaign.

So do I trust inXile? Yes. They've already delivered one game, Wasteland 2, Torment is currently in early access and looks very good and Bards Tale IV is going forward. So at least for now, I trust them. 

So, if you're interested, head on to the Wasteland 3 campaign in order to see their cheesy pitch video and some conceptual shots of frozen wastelands.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Of Orcs and Men


I think the idea of Of Orcs and Men is more interesting than the game itself is. Not that the game is terrible, mind you. As far games go it walks a steady path of being a fun little game, not ground breaking nor overly ambitious in anyway, but a fun little game that might even linger in your thoughts for a moment after you've finished it.

So the idea of Of Orcs and Men. Simply put, it lets you play as the usual villains of any bulk fantasy piece, as an orc and a goblin. Arkail is a brutish berserk warrior on a mission to assassin a human emperor, as he and his fellow rebels feel it's the means of ending orc slavery. Styx is his guide, a foul mouthed goblin, who is handy with his daggers and stealth attacks. You can play with either one you choose, freely changing between the characters, but I noticed I preferred playing Styx, as I've always liked rogues and assassins in RPG's. Arkail is the brawn of the duo and during a fight he's the one that can take the most punishment, while Styx stays in the background, throwing daggers and poisoning enemies with his daggers.

Styx and Arkail in one of the few city levels.
In theory this should lead into an interesting game mechanics, but in the end the combat is merely serviceable, mainly because the enemy AI isn't that great. Most of the time you head into enemy location with Styx, stealth killing everyone you can before Arkail burst in after Styx has been detected. And by that I mean directly detected by the enemies, as they don't react in anyway on the corpses Styx leaves behind while thinning the herds. The AI doesn't react on corpses in anyway, which leads into a bit of a silly moments with Styx hiding in the shadows behind the next potential victim, while other soldiers are walking past the copses of their fallen comrades. In some ways locations tend to turn into small puzzles in themselves, when you're trying to figure out the best order in which to kill as many of the enemies you can before you're noticed by either because of bad luck or because you kill someone in plain sight.

After you've thinned the herds, the rest of the combat tends to go more often than not by having Arkail beating up the main bulk, while Styx runs around, throwing daggers and on occasion resurrcting Arkail if he falls down. All in all not the most exiting nor strategic way of doing combat.

Styx in his stealth stance.
The environments themselves are pretty straight forwarded corridors. Even outside areas and the few city blocks you see are nothing but corridors in which you need to get from one end to an another. In a couple of places you'll see some NPC's with whom you can converse with or trade with better items or upgrade the stuff you have. Most of the time you'll be looking at pretty boring sets of caves, sewers and all the standard stuff of RPG cliche environments. The item system isn't very exiting either, as there's only a small amount of arms and armor you'll see during the game. In fact you'll manage to get pretty decent pieces of gear early on which will last almost all the way to the end game.

As far the story goes, Of Orcs and Men manages to get to the b-movie level with ease. It has some things in it that could make you shake your head or just bust out laughing, especially when it's apparent that the writers were trying to be serious or overly clever. A lot of the dramatic moments and especially the cinematics are almost adorably clumsy in their execution. When I said the game doesn't try to be overly ambitious, I might have been a bit too optimistic, as the story does try to be that at times, succeeding rather badly at it.

Typical combat scenario. Arkail is surrounded by the horde, while Styx has fallen to the background.
Despite all that, Of Orcs and Men is pretty entertaining though. While it's not amazingly great in design or mechanics nor in story, it is a fun little game, which should entertain you if you like light action RPG's. It's a far cry from being a classic, but I do think I'll remember it to unknown future just because it manages to stand out from the more atypical fantasy mush because of its settings. At the same time though, I can't help but to wonder what it could have been.

If you want it, you can get it from Steam. But personally I'd wait for a sale. A tenner or so would sound about right to me, especially if you don't go to it expecting to be wowed in every turn.

This is the end.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham (Mignola, M., 2001)

I've always liked DC's Elseworlds stories, especially about Batman. Despite they all are not necessarily ace material, they do very often offer an interesting peek on how Batman would work on different kinds of cross overs, like what if Batman would fight the Dracula or movie monsters like Alien or Predator, or how he'd work on an entirely different era. The Doom That Came to Gotham doesn't take Batman only to a different era, in this case in the early 20th century, but it also pits him again the Lovecraftian terrors from beyond this world. 

The story begins from Antarctic. Bruce Wayne is looking for Cobblepot expedition, only to find their ship stranded and the crew dead. Cobblepot himself has gone insane, finding solace and home with penguins. The only other member the Wayne expedition manages to find is also insane, chipping off ice around a tentacled monstrosity. Him they take with, as Cobblepot they don't manage to capture.

After the party gets back to Gotham, we learn that the old families, the founders of the city, made dealings with dark forces ages past. Now, as Bruce Wayne finally returns home, the payback time is closing in and those who lurk between the worlds are finally ready to enter our world.

During this tale of cosmic horror we'll meet other familiar faces besides Bruce. There's commissioner Gordon, Oliver Queen, Ra's Al Ghul, Dick Grayson and Jason Todd to mention a few that is thrown in the mix. They all have take a role a bit different, yet familiar in the tale: the Robins still are trustees of Bruce Wayne, as is Alfred, and Ra's still is evil. but this time he's an ancient magician who had a hand in writing a tome that would help opening the portals between the worlds.

Despite The Doom That Came to Gotham does take heavy influences from Lovecraft, I wouldn't call it very Lovecraftian in style. Mignola's style of writing is more matter of fact rather than the dwelling insanity that was Lovecraft trade mark with his own tales of cosmic horror. It's not a bad thing though, as the way Mignola has written the tale feels more fitting for Batman, as he's always been a rational character, even when dealing with otherworldly foes.

The Doom That Came to Gotham isn't necessarily the greatest Elseworld Batman story ever made, but it's pretty solid one. In many places it feels like it should have been much longer than it's now, as it does have a feeling of being rushed about it. Originally it was released as a 3 part mini series, so it never was a long story to begin with. It could have easily benefited from at least 1 or better yet 2 additional parts, but alas that wasn't the case. It is a fun story though, so I do recommend grabbing it, especially if you like alternative Batman stories.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Batman: A Death in the Family (Starlin, Aparo, 1988-89)

I think A Death in the Family was my first "serious" Batman comic.  Sure, I had read some of the murkier stories that had been made in the 1980's before it, but A Death in the Family was the first for me that brought in really dark tones, at least for me. Now, that I read it again, I couldn't help but to feel that it's also a story that is trying too hard. And I didn't think it's actually even very well written. Sure, it still is dark story, but in a bit like a blunt instrument pretending to be a scalpel kind of a fashion.

From the get go Starlin is hammering down, that this is an edgy Batman story: Batman and Robin are just about to bust a child porn operation. Not any two bit thugs, but one of the most despised crimes someone can do in western society, so you know this is edgy.  Not that any bigger reflection is given to the heinous nature of the crime operated, as the whole thing is just a quick mention before it turns into a scene of Batman and Robing beating up a gang of generic thugs.

Bats is worried about Robin, Jason Todd, who's been rash and stubborn lately, not a sport like Dick Grayson always was. He's so worried about Jason's behaviour, that he ends up grounding him from being Robin for a while. Good for Bruce becming a sound minded guardian for a moment, as it probably wasn't a smart move in the first place to get a kid beating up criminals in the first place.

What's eating up Jason is, obviously, dead parents. He ends up wandering the streets to his old neighbourhood, where by a strike of luck, he gets his hand on old papers belonging to his parents. From them he realizes that his mother might actually be alive, as the name on the birth certificate is begins with a wrong letter, so off to search he goes.

At the same time Joker has escaped from Arkham again. This time he has the edgiest crime in mind: selling a nuclear warhead to some Arab terrorists. As luck has it both Bruce and Jason end up in Beirut, where Jason has followed mom candidate #1 and Bruce Joker., so together they manage to stop the maniac despite he does manage to escape and the candidate #1 isn't mom at all, so bummer that.

Mom #2 is secretly training terrorists, so it was all good fortune, that she wasn't mom dearest, as that would have sucked balls, so after the 3rd and last candidate to Africa, where she works as a relief program,

Mom #3 is the ticket, but oh noes, Joker is there, blackmailing drugs from her, as she also has a secret past, that could end up costing her job, so succumbs to Joker's plans. Shit hits the fan, when Batman hurries to save lives of hundreds of people before they're subjected to uncle Joker's laughing gas. Robin on the other hand tries to get her mother out of Joker's clutches only to end up betrayed by her when she leads him to Joker, who beats him up with a crowbar. And now we get to the point from where A Death in the Family has gained it's reputation; Robin dies. Sorry for the spoilers, but this is the story, where the readers had a vote and they voted that the sniveling brat that was Jason Todd should be offed.

The finale of the story gets just plain silly in its attempt to up the ante. Joker is hired by Ajatollah Khomeini himself to be Iran's UN ambassador, thus granting him diplomatic immunity, which doesn't sit well with old Bat's, who's half assedly looking for a revenge. In the end Joker, obviously, tries to kill everyone in the UN, but Superman inhales all the toxic gasses, while Batman goes after the Joker, as his diplomatic immunity has just been provoked.

Batman and the Joker end up in a helicopter full of terrorists and after one of them decides that a helicopter is the best place to shoot with an assault rifle, the chopper ends up exploding, with Joker inside. The body is never found, so it won't come as a surprise that he didn't die.

A Death in the Family tries hard. It tries so hard, that it doesn't know when to stop for its own good. It tries to be edgy and it tries to root the narrative on real world and real world problems, but doesn't really manage to do any of that well. I mean, I can see why a young me would have been sold on it, but now a bit older I can't really get past how clumsy it feels with how it handles things. As I said earlier, it's sharp as a hammer.

If you're looking for darker Batman stories, there's lot better stories out there, written before and after A Death in the Family. I think that the only reason why it's remembered at all these days it's the fact that Joker manages to kill off Robin in it, but as a whole it's just not very well done story at all. In my humble opinion, it really is a story you can fully miss.