Delayed Reactions: Gotham – a city worth saving?

[This post is kicking off the new Delayed Reactions* feature that will likely see a lot of action in the coming months, as it’s going to involve impressions and review-ish pieces about stuff in my backlog (which is quite large at the moment).  I already did a “First Few Hours” post about Batman Arkham Origins, and so this piece (and pieces like it) will go a bit more in depth about what’s working, what isn’t working, and how I’m feeling about the game without being influenced by current review scores.]

If I had to pick one word to describe my feelings about Batman Arkham Origins at this point, I think that word would be “absurd.”

Absurd point #1:  Considering that the game is about a comic book superhero, I’m more than willing to suspend my disbelief in order to preserve narrative coherence.  And I’ll also note up front that my familiarity with Batman is strictly limited to the first Tim Burton film and the three Chris Nolan films; I don’t read the comics, I haven’t watched the cartoons or animated features.  But I understand that Batman is, among other things, a vigilante hell-bent on saving his city, a man with near-infinite resources and an ethical code that prevents him from killing, but doesn’t prevent him from beating the crap out of anybody in his way.  THAT BEING SAID, I’m 9 hours into the game, and I’ve probably taken out at least 500 bad guys already, and so it begs the question:  with the notable exceptions of Alfred, Jim (Not-Yet-Commissioner) Gordon and his daughter Barbara (more on her in a second), are there any citizens of Gotham that are not crooked, corrupt or just plain evil?  Even the police that I’ve come across are all mobster-controlled scumbags, which makes it very odd that Batman still feels obligated to have Alfred leave anonymous tips to the GCPD every time he captures a particularly notable baddie.  More to the point:  Batman’s need to “save” Gotham is, at this point, pathologically insane, because there is nothing worth saving, anywhere.  Frankly, the bad guys who keep saying that Gotham is past the point of saving are clearly speaking the truth.  There are never any citizens out and about on the streets, but there are gangsters on nearly every street corner, rooftop and sewer tunnel that you come across.  If there’s that much criminal activity, who on earth is there left to steal from?

Absurd point #2:   The key phrase in the previous point is that after 9 hours of gameplay I’ve had to fight what feels like 500 dudes already, and yet the game is telling me I’m only 20-25% complete.  There is SO.  MUCH.  COMBAT.  Let’s all agree that the Batman games have the best melee combat system out there right now as far as third-person action games are concerned (and I say this as someone whose never been particularly graceful as far as the combat is concerned, going back to the first game – I like it, of course, but I could never get very high scores in the Challenges, and that still continues in this game – I very rarely get graded above a “B” in the game unless it’s just one dude and I sneak behind him and perform a silent takedown, and the XP bonuses for shitty scores really rub it in, how not amazing I am at the game).  But let’s also agree that too much of a good thing ceases to be good and starts to become very, very tedious.  In this game, it’s not enough that you clear out a room full of a dozen guys armed with guns; halfway through the battle another wave will come in, for no apparent reason other than the developers seem to think that more combat is always the right answer.

Absurd point #3:  When you’re not endlessly beating dudes to a pulp in service of the main story, there are literally dozens and dozens of side quests which also involve beating dudes to a pulp, and it’s gotten to the point where I’m being reminded of Assassin’s Creed Revelations, where you literally can’t move 10 feet without something popping up on your HUD – a crime in progress, a Penguin arms cache, a hidden Anarky tag, an Enigma henchman and/or datapack and/or radio signal thing.   I can barely catch my breath and just look around without having to hit something.  On the one hand, I appreciate the desire to provide content; on the other hand, almost all these side missions end up being nearly identical in how they play out, so it doesn’t actually feel meaningful in any way – and considering that bad guys seem to respawn endlessly, it actually feels like I’ve done nothing to clean up the city.

The crime scene activities kinda sorta break up the pace a little bit, to be fair, but they’re also a little hackneyed and ridiculous (i.e., the “reconstructions” are cool but completely beyond the bounds of reality, and because there’s so many of them they eventually become a little eye-roll inducing, and in any event the crime scenes are not puzzles beyond you simply finding the next thing to scan), and they also almost always end with you finding the suspect in a group of baddies and you have to beat them all down, which, again, enough with the combat already.

Absurd point #4:  Origins is a prequel to the previous games; I’m not yet sure if it has any direct ties in to those games, or if it’s merely set on a previous day.  In any event, it’s “neat”, I suppose, to see Gordon in his pre-commissioner days, and to see Alfred looking a bit less, er, old.  Another notable event featured in this game is how Batman and Barbara Gordon meet and become allies – in Arkham Asylum, they’re already working together, and I was always a little curious to see how they met.  I won’t give it away (although it happens pretty early in the game, and the game is already a few months old, so I’m hopefully not spoiling anything), but the scene in question is so short that it comes off as silly.  He startles her; she recognizes him and immediately gives him all the info he needs; the end.  I was hoping for something a little more interesting; perhaps it’ll arrive a little later, but for now it just feels dumb.

I’m trying to enjoy the game; and there are times when I’m having fun.  I did ragequit the game last night, though, during a boss battle with Deadshot; I’d cleared out the room and took out most of Deadshot’s health, and then the room flooded in with armed bad guys again, and one shot killed me, and then it started over from the very beginning of the fight, and so I promptly turned the game off and went on with the rest of my life.

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* Alternate titles for this feature include “Poor Lag Time”, “Telling You Things You Already Know”, and a revival of my little-used feature, “Everything Old is New Again.”

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