In my last article, a first-impressions of Batman: Arkham Knight, I talked about how Arkham Knight feels like an installment of the Arkham franchise and, perhaps more importantly, it feels like an entry in the Batman series full-stop. But there was something a little bit lacking, which admittedly I might’ve found had I played more than twenty minutes, and that was that it didn’t really feel like being Batman (although that might come from playing substantial portions as the Batmobile, something I could bemoan all day).
Previously Rocksteady have done some things extremely right when it comes to translating the Batman comic books, a non-interactive medium, to games, which are an interactive medium. I’ll explain that a little bit more, right now.
These are a few of my favourite things
Interactive vs Non-Interactive
Traditional media are non-interactive, meaning that you just sit there and absorb content whilst listening to the radio or watching TV; they don’t require you to do anything, they happen regardless of any action you might take (for example, yelling at contestants on a quiz show).
Games, on the other hand, are unique in the fact that they are interactive, meaning that the progression through the plot depends on the actions of the player. This was not really seen in mass media before the advent of video games – for example, you can’t influence the course of a play by pressing a button in the armrest of your seat. Although perhaps there’s a market there, who knows.
Regardless of whether or not interactive media could influence other media in some way, games are, for the moment, an oddity amongst consumable mass-media. Games companies are quite good at not getting this right – how many ‘story intensive’ games have you sat through, waiting hours to actually do anything? – but when it comes to translating non-interactive media, such as films, to an interactive medium, games companies are notoriously awful. Perhaps it’s having to stick to the plot of a film, but usually they’re nothing to write home about.
Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City did something different. They actually translated comic books into games, making them a fully-interactive experience whilst maintaining the feel of the Batman franchise (traditionally made up of non-interactive media).
Coherency of Experience
I’m going to do a back-step and start talking about the interactive experience by talking about the non-interactive elements; the story, art style, and voice-acting. Arkham Asylum was, in particular, a story gem – since it was a coherent experience, taking place in a claustrophobic, confined space. However, something else happened on the story end that was particularly genius on the part of Rocksteady – they brought in Paul Dini, famous Batman comic-book-writer, to co-write the story.
This brings a depth of coherency only magnified by the fact that they brought in voice actors who had previously worked on the Batman franchise (Mark Hamill, anyone?); already it feels like part of the Batman franchise, without even considering the gameplay. And then there’s the graphics, and my GOD did the team do a brilliant job at channeling the feel of a Batman graphic novel in both Asylum and City. I’m reminded most of A Serious House, which is the perfect influence for a gritty, dark Gotham.
When the Joker says ‘cheer up’, you do
Pow, zap! Gameplay
Some days, you just can’t get rid of Adam West
Whilst actually being Batman is more complicated than pressing a series of buttons to attack goons and thugs, the gameplay actually works in this respect; the combos are tricky enough to pull off that you use them sparingly, you can employ stealth tactics such as smoke bombs, and you can sneak around in the rafters like an actual bat.
But what’s really good is that while mashing one button to fight lacks a certain finesse, the flow with which Rocksteady put together the fight mechanics means that you get a real sense of pow, wham when fighting, especially since they utilised the DualShock to add weight to the punches (something I felt was a little lacking from Batman: Arkham Knight). Moreover, it looks like how reading a comic book feels, and perhaps more so because you’re seeing it play out in real-time.
I mentioned sneaking about in the rafters already, but the stealth elements and environmental triggers really add dimension beyond just fighting henchmen; a lot of what Batman does is brood on the rooftops about his parents and solve crime through the application of Bat-technology, and the games allow you to do just that without it being intrusive on all the punchy action (no pun intended).