Saturday, August 29, 2009


I am vengeance. I am the night.

Batman: Arkham Asylum (XBOX 360)
Zero/Five Stars out of Five

If you don't know who Poison Ivy and Killer Croc and Two-Face are, if you think Batman must occasionally kill someone with all the fights he gets into, this game has zero stars for you.

For everyone else: holy shit. This is the Batmaniest Batman game, ever. You cannot have more Batman in a game.

Arkham Island is a moody horror. It looks like a cross between a Victorian estate, a swamp, and Tartarus. The fine ironwork has gone to rust. The ivy on the walls has turned to slimy moss. The books are yellowed and frayed. The statuary is eerie. The towering cliffs are riddled with tunnels and alcoves. The shouts of madmen echo down stone corridors. A lot of games try to be spooky, and B:AA is one of the few that pulls it off.

Combat is as hard or as easy as you want it to be. You can mash the attack button, and come through mostly ok. Or you can grab your nuts, and try to get the timing right on the strikes, use the evade and counter buttons, and chain combos together. Your reward will be a Batman that fights like Batman: he will block attacks from behind with supernatural ease, slip punches and riposte with brutal linear strikes, flip over giant mutants, and the camera will lovingly slow down and zoom in as you fold an attacker's arm the wrong way. You leap out from around corners, and pull legs out from under attackers as they stand on a ledge you're hanging from. Yes Virginia, you pull unsuspecting criminals into the air, and then leave them suspended upside-down, to shout for help and terrify their comrades.

Can I say that they got the body language just right? He never kills anyone - if you look close, the chests of your unconscious foes rise and fall as they breathe. When alone, B-man will kick in grates to air vents, walk easy, and look around. When there are enemies around, he will carefully pull grates away and quietly set them aside, and drop silently from heights. Best of all, when enemies begin to attack, he stands utterly still as they charge him, in case you forget that you are controlling a creepy bastard who dresses like a bat to fight crime.

Did I mention that the Riddler's riddles are actually interesting, difficult, and satisfying to solve?

The experience system is simple, and only gives you upgrades that are actually worth a damn. Paul Dini wrote it, and they brought back the voice cast from the Batman animated series. The music adapts Hans Zimmer's tense string section from The Dark Knight film.

'nuff said.

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Saturday, August 01, 2009


Mike Sugarbaker on Story Games

Story Games: How to Play Them and Why, by Mike Sugarbaker from Substance on Vimeo.

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