Game Delay — Arkham Knight

I’m certainly living up to the series title with this one, but now that I’m the proud owner of a PS4, I’ve spent the last few months gallivanting around Gotham in the (supposedly) final installment of one of my favorite game series. Batman: Arkham Knight had some issues but I’m willing to bet it was still a better Batman entry than that whole Superman fiasco that I still haven’t seen. Spoilers for the full game follow because of course they do.

Let’s get one thing out of the way at the top: I hated the Batmobile from the word go, and despite everyone telling me I’d get used to it and grow to love it, by endgame I still really hated it. The controls were messy and imprecise, the required chases were frustrating to the point of rage-quit-inducing, and I outright celebrated when it was blown up. When a new and improved version of it appeared close to end game, I was even more bitter, since all that did was prove to me the controls could have been less glitchy from the beginning. I hate cars in video games as a general rule, and the Batmobile reminded me why at basically every turn. Its only saving grace were the (all too frequent) battles with armored cars – they did allow for some kickass explosions.

The story for Batman: Arkham Knight was pretty fantastic, thanks in no small part to Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill and Troy Baker absolutely destroying their voice acting. Mark Hamill is the ultimate Joker, and telling this story, which is riddled (heh, sorry) with references to the problematic Killing Joke, he was let off the chain to explore what we all know to be true – that Batman and the Joker are two sides of the same coin. (That one wasn’t on purpose, I swear.) Mark Hamill’s Joker is horrific, and every time this game allowed him to sneak up on the player, I physically jumped. While the Jason-as-Arkham Knight reveal was pretty predictable, the brutality we saw from the Joker never felt similarly expected. His goading of Batman was perhaps more successful than in the Killing Joke – having the Joker’s machinations work from beyond the grave added a sense of hopelessness and haunting to the plot. The Joker will never truly leave Bruce Wayne’s mind, and Arkham Knight drove that point home better than any other Batman tale in recent memory.

The gameplay is exceptionally strong (with the exception of the aforementioned Batmobile) and as always, flying around Gotham with night vision on feels bloody fantastic. The toolbelt play continues to be incredibly natural, and the new toys fit in nicely with the familiar and loved tools that came before. Some of the side-quests were arguably the best parts of the game; I found myself wishing the detective work from Perfect Crime would pop up in other segments, to no avail, and Gunrunner allowed for some actual teamwork with Nightwing, which helped explore some of the emotional beats surrounding Bruce and his assistant drama.

However, while I appreciated the mentality of the game requiring all but the Riddler and one other mission of your choice to be finished before launching Knightfall Protocol, it was ultimately frustrating. I felt “done” with Arkham Knight for at least two gameplay sessions before I was able to see the ending, and driving around trying to find one last hole in the ground for multiple gaming hours didn’t do much to endear me to the series.

As for that endgame, we’re left with a frankly surreal vision of the Bat, after Bruce’s presumed death, continuing to burn fear into the eyes of any criminals who dare act out in Gotham. Did it work? Mostly. Do I think we’ll have another entry in this series after all? Definitely. Will I play it? Oh who’re we kidding. Of course I will.

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Game Delay — Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!

Hey there! I’m kicking off a blog series! This kind of thing is going to happen more and more around here (stay tuned for a super exciting way-long-term series that will be starting in the not too distant future), and this particular venture will be called “Game Delay.” Let’s get one thing straight – the likelihood of me reviewing any game even a few months after its launch is basically nonexistent. I’m just not that kind of a gamer. I’ll wait a while to get a copy and then once it’s in my hot little hands, I’m the type to take my time. (The only exceptions here are Elder Scrolls games and the occasional Final Fantasy title. Those get bought right off the presses. But the hours spent playing them mean it’d take me just as long to review anything, so really, my statement stands.) Also, I only ever play one game at a time, because I’m just not capable of multitasking in my gaming time. All those things meet to create a pretty serious delay in the way I consume my games. Get it? Game Delay?

Et-hem.

I’ve been playing Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel for the last few months, and I’ve just hit endgame. Let’s talk about it, shall we? Spoilers abound for the game, naturally, and some massive spoilers for Borderlands 2 if you somehow still haven’t played that. (Aren’t I one to talk?)

Borderlands is one of my favorite gaming franchises, with its innumerable guns and its groan-but-you’re-still-laughing jokes and its shockingly effective emotional moments. (Show me a person who wasn’t traumatized by the whole Bloodwing thing in Borderlands 2 and I’ll show you a bold-faced liar.) There was the occasional pacing issue in Borderlands 2, and a few repetitive quests, but nothing out of the ordinary for the genre. For the majority of the time, quests were completely original and inventive and the game really snapped along.

This installment, though, suffers from keeping the player in its kinda dull early and mid-game levels for hours longer than necessary. Locations got reused so many times on the (granted, smaller) moon setting that I had to fight the urge to abandon the game more than I care to admit. Previous installments hit similar “this again?” strides, but they were more manageable because of some frankly mind-blowing plot points that hit just when you were in danger of crying boredom. Alternatively, if there wasn’t a crazy plot moment, there was a shockingly brilliant side quest that arrived just a the nick of time. In The Pre-Sequel, it took a while longer to get those epic plot moments and they just didn’t match the impact of the attack on Sanctuary or Roland’s death. And while there was the occasional inspired Star Wars-inspired side quest for us to point and giggle at, they were fewer and far between. So what I’m really saying here is that Borderlands 2 is still my favorite. But back to the game at hand.

A few other nitpicks before we get to the good stuff – was it just me or did it take an ETERNITY to earn the ability to swap between two to three guns?? Once that bridge gets crossed, the leap from three to four took much less time, but those middle-game hours were kinda brutal, and not in the typically delightful blowing-stuff-up way. Also, not enough Claptrap. Never enough Claptrap.

Watching Handsome Jack slowly deteriorate into madness, however, was fascinating. Basing the game in a flashback from the POV of one of Jack’s vault hunters meant we were there for every moment he turned ever so slightly farther towards delightful evilness. In particular, forcing Felicity, who had just gained her freedom from a Dahl ship and a terrible name, into a robot body that she was not at all on board with was one of those disturbing gaming moments that just kinda stuck with me and wouldn’t leave.

A shout out to Hyperion Research and Development as one of the most delightfully fucked up levels I’ve seen in the whole of the franchise. And that endgame – DAMN that endgame. First of all, it was just damn gorgeous inside Elesser. Handsome Jack naming himself and discovering how he got that iconic face-plate was worth all the level grinding that came before it.

Gameplay was smooth, though I really missed the Borderlands 2 feature of being able to mark guns as least-favorites for easy selling later on. The laser guns were a blast (haaaaaaa) and it felt like more weapons had high quality zooms, which made my sniping soul very happy. Adding the Oxygen masks and the grav jumps brought some new resource management to the table, and my favorite thing about it was the ability to snipe masks off of attacking enemies. Spectacularly satisfying, that is.

Generally, though it wasn’t the best of the series (COUGH Borderlands 2 COUGH), this installment was a strong and enjoyable way to spend a few more months in the Borderlands, and that’s something I’ll never turn down. On to the DLC!