Sundays are double-sized fun! Isn’t that grand? They also move at their own pace, so if you only want to check out the Sundays, you won’t feel like you’re missing anything. Today’s entry is about the awesome power that is Batman: Arkham City the sequel to the highly successful Batman: Arkham Asylum that came out a few years prior. And that thing I’m wearing is a Batman Snuggie!
Before we talk Batman exclusively for a moment, let us talk about the broader subject of video games. They’re a common past time spanning several generations now, more so if you count the fore-runners arcade and pinball before them. Like comic books, video games are a bastard child mash-up of a few mediums. Is it a movie? No because I can change the outcome. It’s a game, but it has cut-scenes that are cinematic. There are limited rules, but sometimes with limitless possibilities, or sometimes it’s all hamper-stance and chance. One game might have fantastic controls that act like a melding of your own thoughts with the machine while others are easily described as “clunky,” or simply poorly programmed. Video games are programming. They are production art. They are animated or static. Sometimes they contain backdrops or props. They are stage productions and special effects. They are pretend and yet exist in real time and take time to play. They are time and effort of a group of people who make a tiny little universe inscribed on a disk or in a zip file for you to buy. We notice when the universe is working. When it’s solid and feels like a sinlge world. We notice when that world breaks. Sometimes we’re forgiving of these flaws (here’s a long Google-list of youtube videos just searching the words “Skyrim” and “bug.”) while other times they’re unforgivable if the game isn’t even playable (if you have the stomach for it, here’s someone’s attempt at playing through Superman 64, which is one of the worst rated games in history simply because of the poor design and controls. If you don’t believe me here’s a review of it from when it was first released).
When the world and the controls meld together, it’s almost like dancing. Rocksteady has achieved that rare mixture with their Batman games. They actually started out with the idea of a guitar-hero style game. Those dynamics are still there in the fighting-gameplay, but you won’t know what the hell I’m talking about unless you’ve actually played it (unearthed by the hard-nosed reporting at Cracked.com). And that’s part of it’s success too. You are Batman. You are working Batman’s cases. You have all of his gadgets. You are 5-year-old again playing in the backyard. Only now it’s Batman’s backyard and it’s grown a lot bigger from Batman: Arkham Asylum.
The Rocksteady Batman games are written by Paul Dini. This is the first reason why you should buy them. Paul Dini is a fantastically gifted writer with a long career working in comic books, television, film, and any other medium you can think of. He understands the characters he writes. He made those over-sized DC tribute comics with art by Alex Ross a few years back.
I first started looking for his name with the old Batman: the Animated Series cartoon that came on Fox after school each day. I admit, I was a kid lying on the floor and kicking my heels as Batman kicked the butts of criminals all over Gotham. Paul Dini, I noticed wrote a lot of the episodes I really enjoyed. Low and behold, I also saw his name on Freakzoid! (He wrote the Nerditator sketch for example), and Animaniacs… re-runs of Tiny Toons was playing on Sunday morning so I check… there it is again, that name… That name… I started to seek it out. I looked for it everywhere. I discovered other names I liked on TV. It was looking for Paul Dini that I found the team that was Jeff Kline and Richard Raynis (something I will have to talk about another date, so remind me)… I became a fan. Here’s his IMDB page if you don’t believe me.
Paul Dini wrote my childhood, He wrote my adolescence, and now he’s writing my adult life. Only this time, I get to play too! I get to be Batman! Back with Batman: The Animated Series, he, Kevin Altieri, and Bruce Timm and the whole gang came up with new versions of known Batman characters. They changed some of the continuity, or re-invented it and added new bits. Mr. Freeze was completely changed by the show as well as another element.
Harley Quinn never existed before that show. A second fiddle to the Joker? I mirror to Batman’s Robin? A dark protege? It almost makes too much sense. But no one thought of it before this cartoon show directed at children. Harley’s had her own comic books, her own episodes in the show even. She has a dark seeded past of manipulation and abuse that has shaped her into everyone’s darling damsel that causes others distress. The cartoon changed the large world of Batman. It affected it in profound ways that altered the landscape of the overall storyarc and epic. Out of the millions of Batman stories told, only a few things really permeate into the myth and stick. These are the parts that are re-shaped, retold over and over… Harley is now part of that because of Dini’s writing.
Despite being awesome at fighting whatever comes at you, the Rocksteady games are deeply rooted in the Batman mythos. Just walking around the city, you find street corners and shop-signs you’ve seen a million times in panels. It was unnerving to discover crime alley where his parents had died and that Hugo Stranger had left a note for him. You feel like hitting the Joker when he says “you no longer have a girl to save.” These games were built with precise control. They really made the Unreal Engine shine. Something that isn’t easily granted. And that brings us back to the people who made this game. Growing up when I was looking for Paul Dini’s name, I also started to read the names of actors, animators, directors. It didn’t take me long to realize that Mark Hamil was the Joker.
He is amazing as the Joker and has been since he took on the character when I was kicking my heels on that rug. Hamil wasn’t the only actor to play the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series, but he was the most memorable. He has lent his voice to the character for several shows, a few games, even the live action version of Birds of Prey. Hamil is the Joker just as much as Heath Ledger or Jack Nicholson… but he’s my generations Joker… and he gave the best death scene of them all.
Of all of the incarnations of the Joker’s death, falling of buildings, falling off more buildings, and being poisoned, I hope this is the one that sticks with the mythos. This was the grandest, the most epic, and the best played. Though I focus on Mark Hamil’s performance, there’s no shying away from the excellent work that Kevin Conroy did for Batman. He was also the Batman of my youth… but let’s be honest with ourselves… Everyone loves the villain.
Unlike the other Jokers, this one lends to a follow up. And unlike a movie or a tv show, the follow up is Interactive… The Harley Quinn’s Revenge DLC pack (in fact all of the DLC packs) lends so much to the game play. It acts as a wonderful epilogue to the whole affair of the main gameplay. It’s fun to just fling people into walls as Robin, and I can’t wait to see what they come out with next.