Batman: Arkham City (PC)

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Rating: ★★★★★ 

Batman: Arkham City has restored my faith in adventure game ports from the console to the PC. The game plays so intuitively and fluidly that I’m inclined to believe it’s actually quite a bit better suited to playing with a keyboard and mouse than it would be with a game controller. While Batman: Arkham City is a spectacularly entertaining game on its own merits, the sheer playability of the PC version puts it over the top for me.

Just a quick note, I played the Game of the Year Edition, which in addition to the base game, includes a Harley Quinn’s Revenge expansion, a Nightwing bonus pack for the challenge modes (non-campaign), and other sundries. If one were considering purchasing the game, I would suggest this is the version you would want (especially if you can pick it up for $7.50 on Steam, as I did).

I would love to do an in-depth review of this game, but with time always limited by life, I will endeavor to sum things up as briskly as possible.

Batman: Arkham City is a game that constantly reminds the player both why Batman is probably the best comic book character ever and why his rogues gallery is the best rogues gallery ever. The amount of mileage that writers have been able to get out of the Batverse over the years is astounding, possibly because Batman, himself, lends himself to so many different portrayals while still being distinctively Batman.

Batman: Arkham City - BaneThe writing is top-notch. To be sure, Batman: Arkham City does a somewhat strange narrative trick here by having us play out two mostly separate plotlines. These are interwoven, but neither is especially reliant upon the other structurally, except that, of course, you can’t complete one without completing the other. It’s a testament, I suppose, to the cleverness of the writers that it all feels connected, even if there’s no particular reason that they had to be.

A main cast of strong voice actors anchors the dark narrative, and it is worth noting that this is some of Kevin Conroy’s best work in the role of Batman. And that is a great compliment to the voice actor, because, of course, Kevin Conroy has been voicing Batman for so long that at this point, I think he may in real life actually be Batman. I’m pretty sure he is, anyway.

I would make the same  claim for Mark Hamill, once again performing the Joker. The writers provided a lot of meat for the character in Batman: Arkham City, and Hamill digs in in his customary fashion, while supplying his inimitable nuances that, for me, have always made Hamill’s a definitive portrayal.  I believe that Hamill may recently have officially retired from the part, but wow–for Hamill, especially, what a way to go out. The final confrontation between these two is a brilliant illustration of the crux of the ongoing conflict between Batman and the Joker, and one can clearly feel the deft pen of Paul Dini at the script level just knocking another one out of the park.

I also thought that Troy Baker was fantastic as Tim Drake/Robin, and was happy to have a chance to play with him more in the Harley Quinn expansion.

The gameplay is massively fun. Honestly, if this had merely been a beat-em-up, I would have almost been happy enough to play it (and in point of fact, I’ve done quite a bit of that in the challenge modes). But between the stalker encounters, platforming, and some basic puzzle solving, the overall gameplay package is very rich. It may not surprise you–particularly if you have played Batman: Arkham Asylum, but it is very solid, and as I averred at the outset, very intuitive to grasp.

The inclusion of the Catwoman sequences was a nice attempt to spice up the gameplay, though ultimately, this bit does feel a bit tacked on–nevertheless, however, nearly as fun as playing with Batman.

But nothing will ever trump playing as Batman, and ultimately, that is what this rave review resolves to: Batman: Arkham City allows the player to step into the shoes of the most bad-ass of all heroes, and so compellingly that it’s kind of a downer when it all comes to an end. The only thing for it at that point is to head to the Internet and blog about it, I suppose.

Hatsune Miku, Nicholson vs. Ledger

By far, the most popular (only popular?) post on this blog is the one I did back on January 3rd of this year comparing the disparate film portrayals of the Joker as delivered by Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger. I just approved another two comments to that post, though I’ve long since given up on attempting to answer them all, because really, how much can you say about this shit?

It’s largely down to opinion, anyway, though it does strike me funny that it seriously gets under some people’s skin when you say something negative about Chris Nolan’s Batman films. These people should read what I had to say about Inception so they can just write me off as a hater (which wouldn’t be accurate, of course, because in general I kind of like Chris Nolan as a filmmaker).

This is all to say that the key, apparently, to driving readership is to just be a dick about something that people hold sacred. So now I’m wondering what else I can be a dick about…

Anyway, moving on to an entirely different topic, this is pretty cool:

A while back, I’d heard an NPR story about this 3-D virtual singer named Hatsune Miku who performs live to sold-out arenas, and I had meant at the time to check it out on YouTube. I finally got around to it.

Pretty amazing. We’ve come a long way from Josie and the Pussycats.

Jack Nicholson Was a Better Joker than Heath Ledger

If I’d made this claim a couple of years ago, I might have been lynched. But perhaps in 2011, we can finally look back with a bit of historical clarity and, at worst, agree to disagree.

Listen, Heath Ledger was at the top of his acting game in The Dark Knight and his Joker was an interesting character with an even more fascinating portrayal; but after watching a mere 10 minutes of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman yesterday, I laughed more than I laughed throughout the entirety of The Dark Knight. And that’s the problem in a nutshell: Ledger’s Joker just wasn’t funny.

I’ve heard a lot of annoying and petty complaints about Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the Joker. He was too chubby for the role is one I’ve heard more than a few times, and probably ranks amongst the stupidest criticisms ever. I’ve also heard that he wasn’t playing the Joker, but was playing Jack Nicholson…or playing Jack Nicholson playing the Joker, or whatever. I simply don’t agree, and this, as well, strikes me as being rather ignorant. But all of this aside, the reason Nicholson was a better Joker than Heath Ledger is that he played both sides of the Joker’s personality well: the comedian and the sociopath.

In case you’re curious, the scene I watched yesterday was the bit where the Joker interrupts the newscast to run a commercial for “new and improved Joker products!” That’s a fantastic illustration of how funny Nicholson was, from that little high-kicking dance while pushing the shopping cart, to the way he delivered the line, “With new and improved Joker brand, I git a grin…agin…and agin…”, to the infectious, slightly demented laugh following the line about hair color so natural only your undertaker knows for sure.

Tim Burton and Jack Nicholson more or less nailed it in my opinion. Which is not to say that the film was perfect, but I think it remains probably the best film in the Batman franchise, problems notwithstanding.

If I had to rank Joker performances outside of these two, I’d probably have to give the gold medal to Mark Hamill–in particular, in later episodes of the animated series in which Joker went a little darker, culminating in the amazing and–to my mind, definitive–portrayal given in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. It may only be a voice-over, but Hamill knocked it so far out of the park that, for me, it’s almost difficult to imagine a pre-Batman: TAS world.

Oh, and just to put this out there, as well: Michael Keaton was a great Bruce Wayne. Actually, he and Val Kilmer were the best of the live action Batmans, though I will concede that Clooney was the absolute worst (and I like George Clooney).


Edit: Since posting this online, it has been the source of a very steady stream of traffic to this blog (to this single post, anyway), and a fairly lively discussion in the comments section. I’ve long since said my piece there, but I would encourage visitors to keep the discussion going (and civil). Just note that WordPress seems to have stopped notifying me when I get new comments on this post, so during my posting lulls, it may take a while for your comment to be approved.

Thanks to everybody who has visited and commented. Looking back at it, I only wish I had written a better post! Ah well.