Batman: Arkham Knight + DLC Review

Rocksteady’s third, and possibly last Batman game, is about everything you would expect from a fourth entry in a major game franchise. The base game itself absolutely has everything you could want (so long as you play on a console). Jaw-dropping graphics? Check. Expanded Freeflow combat? Check. Plot that twists and turns? Check. Inclusion of the Batmobile? Check. New abilities for Predator encounters? Check. DLC that adds to the story and gives you a bigger challenge? That’s a more hesitant check. Truly, Batman: Arkham Knight will be remembered as one of the best titles from 2015.

But, before we get ahead of ourselves, Arkham Knight sees the Scarecrow (voiced by an intensely monotone John Noble) terrorize Gotham and with a little bit of toxin and a warning to run, turns Gotham into a playground for the criminal world while the good citizens flee. Predictably, this brings Batman (voiced once more by the true Batman, Kevin Conroy) out and he begins a long fight against the Scarecrow, and his lieutenant, the Arkham Knight. Now, going into the plot any further will ruin the surprises in store, so I’d really rather not go over them at length. What I will say, is that the side missions will have you run into a nice assortment of Batman’s rogues gallery including classic villains like The Riddler; Two-Face; and the Penguin. The game also tosses some surprising villains your way such as the Man-Bat, Professor Pyg, and Firefly. None of the side missions are necessary to progress through the game, but do reward your completion of them with upgrade points for Batman’s gear. With the main plot and side missions giving plenty of variety to spare, there’s roughly 20-30 hours of gameplay here.

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Here we see the native Batman of Gotham City feasting on his normal meal: thugs.

When Arkham Asylum released in 2009, it surprised the industry. Never before had a superhero game been done so well or had the universal acclaim that it had. At the time, it was a pretty good looking game, with textures that were rich enough to read posters on the wall, or clearly see the picture of Cash’s family at his desk (I spent a lot of time exploring). But Arkham Knight absolutely puts those graphical achievements to shame. In Arkham Knight, Gotham is suffering from a monsoon thunderstorm that happens to last the entire night. Because of this, the rain-slicked streets reflect the neon lights of the city. Batman’s suit has rain drops constantly cascading downwards. It adds a sense of realism I wasn’t expecting from a console release this early in the life cycle. The textures of the city and characters don’t suffer from any pop-in, and are gorgeously detailed. Even when the game is arguably at it’s most intensive points with drone battles, Arkham Knight shows no signs of slowing down. Arkham Knight is nothing short of a technical marvel.

The Freeflow combat made popular in Arkham Asylum and expanded on in Arkham City, gets further expanded/complicated in Arkham Knight. Here, it’s possible to use almost every gadget in Batman’s arsenal in the middle of combat effectively. And this time, you’ll need to. Enemy abilities expanded just like Batman’s, and they will now charge into him, resuscitate each other, or give other criminals an electric charge to fight you with. They are each great ways to force you to change your tactics without getting too annoying. Punching, kicking, and just generally beating the stuffing out of your enemies never gets old and turns into one of the best challenges to tackle after you complete the game.

But more than anything, the Batmobile is the most divisive addition in Arkham Knight. The game gives you the freedom to drive the Batmobile throughout all corners of Gotham, and is used to solve puzzles, eject you from the driver’s seat like a cannon, and to fight all kinds of drones that will be flung towards you. But the game is also designed in such a way that you end up in the Batmobile or needing to drive it for a significant portion of Arkham Knight. The Riddler even sets up race tracks for Batman to “solve”. And that’s the one puzzle about the game I can’t quite figure out, how a racetrack is a Riddler event. And yet that’s not even the strangest thing the Batmobile does.

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Never before has there been a better valet.

With the pull of the left trigger, the Batmobile becomes a highly maneuverable tank, complete with a 60mm cannon, riot suppressor, and more secondary weapons as you progress. While it’s not very Batman-like to go around Gotham in a tank, it makes sense to have something so well equipped after the events of Arkham City. In Arkham City, Hugo Strange enlists a security force named Tyger. They come equipped with military-grade gear and are ready to use it on anyone within Arkham’s walls. So, it only makes sense that Batman would upgrade his iconic ride with the tools necessary to take down a militaristic force.

So that makes two kinds of combat in Arkham Knight so far. But by far, Predator encounters are my favorite. Do you remember watching The Animated Series and seeing Batman silently take out entire rooms full of thugs and none of them even knowing it until it was too late? That’s the feeling the Predator encounters bring to players. You enter an area and must dispatch the enemies in any way you deem fit, and wow there’s a lot you can do. It’s possible to synthesize some character voices and direct enemies to places to get the jump on them. You can booby trap their equipment, rendering the item useless, or at best knocking them out when they try to use it. But the most satisfying addition for Predator encounters is the ability to pop out of somewhere (like a grate) and take out up to 5 goons and not have any danger of being hit. It really drives home the idea that Batman is at his peak mentally and physically, and knows how to utilize fear in the middle of combat.

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Seriously, what is with the rain all the time?

But that’s all just the base game itself. As I said, there’s plenty of content just in the main game, but once you factor in the DLC additions, you get some great content, but mostly a few “Arkham Episodes” that are over before they get especially interesting. But among these episodes, the best one by far is “A Matter of Family”, where you play as Batgirl before the events of Arkham Asylum in an abandoned carnival up against the Joker and Harley Quinn. It made for an enjoyable, if unnecessary bit of story with new puzzles and abilities. Unfortunately, the other Episodes can be completed in one or two hours and don’t add much to the story.

For example, there’s one where you play as the Red Hood, who is tracking down Black Mask. It has some fist fights, and a predator encounter, but that’s it. Red Hood says he needs to go somewhere and find where Black Mask is hiding, but the game fades to black and cuts to Red Hood storming his hideout. It felt very much like you were watching a cliff notes version where all the hard work of crime fighting was already done for you. It’s easily the worst part of the DLC packs to me.

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Thank goodness for the arrows! I might have gotten lost!

Arkham Knight also follows in the previous game footsteps in that it gets added challenges. These challenges are about the three forms of combat (Freeflow, Predator and Tank) as well as race courses inspired by the various versions of Batman out there. Personally, my favorites are the 1989 film and 1960’s TV show courses. They feature the iconic theme music for both, and allow you to drive the respective vehicles while wearing the batsuit for the time period. It lets everything come together and let you live out a very particular bat fantasy. Especially since each of those components can be used in the base game campaign as well.

What the DLC does well is it tries to please everyone by featuring as many costumes and Batmobiles as possible in order to cater to every fan of The Dark Knight. Even the suit and Batmobile from Batman vs. Superman is included in the game as well as a suit based on the first appearance of Batman. It truly covers his entire history.

So, with all of this is Arkham Knight worth your time? Absolutely if you enjoy Batman or if you just enjoy action/adventure games with a fantastic plot. The Batmobile is very much a love it or hate it part of the game, but everything else about it makes the base game of Arkham Knight a must-play title. Your enjoyment of the DLC will greatly depend on how much of a fan of Batman you are, but even then the lack of story-based content could leave you wanting more for your money. Batman: Arkham Knight is available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and for PC.

Note: Arkham Knight was played on a Xbox One where the campaign, New Game+, and story-DLC was all completed. Further, the PC version is not recommended due to still lingering technical issues.

 

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Star Trek at 50 – The Human Adventure Continues

Pop culture anniversaries seem to be a dime a dozen lately, but there’s not very many that can claim to still be making new fans 50 years after it’s initial creation. Star Trek has done exactly that. For the uninitiated, Star Trek was a TV Series that aired on NBC between 1966 and 1969. During that time, it aired for three seasons and 79 episodes. However, the show didn’t garner much in ratings at the time and was canceled. But, throughout the 70’s, the show became a hit in syndication, and Paramount attempted to create a second series, known as Phase II. However, after much behind-the-scenes drama (seriously, lots of drama) and the successful releases of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars, the initial pilot was rewritten into 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Since then, Star Trek has cultivated 12 (with one more on the way) films, over 700 episodes of television through 5 different series, and has gone on to influence more than a few scientific inventions and discoveries. And that’s all fine and dandy if you like behind the scenes info, but what about what is truly at the center of every Star Trek adventure?

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Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) defending Lt. Commander Data’s (Brent Spiner) ability to be his own person and not property in “Measure Of A Man”.

The characters and moral dilemmas take center stage in any truly great sci-fi story, and the best of what Star Trek has to offer exemplifies this. Take an episode from Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s second season, The Measure Of A Man. In it, Lt. Commander Data (played by Brent Spiner) is taken to trial and Captain Jean-Luc Picard (played by Patrick Stewart) defends him. And what is he on trial for? Whether or not Data, who is an android, is the property of the Federation or a sentient being. It calls into question what exactly makes up a true being, and when we build robots, are we not creating a race of beings? It further questions how far would you go to fulfill your own duties, even if you don’t agree with them? Such questions, plots, and strong character-driven moments are at the heart of what makes Star Trek a success.

At the end of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the Enterprise goes to warp and viewers are presented with a single sentence: “The human adventure is just beginning.” That has been the cornerstone of each series so far. The Next Generation sees Picard and crew go on trial for the crimes of humanity against itself as Q, a god-like entity, challenges the crew of the Enterprise-D to show him that humanity has evolved beyond it’s troubled past. Deep Space Nine was a show tackling a lot of different issues, chief among them, religion and rebellion during times of war. Voyager hearkens back to The Original Series by throwing Captain Kathryn Janeway and crew to the other side of the galaxy where they meet new races and worlds on their way home. But Enterprise was the most unique show of the bunch. Enterprise chose to turn back the clock and has us see the Federation being formed when humanity first starts to truly explore the stars.

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Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) discuss giving Nero (Eric Bana) leniency as he looks on from the view screen.

In each of these series, there is a deliberate choice to create very unique characters that tackle subjects the majority of television doesn’t dare explore. Things like the aforementioned qualifications of sentience, sexuality, and of how often what is right or wrong can fall into a gray area. But to me, Star Trek has shown me that when you have a disagreement with someone, there is always a solution that is better than the initial idea.

The Federation, more often then not, seeks to find peace in the galaxy. That desire is reflected in each captain’s actions. Even in the 2009 film, Captain Kirk asks if Nero wants assistance while his ship begins to be ripped apart by the black hole. Nero adamantly refuses by saying he would rather witness the death of his homeworld a thousand times over. Yikes. Point is, diplomacy is at the forefront of what the Federation hopes to achieve. Is it perfect? No, just look at Star Trek Insurrection. The Federation is capable of heinous acts, but for the most part Star Trek has shown me that humanity can overcome it’s greatest obstacles and push ever farther into space and other frontiers.

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San Francisco as depicted in Star Trek: Into Darkness.

And that’s what I see and get out of Star Trek. It creates a future for Earth and for humans that is nothing short of wondrous. Where we as a species have shed our prejudices, and collectively strive to make humanity the best that it can be. And an ideology where peace and negotiations take precedence over waving the biggest stick. It gives me hope that the squabbling I see in our current world will eventually give way to something prosperous.

What The Movie Industry Can Learn From Games

We now have our newest crop of Oscar contenders this year. And, just like last year, some of the people I know are not thrilled that the actors and actresses nominated are all white. As such, it’s the second year that social media is a blaze with accusations that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is out of touch with the public and the world at large. And perhaps it is.

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Idris Elba in “Beats of No Nation”

One of the actors that I hear should have earned a nomination for acting was Idris Elba, who plays a Commandant for a war-torn African nation in Netflix’s “Beasts of No Nation”. There’s a few different theories at play as to why the snub occurred. The most popular, and the one most sites appear to pick up, is that of race. But I’m not convinced that’s the issue.

See, the first Oscar to have been awarded to an African-American for acting was in 1939 to Ms. Hattie McDaniel for “Gone With The Wind”. Since that time, a Black person has been nominated 43 other times with 12 of those resulting in a win, with Denzel Washington being the only two-time winner. However, a Black person has not won or been nominated since 2009. This makes it the third longest gap between nominations (behind 1974-1981 and 1939-1948). It sounds bad, I’ll admit, but I believe there’s a different reason he was snubbed: technology. (http://www.uticapubliclibrary.org/resources/literature-and-film-guides/african-american-oscar-winners-and-nominees-acting/)

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Ms. Hattie McDaniel in “Gone With The Wind”

As I mentioned, “Beasts of No Nation” was Netflix’s production, but it’s also their first feature film. In an effort to garner the Academy’s attention, Netflix released the film to theaters at the same time as it released it to it’s streaming service. Because of that, some of the most prominent theater chains like AMC, Cinemark, and Regal, refused to screen the film at all. “Beasts” did end up in some theaters though, but in more of a limited capacity. However, the film is listed as eligible for nominations, as is Idris Elba’s performance. Netflix putting the film into theaters to begin with was a play towards the Academy in the hopes of a nomination.

Could it be that the Academy’s voting body was nervous of awarding Netflix a nomination for it’s first feature film? After all, some of the voting body are no doubt invested in the traditional cinema, and giving any form of legitimacy to what Netflix does with filmmaking could be against their won interests. It’s right there that I feel the film industry can learn a lot from the gaming industry.

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The DICE Award

The Oscars weren’t the only nominations recently announced, the DICE Awards from the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences also made their selections. The DICE Awards are, like the Oscars, voted on by industry professionals after they meet certain criteria. The 19th DICE Awards present awards in 19 categories, including overall Game of the Year, Family Game of the Year, and a multitude of technical awards. Over the years, DICE has actively welcomed new and emerging technologies and included them in the presentation of the awards. Even though most gamers will scoff at the notion, for two years there was an award given for the best social networking game. That award was only given in 2011 and 2012. Also, much like the Oscars, DICE is held in the United States (Las Vegas to be exact). But DICE offers more awards on an international level.

As I wrote this, I started to realize that the majority of the movies nominated and that have won have all been created by American companies for a primarily American audience. With the exception of the Best Foreign Language film category, you are hard pressed to find a foreign film break into any general category. With gaming, let’s take a look at the crop of Game of the Year contenders. This year, BloodborneFallout 4Ori and the Blind ForestRise of the Tomb Raider, and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt are all gunning for the award. What’s most striking is that in these five titles there is a wealth of diversity presently unseen at the Oscars. The developers of Bloodborne, FromSoftware, Inc., hail from Tokyo, Japan. CD PROJEKT RED created The Witcher 3 and come from Warsaw, Poland. Bethesda Studios made Fallout 4, and originate from Rockville, Maryland. And Crystal Dynamics makes it’s home in Redwood City, California, where they made Rise of the Tomb Raider. But it’s Moon Studios that is the most interesting. Moon Studios doesn’t have a headquarters, but is instead a “distributed development house”, meaning that each employee of Moon Studios can choose to work anywhere in the world.

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Members of CD PROJEKT RED

So what do I think the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences can learn from the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences? In a word: adaptation. The gaming industry by it’s very nature will always be quick to adapt to new technologies, embrace them, and standardize them in record time. Also, where development for games used to be something that Japan and America did solely is simply no longer true. But the film industry is lagging behind. It needs to realize that while it utilizes actors and talent from many different backgrounds, it is focusing on American films produced in a traditional fashion and refusing to embrace the change coming it’s way. Recognize that films created on an international level can be worthy of the same praise already given to those produced from Hollywood. Games have done exactly that in recent years and the landscape has never been more varied. And they are more in touch with what the public wants then ever before.

Dogs and Cats

One thing I haven’t mentioned on here yet is that I grew up with all sorts of cats. There were cats that didn’t want any attention what so ever and you lived with them, and one in particular that I’ll always have a soft spot for that would patiently wait until I was asleep to scurry off to where she wanted to be when I wanted her at night. Yea, she was a sweet one.

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So it’s all the more surprising that I have ended up with two dogs now. Riley, who you have seen before, is the white Husky that seems to enjoy making his presence known. Kind of like how Guy Fieri is all over the Food Network. You. Can’t. Escape him. Despite his obnoxious ways, he can be a good dog, he just uses the trademark warble to let us know he wants something. And he always wants something. Really, when he starts talking to you, it’s a challenge to figure it out. It could be a treat, that he wants to go outside, that he wants to be played with, or, as I’m convinced now, just to get your attention. But really, he’s good.

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And our newest addition is an adorable Black Lab/Boxer mix (a Boxador, if you will), by the name of Cooper. We may also interchangeably use “Coop”, “Coopy”, or “Poopy Coopy”. He’s a three-month-old pup, so baby talk is allowed, right? Anyway, being so young he is still teething, so there’s plenty of training going on there, but we have managed to get him to understand what a kennel is. Even right now he is laying in there, snoring.

Both of these guys are special bundles of joy and frustration, but more with these two than with the cats of my childhood, I notice they have actual personalities. See, growing up with the cats we had (as many as three at a time. Hardly Cat-Lady-In-Training numbers,) it was the rare occasion for them to do more than bathe each other or cuddle together. As far as I can recall, they relaxed, dealt with children, ate, and went back to relaxing.

As for Riley and Cooper? Sometimes we have to separate them. Cooper loves to play. You can be scratching his stomach, or tossing his toy-of-the-moment for him, and he will be the happiest pup you could imagine. Riley likes to play too, but more on his own terms. When he has had enough, he simply walks away and you will be called upon when he is ready to pick up exactly where you left off. So, you can imagine what happens when Cooper tries to play with Riley. It doesn’t help that Cooper still wants to bite everything that gets close to his mouth, including Riley’s collar.

What I can’t figure out is if Riley likes it when Cooper plays rough and he’s in the mood, or if he hates it. What I do know, is that Riley plays with Cooper as if he is a full-grown dog, and sometimes it’s too much for Cooper. And therein lies the majority of the frustration of trying to raise two dogs at the same time.

And, naturally, I write all of this down, and they choose to have a nap. It’s like they know I’m telling everyone about them, and they want to act good.

But the crazy thing about this is, I don’t think I could go back to being around cats all the time. It’s something special, being around something that actively wants to be around you and play with you. With some of the cats I grew up with,  you were a heating blanket, furniture, and a food dispenser. It’s very true what they say of cats. You live with them. Not the other way around. But I’m learning with dogs, they are more like the roommates that don’t pay rent and don’t do chores, but are absolutely happy to eat everything you buy. Especially if it has peanut butter. It sounds positively chaotic (and sometimes it is,) but maybe chaos is exactly what I need.

New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s Resolutions are a very fickle thing. Some of us say we’re going to do something just to save face in front of others at a party. You know, when you say you’re going to go to the gym religiously, but really you’re thinking of that leftover pie in the fridge.

Myself, I think it’s a fantastic time to try and take stock of your last year, what you liked, what you didn’t, and find ways to improve upon it. Thing is improvement is different to everyone. So, with this post I hope to outline my resolutions for 2016 to you and explain why I have chosen them as goals.
First up happens to have everything to do with this blog. It has been horrendously neglected over the last few months. The fact that this is my first post since July really speaks to it. In short: I want to write more. Now, I have in mind blog posts, but who knows? Maybe it will expand into other avenues. But the main purpose is to get this blog to have expected postings.
My second resolution sounds a lot more specific, but it really isn’t. I want to be more active in the gaming community. Presently, I have profiles set up on YouTube, Twitch, and Trueachievements.com, but just being there doesn’t feel like it’s enough. What I;d like to see is that I try to stream when I can. I’ve made the determination that I can’t stick to a regular streaming schedule because of things like having a new puppy in the house, feeling like I get interrupted constantly, and that I was playing more for what would get views then what I wanted to play (that took a LOT of figuring out to come to.) But along with that I want to be more active in communities and a local level. As it stands, I don’t know of any groups of gamers in the local area, and I’m just “there” on any online communities.
The next resolution is probably the simplest and hardest one to do. Say “hi” more. See, at work I need to say “hi” to everyone that comes through, and that is well and dandy, but it’s with friends that I ironically have the hardest time with. At the moment I’m that friend that exists, but I never say hi or anything. On Facebook, I creep around, reading about what’s going on in people’s lives like it’s my own personal CNN. My goal is to engage my friends more, wether it’s through social media, or just a text to let them know I haven’t forgotten about them.
Everyone has this resolution, right? I want to get back in shape. If there’s ever a cliche, there it is. But really, I feel like I haven’t done al I could especially with two dogs now, and the ability to work out at home (if I move some furniture). And really, not much is stopping me there, but I need to keep reminding myself, or it simply won’t happen. For me, it’s very much an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. So how do I get back in shape? Making better food choices and making the time to actively move more. In the past, that’s all it’s taken for me to lose.
Another resolution is about the exact opposite. I want to watch at least one movie a week. That may not seem like much, but sometimes I get so worked up in doing anything/everything else that I don’t take the time to watch any of the movies I keep getting. Ideally, this would also be of movies I haven’t seen, but sometimes the mood strikes and you want to watch that one movie again.
While I’m at it, I’m not giving myself a time limit for this one, as it will really depend on home life and how things go at work, but I want to stream again. I don’t know that I can go to a set schedule but more of a “when I’m able” schedule. As with my earlier mention, it would be whatever strikes my mood.
But there, you go, a few resolutions for the new year, and everyone of them is doable. I hope to hear some of what your resolutions are, so go ahead and leave them in the comments area or write a blog in response! Until next time!